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Ilakaka is a constantly growing sapphire boomtown along the RN7 near Isalo National Park
. Miners and middle-men from all over Madagascar arrive in Ilakaka to seek their fortune in the big sapphire rush. Since 1998, Ilakaka changed from a small village with only a few wooden huts to a long-stretched town with well-built stone buildings, churches and even a mosque. Nevertheless, Ilakaka is still the place to experience the wild west feeling close to what gold rush towns of some 100 years ago were like.
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Leaving Tulear by taxi bus (10.000 Ariary per person) in the direction of Antananarivo early in the morning, Ilakaka can be reached by midday. The tarred national road No.7 leads in an almost straight direction through wonderful plains and landscapes, passing small villages, zebu herds, large baobab trees and farmers working on their fields. The first big gem trading town along the road is Sakaraha, 130km north of Tulear. From here it takes about one hour to reach the outskirts of Ilakaka. The taxi bus stops in the centre of the town at a restaurant. After some lunch it is the ideal time to calmly explore the town.
Mining rights are owned by large mining groups. Conflicts between mining groups, miners, local villagers and traders sometimes result in violence. Unfortunately this has given Ilakaka a reputation for being a very dangerous place, but this is quite exaggerated. If tourists take care and keep an eye on their belongings, Ilakaka is no more dangerous than any big European city by night and absolutely safe to stay even overnight. One hotel we can recommend is the locally run Friends Hotel, with small, simple but clean bungalows.
The Ilakaka mining area is huge, encompassing 4.000km² or more. In Antsotramadoro, a small village near Manombo, only a couple of kilometres west of Ilakaka, an washed up sapphire deposit was recently found along a stream. It is a three kilometres walk from the village through beautiful fields and grass plains to reach the river, where villagers wash the sand in their search for sapphires. You are welcome to try your luck!
"Tsy misy mandronono, tsy misy prix" - "If the stone is not milky, its owner will generally not obtain the best price from it." - A Malagasy proverb known by everyone in Ilakaka.<br clear="all">