The Jungle Express

The Jungle Express on Madagascar – An adventurous and incomparable experience

Almost leisurely, the old diesel locomotive takes its way through the dense, green jungle along with its innumerable wagons. The interior of the wagons looks like a colorful place of locals laden with various goods, families with small children, and tourists wearing tropical hats, suitcases and cameras. Through the open windows and doors blows a light breeze. A welcome change from the oppressive sultriness of the typical tropical climate. Suddenly, everything is immersed in the darkness of a tunnel for a long moment, before a breathtaking panorama of high, rugged mountains opens out before the windows, on whose slopes nestle numerous green rice terraces. On the other side, a waterfall crashes down the rugged cliff under loud thunder. A ride on the jungle express on Madagascar sounds like a real big adventure and that’s it. For in no other place on the island can you experience the unique landscape and special people of Madagascar in such an incomparable way so pure and close up.

At 163 kilometers from the inner highlands to the east coast

The demanding construction of this railway line lasted for ten years between Fianarantsoa, ​​located at an altitude of 1100 meters in the Malagasy highlands, and Manakara on the Indian Ocean coast. Between 1926 and 1936, the French colonialists took on this task and built over a length of 163 kilometers a true masterpiece of 67 bridges and 48 tunnels. The narrow-gauge railway overcomes over 1,000 vertical meters and inclines of up to 35%. In view of such inclinations, it is not surprising that the average speed of the Jungle Express is only 30 km / h. So a complete drive from Fianarantsoa to Manakara usually takes a good 12 to 14 hours. Even travel times of 24 hours are not an uncommon exception.

“Mora mora” – “always calm”

However, this is not only due to the low speed of the train, but especially to the numerous scheduled stops on the track. A total of 17 stations the train travels on its 163-kilometer route. Because for many villages that can not be reached by road, it is an indispensable lifeline that not only transports vital goods but also brings the inhabitants of mountain villages into the city. At the stations, there is often a busy and bustling activity. In addition to passengers getting in and out and loading and unloading goodss, local traders offer cooking bananas, fresh fruit and other delicacies. Also, one or the other conversation is conducted during the stop and can delay the onward journey. From time to time, there are also unplanned disruptions and delays, such as technical problems with the ancient, nostalgic diesel locomotive or wild animals such as zebus on the tracks. Patience is essential here, because what is the Malagasy philosophy of life still the same – “mora, mora”, “always with peace”.

Mountains, gorges, valleys, lakes and jungles

But a surprising stop here and there, is not bad, because adventures are not going according to plan. In addition, there will be more time to admire the impressive and incomparable nature of Madagascar on both sides of the track. Closer than on this railroad tourists will probably only come to the tropical rainforest on a guided tour. But the narrow gauge tracks do not just lead through the middle of the jungle. Again and again, a variety of landscape impressions slowly pull away from the windows. In addition to the high mountains, deep gorges and valleys of the Malagasy Andringitra mountains, the Express also passes by the numerous rice fields of the highlands and the tea plantations near Sahambvy. There is also the lake of the same name, a popular destination of the locals. Other highlights of the nature experience along the route is the mighty Mandriampotsy waterfall, as well as the Faraony river, which ran parallel to the tracks for a long time. The Jungle Express also passes the Ranomafana National Park, which, in addition to its waterfalls, is also known for its diverse flora and fauna. If you would like to take a longer detour to the UNESCO World Heritage listed National Park, take your time, as the jungle express operates every two days between Fianarantsoa and Manakara.

Travel times

From Fianarantsoa to Manakara
Day Departure Arrival
Tuesday 07:00 Uhr During the evening
Saturday 07:00 Uhr During the evening
From Manakara to Fianarantsoa
Day Depature Arrival
Wednesday 06:45 Uhr During the evening
Sunday 06:45 Uhr During the evening