Madagascar - The 8th Continent

Cycling the RN7 and Mountain Biking to Andringitra National Park


All content copyright © Ashley Burke 2015. Not to be copied, duplicated or used for any purpose without permission.


Map showing the southern section of my cycling route in central Madagascar

Solo cycle touring in Madagascar is an adventurous undertaking. With this being my first visit to Madagascar and not having advance knowledge of the challenges of cycling through Madagascar, I opted for a cautious approach for my initial exploratory solo cycling foray into this country. I chose a route which mostly followed the one known well maintained road in the country - the RN7. This road heads south from the capital Antananarivo, linking it with the country's second and third largest cities, Fianarantsoa and Antsirabe respectively. The RN7 then makes its way southwest, eventually reaching the coast at Toliara. The total distance between Antananarivo and Toliara along the RN7 is about 920km.

My original aim was to ride all the way to Toliara in just over 2 weeks, then fly back to Antananarivo from there. I soon realised that this plan was way too ambitious, especially seeing as I wanted to deviate many kilometres off the RN7 for several days at a time to visit interesting national parks along the way. The original plan turned out to be even more unrealistic due to the fact that I had just run 250km in the Racing The Planet Madagascar 2014 foot race. With my body and mind having had no time to recover from this gruelling hard long distance race I set off on my mountain bike just 2 days after completing the race.

The nature of the roads and towns in Madagascar, and the logistics of getting from A to B and keeping yourself fed, hydrated and accommodated meant that my average distances cycled per day were lower that expected. And in any case, I didn't want to rush through what was a fascinating journey through Madagascan towns, villages, farms and lovely local people. Not to mention the fact that I spent at least half my available time exploring the incredible national parks on the way, in particular Ramonafana and Andringitra.

In the end, I rode from the capital Antananarivo to Antsirabe in 2 days of difficult riding, following the RN7 all the way. On the third day I took a minibus (taxi brousse) from Antsirabe to Fianarantsoa, a distance of around 220km. Fianarantsoa then became my base for exploratory multiday cycling excursions out to Ramonafana National Park, Andringitra National Park and the Anja Community Reserve. The furthest south along the RN7 that I managed to get was to the Anja Community Reserve, about 12km west of the ramshackle town of Ambavalao.

Cycling through Madagascar was one of life's great adventures, even though on this trip I barely scratched the surface of what is possible in this poorly developed country. Apart from a few arterial roads like the RN7, the roads are at best potholed and narrow, and at worst are nothing more than rutted dusty tracks navigable only by mountain bike or rugged 4WD vehicle. Many of these tracks are riddled with potholes and craters, or are eroded down to the hard and knobbly road base, or are simply a series of sandpits strung together by ribbons of hard packed earth or dust. They wind their way tortuously up and down dry hills, they cross rivers and swamps on rickety wooden bridges. They pass through villages and farms and places where cars are rarely seen. Local people travel either on foot or by bike, or on wooden carts hauled by lumbering beasts of burden.

Food and accommodation along these routes is basic, and I found I was only really able to obtain real food and accommodation in the larger towns. For accommodation I stayed at cheap hotels or hostels in the towns along the way, or in the camping accommodation available in the national parks I visited. I was able to provision myself with basic food in the towns, and I was able to buy enough bottled water to keep myself hydrated en route. At times I had to ration my water, and would at times need to carry up to 6 litres with my on my bike. Some national parks like Ramonafana had restaurants near the park entrance where I could eat each evening. But in Andringitra, apart from the most basic of foods available from the local people, I pretty much had to bring everything with me on my bike from Ambavalao.

I didn't carry a tent. If I camped, I did so in national parks where tents can be rented for a small fee.

I didn't make any prior bookings. One of the great things about solo cycle touring is the ability to just wing it - both in terms of finding accommodation, booking a guide for trips in national parks, and if I decided to just stick my bike on the roof of a minibus for a leg of the journey, all I had to do was to turn up at the local taxi brousse station.

Here is my itinerary of my Madagascar mountain biking adventure and some photos.

Date Distance Cycled Altitude at Start Altitude at Finish Route Comments Accommodation
8 Sep 2014 71km 1100m 1540m Antananarivo to Ambatolamby Cycled from my hotel in central Antananarivo to the town of Ambatolampy, about 66km along the RN7. Some wrong turns getting onto the RN7 out of Antananarivo. The route climbed steadily and I was fatigued from a week of running. I was very drained and out of food when I arrived in Ambatolampy and found the Hotel La Pineta. This was a European style manor house, very quiet, I was the only guest. Bought some food in town and had dinner in the hotel restaurant. Hotel La Pineta
9 Sep 2014 100km 1540m 1500m Ambatolampy to Antsirabe Mostly level riding on open road through terraced farms, villages and small towns. I was slow and fatigued and got tired and thirsty. Found the Chez Billy hotel which was a lively clean and basic hostel with hearty food on the menu. Hotel Chez Billy
10 Sep 2014 0km 1500m 1140m Taxi brousse from Antsirabe to Fianarantsoa To save time and energy the bike went on top of a taxi brousse today, which drove non-stop the 250km to Fianarantsoa. The scenery was essentially unchanged from yesterday - central Madagascan rural life. The hotel was full of school girls from Melbourne (!) and so I was given a dilapidated tent on the lawn outside. Hotel Arinofy
11 Sep 2014 58km 1140m 880m Fianarantsoa to Ramonafana NP From Fianarantsoa I rode northwards back along the RN7 for 28km and took the turnoff to Ramonafana. The road was surprisingly high quality bitumen all the way to Ramonafana. Great riding, hardly any traffic. The road climbed and climbed and eventually entered rainforest. Reached the highest point (1250m) and then descended through rainforest to the park entrance of Ranomafana where I found a tent pitched under a thatched roof to stay in, and a restaurant, right by the park entrance. Went wildlife spotting in the evening. Tent at park entrance Ramonafana.
12 Sep 2014 0km     Day in Ramonafana NP Took a guided walk into Ramonafana NP and spotted 5 species of lemur and saw other fascinating wildlife. See the wildlife section for photos. Back by mid afternoon and rested. Tent at park entrance Ramonafana.
13 Sep 2014 58km 880m 1140m Ramonafana NP to Fianarantsoa Rode back to Fianarantsoa. This took half a day, which gave me the afternoon in Fianarantsoa to explore town and buy food. Hotel Arinofy
14 Sep 2014 104km 1140m 1427m Fianarantsoa to Andringitra NP One of the best, hardest and most adventurous days of mountain biking ever. The first half of the day was spent cycling down the RN7 to Ambavalao, about 56km. This was hilly riding including a pass at 1270m and long descent into Ambavalao (altitude 1000m), a ramshackle town where I arrived around 11:30am. Then it was off on rough dusty tracks south from Ambavalao the remaining 48km to Andringitra. The rough tracks were hilly and windy, crossed rivers on rickety wooden bridges and passed through some tiny villages. There was almost no traffic, just village people on foot or on old bikes. Climbed and climbed, approaching the granite range of Andringitra. Arrrived at the park entrance and organised a guide for hiking the next few days. Cycled 3km further on to the gîte where I stayed the night. Cooked my own food on the open fire in the kitchen used by the owners of the gîte. Andringitra Gîte.
15-18 Sep 2014 0km     Hiking in Andringitra NP I hired a guide, a porter and a tent and spent 4 days exploring Andringitra National Park. See the Andringitra National Park section for details. Camping
19 Sep 2014 60km 1427m 980m Andringitra NP to Anja Reserve Today I rode back to Ambavalao along the rough trails that I had come in on on 14 Sep. Much faster and easier in this direction as it was mostly downhill and by now I was carrying hardly any food. Got to Ambavalao around midday. This town is straight out of a John Wayne western. Bought a little food and cycled 12km west along the RN7 to the Anja Reserve. There I found some nice accommodation and in the afternoon I went on a guided hike in the reserve and saw many ring tailed lemurs and chameleons. Bungalow in Anja Reserve.
20 Sep 2014 69km 980m 1140m Anja Reserve to Fianarantsoa Beautiful morning riding along the RN7 uphill into Ambavalao then back along the RN7 and over the high pass (1270m) and back to Fianarantsoa. Arrived early afternoon. Hotel Arinofy
21 Sep 2014 0km     Taxi brousse from Fianarantsoa to Antsirabe A cramped and uncomfortable taxi brousse ride for the 250km back to Antsirabe with the bike on the roof. Hotel Chez Billy
22 Sep 2014 5km     Taxi brousse from Antsirabe to Antananarivo Another unfomfortable and car sick ride in a taxi brousse back from Antsirabe to Antananarivo in time for my flight home. Hotel Sakamanga



In central Antananarivo about to set off from the hotel on my 2 week mountain biking trip along the RN7.
Hotel La Pineta in Ambatolampy where I stayed on my first night after leaving Antananarivo.
Typical countryside passed through on the RN7 between Antananarivo and Fianarantsoa. This photo is taken about 20km north of Fianarantsoa.
For the 250km stretch from Antsirabe to Fianarantsoa my bike went on top of this taxi brousse (and I went inside).

Strapping the bike on the roof.

Rural life in Madagascar.
South of Fianarantsoa I crossed a high pass on the RN7 (about 1270m) and from there the views south into the valley of Ambavalao and in the distance the peaks of Andringitra.
After Ambavalao I set off towards Andringitra NP, the granite domes of which you can see in the distance. Parts of the road are like this.
Much of the road to Andringitra is like this or worse.
Eventually, exhausted, hot, thirsty and hungry I arrive at the park entrance.
From here it is a short evening ride down to the gîte.
It is now evening, having paid my park entrance fee and arranged a guide and porter for the next few days.
Arrived at the gîte.
Here is the gîte, a rather grandiose building compared to its surroundings, and inside it is far less grandiose than this with comfortable bunks but little else.
On the RN7 from Ambavalao to Anja Reserve you pass by some granite domes.
At the Anja reserve are these nice bungalows. I decided to treat myself.
The RN7 between Ambavalao and Anja Reserve.
The Anja Reserve nestles beneath these granite domes.
The ramshackle town of Ambavalao is straight out of a John Wayne western.



All content copyright © Ashley Burke 2015. Not to be copied, duplicated or used for any purpose without permission.

Page created 10 May 2015, last updated 10 May 2015.