The North West, from Diégo Suarez to Baie de Baly accounts for the most beautiful sites in Madagascar. Pristine beaches, creeks, rocky shores stand along an islets-dotted sea. The hinterland, combining a magnificent marine environment to a remarkably interesting terrestrial one, symbolises the particularity of the Big Island.
SEA – DISCOVERY – ECOTOURISM
CULTURE – SPORTS TOURISM
Air Madagascar international flights link Diégo-Suarez to La Réunion andDzaoudzi (Mayotte). Otherwise, the Antananarivo-Diégo Suarez road, except some small sections, is rehabilitated. Take the national highway RN4 up to Ambondromamy , then the national highway RN6 to Diégo-Suarez.
THE CITY AND ITS SETTING
- Diégo-Suarez has always been a city of immigration where new comers have cleverly assimilated to the local populations, mainly the Sakalava and the Antakarana. Additionaly, the French have occupied the place for quiet some time; the French marine only left in 1973; Diégo-Suarez is most certainly one of the most “globalised” cities in Madagascar… Diégo-Suarez has two emblematic symbols: first, the Secren shipyard considered as the heart of the Northern capital’s heart; second is the Pain de Sucre (meaning Sugar Loaf) actually called Nosy Lonjo, sacred for the Antakarana.
- La Rade de Diégo-Suarez offre 165 km de côtes que se partagent la Baie des Français, le Cul de Sac Gallois, la Baie des Cailloux Blancs, et la Baie duTonnerre. Excellente accessibilité en saison chaude (décembre ou avril), mais forts vents d’alizés (le Varatraza) en saison sèche. The Diégo-Suarez Harbour stretches over 165 km of coast, shared by the Bay of the French, the Gaelic Dead-End , the Bay of the White Stones and the Bay of Thunder. Easily accessible in the hot season (December or April), but strong trade winds called Varatraza in the dry season.
THE MOUNTAIN OF THE FRENCH
7 km East of Diégo-Suarez, on the road to Ramena.Its ascent (approximately 2 hours) is a long and winding road, lined with aloes, spiny plants and baobabs. At the top still lie remains of fortification and barracks, as well as a hand-dug tunnel leading to the small fort.
Townspeople favourite leisure site, located 18 km from the town. Ramena is a small fishermen’s village, where life passes by to the rhythm of floating pirogues, fishnets in repair, the school and the town hall. Ramena is also 3 kms of white sand beach lined with coconut trees. Finally, it is the starting point of excursions to the Emerald Sea.
THE EMERALD SEA
Large lagoon located outside of the bay and protected frol the Indian Ocean’s waves by a coral reef, it is accessible via the “large” and the “small” opening. The shallowness of the Emerald Sea, where turtles and rays peacefully swim, provides it the green color at the origin of its name.
In the early 20th Century, the French Captain De Metz’ legionnaires established this place by carving about a hundred steps in the rock and by erecting a dry stone tower at the top. From that place, the region reveals itself at a 360° angle : the Mountain of Amber in the South, the Coast of the Bays in the East, the Cape of Amber in the North and the Bay of Courrier in the East.
THE BAY OF COURRIER
Opening up to the Mozambique Channel, between the Cape of Amber and the Cape of Saint Sébastien, the Bay of Courrier shelters the Nosy Hara Marine Reserve and is the starting point for several water sports, such as sailing.
SPORTS AND TOURISM
- The Moraingy is a mixture of boxing and unprotected traditional fighting, to the rhythm and sound of drums and shouting from supporters. Sensitive souls should refrain from attending…
- Magazines specialised in climbing do advertise Madagascar. The two most famous sites are: The Mountain of the French and its 60 equipped tracks, ranging from level 3 to 7C ; then, islands such as Anjombavola and Andatsara, allowing incredible climbing with cristal clear water as a background.
- Quad and MTB allow one to drift off traditional circuits and freely wander on muddy paths. Highly recommendable in this land of freedom.
- Its infrastructure is still burgeoning but in 2005, the Bay of the Sakalava hosted worldwide famous windsurfers, in the context of the l’Air Madagascar Windsurf Challenge. May it continue…
- Canyoning experts practice their sport, beginners can get initiated. The Mountain of Amber’s foothills, with their network of rivers and waterfalls, easily allow the practice of this sport.
- The Mountain of Amber National Park, located some forty kilometers South-West of Diégo-Suarez is the first established national park in Madagascar. Many of its major sites are accessible by car, therefore by physically-challenged individuals. However, the range of ecotourism sites it offers escalates to the most challenging hikes. Rivers, waterfalls, crater lakes line up along 30 km of this massif, which is also a privileged site for the worship of ancestors.
- TheAnkarana Massif, of which 18000 ha have been converted into National Park, stretches its network of caves, underground rivers and canyons 100 km South of Diégo-Suarez. The forests and caves shelter a fauna of remarkable adaptation capability. Several circuits lead to real wonders such as the Green Lake, the Large Tsingy, the River Loss or the Ambohimalaza viewpoint. Throughout history, the caves have been used as refuges or necropolis. Tourists are allowed during rituals held there.
- The Antakarana kingdom rose its flag for the first time in 1692. This Tsanga-tsainy or hoisting of the royal mast is celebrated every 5 years, on a date set by the nobles and the Ambatoaranana.royal family. The republic’s flag is hoisted next to that of the Antakarana kingdom, representing a star and a red crescent on a white background. The rituals last approximately 15 days and can end with a collective circumcision.
- Paris by Air Madagascar (departing from Roissy CDG) and Corsair (departing from Orly Sud)
- Rome and Milan by Air Italy
- Dzaoudzi (Mayotte) by Air Madagascar and Air Austral
- Moroni (Large Comoros)by Air Madagascar
Local flights are operated by Air Madagascar.
A ferry regularly links Majunga with Nosy Be. Another possible access is by speed boat departing from Ankify ; Ankify effectively joins the national highway 6 at Ambanja
The narrow Hellville Chef Lieu is rather animated with successive shops, arcades, small restaurants and its roofed market. Some of the multi-floored houses are decorated with bougainvillea, reminding one that this is the country of exotism. Old canons overlook the marina leading to the port, giving the nostalgic atmosphere characteristic of far away islands.
ISLAND OF PERFUMES
The various scents of Nosy Be welcome visitors upon their arrival at the Facène airport: ylang ylang, spices, sugar cane, coffee and vanilla. The landscape is diversified and dominated by the Lokobe Mount (450 m) and the Passot Mount (315m); the view of magnificent sunsets from those two viewpoints are legendary. In the course of a hike passing villages, sugar cane fields, ylang ylang plantations or old secular mango trees, one can visit distilleries which offer sampling of their produce. In addition to its vegetation and plantations, Nosy Be boasts magnificent beaches, such as those of Ambatoloaka, Madirokely or Andilana, to quote only a few.
THE ISLANDS OF NOSY BE
The most popular and visited islands are :
Nosy Sakatia less than 20 minutes by pirogue from the « mainland » of Nosy Be, is famous for being a sports fishing centre.
Nosy Tanikely, less than 30 mn from Hellville by speed boat, is on the other hand considered a marine reserve where fishing is forbidden. Only the eyes and memory can take something away from there!
Nosy Komba, lemur island, often passed by cruise ships
Nosy Faly, North of the Ambato peninsula ; a sacred island accessible from the Ambatozavavy village.
Nosy Iranja in the South West, actually consists of two islets linked by a strip of white sand, which is visible at low tide.
THE MITSIO ARCHIPELAGO
45 miles in the North East of Nosy Be, the Mitsio archipelago consists of one main island the Great Mitsio, and of several paradisiacal islets. Examples include Tsarabanjina near Nosy Toloa and Nosy Kely, sacred Sakalava land; Ankarea surrounded by a lively reef, in the West of the Great Mitsio. The Four Brothers, are monoliths and make up a quadrilateral rising out from the sea. They should have been five but it is said that one of them moved to the Bay of the Russians, of which it became the famous Sugar Loaf.
No itinerary is imposed. One sails freely. Some itinerary ideas are thrown here and there, such as departing from the Bay of Courrier to the wild islands near Diégo-Suarez. From there, aim for Sébastian Cape and its anchorages, before proceeding to Nosy Lava, the most Southern island of the Mitsio. A highly recommended archipelago to linger on before sailing on to Nosy Be and its nearby islands. Departing from the “Island of Perfumes”, a choice to face. Why not going in circle around Nosy Mamoko, Kisimany, Bay of the Russians, Nosy Iranja and Sakatia? If you have more time, the Radama islands are a paradise waiting to be discovered before being able to relax on Nosy Saba at the South edge of the Sahamalaza Biosphere Reserve.
The diving sites of Nosy Be are worldwide known. They are not overcrowded and give divers the impression of being the first ones on site! Some diving clubs offer daily outings (usually two dives in the morning) or training sessions (Padi, Navi, Cmas). The ten most beautiful sites classified by the Nosy Be guides are: Nosy Tanikely, the Zaïda trawler, Manta Point, le Corail Noir, la Grotte, le Banc du Chameau, le Pain de Sucre, le tombant de Nosy Iranja, Greg Wall at Radama Islands, le Banc du petit Castor at Mitsio.
For handlines, trolling or rod and reel fishing, Nosy Be and its « satellite islands » are privileged sites. There are plenty of opportunities to practice all three fishing techniques within a day, to the rhythm of the tides. Among the most interesting catches are: the yellow tuna (April-May), the skipjack, the scombrid fish, the barracuda (can be caught between September and May and especially in October and February), the black marlin (October to March), the sea bream and the swordfish-boat, both species being very familiar with the water of the Mozambique Channel’s Northern part.
HISTORY AND CULTURE
New initiatives are shaping up, so as to reveal other aspects of Nosy Be than just beach activities. The Espace Zeny Association, for instance manages the Sacred Tree site. It is under such a « Fcus Religiosa » that Buddha reached divine enlightenment. The island has 12 sacred lakes which are also cult and praying sites. Nowadays, the Ambanoro site is cover with vegetation. Back in time, it was Nosy Be’s capital, after Tafondro and before Hellville. It was prosperous during the slave trade and through trade with Bombay and all the way to Zanzibar. The island's history is also marked by the release of a Russian imperial squadron in 1905, before being blown up in the Japanese Sea.
- Donia, nicknamed the Celebration of Life; its termination was often announced, for material reasons, but it has remained a never ending celebration, as its nickname indicates. The largest Festival in Madagascar, with “peak attendance” of more than 50000 participants, Donia start off with a colorful carnival in the streets of Hellville. Then start 4 wild days! Usually takes place in May in Nosy Be.
- The Great Regatta of the 26th of June has become a tradition during each Independence Day celebration. Hobbies cat, yachts, traditional pirogues meet in front of the Bay of Madirokely to race in their respective categories. Former inhabitants of Nosy Be come from Reunion Island, Mayotte or South Africa are also keen on participating along with visiting sailors.
SEA - DISCOVERY – CULTURE - ECOTOURISM
International flights link Majunga to :
- Dzaoudzi (Mayotte) (Air Madagascar and Air Austral)
- Moroni (Great Comoros)(Air Madagascar and Comores Aviation)
Air Madagascar operates local flights.
By road, Majunga is the end of the National Highway RN4, linking it to the capital city. By sea, Majunga opens up to the Comoros and Mayotte; inhabitants of Majunga have migrated and settled there for generations. It is also an important stop-over on the dhows route, which ensures the coastal navigation along the Western coast.
Majunga, third largest city and second port in the country, has been established at the mouth of the Betsiboka river, turned red by the alluvia it drags from the hinterland. The town has its own characteristics: islets displaying Muslim architecture, Indian shops with sculpted doors, illuminated arcades when the generous sun is at its height. Majunga’s emblem is its several century-old baobab, the circumference of which exceeds 20 meters. In search for a little Red Sea corner? The Dhows Port comes to life as soon as a dhow or a schooner docks. Everything here is carried on man’s back. Those in search for the local color will finally find it in the streets of Mahabibo, around the late-closing shops and grilled meat kebabs’ sellers.
Katsepy is some sort of natural shield one reaches after a crossing of the Bombetoka Bay. The visiting agenda includes swimming, visits of the lighthouse which provides a panoramic view of the bay, and the visit of the unique celestite mine in Madagascar.
THE RED CIRQUE
This odd extravaganza by nature with its bear multicolored limestone strata is a major attraction in Majunga. Nothing is set here; shades and movement seem to draw a painting with the shades of the sunset. The Red Cirque is the working place of a local artisan, Albert Rakotovao, who specializes in bottled paintings. He uses white, black, green, red or yellow powders and if need be, combines them with material he finds in the sea or inside termite mounts.
To shift from a classic holiday place to a real ecotourism destination, Majunga focused on promoting new sites such as Ampazaony and especially Antsanitia. The latter shelters one of the most beautiful beaches in Madagascar and is located 30 km North of Majunga. The sea is king there, from displaying the traditional pirogue to game fishing and to catamaran cruises. Add ecotourism to the picture, with the Morira River trip, the river’s mangroves and the discovery of endemic medicinal plants, with the participation of local villagers.
THE ANJOHIBE CAVES
Approximately 80 km from Majunga, passed the Forestry Station of Marohogo, the spectacular caves of Anjohibe display a network of galleries of more than 2 km. The proliferation and shapes of the concretions are fascinating to watch. By sailing up the underground river, one reaches the natural swimming pool nestled within the vegetation. The dirt road is usable from May to November, preferably with a 4x4. By sea, it can be reached within 4 hours along a wild coast.
At the extreme North of Majunga, at the entrance of the superb Bay of Narindra, Analalava is the prototype of a place which owes its accessibility to dhows. Analalava also consists of the Loza River and its tributary streams, the mangroves and the lost villages, so many ignored places where ecotourism could be promoted. The sea has much to offer, from cruises to big game fishing, to diving and most important, Nosy Lavaat 8 miles, one of the most beautiful islands in Madagascar, still unknown. 3 out-of-this-world villages lie there and one … prison, still in operation. Permission from the director must be obtained before coming to the island. Let's not forget Nosy Saba, just a few miles North of Nosy Lava, and its beautiful ecolodge where you can relax, have a glimpse of the very rare blue-eyed lemurs, enjoy many sports activities or go for excursions in the Sahamalaza Biosphere reserve.
- At Ankarafantsika, 114 km from Majunga, the visitor is welcomed by 12 precious wood sculptures, taken from illegal loggers. A strategic hint to raise awareness about the problem. Ankarafantsika is a true sanctuary of the West’s biodiversity; it ensures the conservation of one of the last large dry forests of the island, as well as the balanced supply of water and the survival of a whole agricultural region. It boasts 126 species of birds, some of which attract ornithologists from the whole wide world. Inside the Ampijoroa Forestry Station, 3 endemic tortoise species are raised, among which the ploughshare tortoise or “Angonoka” and the flat-tailed locally called “Kapidolo”.
- The Baly National Park and the Bay at its core are not well known yet, but probably not for long anymore, given the extraordinary beauty and diversity of the site: golden beaches and coral reefs, lakes, mangroves unfolding their lush greenery to the shoreline, an impressive dense and dry forest… These landscapes constitute the natural habitat of rare animals, while being a destination for migratory animals. Depending on their schedule, visitors could participate in traditional Sakalava rituals, such as the immersion of sacred royal objects.
- The Fanompoambe, or of the Royal Relics of the 4 Andriamisara brothers mobilise the Boina’s Sakalava, as well as a diaspora often coming from very far. C These preciously-preserved relics are nothing but their jaws and one vertebra. On the given day and while the guns fire their loud salute, the relics are taken out of their « zombabe » and soak in the blood of a bull. Once all rituals are performed, the relics must be carried 7 times around the sacred compound before being placed there again. Takes place in July usually, at the “doany” or sacred place of Miarinarivo-Tsararano.
- In Majunga, the event is daily and takes place on the famous sea side. As of 5 PM, the place becomes increasingly crowded as the sun goes down. Nothing very significant actually happens except that one can barely move. People call out and great one another, a plate of kebab and some chutney/pickle and a drink in hand. Then the crowd thins up, until the next day, same time, same location…
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Private organization acknowledged by State, the Madagascar National Tourism Board was created in 2003. It includes all professions, regions and tourist operators and a representative of…