24 June 2008

Mad for Madagascar

What is part of Africa but not part of Africa, and attracting a growing number of visitors? Madagascar, the "Great Island" off the south-east coast of Africa is the correct answer. With more than 5000 kilometers of coastline, and a diversified wildlife and natural biosphere, Madagascar offers a wide range of travel excitements, including ecotourism. Safaris for wild animals, and safaris for gems, are both available. Travel conditions range from backpacker low to luxury high. Aided by the success of the 2005 animated feature film "Madagascar", tourism on the giant island has grown as people flock in to see the wildlife and vast expanses of nature. Unfortunately, there are no singing lemurs.
The Madagascar Tourism Board has a french-language website here. However, many tour companies operate in english, and individual and package tourism is easily available to all.
Air Madagascar flies to Antananarivo from Paris, Brussels, Bangkok.
The absolute best way to travel in many countries is by train, and Madagascar is no different. Badly damaged in 2000 by two storms, the 163km track of the FCE-Madagascar Railway once again takes passengers on a 10 hours journey from the coastal town of Manakara to the highland city of Fianarantsoa through some spectacular scenery. It is one of the world's steepest rail lines, and crosses 67 bridges at a leisurely 25km/hr. There are short stops at 17 villages along the way.
The train leaves Fianarantsoa at 07:00 TuWThSaSu. It departs Manakara at 06:45 MWThFSu. Fares are about $8 first class, and $6 second class. The train has a website here.
Every story has a bad news aspect. Last year the visa fee for Madagascar was around $80, which was average for a visa sold to Canadian citizens that year. This past spring the price jumped 100% to the new rate of $155 per visa. The forms and requirements remain the same as before.
Click here for Madagascar visa details.
Click here for on-screen fillable Madagascar visa forms.

02 June 2008

The Russian (Visa) Revolution

Reciprocity is not dead. For every action there is an opposite reaction, and the visa world is no different. Last week the Russian government announced big changes to the visa regime applicable to Canadian citizens.
In their own words: “Please take note that starting June 1, 2008 the processing period of 15 working days is fixed for all kind of visa application for Canadian citizens.”
This means Canadian passport holders must wait a minimum of three weeks for a visa to be issued for travel to Russia, and there is no expedited service available for Canadians. Until the end of April you could still get same-day service, as well as other fast services. No longer.
Word in the diplomatic community is this new longer wait and lack of faster options is a result of Canadian visa processing times in Moscow. we have had to deal with several universities trying to bring Russian professors to Canada for academic conferences, and waiting inordinately-long periods for a visa answer. The Russians have complained about having to wait months for Canadian visas, and finally decided to act.
And just to make us jealous, the Russians added this little dig: “the visa requirements for non-Canadians remain without changes”. Many Europeans can still get visas in a day: even in the Russian embassy in Canada.
So my advice to those of you traveling to Russia is to apply early. The Russians will issue visas more than three months in advance of travel, so you can safely apply early. You still need a confirmed ticket in and out, and a voucher/invitation issued by a Russian agency.
Prices remain the same as for the old two week processing:
Business and tourist single entry $75.
Business and tourist double entry $100.
Business multiple entry $200.
Russian visa details and prices here.
Russian visa forms (fillable) here.