Did you ever think of Madagascar as a beach destination? If not, then prepare to be amazed.
Madagascar is a biodiversity hot spot. A roadtrip on the island takes you along a variety of landscapes; from highland plateaus to lively rainforests, stunning canyons, and colossal baobabs. And then, there are the beaches. Some of which even rival the renowned Seychelles.
Picture yourself walking on custard powder beaches, fringed by palm trees and surrounded by crystal-clear blue waters. Experience an authentic, low-key vibe with friendly locals and no mass tourism. Do beaches like this still exist in this modern-day world? Yes, they do in Madagascar.
This is our guide to the best diving and kitesurfing spots in Madagascar and the most beautiful beaches to visit on your self-drive journey. Let's dive in and discover the hidden gems of Madagascar!
1. Ile Sainte Marie | Whale watching & low-key Bali vibes
Imagine the atmosphere of Bali but then 30 years back without the crowds. This is Ile Sainte Marie; a little paradise in Madagascar.
The Bounty Island is also known by the name Nosy Boraha and used to be a notorious pirate hideout in the 17th century. The beaches offer sparkling blue water, beautiful flowers, and calm bays. Adventurous snorkelers and scuba dives can dive for pirate ship remains in Baie des Forban and visit an actual pirate cemetery, while the east Coast of Ile Sainte Marie brings you some fine kite-surfing spots.
The main town of Ambodifotatra offers shops, restaurants, and nightlife. Prefer to be close to the beach? Then pick your accommodation farther north or south. The tuk-tuk is the main mode of transport on Ile Sainte-Marie. You can also hire a bicycle, scooter or quad to explore the island.
Do you want to visit Ile Aux Nattes? Then hop on a boat (pirogue), it will take you to the shores of Ile Aux Nattes in just 5 minutes (for just 2000 AR pp).
When is the best time to visit Ile Sainte Marie?
Whether tends to be most stable in June and from August till December. July to September is the best time to see humpback whales at Ile Sainte Marie, but you could also be lucky in June and October.
How do I get to Ile Sainte Marie?
Airline Tsardia (an Air Madagascar brand) operates flights from Antananarivo to Ile Sainte Marie. Be aware: the flight prices are steep, and delays and last-minute cancellations are not uncommon.
Another option is taking the ferry and combining a stay at the bounty island of Nosy Boraha. The ferry leaves from Mahambo (recommended) or Soanierana Ivongo. You can park your car safely at Hotel Le Piroque in Mahambo, from where it’s a 5-minute walk to the port. The hotel staff can sort you out with the tickets. Ferry tickets cost around € 25 for a round trip.
The crossing takes about 3,5 hours. Be aware that the weather on Madagascar's east coast is unpredictable, and the sea can be rough. It is, therefore, not guaranteed that the ferry departs daily, and the crossing can be cancelled at the last minute. Not to worry, though, spending an extra day on the palm-fringed beach of Mahambo is no punishment in our eyes.
For a detailed 6-day self-drive route, including Mahambo and Ile Sainte Marie, view our Tropical Extension itinerary here.
2. Nosy Be | Madagascar's most famous beach
Nosy Be and Nosy Iranja are the most famous beaches in Madagascar. They’re often called the Seychelles of Madagascar because of their tranquil azure waters and white, soft sandy beaches.
Nosy Be is the most developed tourist destination in Madagascar. The contrast is quite big compared to the rest of mainland Madagascar: good roads, plenty of hotels and restaurants in all price ranges, and almost everybody speaks English!
We recommend including a Nosy Be-stay in any Madagascar travel itinerary. After some adventurous weeks driving on rough roads and enduring basic facilities, Nosy Be can be a wonderful treat. However, to some, being surrounded by many tourists can come as a bit of a shock after an adventurous self-drive journey in Madagascar.
How do I get to Nosy Be?
For travellers heading to Nosy Be, both South Africa Airways and Ethiopian offer direct flights to the island. Additionally, there are charter flights connecting Nosy Be directly to Italy and Poland.
Airline Tsardia, a subsidiary of Air Madagascar, operates domestic flights from Antananarivo to Nosy Be. It's worth noting that flight prices can be on the higher side, and delays or last-minute cancellations are not uncommon.
For a more adventurous journey, consider combining your stay on Nosy Be with a roundtrip covering Northern Madagascar. Our team at Roadtrip Africa provides 4x4 car rentals, allowing you to start your journey from Diego Suarez or Ankify (the ferry landing point from Nosy Be) at no additional cost. The speedboat from Ankify to Nosy Be takes just 30 minutes, departing from 6 AM and running approximately every 15 minutes. The fare is a budget-friendly €4 per person.
If you prefer to bring your car to Nosy Be, the ferry is a good option, taking around 2.5 hours. Ferries operate between 6 AM and 11 AM, requiring a reservation that can be arranged the day before. Multiple ferry companies operate on this route, with costs averaging around €35.
It is good to be aware that the ferry arrives at Hell-Ville, a town known for sex tourism and not considered an ideal place to stay. For a more pleasant experience, we recommend you go north to Andalina Beach, widely regarded as the most beautiful beach on the island.
When is the best time to visit Nose Be?
Nosy Be is nice to visit throughout the year, but it's good to consider the following:
- January to March: The period between January and March typically shows the highest rainfall.
- April, November, and December: During these months, the weather is generally good, although there is a slightly higher chance of rain and thunderstorms.
- May to October: The dry season, spanning from May to October, offers perfect weather conditions. Expect pleasant temperatures and minimal rainfall, making it the busiest and most popular time to visit Nosy Be.
Great things to do in Nosy Be
For an unforgettable stay in Nosy Be, consider basing yourself around Andilane Beach, widely acclaimed as the most beautiful beach on the island. From here, you can enjoy some wonderful activities:
1. Watch the sunset at Mont Passot - Mont Passot or Bongo Pisa in Malagasy is a 329-metre-high dormant volcano. From the peak, you have a great 360° panoramic view over the Mozambique Channel, some of Nosy Be’s crater lakes, and the smaller islands,Nosy Komba and Nosy Tanikely.
2. Many tourists visit Nosy Be for the opportunity to spot humpback whales. These beautiful creatures can be seen from mid-August until the end of October. Turtles and dolphins are frequent year-round visitors. Please make sure to book an excursion with a credible organization that respects environmental standards.
3. Cross the iconic sandbank of Nosy Iranja - Nosy Be is surrounded by several small islands. Nosy Iranja is one of the most beautiful islands of Nosy Be's archipelago. It lies around 40 km southwest of Nosy Be island. It’s actually made up of two Islands, connected by a 1.2 km dreamy white sandbank, which can be crossed at low tide. Most trips to Nosy Iranja (and the other islands) depart from Ambatoloaka Bay by motorboat in the early morning. While a visit to Nosy Iranja may seem cliché, it truly is an essential part of the Nosy Be experience. Snorkelling here is like stepping into an aquarium. Your trip to Nosa Iranja includes a scenic 2-hour boat ride, providing opportunities to spot turtles, indulge in snorkelling, and enjoy a delicious BBQ lunch on the island. We understand you don't want to leave. So why not stay for the night? There is a handful of hotels at Nosy Iranja. Enjoy the sunset while the crowds travel back to Nosy Be, and have the island to yourself. Make sure to put this on your list of things to do in Nosy Be!
4. While coral near Nosy Be may show signs of damage, Nosy Tanikely Marine Park, just a 30-minute boat ride away, offers excellent snorkelling and diving opportunities.
5. Swim with turtles at Nosy Sakatia - another great location for snorkelling and diving, located west of Nosy Be, five minutes by boat or canoe.
6. Always wanted to see lemurs in Madagascar? Take a 20-minute boat ride from Ambatoloaka Bay to Nosy Komba. Don’t expect to have a wild or authentic experience. The black lemurs are habituated to human contact and they come close waiting to get fed with bananas. We are personally a bigger fan of searching for the wild black lemur in Lokobe National Reserve. To get to Lokobe Reserve, go to Ambatozavavy, a small fishing village, located on the southeastern side of Nosy Be. From the village, it’s roughly 45 minutes by local pirogue peddling your way through the Mangrove forests until you reach the island. Lokobe Park is divided into different circuits, ranging from 1,5-hour walk to a 5-hour trek. Make sure to bring insect repellent. The island has lots of mosquitoes and they like our ‘vazaha’ skin!
Best places to stay in Nosy Be
Wondering where to stay on your holiday at Nosy Be Island? Check our Madagascar Hotel Guide, with an overview of the best hotels, resorts and beach villas in Nosy Be.
3. The beaches of Northern Madagascar | Kitesurfing, snorkelling and sleepy towns
When travelling through Northern Madagascar with a 4x4, make sure to visit the following beautiful beach towns and ports:
- Diego Suarez: The port city of Diego Suarez, officially named Antisiranana, is located on the northern tip of Madagascar. Diego Suarez is named after two Portuguese explorers, Diego and Suarez, who arrived at the bay in 1543. For many years, the city remained an important military port, and even now, it is still one of the deepest ports in the Indian Ocean. Today, it's transformed into a laid-back town, with less freight traffic due to the challenging road conditions to the capital, Tana.
- Ramena: Located 20 kilometres east of Diego Suarez, Romena is a laid-back beach town where you find nice restaurants offering the freshest seafood. On weekends, locals often head to the beach for picnics, barbecues, and a game of football. Ramena is a popular kitesurfing spot on a peninsula with several spectacular bays. The best known are called “Trois Baies”, the three bays. It's fun to visit these bays on your road trip in Madagascar. A 4x4 is required. A popular day trip from Ramena is a visit to the Emerald Sea, a 50-minute boat ride from Ramena. Emerald Sea is a gorgeous lagoon, and after Rio de Janeiro, the second largest natural bay in the world.
- Pigeon Bay and Dunes Bay: Pigeon Bay and Dunes Bay are two beautiful white-sanded beaches that you don't want to miss out on. The waves make for hours of fun in the water, and you'll probably have the beaches all to yourself.
- Sakalava By: The next bay on the coast is called Sakalava Bay. While it is too windy for sunbathing, it is the perfect spot for kitesurfing in Madagascar and relaxing in one of the beach bars. The kitesurfing season in Madagascar typically runs from late March through to late November.
- Mer d'Emeraude: The Emerald Sea is a shallow lagoon with nice warm water, perfect for snorkelling and spotting turtles. A visit to Mer d'Emeraude in Madagascar is just a short boat ride from Ramena or Antsiranana.
4. Madagascar's West Coast | Off-the-beaten-track beaches
The West Coast, between Tulear and Morondava offers a rougher and off-the-beaten-track beach experience – but has beautiful golden sands and sparkling waters. Soak in the Vezo culture while you're here, and make a stop at Ifaty, Madiorano, Salary or Andavadoaka to enjoy some quiet, rustic shores.
Tulear is a seaside town and the final destination along the RN7. With its mangroves and shallow waters, we admit it’s not the best of Madagascar’s beaches. However, after having spent a considerable amount of time in the car driving the RN7, we doubt you can resist. If you stop here, make sure to book a stay at Bakuba. It’s probably the most spectacular and wonderful lodge in Madagascar!
Are you curious how to incorporate the rough West Coast in your Madagascar self-drive itinerary? Check out our Grand Circuit route for directions and things to do on your road trip along the West Coast of Madagascar.
Discover the best beaches of Madagascar by car
We hope that we have gotten you excited about Madagascar's stunning beaches! Are you ready to plan your roadtrip on the island? Our self-drive itineraries help you map out your ultimate Madagascar roadtrip, exploring both popular and off-the-beaten-track highlights.
Once you've selected your itinerary and rented your car, swing by our practical info section. We have selected multiple important topics that contain information, practical tips and frequently asked questions about self-driving and independent travel in Madagascar.
More questions? Feel free to contact us! Roadtrip Africa is happy to point you in the right direction as you prepare for your adventurous self-drive holiday in Madagascar.