Situated off the north-west coast of Madagascar, Nosy Be in Malagasy means Big Island, and it lives up to the name: it’s the largest in an archipelago that also includes Nosy Iranja and Nosy Komba. It’s home to the most beautiful beaches and scuba diving spots in the country, as well as the wildlife-rich Lokobe National Park and annual Nosy Be Jazz Festival.
Nosy Be is the number one beach destination in Madagascar, and the waters offer an impressive abundance of marine life, perfect for snorkelling. It’s also known as the Perfumed Island because of the ylang-ylang plantations. Smell the scented blooms for yourself at Lemuria Land and hike to the highest point on the island, Mont Passot, for panoramic views. Below are just a handful of breathtaking attractions on this East African island.
Lokobe is the sole remaining primary forest in the region, perched on the southeastern edge of Nosy Be. Keep an eye out for many exotic reptiles and birds, as well as a number of extremely rare species, including the black lemur, mouse lemur and Nosy Be panther chameleon. Explore the mangroves by boat, before setting off into the forest on foot. Most hotels on the island organise half- or full-day trips, but keep in mind that you’ll be helping paddle the boat – it’s hot, thirsty work!
The Sacred Tree is a huge Banyan tree near the village of Mahatsinjo on the western side of the island. It was planted by the Queen of the Sakalava Tribe in 1836. Since then, the Queen of Nosy Be visits annually for a special ritual. As well as being a piece of living island history, the sacred tree is popular with the local black lemurs; they can sometimes be spotted among the branches.
Nosy Be has no shortage of great beaches. Just 90 minutes away by boat, Nosy Iranja is a gorgeous idyll, made up of two islets: Nosy Iranja Be and Nosy Iranja Kely. At low tide, they’re connected by a thin, 2km (1.2mi) strip of white sand. Stop for a drink at the hotel on Kely; if you’re lucky, the staff will point out the green turtle breeding spot.
Lemuria Land is a nature reserve where the rarest flora and fauna on the island can be found. It’s surrounded by fields where a huge amount of ylang-ylang essential oil is harvested. As the name suggests, there are also 11 kinds of lemur, as well as various snake, lizard, chameleon, tortoise and crocodile species, not to mention a huge variety of tropical flowering plants.
Nosy Be is girdled by coral reefs with an ecosystem even more vibrant than the one found on the land. There are dive sites all around the coast, offering the chance to see sharks, turtles, dolphins and hundreds of reef fish. Between July and November, humpback whales can be spotted migrating to the area. Shallow sites for beginner divers are easy to find; if you’re more experienced, there’s the Mitsio wreck and big drop-offs like Cyclone Bank.
At 329m (1,079ft) above sea level, Mont Passot is the highest point on Nosy Be. There are various trekking routes to the summit, but those feeling less energetic will be pleased to know that it’s also accessible by car. There’s a viewing platform at the top, offering 360-degree views of the island, including the various crater lakes. It’s a must-visit at any time of day but is particularly magical at sunset.
Kayaking is an easy, accessible way to experience the waters around Nosy Be without the know-how required for sailing or diving. Join a kayak safari from Nosy Be to explore the island from the water, or venture further into the open ocean. In either case, the odds of spotting dolphins, tropical fish and other marine life are high.
Every October, Nosy Be is temporarily transformed as jazz musicians set up shop on stages across the island. Nosy Be Jazz Festival is a young addition to the local attractions, having started in 2016, but has already made a significant impact on tourism. Alongside the music, the organisers provide informal dinners, tours of local attractions and nature walks.
Saddle up for a horseback ride at Ambaro Ranch on the east side of Nosy Be. It offers lengthy jaunts exploring the foothills, beaches and crater of the island in style; you might even get to experience a water crossing on horseback. If you want to feel connected to the natural surroundings on land, then this could well be the best way to do it.
Madagascar has a strong heritage in craftsmanship. Experience this at Ampangorinana Market. It resides on the coast of Nosy Komba, a smaller island situated between Nosy Be and the mainland. The landscape and wildlife guarantee this a great place to stop off anyway, but the embroidered fabrics, wood carvings and spices sold at the market make it all the more tantalising.
This is an updated rewrite of an article originally by Domoina Ratsara.
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