Antananarivo Airport & Kenya Airways TNR-NBO-ACC

Antananarivo’s Ivato Int’l Airport is probably not going to top anyone’s list of favourite airports but it gets the job done.  There aren’t a lot of airlines serving this airport but I have already done a guide on how to get here using airline miles.


The biggest tip is to beware of security guards weighing carry-on bags.  Even backpacks, which normally slide through at other airports if they look small.  If you have more than 7kgs, they will send you back, ostensibly to check your bag.  This is a case where Scottevest saved the day for us as we simply went out of sight, stuffed the heaviest items into our very deep pockets and returned to security.  Backpacks were weighed and passed, jackets were ignored except for the usual x-rays and we were inside and awaiting our flight.  We didn’t have any checked luggage so it wasn’t a money issue, it was more a concern with a tight connection and fear of the bags arriving at all.

We were in economy booked with Flying Blue miles so had no access to lounges.  There are a few shops but otherwise not much to do except read.  No wifi outside the lounge.

Kenya Airways was about half an hour late and I was getting nervous as we only had one hour to connect in NBO.  Luckily, the same aircraft that brought us to NBO remained at the gate and also took us to ACC.   The first flight wasn’t full and we had an empty middle seat to spread out in.  We weren’t so lucky on the NBO-ACC segment, the plane was completely full.

IMG_5813 IMG_5814 IMG_5816On arrival at Accra, we had the usual temperature security to pass, then we ran over to the immigration “other nationals” line which went smoothly since we already had the necessary visa obtained from their consulate in Canberra.  They do not give visas on arrival.

Our next birding adventure in Ghana was about to begin!

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Hotel Review: Hotel Brajas, Antananarivo, Madagascar

We only spent one night in Tana just before our flight to Accra via Nairobi.  We had very simple requirements – WIFI, centrally located and accepts credit cards.  Hotel Brajas delivered on all 3 accounts.  It’s a small hotel with very attractive decor and an Indian Restaurant on the premises.


Our room was at the end of the hall.


It is a small room but at that point, all I wanted was wifi as we had been offline for 6 days!


There’s a mini-bar and tv, I don’t recall any English channels.


The bathroom is one of those glass enclosed rooms, thankfully with blinds for those who prefer privacy.


Decor and merchandise in the lobby

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The bar


The Indian Restaurant, portions were huge, not even my husband could finish his.  We both had the biryani which was delicious.  I was more interested in catching up with emails.


The street where Hotel Brajas is located.


Shopping In Antananarivo – Souvenirs Of Madagascar

The one disappointing thing was that there weren’t many handicrafts being sold at any of the places we visited and I always like to bring souvenirs home.  Preferably ones that are made by locals and contribute to the local economy so they benefit from eco-tourism.

Since I live in Australia where the quarantine laws are very strict about bringing in anything that is of plant (such as wood carvings) or animal origin, I try to avoid such things unless the item is a rare find and of course not made out of any endangered species.  I really like paintings, embroideries, batiks and jewelry depicting birds.  And no trip to Madagascar is complete without a few t-shirts to proclaim to all your friends back home you have been here!

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There are a few souvenir shops in downtown Tana, some of which accept credit cards.

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There is also a market out near the airport with about 50 small shops selling all kinds of handicrafts.  Cash only but bargaining is expected!

IMG_5804 IMG_5805 IMG_5810 IMG_5806 IMG_5807 IMG_5808 IMG_5809I ended up buying a table cloth with embroidered birds, a few fridge magnets and a couple embroidered wallets.  Word quickly got out that I liked birds espececially and a few stall holders came running up to me clutching any merchandise with a bird on it!

Back at the airport, after we paid the taxi, checked in and had no further use for Ariary, I spent the last few notes on an embroidered doily at one of the kiosks in the lobby.


Flying Blue Bargain Redemptions To Madagascar

Are you reading this blog wishing you could go to Madagascar?

Are you based in Europe?

If not, can you easily get to Europe?

Then you are in luck!  Flying Blue has announced their promo redemptions for the next few months and Antananarivo is on the list!  You must book your trip before 31 March and travel between 1 May – 30 June 2015.  Most people transfer either SPG points or Amex MR to get Flying Blue miles if they need them.

FB TNRMake sure you are happy with the weather, it will be winter in Madagascar during May & June.  They will be coming out of the rainy season and some roads will be in bad condition, however the 2 places I am blogging about – Andasibe & Ankarafantsika are reachable by good paved roads.

Never Underestimate Antananarivo Traffic Jams

This was a loooong travel day!  We left early from Andasibe and would have to cross the busy city of Antananarivo (usually called “Tana”) before finding the road to Ankarafantsika.  We retraced our route back with only one stop in Moramanga where I was hoping to hit up an ATM for cash.  When we got there, I tried two banks, one ATM was out of order and the other didn’t like my foreign debit card.  So we pushed on to Tana where I finally had luck at the BNI Bank which is the only bank that is reliable for both Visa & Mastercard debit cards.  We stopped at the same Jovana petrol station near the US Embassy, the driver seemed to like that one in particular.  We hit major traffic jams all throughout the city and even for about 20 km once we got past the city.  Fourtunately there is enough of interest to watch out the window.  While we were driving past markets, the driver cautioned me to keep the window rolled up for fear of grab & run thieves so I had to shoot through the window.

It took about 90 minutes just to get from one end of the city to the other!  I hope you enjoy these traffic jam and city scenes!

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Tana Laundromat

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One of the dodgy markets where thieves can be a problem.

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Now we are downtown in a less risky area.

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Passing Lake Anosy

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Another market where we had to be careful and keep the windows up.

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All kinds of traffic in this jam!

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Craft market just outside the city on the road to the airport.


First Impressions Of Madagascar – Antananarivo & Road To Andasibe

After surviving the visa-on-arrival rugby scrum, I found our driver and the office lady who had come along to collect my cash payment.  I also changed what I thought to be a reasonable amount of cash for on the road expenses and put the resulting wads of cash into various pockets as there was no way it was going to fit in my security belt or neck pouch.

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I made note of the airport gift shop as I would probably have some left over cash to get rid of on the way back.  Very cute embroidery!


I’m no novice traveler, far from it.  I even crossed Africa in 1992 local style in chicken buses and the back of utes/pick-up trucks, whatever was available.  But the recent years of miles and points have spoiled me and I got a quick flash of culture shock as we slowly made our way out of the airport to the petrol station which was right across from the US Embassy and had “no photography” signs everywhere.  Not willing to trust my Canon 60D to the whims of Uncle Sam, I didn’t risk it, even though I was sorely tempted.

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This is a taxi-brousse.  If we hadn’t been pressed for time, we would have been prepared to use these but we would have paid for a whole row to ourselves so as not to be packed like sardines.



I found plenty to photograph as we crawled through the Tana traffic jam to get to the road leading to Andasibe.

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This is a taxi-brousse station.  If you use them, you will be approached by several touts all trying to get you into their vehicle whether or not it is the next one to leave!  They will also try to grab your bag and load it into their vehicle and demand a tip whether you want their services or not!

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Once we were clear, it was a much more pleasant drive past small village and picturesque countryside.


There was still the occasional traffic jam!

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After about 3 hours we arrived at Andasibe which is very well marked as you can see.

IMG_4885 IMG_4886 IMG_4887Most birding groups stay at either Feon’ny Ala or Vakona Forest Lodge.  Unfortunately for us, Feon’ny Ala was fully booked and Vakona was too expensive and too far from the park so after checking around, I decided on Mikalo Lodge because they were also near the park just down the road a bit and I was hoping birds would be around the lodge grounds.  Other options include Grace Lodge and Marie Lodge which are in the village.

Making The Decision – Air Madagascar VS Air Austral

Sometimes you can’t use miles because you are flying between two cities whose airlines aren’t in one of the major alliances.  This is the case when flying from Mauritius to Madagascar.


I would have to pay cash for the flights.  A quick search on Kayak gave these possibilities.  Prices are in USD.


In case you are wondering why I didn’t use United miles for the South African flight, take note that the JNB-TNR segment is actually operated by Airlink which is not part of Star Alliance.  And it’s ridiculous to take 22 hours for a flight that is less than 2 hours nonstop!  Air Mauritius is a partner of Flying Blue but the cost of 15k miles and around 100 Euros per person tax made it poor value.


But wait, can that Air Madagascar flight really take less than 2 hours?  When researching this airline on Skytrax, Flyertalk & Trip Advisor, I found all kinds of reviews on how unreliable they are.  Cancellations and excessive delays are normal.  Many people also said that they are poor at communicating the reasons and length of the delays.  I tried tweeting them to ask questions and got no reply.

Once you get in the air, the service is supposed to be good.  If I were a backpacker with several weeks to travel around Madagascar, I would have gone for this cheaper nonstop option.

To help me decide on cost vs reliability, I checked Flightstats.  Over the past 2 months, 7 out of 11 flights were either excessively delayed or cancelled.


Just before buying the ticket this is what happened on last Monday’s flight.  Bear in mind that this flight is only twice a week and the Saturday’s flight 2 days prior had been cancelled.  I don’t know if they made those passengers wait for this Monday flight or booked them onto the next departure on Air Mauritius or Air Austral.


This was the only flight to be THAT bad out of all arrivals to TNT that day.  2nd place went to a domestic flight with about 2.5 hour delay.


Since we would only a have a week in Madagascar to get to two of the best national parks for birds and lemurs, I just couldn’t take the risk.  I checked the stats on Air Austral which is actually an EU based airline.  They are based in Réunion, which is also one of the 27 regions of France (being an overseas region) and an integral part of the Republic with the same status as those situated on the European mainland. Réunion is an outermost region of the European Union and, as an overseas department of France, is part of the Eurozone.  EU airlines offer more protection.

Now this is more like it!


Sometimes it really pays to do your homework when you are considering airlines that aren’t familiar to you and you need to make decisions on cost vs timings & reliability.  Both Air Austral & Air Madagascar have scheduled arrival times before noon.  This is enough time to get to Andasibe and have a late afternoon of birding.  Air Mauritius has an arrival time of 15:30 which means arriving at Andasibe after dark and delaying the birding trip to morning.  I decided it was worth the extra $105 USD per person for the more reliable option and being able to spend more time in Madagascar.