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Heading south from Antananarivo on the reasonably good RN7, past emerald green paddy fields and red mud houses brings you to Antsirabe, a relaxed spa town in the highlands of Madagascar. You will certainly feel the temperature drop from up here so make sure you bring some warm clothing. Antsirabe is the home to the enormous Hotel des Thermes overlooking Lac Ranomafana and hot springs. Unfortunately the lake is too dirty to swim in but interesting to see the hot gases bubbling up to the surface. In the area surrounding Antsirabe are Lac Andraikibiba and Lac Tritiva which are each worth a day trip. The town itself contains the Star Brewery, where the famous THB (Three Horse Beer) is brewed.
There are many souvenir shops with prices lower than in the capital. Antsirabe is a good place to book a trip down the Tsiribihina River in a 'pirogue' (dug out canoe), drifting whilst watching Malachite kingfishers, lemurs and crocodiles. There are numerous tour companies so bargain hard for the best price.
Also from here you can head further into the highlands and the most spectacular scenery. Past Ambositra with its many craft stalls selling beautiful wood carvings and silk scarves to Fianarantsoa, the starting point for most of the trips to Parc National de Ranomafana. The road then continues towards Toliara passing Parc National d'Andringitra and Parc National de L'Isalo.
Pirogue trips down the Tsiribihina River are a popular activity to book from Antsirabe. These trips give you an opportunity to enjoy the landscape around the river, the creatures that live there (such as lemurs, chameleons, and crocodiles), the strange tsingy rock formations in the Tsingy de Bemaraha park, and the photogenic Avenue of Baobabs. You should not pay more than €30-35 per day (Oct 2009), which includes all accommodation and most meals. The general itinerary is as follows:
Day 1 Private minibus transfer to Miandrivazo. Stay in hotel.
Day 2 Day in pirogue. Camp on riverbank.
Day 3 Day in pirogue. Camp on riverbank.
Day 4 Half-day in pirogue. Zebu cart to village to meet 4WD. 4WD to Belo-sur-Tsiribihina. Stay in hotel.
Day 5 4WD to Tsingy de Bemaraha park. Camp.
Day 6 Visit Grands and Petits Tsingy. Camp (same place as for Day 5).
Day 7 4WD to Morondava, hitting Avenue of Baobabs at sunset.
Getting out of Morondava is a problem that's left for you to solve. You can fly out (expensive), get a taxi-brousse back to Antsirabe (there are several but they all leave at 1:00PM, take ~12 hours, and cost Ar35-40,000 (Oct 2009)), hire a car (a car and driver for the trip to Antsirabe should be about Ar200,000 (Oct 2009), i.e. not much more than the taxi-brousse if there are 4 of you, but significantly more comfortable), get boats to Tulear (several days), or hitch back to Antsirabe (there's a gas station in Morondava where you're pretty much guaranteed to get a lift, for which you'll pay about the same as a taxi-brousse). Make sure you take (or are provided with) a parasol as the sun on the river is merciless. Try to keep the group size to just 5 or 6 maximum - the driving parts of the trip are most uncomfortable if you are packed in like sardines.
Antsirabe has warm and pleasant weather most of the year, but from November to March is rainy season. The rest of the year is fairly dry, like most of the inland parts of the country. Temperatures are around 26 °C during summer, 20 °C to 22 °C in winter. Nights can drop to below 10 °C during this period.
Antsirabe is about 3 hours 45 minutes from Antananarivo by taxi-brousse (i.e. minibus). These taxis-brousse leave from the southern taxi-brousse station in Antananarivo and cost Ar8,000 (Oct 2009). Though there are many through the day, starting early should give you the best opportunity of finding one that doesn't take hours to fill up.
Getting around is by way of Pousse Pousse, colourful rickshaws, hand drawn by bare footed locals who can be a little persistent at times but good humoured. A pousse-pousse costs Ar2,000 (Oct 2009) from the taxi-brousse station to the centre of town, taking about 20 minutes.
Many food options at Chez Billy (see Sleep section). There is often live music in the evenings too.
See also International Telephone Calls
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