Madagascar’s RN5 to
Masoala National Park

Unspoilt rainforest, lemurs, humpback whales and virgin forest combine with stunning beaches on this epic adventure up the wild east coast of Madagascar



Unspoilt rainforests, lemurs, humpback whales and virgin forest combine with stunning beaches. The wild east coast of Madagascar will be the backdrop of your incredible journey and culminates in a stay at the Masoala Forest Lodge, a touch of luxury that will be very well received. Most fly, but if you’re up for an adventure then consider travelling the RN5…

A rocky, potholed, single-track road, riven by 13 river crossings, follows the shores of the Indian Ocean to reach Madagascar’s greatest unspoilt rainforest at Masoala. It’s not for the faint-hearted but along the way it reveals some of the country’s greatest charms.

The RN5 (Route National 5) is the only means – by land – of connecting the port town of Tamatave with Maroansetra on Madagascar’s east coast. Beyond that it leads to the sensational Masoala Peninsula on the Bay of Antongil. It has a well-earned reputation for being the worst highway in the world.

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If any of the things above put you off, this road simply isn’t for you. If, however, you have the time (you’ll need to build in contingency time in case of delays) and you are happy to rough it, eat simple local food and take things as they come, you may just find – as we did – that this is one of the most magical journeys that you can imagine.


The condition of the road means that vehicles rarely get out of first gear and for much of the route progress is at little more than walking speed. It is this that really drives the best time of year to take on this adventure and as such only gives a fairly short window of opportunity between August and October.

What’s more, between July and September the ocean is alive with humpback whales that come here to breed. Virtually any time you stop you’ll see the spouts of the whales and it’s not uncommon to see breaches close to the shore.


““The RN5 runs alongside the Indian Ocean. It passes beaches like wild heavens, places where crystal rivers cut golden sand, flowing into bays where humpbacks sprout.”


Expect potholes that could swallow a Landrover, rafts made of bamboo that threaten to sink with your vehicle aboard, crumbling bridges straight from an Indiana Jones movie and river crossings ready to flood the vehicle of any driver foolish enough to ignore the tides.

But for those who like the idea of an adventure, and who have the time and patience to take this route, the rewards are huge. After the first ferry crossing at Soanera Ivongo, the road quickly narrows to a single sandy track and for most of the journey travels either within view of – or actually on – the sandy beaches of the Indian ocean. At most you’ll find yourself traveling with a small handful of vehicles, but for large stretches you’ll find yourself alone and a world away from modern Madagascar.

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Because of the numerous rivers that cut the road along this route, there are frequent stops that lend a natural rhythm to the journey. And any one of these stops has the potential to bring things to a halt while a ferry is mended, or the tide goes out.

But in all honesty, it’s here that the charm of the journey emerges. Each stop reveals not only more breath-taking scenery, but also small clusters of tea shops that service the passing trade. Made of bamboo and resembling miniaturised wild west houses on stilts, you are welcomed without so much as a raised eyebrow to find freshly brewed hot coffee, crepes and freshly baked baguettes. Time passes, you shoot the breeze with fellow travellers or soak up the scenery until the tide falls / ferry arrives / bridge is mended…and the journey can continue.

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It’s customary on any safari that we organise to send you a detailed pre-departure itinerary outlining what you’ll do each day and where you’ll sleep.

Given the vagaries of the RN5 and the fact that your progress will often depend on the height of the tide when you reach your next river crossing – too high or low meaning that you’ll have to wait several hours for it to either rise or fall – we are pretty reticent to do this, rather suggesting places that we HOPE that you’ll reach all being well, but always stressing that it’s very likely changes will have to be made.

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Our Favourite Camps & Lodges

From basic to beautiful, accommodation on this trip is a wide variety of what Madagascar has to offer.
Masoala Forest Lodge

The carrot at the end of any Madagascar trip is the Masoala Peninsula and the gem of a forest lodge – the Madagascar of our imagination.

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Meet Our Travel Experts

It takes genuine local knowledge to craft trips that go beyond the ordinary. The Natural High team have unrivalled experience and will take your ideas and turn them into your trip of a lifetime.

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Into The Wild Brochure

Need some more inspiration? Request a copy of Into The Wild, our comprehensive anthology of safaris and wilderness travel.

Receive a copy of our into the wild brochure

A print anthology of safari and wilderness travel with over 220 pages of travel inspiration.

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