Fianarantsoa, commonly abbreviated as Fianar, is a city in the Fianarantsoa Province of Madagascar. Due to its central location, it is a gateway city for transportation to many other places in central and southern Madagascar and many tourists visit to take the FCE train to Manakara. It is the centre of Madagascar's Betsileo ethnic community. The city can serve as a basis for numerous activities and day trips in the surroundings.
Fianarantsoa has a 1 small airfield, however, as of November 2017, there are no scheduled flights.
The city is connected by rail to the port city of Manakara. Most visitors arrive from the North (Antananarivo) or the South (Toliara) and travel the rail road down to Manakara. It is not a reliable mode of transport due to the bad technical state of the equipment.
Fianarantsoa is a transportation hub where several national roads meet. They all have in common that they are narrow, wind themselves through mountainous territory and offer many scenic views. The roads to Antananarivo, Manakara, Ambalavao-Toliara and Ranomafana are all paved, as of November 2017, there were quite a few damaged stretches on the NR7 between Ambositra and Fianarantsoa.
To get in and out from Fianarantsoa by road, there are two scheduled bus lines:
- 2 Cotisse transport, ☎ . Offers two daily scheduled minibus services to and from Antananarivo (gare routière du nord), buy tickets with seat reservation in advance. The buses depart on time even if not full. You are required to be at the station 45 minutes before departure. The station in Fianarantsoa has a toilet but does not sell any food/breakfast. Expect to travel around 9 hours, depending on how much time you spend in Tana's traffic jam. 25,000 Ar per person.
- TransPost. Offers scheduled minibus services to and from Toliara. Inquire at the post offices (see "Connect" section) in these two cities for departure times.
For all other destiations, you have to rely on your own car or taxi-brousse, which start from the 3 stationnement near the train station. It is busiest in the early morning.
The area of interest in Fianarantsoa is small enough to be explored by walking.
The city's taxis have no meters, agree the fare before entering the car. Expect to be quoted 5,000 Ar for a taxi trip in town. There are a few Taxi-be lines operated by old and smoky Mercedes-Benz TN. There is no plan of the route system, nor is there a time table. They cost 500 Ar for a trip.
See and do
- 1 Historical part of the city. There are efforts to preserve the historical part of Fianarantsoa with its churches and traditional buildings. Old buildings are being restored or re-built, the use of corrugated sheets for covering roofs is discouraged, and all new buildings have to be conform to the traditional style. It is worth walking around and see some of the community facilities, galleries and nice views from the hill. You can hire a guide for an hour or two, even if it is not really necessary.
- 1 FCE Railway. For some tourists, a ride on the FCE Railway is a special highlight. If the system is not en panne, trains depart for Manakara at 07:00 every Saturday and Tuesday. From Manakara, they return to Fianar at 06:45 every Sunday and Wednesday. The journey takes you through the rain forest, offering very scenic views. For villages along the way, the train is the main (sometimes the only) link to the outside world. As a result, stations are bustling with activity -- vendors selling fruit, peanuts, crayfish, samosas, wood, animals, etc. The slow journey that takes anywhere between 12 hours and 24 hours is more about the experience. If you take this challenge, bring enough water, food and insect repellent and all your patience. A reserved seat in first class costs: Fianarantsoa-Manakara: 70,000 Ar; Fianarantsoa-Andrambovato: 30,000 Ar; Fianarantsoa-Manapatrana: 40,000 Ar; Manapatrana-Manakara: 40,000 Ar.
There are three banks with ATMs BFV-SG, BOA and BNI on 1 Boulevard Philibert Tsiranana.
The city center turns into a large market on Tuesdays selling everything a local family needs. Apart from this, there is no shopping mall where you could buy items only a Westerner desires. If you need anything special (food, medication, electronics), then ensure you bring it with you.
- BFV-SG Bank, Immeuble. 24 hours. BFV ATMs take most international cards.
- 1 Hotel Arinofy. A short walk from the taxi brousse station, Arinofy is a convenient budget option. Basic rooms and meals available. The train station is close enough to walk. Starting from 20,000 Ar.
- 2 Hotel Soratel, Immeuble Sorako, Ampasambazaha, ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. Acceptable hotel on Fianar's main road. The building is hard to miss due to its bright yellow colour. Wifi available. Expect 57,000 Ar for a double including a simple breakfast.
- 3 Tsara Guest House, Pasitera Ramasitera, ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Check-in: 14:00, check-out: 12:00. Well-managed hotel in very nice setting allowing a nice view over parts of Fianarantsoa. English spoken. Laundry service available. Very good restaurant (budget 19,000 Ar for breakfast buffet, 20,000 for a main dish for dinner/lunch). The reception can also provide contacts to guides and drivers and can recommend activities in Fianar and surroundings. The Malagasy owner of the hotel supports the protection of Fianar's old town. Credit cards accepted but with hefty surcharge on your bill. Expect 50,000 Ar for a double with shared facilities, 143,000 for a double with private bathroom.
- Three Palms Fianar Guest house, In38 Ambatolahikosoa Route de la Petite. Check-in: 12:00, check-out: 12:00. Double room with own bathroom. Free Wi-Fi. 30,000 Ar.
The main 2 post office, which reportedly also has a few operational computers for internet access, is opposite to the train station.
- 1 Soatanana (follow N42 for about 35 km, turn left and drive about 7 more km). On Sundays, a visit to the village of Soatanana is a very special experience. You can take part in the mass of the Christian Mpiandry community, which is preceded and followed by a procession through the village. The ceremonies start around 09:30. All community members wear white clothes. Their singing of religious songs is interrupted only by the sermons. Guests are welcome to join the mass and receive a complimentary lunch after the procession ends, during your stay a French-speaking attendant will explain and translate to you. Welcome is so warm that some people will feel uneasy about it. Be prepared to contribute to the believers' offerings during the mass, and maybe leave a contribution to one of the village's community projects to the président of the community. The road is partly very bad, a 4x4 is necessary, budget 2½ hours for one way. In the rainy season it may be very difficult to drive, inquire before going by yourself. In Fianar, expect to be quoted around 350,000 Ar for car, fuel, and driver-guide for the round trip.
- 2 Sahambavy. Sahambavy is the home of Madagascar's largest tea plantation. You can visit the plantation and the factory for a fee of 5,000 Ar per person. From Fianar, it is a leasurely half-day trip if you have your own vehicle, alternatively, you can travel by taxi-brousse. The Lac Hotel is a very good option for lunch or even for an overnight stay; however there is not too much to do in Sahambavy once you have seen the tea factory.
- Visit one of the nearby villages. There are English speaking guides who can arrange an interesting half day's or day's walk in the surroundings of Fianar to see and feel the real life of the local farmers, including lunch in a Betsileo (the local tribe's name) family. Ask your accomodation's reception desk and expect to be quoted around 80,000 Ar for two persons. Bring some useful gifts for the host (don't hand out things to the children to discourage begging) and expect to be offered handmade articles for purchase. Bring enough water and sun protection.
- If you are on your way further South (Toliara or Fort-Dauphin), then Ambalavao is the next logical stop. Even if going South is not your intention, it is worth to visit Ambalavao and Anja Community Reserve on a day trip.
- For Ranomafana National Park, you can take a taxi-brousse towards Manakara. Plan to stay there at least two days.
- If the FCE train is not en panne, you can travel on this line to Manakara or get off at one of the stations in between. Note that this is not a mode of transport for tourists, but an adventure for the lovers of railways.
- If you are on your way back to Antananarivo, consider to stop in Antsirabe.