Antananarivo, often shortened to Tana, is the capital of Madagascar and lies at the heart of the island. A vibrant city, trips to Madagascar will often begin and end here and it is sometimes necessary to overnight here between different regions too. Built over 12 hills, Antananarivo has a certain charm with its colourful buildings and is dominated on the highest hill by the queen’s palace.
Antananarivo is Madagascar’s capital and situated almost centrally in the country, its name literally means ‘city of a thousand’ as it is thought that during the reign of the Merina kingdom a thousand warriors guarded it. Tana is very much a hub for flights between different parts of the country, but is still worth exploring in its own right, rather than just treating it as a convenient overnight stop.
With its colonial charm and colourful buildings, Tana is an enticing city, although to first-time visitors can feel frenetic with the chaotic traffic and obvious poverty. The city is built across 12 sacred hills with a difference of 200m between its lowest and highest points, with the ruins of the queen’s palace, or rova, dominating the skyline. Although the palace was destroyed by fire, it is still possible to visit the grounds as well as the royal tombs and bath which is worthwhile. Another cultural experience is a hands-on traditional Malagasy cooking class which is the perfect way to interact with locals and sample the island’s cuisine. One of the greatest charms of Antananarivo is the strong feeling of it being a cultural melting pot thanks to the island’s historical ties to France, the African mainland and Asia. The outskirts of town are a patchwork of paddy fields with zebu and carts and taxi-brousses jostling for position, providing a gloriously exotic charm.