Despite being Madagascar’s number-one beach destination, attracting thousands of sunscreen-slathered tourists from across the globe year round, Nosy Be and its surrounding islands remain paradise in the buff. Luxury doesn’t always mean electricity or even a good mattress, but it’s this exact lack of 21st-century fluff that makes it so appealing in the first place. With only one super-pimp package resort (aimed squarely at the Italian charter market), Nosy Be is refreshingly void of bling. This is an island where you can read a trashy novel in the sand without ever hearing the whir of jet-skis.
Although Nosy Be’s beaches (and resorts) don’t look as fantasy-fulfilling as some in the Caribbean or Greece, they do win points for tranquillity, gorgeous light, sparkling clear turquoise water (void of the seaweed that plagues many Eastern African beaches) and excellent al fresco restaurants serving seafood feasts on the sand.
The air is scented with ylang-ylang and vanilla and the pace of life is as slow and drawn-out as the island’s killer sunsets. As the sky turns pink and purple the last rays of sun make silhouettes of the wooden pirogues and women clad in bright sarongs walking home with the day’s catch in buckets on their heads. This event, which starts around 5.45pm and manages to stretch on for nearly an hour, is more intense and captivating than any movie you’ll ever see. And as most of Nosy Be’s infrastructure is on its western edge, you can witness the big yellow ball disappearing into the shadowed sea straight from the comfort of your bungalow’s saggy mattress should you choose.
Nosy Be is the most expensive destination in Madagascar, and rooms can cost twice as much here as on the mainland. Still, compared to Europe or North America, prices remain relatively low and many visitors find the lack of major development and mora mora (slowly slowly) lifestyle worth the few extra euros it costs to get here. The climate is sunny all year round, but there’s a risk of cyclones in February and March.
For the best-hued water and whitest sand head as far north as possible. With its fields of sugarcane, rum distilleries and single-gauge railway, inland Nosy Be has a faintly Caribbean atmosphere. If you can drag yourself away from the beach there are some beautiful out-of-the-way corners to explore.