As you might have noticed yourself, if you have done some research, you can find plenty of horrible stories from people about taking a taxi-brousse in Madagascar. It is not always like that! For us taking the taxi-brousse from Antananarivo (Tana), up north, to Ankify turned out to be a unique, unforgettable experience.
Not knowing what to expect when we were planning our journey from Tana to camp, we decided to take on the adventure of travelling by taxi-brousse, instead of by plane or private car. Fortunately we got the help of the Director of Operations of MRCI (Lucy Prescott) in organising the trip. She put us in touch with Christian, a local staff member of the organisation in Tana. All we had to do was send him our arrival details and the name of our hotel in Tana so that he could arrange a taxi to take us to the bus station.
When we arrived there, we were slightly overwhelmed by the chaos on site. Fortunately the drivers of our taxi-brousse were already waiting for us to guide us to the right bus. As they did not speak English, nor French very well, our taxi driver was the perfect translator. He arranged us two seats each. We highly recommend doing this to make you more comfortable during the 18-hour drive. We paid 120 000 Ar each (which comes down to about €35). Compared to the airplane or the private taxi, this is really cheap! The taxi-brousse we took was a national one from Tana to Ambanja which is a village about 20 km or a 30 minute drive (2 000 Ar/seat) from the port of Ankify where you take the boat to Hell Ville, Nosy Be.
The drive is a great way to see parts of mainland Madagascar before you head to the islands of Nosy Be and Nosy Komba which are very different in scenery. During daylight, we loved looking at the variation in the landscapes and views. Sunset and sunrise were definitely the highlights of the drive. At night we saw the most beautiful star-filled sky through the window of our bus. This all makes the 18-hour drive more exciting.
Our taxi-brousse had 3 drivers that switched places every 4 hours. During these stops we had a quick leg-stretch and pee-break before we hit the road again. Contrary to our expectations, we did not waste a lot of time on breaks like these. During the night there were some police stops to make sure everything was legal and safe, because of all this we never felt unsafe during the journey.
We had a great experience, but there are a few thing you have to keep in mind when taking the taxi-brousse. First of all: food & water! Bring food for lunch, dinner and breakfast as the bus only stops in a local ‘highway restaurant’ for dinner. We ordered sandwiches in our hotel and bought water and snacks in a shop near the hotel.
Secondly you will want to take a sleeping bag/blanket with you on the bus as it gets chilly at night.
Our drivers loved their up-beat music, even at night, so we were very happy we brought earbuds with us on the bus. Having toilet paper and hand sanitiser in your backpack will come in very handy as well!
And last but not least: get used to the Malagasy time which means that the bus might leave later as they always wait until all the seats are sold. So do not worry about that, get comfortable and enjoy the mora mora lifestyle!
– Margot Lootens and Marlouk Van Es