Now, what is to be seen in Manakara? Manakara is the capital city of Antemoro tribe, those who make Antemoro paper and derived products. You can buy them at the market, Bazary.
Side note: Antemoro paper is made from crunched Havoha (of a mulberry tree family) barks. Motifs are made with flowers petals, that are laid on the paste obtained from crunched barks. The whole set is left there for drying and to have the paste hardened.
Antemoro people: "people from the coast" are of islamic origin, reportedly Antalaotra from Comorros who reached East coast. That surely explains the high number of mosques in such less important port city. Anyway, it is worth the glance for its colonial styled buildings, on foot or by pousse-pousse.
Anakara people have kept "Sorabe", sacred texts, in Arabic words. Those texts remind of Antemoro history, astrology and some Coran verses. (Side note: Malagasy was first written in Arabic words before the English (missionaries) converted our Malayo- Polynesian language, written in Arabic words into the same but written in Latin words.) It's still place where one may see djellaba, headscarf.
It's a port city where stop cargos loaded with goods (coffee, beans..) that are conveyed to Toamasina from Fort dauphin.
If you land there after the FCE 10-hour train ride, then you may want to relax. For that, some cruise on Pangalanes canal with a boat to see mangrove flora, little fishermen villages.
Manakara is a part of a package FCE-Pangalanes-Ranomafana. Indeed, from Manakara, you can hire a taxi-brousse who is driving you to Fianarantsoa. A bit tiring though when taxi-brousses are truck-brousses. So:
An insider tip: a friend who did it in summer 2003 recommends to go to Parthenay Club (a hotel). He said that there used to be 4WD who waited for clients on their return to Fianar. They had conveyed people to Manakara, who wanted to experience the Manakara- Fianar train ride. So, the 4WD can drive you to Fianar or drop you at Ranomafana park.
The South-East primitive forest by train has been always mythical for me.
The image one has of train services has been always bad. I enjoyed a railtrip to East, a kind of an inauguration ride. Afterwards, services went bad and we stuck to roadtrips.
Now, for this FCE line, it is an old line from the 40s that was victim of cyclones in early 2000 BUT largely rebuilt now.
The line is reported to be one of the three steepest in the world (along with Burma and Ecuador), with 67 bridges and 48 tunnels. It offers the traveler magnificent views as it descends the escarpment east of Fianarantsoa.
With three newly rehabilitated locomotives, the FCE is ready to welcome travelers. 163 km path from the high plateau to the sea through forest, bamboo trees and ricefields. Land of Tanala people ("those who come from the forest" )
Take your time because it is a leisurely ride with a speed of 20-35 km/hour. 8-10 hours from the highlands to the coast. Then, plenty of time to admire the evolving landscape, to socialize during a communal travel and to enjoy the bustle of village stations as they come alive with the whistle of the arriving train. A tip: to Manakara, book left aisle for a better view. From Manakar: right aisle.
Plus, a unique railroad experience: the world renowned Micheline. The rubber wheeled train rides the rails only in Madagascar and is available for group charter.
By clicking here, you can have a look at roadmap of Fianar- Manakara with prices, schedules. Also, options as for sites to see. Hence the combinations of different transportation means.
For instance, they suggest as one of options to "Take the train from Fianar to Manakara and then return to Fianar by road with a stop on the way back at Ranomafana National Park." This is, IMHO, something to do if you are interested in nature reserve. Visit fauna in a lush forest with refreshing cascades, features of the park.