Antsirabe is a memorable town to visit if only to experience the constant badgering of the pousse-pousse drivers. A pousse-pousse is the Malagasy equivalent to the rickshaw and Antsirabe is infested with them.
From the moment you arrive by taxi-bousse you will be swarmed by pousse-pousse drivers desperate for your business. They will take you anywhere in the town and because competition for your patronage is extreme, it is possible to negotiate a reasonable price before climbing on board, but remember, if you want to get to your hotel or destination quickly try to pick a young driver! The last time I rode a pousse-pousse in Antsirabe, my old driver could barely generate enough speed to reach walking pace.
Antsirabe is a lovely town and a stroll around its streets will bring you in contact with some fantastic little shops selling Malagasy artefacts and handicrafts. The shop owners really go after their sales so try not to be talked into buying something that you dont really want. Prices are negotiable and bargaining is a part of the shopping experience in Madagascar for visitors and locals alike so dont be scared to hold out for a better deal.
Antsirabe is also a centre for selling precious and semi-precious stones and numerous street vendors and stalls are willing to sell you some souviner stones. In some places you can watch them being cut and polished.
A popular spot in Antsirabe is the thermal springs and baths, located next to Lac (lake) Ranomafana (hot water). The complex provides private cubicles and body massages at bargain basement prices.
The countryside around Antsirabe is worth exploring, especially the lakes to the west of the town. Lac Andraikiba and Lac Tritriva are well visited locations and are relatively easy to get too. Many visitors hire mountain bikes and ride out to the lakes (approx 20 kms to Lac Tritrivia, 7 kms to Lac Andraikiba).
Despite the Lonely Planet guide saying that it is an easy ride, it isnt. Although worthwhile, the roads are rough and sometimes treacherous, with many long, steep uphill sections. It is a hot and tiring ride with only a couple of refreshment stalls along the way selling unrefrigerated drinks and snacks. Start early!!!
Good quality bikes can be hired for a small fee from a vendor set up on the footpath near the Hotel de Eau on the Avenue de Lindependence.
Lac Andraikiba is a large lake that is suitable for swimming with many quiet areas for resting (especially if you are mountain biking). Lac Tritiva is smaller but more scenic and busier. A fee is payable at the boomgate that blocks the road leading to the lake area.
Children from the small, picturesque village of Tritiva which rests below the crater lake, will approach you offering to be your guide or sell you handicrafts. I found these children to be most polite, many with a good grasp of English, and valuable resources of information concerning the lake and the surrounding area. They did not demand money for helping me so I tipped them generously. They accepted the money gratefully and declared that they would buy some books and pencils to use in school!
The small town of Betafo is a little further on from Lac Tritiva and is a typical example of a Merina village. It is visited by many tourists taking day trips from Antsirabe. It is easily reached by taxi or bicycle from Antsirabe (following the mostly flat main road).
There are many places to stay and eat in Antsirabe. The Hotel de Eau on the Avenue of Independence has massive rooms with their own shower and toilets. Approx 40,000 Fmg per night. A small restaurant is located in the entrance foyer.
Le Zebu Philosophe is a great restaurant, also situated on the Avenue of Independence. Good service and a range of food to suit most appetites.
Nearby is Helenas Salon de The, a patisserie that is great to visit around breakfast time.