That’s a good question and not necessarily one that you want to test.
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In the USA and in Europe you find folks that drink bottled water or put filters in their house more out of vanity or personal preference than actual need. Here in Madagascar, it’s a necessity.
Pretty much every family and most restaurants that serve tourists, have has a ceramic filter system sitting around that it is used for drinking water, hot drinks, and to wash your fresh fruits and veggies.
In our town of Fort Dauphin, the water is supposedly treated, but it shows up at the house full of sediment and dirt (we know because we store water in a cistern for the days that the city water doesn’t run).
Drinking Water as a Tourist
Most visitors stick to Eau Vive which is the Malagasy Bottled Water equivalent of Evian or Aquafina. The problem with Eau Vive is the bottles. If you, plan on drinking a liter per day and you visit for say 30 days and maybe you also want to wash some fruits and vegetables, you’ll be going through at least 30 bottles.
30 Bottles that will not get recycled and might end up in the ocean.
For this reason, for short term visitors to Madagascar, I highly recommend a personal water filtration system.
Water Bottles with Integrated Filters
One of the neatest inventions of the last two decades is super efficient personal filtrations systems. You can get straws that go in any cup or bottle or you can buy water bottles designed with an integrated filter. I’ve gathered together a few options:
Standard Life Straw
According to LifeStraw, their filters remove “99.999999% of waterborne bacteria (including E. coli and salmonella), and 99.999% of waterborne parasites (including giardia and cryptosporidium). Unlike your standard Brita or another household filter, these guys don’t just improve taste, they really clean your water.
The LifeStraw Go Water Bottle
This is LifeStraw’s water bottle with integrated filter. These work well and folks that I know like them. Something to keep in mind is that these to of the lesser expensive versions of LifeStraws are not guaranteed to remove the smallest parasites and or metal contaminants. If your water is questionable, you may still want to treat it with a chlorine tab or “sirop” (see below) and then use the filter.
LifeStraw’s Stainless Steel Version
This version is more expensive, but if you are not a fan of plastic in any form, you might want to give this newer model a go!
Large Water Filter
If you are traveling as a group or family and want to be able to filter larger quantities of water, LifeStraw also offers this bag system which can pack fairly compactly, but then filter larger quantities of water.
Traveling with Kids?
LifeStraw also has a kid friendly version of their best water filter.
Backup water safety.
Water filters can fail and they can also get lost. I always travel with chlorine tabs in my purse if we are going on a day trip or overnight. I’ve yet to have to use them, but I’d rather know that I can drink safe water if I need it.
Chlorine tabs generally treat a larger quantity of water 1 to 10 L or Gallons, so be sure to read you box and make sure to follow directions. Here in Madagascar you can also buy little blue bottles of “Sur Eau” which means “sure water” in French and is pronounced like “syrup” minus the “p” in Malagasy.
Some water purification tabs come in a glass bottle, I don’t like to travel with those, so I keep these Aquatabs on hand.
Things to Ask
When you are in Madagascar it is advised that you wash your fruits and vegetables in filtered water before eating them. If you want to eat lettuce or other salad greens, you should wash (soak them) in a fresh batch of water treated with Aquatabs or Sur Eau for at least 10 minutes.
When eating out, you will notice that many tourist friendly restaurants have more expensive prices that some of the local spots. This is partially because of their food preparation practices.
The general rule of thumb is to only drink bottled (filtered water) and eat cooked food, unless you are sure of the preparation. This will help keep your tummy happy and the doctor away!