A long, long, long time ago – before Man started interfering with our planet – an ancient continent known as Gondwana slowly, very slowly, split up. Big and little bits drifted away.
One of the lesser discovered pieces settled down off the east coast of southern Africa and began to evolve in a fashion so unique that around 85% of her plants and animals are found nowhere else on earth.
Resting off the north western coast of Madagascar lies Nosy Be, the largest of the many satellite islands that are found around the “mainland”. Nosy Be is the tourist honey pot of the country – and there’s good reason for this.
Nosy Be offers something for everyone. Whether you want to get active or simply chill on an empty beach, you will find something to do (or not do) and you WILL want to return.
With the introduction of a direct, 3.5 hour flight from Johannesburg with Airlink, Nosy Be is becoming the latest ‘place to go’ for tourists and travellers alike. A real ‘Bucket List’ destination.
Why would you go to Nosy Be instead of other Indian Ocean islands that offer packages cheaper than your monthly shop?
Because it has not been exploited by vast, impersonal resorts with hundreds of identical bedrooms. It is still an exclusive and unusual destination. Madagascar is the 4th poorest country in the world and, as such, has little infrastructure. This means that small, personally run lodges thrive and offer guests an authentic island experience in unspoilt surroundings – certainly something different from the same old, same old. So, come and see what Nosy Be has to offer and you’ll find that villages, beaches, islands, bays, reefs, drop offs and forests are largely untouched… and often undiscovered.
What to see and do on nosy be:
Activities and places of interest are aplenty, and in most cases, your hotel or lodge will assist with your excursions and activities…
If warm water tropical diving with an exciting variety of species is your cup of tea, then Nosy Be is the place to schedule your next diving adventure. With its series of islands and coral-lined lagoons, coupled with fantastic visibility, Nosy Be is the kind of place that divers can explore in a variety of ways. The northwest coast of Madagascar offers something for all levels of diver. There is snorkelling in coral nurseries and admiring passing turtles along the little drop offs and shallow reefs of the marine park in Nosy Tanikely, or the awe-inspiring basalt rock domes of the Four Brothers dive site at Mitsio Islands – where you can move around overhangs and through caves whilst witnessing a variety of interesting fish species. Shark enthusiasts can head out to the impressive Gran Banc to marvel at passing white tip reef sharks, hammerheads, manta rays, whale sharks and beautiful hard and soft coral. The Gorgonian Fan forest is a must-see for anyone looking for something unique and if you want to make sure you have the full diving holiday with all the bells and whistles, there really is no other way to do it than from a live-aboard dive vessel. The more adventurous can opt for the thrill of night diving and the underwater spectacular of doing a fluorescent dive where you can witness the reef coming alive in a kaleidoscope of luminescent colours. All in all, you’ll find that once you dip your head underwater and get a taste of what Madagascar’s dive sites have to offer, you are going to be hard pressed to resurface for the rest of your vacation.
Nosy Be’s waters are the newest playground for the fishing fraternity. There are many deep sea fishing outfits that will take you out for a day’s fishing – priced at around 700 Euro for a reputable outfit – but the best option is to take a crewed catamaran for a week’s charter! Explore the reefs, drop offs and channels that are the hunting ground for Kingfish, Tuna, Sailfish and Marlin, and then try your hand at a little fly fishing from rocky outcrops on empty islands. Whatever you do, you will catch fish and you will enjoy yourself. Remember – the advantage of fishing from a charter boat is that your family can come along too and have fun whilst you do what you do best! Or, for the more serious angler, you can hire a sportsfisher to accompany you on your charter.
You really do not have to be a diver to relish in the remarkable variety of fish and coral that is to be found around the islands of Nosy Be. The visibility is almost always at least ten metres and the water temperatures over 220C. One can spend many happy hours bobbing above an aquatic wonderland in calm tropical water; swimming with turtles, through myriads of colourful fish and admiring coral gardens in their most perfect condition.
This is an excellent and very popular way to experience Nosy Be. Fully crewed with skipper, chef and deckhand, your boat is your own and you’ll get away from the more touristy spots to discover deserted islands, empty beaches, remote fishing villages, unspoilt coral gardens, challenging fishing spots and rarely visited dive sites. This is an idyllic holiday to take with either your family or a group of friends – the price of your charter includes all meals, all activities (fishing, snorkelling, kayaking) and all excursions (Tanikely, Nosy Komba, Nosy Antsoa, Nosy Iranja or the Mitsio).
There are three South African operated catamarans in Nosy Be – all very special experiences with local Malagasy crew. Yacht Gecko and Maki Cat are operated through MadagasCaT Charters & Travel www.madagascat.co.za and Adiva through Bossi Island Adventures www.bossiadventures.com.
Lemurs belong to a group of primates called prosimians – meaning ‘before monkeys’. These animals were the most advanced of all tree living animals and ruled the earth for about 15 million years. Then along came the monkey. The monkey was superior to the lemur and outsmarted him in every way, resulting in the extinction of the prosimians across most of the world. Fortunately for us, monkeys never found their way to Madagascar and so the prosimians were left to develop in peace for another 35 million years. Until the arrival of man… and since then there have been more extinctions of lemur populations than at any other time prior.
Lemurs can be seen in Lokobe National Park, at Nosy Komba Lemur Park and Nosy Antsoa. Many lodges have wild lemurs swinging through the trees and the new Lemur Land offers visitors the chance to see other species not found naturally in Nosy Be.
Humpback whales visit Madagascar between July and September and their happiest spots are found around Nosy Be. You can hire a boat to take you out to view them or enjoy their company from the comfort of the beach.
Whale sharks are growing in numbers in the area, and again can be seen (and swum with) from a hired boat. They visit from August to end November.
Lokobe National Park
Covering some 740 ha the forest reserve is home to 42 species of birds, 50 reptiles, 14 amphibians and three lemurs. Your lodge can arrange an excursion to this park and it is accessible from the sea if you are on a charter boat.
Kekeh of Macaco Tours: 034 290 1065
Mont Passot, The Sacred Tree and Cascades:
Full day tours of Nosy Be will take you to the highest point of the island at sunset, to the Sacred Tree guarded by lemurs and to the cascades… where mermaids visit on Fridays (apparently only visible after a large consumption of local rum).
Nosy Be Tourism:
Near to Lokobe Nature Reserve, a proactive local women’s association runs an excellent cultural heritage experience, through which you can discover the early history of Nosy Be as well as local traditions, song, dance and cuisine. Nosy Be Tourism:
This is all out action and takes up the best part of the day. Taking you away from all the hotspots, you’ll travel through forests, villages and terrain that is only accessible on quad. From 80 Euros for a single or 100 Euros for a double quad half day.
Guided Quad Tours – Erick 032 437 1158.
Ambaro Ranch offers horse riding from 30 minutes along the beach to a full day horseback safari exploring the islands’ interior. From 20 Euros for 30 minutes.
Contact: Tel: 032 43 691 78
Facebook: ambaro ranch.
Come and play on a million dollar golf course! Pearls International Golf Club is a Par 72, 6109m course with 18 holes spread over 25ha. It has a driving range, clubhouse restaurant, gym, tennis court, swimming pool and helipad! Tel: +261 3402 08081
Not named for the state of the town but after Admiral de Hell. This is an experience to test all senses. Colours, sounds, tastes, smells and damp skin. Personally I love to visit this chaotic capital of Nosy Be, but just for a short while at a time! Get to the fresh market early enough to absorb the colour and fragrances of the spices, then stop at one of the eccentric pubs or delightful little restaurants for an early lunch before heading out of town back to the calm of your lodge!
The French influence over Madagascar remains when it comes to love, and if you are searching for the perfect honeymoon there are plenty of options on offer. Most hotels and lodges offer something extra for honeymooners – candlelit dinners on the beach, massages, breakfast in bed, Malagasy Good Luck ceremonies, private sunset cruises and so much more. Snorkel hand in hand through shoals of tropical fish; walk round deserted islands; take a picnic and a local pirogue to explore the endless white beaches and coves… or go in search of dolphins who, with their joyful antics, seem to celebrate life with you! So, why not start your married life somewhere special and unique?
The French influence persists in this area and the food is nothing short of superb! Everything is fresh and organic, simply because it has to be. Crab is prepared in so many forms, as is the regular supply of fresh fish, fillet of zebu (local cow) served with locally grown pepper sauce, grilled prawns, soft and tender calamari, chicken in coconut sauce – all almost always with rice; without which no Malagasy can survive. And then the chocolate! Chocolate mousse, banana with melted chocolate, chocolate cake, chocolate, chocolate, chocolate! Locally grown and made – chocolate is on every menu in every form imaginable!
Retail therapy takes on a whole new angle in Madagascar. Your bargaining skills will (and should) be hard tested in the markets where you will find crafts of incredible skill and vibrant colours on offer. Baskets, silks, wood carvings, crystals, vanilla, tablecloths, batik, jewellery, crocodile skin, and so much more.
From Nosy Be it is easy to arrange excursions to some of the more distant islands. Nosy Iranja is quite the most beautiful – two islands at high tide but one at low tide with a 750m long bright, white sand spit joining the two ends. Impossibly turquoise water surrounds the island(s); turtles breed in the area quietly watched over by the ancient lighthouse built by Gustav Eiffel (yes, that one). On the way to this island (about a 2 hour motor boat trip) is Nosy Antsoa. Small but filled with natural forest and the Lemur Land people have reintroduced lemurs to the island. Up to seven species can be found here and most day trips to Nosy Iranja will stop at Nosy Antsoa for a visit.
Nosy Tanikely is the marine reserve situated close to Nosy Be. It gets a little crowded but a visit here is a “must do”. Go with a local guide to enjoy the snorkelling, take a walk up to the lighthouse ( you might be accompanied by one of the lemur clan!), and enjoy a lunch of fresh, braaied fish on banana leaves in the shade of a palm tree. Often included in the same tour is a visit to Nosy Komba to enjoy the market and visit the lemur park for that ‘lemur on the shoulder’ experience.
Nosy Fanihy is a sacred island to the north of Nosy Be. Do a half day outing for some great snorkelling, bird life and ‘fady’. Fady is local belief – if something is fady it is taboo. On Nosy Fanihy it is fady to shout, show any form of affection or to urinate.
Nosy Sakatia has a breeding ground for Green Turtles, great snorkelling and many local guides will happily take you there for the day. Please do not touch the turtles!
We recommend Kekeh of Macaco Tours: 034 290 1065 for all the above excursions.
Did I mention that the word Nosy means island? Perhaps you had gathered that!
SUP and Kayaking
Many of the lodges have kayaks (and more recently SUP boards) for guests’ use and the waters are perfect for a really good paddle. Islands as small as Nosy Sakatia are fairly easy to paddle around, taking a picnic or stopping at one of the lodges for refreshment.
Kayak Madagascar operates from Nosy Komba and offers 7-day itineraries taking you from Nosy Komba to Russian Bay on the mainland, then to Tanikely, Lokobe and Ankify. Backed up by a speedboat, this is a great experience if you enjoy paddling. www.kayak-madagascar.com.
Where Should I Stay?
Nosy Be, Madagascar has many options, but some are dodgy and you should take advice from a specialised tour operator before deciding to book something on your own. ‘Winging it’ is quite possible if you are happy to rough it and take chances, but if you want assurance of clean accommodation and reliable ablutions, please seek advice before jumping in. I recommend the following and know that all of these establishments are reliable, safe, clean, reputable and speak English!
A delightful South African run lodge with two Beachfront Villas (ideal for groups) and 9 other bungalows. First class attention and a great kitchen. Well positioned for all excursions and activities.
Highlight: The Dive Centre and Fluo diving. www.sakatialodge.com
293 On Komba
A little gem tucked away on Nosy Komba and also operated by a South African. Particularly nice for a romantic or girls getaway. Very personal attention and great cuisine.
Highlight: Enjoy Marcine’s Secret
Snorkelling Spot. www.293onkomba.com
Sangany Beach Lodge
Run by a Malagasy lady this recently discovered lodge is situated on the northern beaches of Nosy Be. All inclusive packages available in beach front, expansive, air-conditioned bungalows.
Highlight: They have a fresh and unusual way of presenting their menus!
Nosy Be Hotel
Known worldwide, this hotel is run by the impeccable Elma Ross. A lovely swimming pool, superb rooms and excellent kitchen and service.
Highlight: Absolutely superb service.
Vanila Hotel and Spa
Situated on the beach overlooking Nosy Sakatia, this hotel is very well known and their spa is particularly alluring. Recently resurrected after a devasting fire Vanila is a very beautiful hotel.
Highlight: The Spa! www.vanila-hotel.com
In the corner of Madirokely Beach overlooking yachts in the bay and mainland Madagascar beyond, L’Heure Bleue has never stopped striving to upgrade and improve. A wonderful dinner deck overlooks the bay, great cuisine, a variety of very lovely bungalows and a fresh and salt water swimming pool.
Highlight: Their deluxe Seaview Lodges – over the sea! www.heurebleue.com
A gem on Nosy Komba – superbly positioned with attention to every detail.
The bungalows perch on the side of the island, each private and beautifully decorated. Excellent hosting and amazing, French cuisine.
Highlight: Their romantic deck.
A 100% Green lodge this is actually on ‘Mainland” Madagascar but accessible from Nosy Be. All ‘tent’ style bungalows face the beach under vast mango trees. Leading into a private park with lemurs and endemic trees, this lodge has won many ecological awards.
Highlight: The park and lemurs.
The gem of the Indian Ocean, this lodge occupies an entire island with the whitest beaches and most azure ocean shore. It’s the postcard lodge of Nosy Be with palm trees swaying in the wind protecting your private hammock from the sun! Each bungalow is air-conditioned and completely on the beach. The lodge is sold on a fully inclusive basis, offers diving, fishing, sundowners on catamarans, oysters and cocktail evenings, Malagasy entertainment and a weekly ocean conservation presentation.