Madagascar uses the ariary as its official currency. We’re about to learn more about it here. However we should begin by saying that it holds a rather special position in the currency world. This is due to the fact it is not a decimal currency. It is one of just two currencies in the entire world that isn’t decimal.
What coins and notes are available for this currency?
Each ariary is divided into five iraimbilanja. There are only two coins available in this denomination, which are provided as the one and two-piece iraimbilanja coins. Aside from this you can get seven other coins denominated in the ariary. These are the 1, 2, 4, 5, 10, 20 and 50 ariary coins. These are usually denoted by the letters Ar that appear before the amount (something you’ll see with larger prices that can be paid for in notes too).
As for the banknotes, these are all available in larger denominations. For example the smallest note is the 100 ariary note. This is followed by the 200, 500, 1,000, 2,000, 5,000 and 10,000 notes.
From past to present – the history of the Malagasy ariary
We’d need to go back to the early Sixties to find the first use of the ariary in Madagascar. Each ariary was worth the same as five Malagasy francs. This currency actually circulated in Madagascar until 2005, so there was quite a gap in between the introduction of the new currency and the abolition of the old one!
In fact although the ariary came into being in 1961, it didn’t become official as the national currency until 2005. Between those dates – a period of over 40 years – both currencies were used there.
How to get hold of the Malagasy ariary
As you might imagine (correctly in this case) the ariary is not readily available at your local bureau de change. This means you won’t be able to start using it or even get any of it until you arrive in Madagascar.
However this is not a major problem since lots of outlets in the country will take euros. To a lesser extent you can use the US dollar too, but you should make sure to get the local currency once you arrive as you won’t always be able to pay in another currency. These are also the ideal currencies to bring in abundance so you can change them for the local currency if and when you want to.
You can use traveller’s cheques too, although it is best to get them in the form of euros. Make sure that whenever you want to change either cash or your traveller’s cheques that you do so at a bank or bureau de change. Avoid changing anything at the hotels; while many of them do provide the service (and it may seem convenient) they’ll charge a small fortune for the service.
There are cash machines around but they don’t accept all cards. You might also find yours is stopped if you haven’t notified your bank or card provider that you’re using it abroad.
Finally do remember that you won’t be able to exchange any ariary banknotes or coins once you get back home. This means trying to make sure you get through as many of them as possible before you leave. You can change back banknotes at the airport just before departure, and keep the coins as souvenirs or to spend on things at the airport before you go.
How to find out the latest exchange rate between your home currency and the Malagasy ariary
This is pretty easy to do since you can use a currency converter tool to give you the answers. It is also particularly worthwhile converting your own currency to the ariary, especially since it is not a decimal one. It might take some getting used to using it in Madagascar for this fact alone. You can easily locate the currency on the converters by using the ISO code MGA.
There does not appear to be an embassy for Madagascar in the UK at the moment. With this in mind the best website to visit for more information on visiting the country is the UK government website at https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/madagascar/.
Travelling safely with the Malagasy ariary
The good news is that Madagascar is for the most part a safe country to visit (do keep reading for more information however). It is of course a good idea to check the latest travel information prior to going, but then this applies wherever you go in the world. For example at the time of writing the political situation in the country was uncertain, even though things had largely improved throughout the country. Do make sure you investigate the latest situation both before you book anything and before you travel, as well as keeping up to date when you are there.
There are some areas of the country that are less stable and secure than others however. The UK government recommends that people should book trips and holidays through companies that are well aware of the situation and know which areas you should travel to and which ones you should avoid.
Unfortunately petty crime such as bag snatching and pickpocketing does occur in the more built-up areas. Make sure you book into a hotel that offers a room safe and make sure you always use it. This is by far the safest place to keep your passport while you are in the country. Furthermore keep any excess cash and cards in there too. Make sure you have photocopies of everything to keep on you instead. Be alert whenever you get hold of any cash and make sure no one is watching you. Separate your cash into different pockets or bags or purses, and keep your bag slung around your neck on the opposite shoulder to make it harder for someone to grab it.
Where to spend your ariary in Madagascar – and what to spend them on
Madagascar is an island situated in the Indian Ocean. It is quite a large island, as you will see if you find it on a map – the islands of Reunion and Mauritius are located off to the east of Madagascar and they look tiny by comparison. Madagascar itself is located off the coast of Mozambique in Africa.
The capital of Madagascar is a city called Antananarivo. One of the undoubted highlights here is the royal palace, which sits on the biggest hill that towers over the city. It is certainly a most appropriate place for a royal palace to sit. Another key location is the Andohalo Cathedral. This is quite impressive to view from the front as well as from other angles. If you want to learn more about the city and the island as a whole, look out for some of the many museums that are dotted around the streets.
As you might expect, there are lots of great natural sights on the island. Perhaps one of the better-known ones is the Avenue of the Baobabs. This rather appealing name is given to a selection of baobab trees that line a particular road in the western reaches of the island. The trees are quite unusual because they have a tall thick trunk and there is no foliage on them until you get to the upper reaches of the trees.
There are plenty of national parks you could choose from when you visit the island, but let’s focus on just one here – Amber Mountain National Park. It’s located far to the very north of the island and is well-known for the amazing variety of birds, mammals and other creatures that live here. These are only the ones we know about – there may well be others that have yet to be discovered.
The park is delightful in its appearance, owed in part to the waterfalls that exist here. They are quite beautiful to see and there are three main ones in all. You can even stay in the park if you wish, as there is a lodge here that welcomes guests. It is the best way to spend some time exploring the park at your leisure. There are guided tours available to help you get the most of the park and everything it has to offer. The ideal time to go is between August and the early weeks of December. From then on there is the increased chance of finding yourself in the middle of a cyclone, since this is the time of year when they naturally tend to occur.
As you can see, Madagascar has plenty to offer the eager traveller wishing to visit an island packed with things to see and do. With so many opportunities here and lots to appreciate on the way, it would be easy to spend a few weeks here and never see the same thing twice. Whether you stay in the cities or venture out to some of the parks (or hit the beaches) there is always something else to enjoy.