Ile Sainte Marie, off the east coast of Madagascar is the ideal spot for a Madagascar beach holiday after you’ve enjoyed some of its wildlife. It is also well-known for its diving and whale-watching in season.
Ile Sainte Marie boasts scenery to rival the Seychelles: lovely bays protected by soft coral reefs, quiet white sandy beaches, verdant green vegetation created by its tropical climate. Add in a mysterious pirate history and it has romance written all over it. The island is only 60 km long and just 7 km at its widest point. It’s an idyllic spot with a cute little airport at its southern tip (with direct 50 minute flights from Madagascar’s capital Tana), and generally low-key tourism development. There’s only one town on the island.
Every year from July to September, humpback whales migrate in numbers into the bays of Ile Sainte Marie, with many staying to give birth or to look for mates. Indeed Ile Sainte Marie is one of the best spots for whale-watching in Africa. The best way to see them is to head out by boat with a marine biologist and her research team. They monitor the whales and you may even sometimes take part in some of the tagging. These trips head out from Princess Bora Lodge, but other hotels also offer whale-watching expeditions.
Other activities on Ile Sainte Marie include diving from the coral reefs, snorkelling and excursions to the smaller islands of Ile aux Nattes or Ilots aux Sables. You can also enjoy cycling and hiking around the island. Inland the main forest on Ile Sainte Marie is known for its orchids and the small spice farms are alive with the scent of cloves, cinnamon and vanilla.
The only drawback of Ile Sainte Marie is that its tropical climate means that there is no real dry season. However, rainfall is generally at night and interspersed with calm sunny weather. Cyclones do occur from December to March, though not every year, but they can be violent so it’s best to avoid these months. The coolest months are from May to September (with the main rainfall being from late June to mid August). The driest months are from September to November. Outside of the hotels, English is not widely spoken on the islands but many people speak good French.
Ile Aux Nattes
To many people this little car-free island off the south tip of Ile Sainte Marie is even better than the main island. The circumference of the island is 8km, and it takes just three hours to walk around it. You can stay here at one of the small guesthouses but most people just spend the day here enjoying the white sandy beaches, orchids and seafood restaurants. The best beach is at the north of the island, crystal clear and shallow water, calm tide, soft sand – absolute paradise.
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