Manakara town – a place for discerning travelers
Manakara is one of a group of old seaside towns along the south-east coast of Madagascar, which also includes Mananjary, Vohipeno, Farafangana, Vangaindrano. Each has its own unique character, features, and atmosphere and together they make up some of Madagascar's best coast travel experiences. The littoral cities are not overwhelmed with tourists as some of the coastal areas can be. You can discover all these places with NDAO-i-Travel.
Manakara was once a flourishing colonial town with vast coffee plantations but is now pretty much isolated from the rest of the country due to infrequent flights and road access only during the dry season. It is also a highly underrated destination that should not be overlooked. This pleasant seaside town is nevertheless slowly gaining in popularity among discerning travelers. While Manakara is geographically on the east coast, virtually all travellers visit on a round-trip from Fianarantsoa, especially now the super railway from Fianarantsoa to the Coast has been rehabilitated, making Manakara an important part of many a highlands itinerary. This "little train of the cliffs" considered the steepest train in the world, it rushes into the primeval forest, advances on steep rocky slopes, descends along precipices, at a speed of 35 km. It is a long trip but guaranteed sensations.
During your stay in Manakara, do not miss the opportunity to go on a trip along the Pangalanes Canal. For those not planning on visiting the Canal des Pangalanes elsewhere, this is your chance. It can make a welcome beach break from the highlands, particularly after trekking in the parks. The Canal des Pangalanes is an uninterrupted ballet of rowing canoes loaded with goods or carrying passengers. A very dense lake life in a friendly atmosphere and on the shores of small fishing villages built in wood. Do not hesitate to visit these villages to discover the daily life of the villagers turning mainly on the fishing but also the braiding of mats and the construction of canoes and new huts. On board a traditional dugout canoe, discover a luxuriant and wild vegetation dotted here and there with fruit trees and in the air exotic perfumes mixing coffee, lemon grass, mango, vanilla...
Located at the mouth of the river Manakara, the town is innately interesting, as it is divided into two parts by the canal. The warm inland side, known as Tanambao, has a dynamic Caribbean vibe, with sandy streets, tin-roofed shacks and a buoyant daily market. (In the market, do not miss some local products such as pepper or litchis!) While on the other side of the bridge lies the breezy seaside district of Manakara-Be, the old part and its colonial style houses. The modern part is rather beautiful, with its parallel boulevards, lawns planted with palm trees. There is a building of sub-prefecture, communal bungalows, banks, post office, corporate agencies and a beautiful modern pool. The eastern part of the town, situated between the river and the Indian Ocean, has no shortage of charm either. Villas, surrounded by beautiful gardens and coconut trees hanging over the beachfront, give this town a coastal ambiance. The bridge linking both sides partially collapsed in 2012 and a temporary bridge was erected in the old port instead.
Manakara is a peaceful town with wide, unpaved streets, so you can easily feel like you're at the end of the world... Manakara is certainly one of the cleanest towns of Madagascar where the dominant means of transport is the rickshaw as well as in other coastal towns of the South East.
There are beautiful beaches lined with coconut trees, but it is impossible to swim because of strong currents. For a swim, take a tour of the «Trou du commissaire», an enclave protected by a coral reef. The coast is wild and a pirogue ride along the Pangalanes Canal will unveil the charming fishing villages that border it. The road to reach Vanille beach (Trou du commissaire) is 8 km from town, it is the only place where you can swim safely at the sea. Manakara is the ideal place to relax and do nothing, after a long and tiring journey by train. Bike rides along the ocean are magical.
Manakara is the capital of the Antemoro people, who are mainly of Islamic origin, what explains the number of mosques in such a small port town. Anakara people have kept "Sorabe", sacred texts, in Arabic words. Those texts remind of Antemoro history, astrology and some Coran verses (Malagasy was first written in Arabic alphabet before English missionaries introduced the Latin alphabet). In Manakara, visit the Antemoro paper factory. This traditional Malagasy paper is used to make beautiful parchments, letters, postcards, etc. You will also find some at the town market. In the town center, you can also go to the restaurant or the nightclub. From Manakara, you can also access the natural swimming pool by ferry. There is also a day trip to Farafangana and a visit to Rianambo Private Park, as well as the Manombo Special Reserve. About 40 km north of Manakara is Vohipeno, cultural capital of Antemoro. You will also see the tomb of the Antemoro kings.
Another interesting place to visit is a vanille plantation recently opened for tourism. The plantation is situated at 18 km from Manakara direct on the route to Vohipeno (30 min. by car). You'll find Domaine Aavyland, a 31-hectare organic plantation and distillery producing medicinal and fragrant essential oils. Apart from vanille, visitors can also get to know other aromatic plants such as ylang-ylang, niaouly, patchouly, ravintsara, clove and cinnamon. Manager Jean offers fascinating two-hour guided tours of the plantation and distillery, explaining the virtues and production process of every essential oil. Visitors get the chance to scrunch leaves as they go, and to try the essential oils at the end of the visit. Small bottles of essential oils are available for sale, as is the plantation's honey. In the distillery, you can observe the fecundation of vanille flowers (from September to December).
Manakara perfectly rhymes with the Ranomafana National Park. To experience the rainforest's gem through a veritable garden of exoticism Mananjary, you can take a fascinating and very useful trip, "Cruise on the Pangalanes Canal Manakara - Ranomafana NP via Mananjary". Well ... or vice versa, "Cruise on the Pangalanes Canal Ranomafana NP – Manakara and railway Côte Est - Fianar, the "little train of the cliffs". Cruise will get you from Ranomafana to Manakara to discover the Manombo Special Reserve and experience the super railway Côte Est - Fianar. But you can do it just in quicker, but less interesting way to drive a 4x4 car on a dirt road.
A trip to Manakara can also be well connected with the Andasibe-Mantadia National Park. You can get access to all the sights that the East of Madagascar offers or return to the capital Antananarivo by taking "Cruise on the Pangalanes Canal Manakara-Andasibe-Mantadia NP via Mananjary, Nosy Varika and Mahanoro".
Watch more photos about Manakara here.