Antsirabe (the "city of much salt" in Malagasy) is located in the central highlands of Madagascar. With more than 180,000 people, Antsirabe is the third-largest largest city in the country and the capital of the Vakinankaratra region. Wide boulevards and restored colonial architecture make separate the city from the bustling capital to the north.
Antsirabe is located 160 kilometers south of Antananarivo on Route 7. A taxi-brousse from the southern bus station takes about 3.5 hours and costs 10,000 Ar. They leave throughout the day. In Antsirabe, the station is 3 km north of the center. A pousse-pousse or cyclo-pousse should cost about 4,000 Ar to most places in town. There are also daily departures to Fianarantsoa and Morondova.
The town isn't huge, and unlike Tana has a flat center, making taxis both scarce and not necessary. The town is famous for its pousse-pousses or human-powered rickshaws. There are also auto-rickshaws and cyclo-pousses waiting around to take you from destinations. Short distances in town are 1,000 Ar, with the prices rising to 2,000 or 3,000 for long treks.
Several hotels, including Chez Billy and the Green Park Hotel have bikes for rent, which are also a good option. Greek Park charges 10,000 Ar a day (no deposit required) for a basic 10 speed and 20,000 Ar for a mountain bike.
Antsirabe Train Station. The Malagasy railway network dates from the colonial period, though breakdowns are frequent and many lines are now closed. The Antsirabe Train Station is an architecturally interesting example of colonial building techniques, though in 2007 it was closed due to problems with the line to the capital city.
Lac Tratriva The most popular excursion in Antsirabe is a visit to this natural crater lake. It is accessed by riding 8 kilometers west of town on the road to Morondova and then taking a dirt spur road. This can also be done by grabbing one of the many taxi-brousses that pass by followed by a short hike. Tritriva came to the attention of the outside world by James Sibree, Jr. in 1885. The water level fluctuates considerably throughout the year so ask a local before heading out in October or November.
Star Brewery - There are free tours of the main brewery in Madagascar on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 9 a.m. You are supposed to book in advance, but you may be able to talk your way in with some kind words. The tours are usually in French, but there's a public relations woman who will, with some encouragement, speak in English. It takes about 90 minutes and you'll see where the beer is fermented, bottled and shipped. No tasting on the premises, unfortunately.
Train station Antsirabe receives few passenger trains today, but the colonial-era station is a marvel. Don't expect to find the boutiques of Tana's station, but definitely take a closer look at the architecture.
Grand marche A large, partially covered market is a fascinating peek into the city's commerce. There are separate sections for produce, rice, metalworks, clothing and shoes, with dozens of stalls and frenetic activity all day. Tana at one point had a market like this but it was torn down in the later half of the twentieth century.
Chez Billy is probably the most frequented budget place with rooms starting at 25000 Ar (the back room is 20000). This place is located in the center of town. Wifi included.
Cercle Mess Mixte is probably the cheapest option if you are not tenting. Rooms are worn down but start at 15000 Ar. This place is located a bit north of town, in between the center and the taxi brousse stand.
Chambres du Voyageur Located about four kilometers outside of town enroute to the lakes, there's a nice pool here and plenty of greenery.
Green Park Hotel provides rooms and bungalows for about 30,000 to 50,000 Ar, but also allows for camping (7000 Ar.). Wifi included.
Aro Hotel. In summer 2007, nightly fees ranged around US$40. Located in the center of town near the old train station.
Couleur Cafe. Wonderful set of 15 bungalows set around manicured gardens. The best option in town, located just north of the center. Popular with groups driving down Route 7 enroute to the south. Rates around 110,000 to 150,000 including breakfast. Excellent set, French-inspired dinner for about 35,000 Ar.
There is a daily evening taxi-brousse that runs to Morondava in the west. This takes around 11 to 14 hours and runs through the night. There are also departures to all cities south on RN7, including Toliara, which may require a connection in Fianarantsoa.