Nosy Be is a small island off the coast of Madagascar, known for its expansive sandy beaches, great snorkeling, ylang ylang plantations and lush rain-forests. It’s a popular tourist destination for its remote, laid-back atmosphere, friendly locals, and an abundance of activities. This includes trekking to visit the lemurs and other exotic wildlife living in the Lokobe Nature Reserve.
We spent 5 days in this Madagascar paradise, just relaxing and exploring.
Getting to Nosy Be
Getting to this island is quite straightforward as there are flights through Addis Ababa, Ethiopia as well as Johannesburg, South Africa. We flew from Blantyre Malawi to Johannesburg and then directly to Nosy Be.
In addition, there are flights on Air France, Air Madagascar, Corsair and Air Austral which provide one to several weekly flights between Paris and Antananarivo (the capital of Madagascar). Then, you can take a daily flight from Antanarivo to the island.
Best Time to Go
Nosy Be is an island about 8 kilometers off the northwest coast of Madagascar, and a very popular spot with tourists due to its tropical monsoon climate. This volcanic island has a short dry season from May to September, which is generally the best time to visit, though rainfall does still sometimes occur in this period. Temperatures throughout the year range between 25 – 30 degrees C.
Our trip there was in the middle of October and we only heard rain in the middle of the night (which was really romantic), but we never saw it. In addition, the rain does not scare the tourists as our hotel was booked solid from October through January.
eVisa and Visa on Arrival (VOA)
No visa is required for a stay of less than 15 days in Madagascar regardless of the person’s nationality. The only exceptions are citizens of Burundi and Palestine who are prohibited entry. For all other nationalities a “landing authorization of $10” has to be paid upon entry to the country. Any passport holder (again, except for the 2 mentioned above) may get a Tourist visa in the form of an eVisa or the VOA (for a stay less than 60 days) upon arrival at the airport/port of entry.
As an aside, after travelling to 161 countries, this was the first airport customs place where we were asked for a “tip” from the customs official coming in and leaving the country. The customs person coming in, first looked around to make sure that the coast was clear prior to asking. Since we did not pay, he stamped our passport but did not sign it. Thus making us return to get the stamp. The customs officer upon leaving was much more bold and just flat out asked for money.
Connectivity & SIM Cards
Let’s just say that most hotels say that they have WIFI, however the signal is week and just may not reach your room. Therefore getting a SIM card is very important. Orange is the best SIM card plan for most of Nosy Be. The plans are quite inexpensive with the card costing around 2 euros and a few gigabytes of data being an extra 2-3 Euros for a week. However, our data was very week all over the island as well.
In addition, our flight arrived on a Sunday and everything was closed, including the sales of SIM cards. Therefore plan accordingly.
Safety & Money
We felt safe on Nosy Be. However, it is a very poor country. Therefore we recommend typical common sense measures. These include not walking around remote beaches or the city center on your own at night, not flashing money or jewelry, etc.,
In addition, the roads on the island and in Madagascar overall are very poorly maintained. We do not recommend traveling at night as the roads are poorly lit and have large potholes throughout.
Most vendors on the island prefer to receive Euros or USD. That said, there is an ATM machine outside of the airport. However, we arrived on a Sunday and the machine was being guarded by the military and we were not allowed to withdraw cash.
There is also a formal currency exchange booth as you walk out of the airport. However, a better exchange is offered by many people operating out of the souvenir shops across from the airport. Just ask them or your driver.
As an aside, we were able to charge all of our excursions and food to our hotel. At the end of our stay we paid with a credit card for which we had to pay a 4% premium.
There are so many different options for accommodations on the island from a variety of budget ones all the way to pricey 5 star hotels. The beaches are best on the west coast of the island and on some of the smaller islands.
Things to Consider
One must keep a few things in mind:
- Nosy Be is a tropical island and therefore there are insects here. These include mosquitoes (therefore most places have mosquito nets). It is best to use them religiously. In addition, we have seen cockroaches in these parts. Yes, disgusting, we agree. However, staying on the beach in huts in a tropical place, you may see them, so we want to warn you. If you keep food out of your room and the garbage, you may not see any.
- The island has very poor connectivity. If you expect to be connected for work (or family, etc.,) you will be very frustrated and disappointed.
- Most of the hotels/resorts are quite remote. The good ones are usually located on a beach, descending from the mountain on a dirt road. It takes time and effort to get from one area to the next. Therefore, you may not be dining in different restaurants for many of your meals.
- The quality of the beach will vary based on the tide and the rain. Therefore, on any given day, a beach may look crystal clear or cloudy (all depending on these factors).
Om Sweet Om: This is a guest house and a yoga center, making this a yogis dream retreat. Meditation and yoga classes are offered for free throughout the day. In addition, there are 3 different yoga facilities on the premises. There is a swimming pool and 3 different types of accommodation options from budget rooms to inexpensive bungalows on the beach. The bungalows are $60 USD per night.
This retreat is located right on the edge of the Lokobe Reserve, which is right where the lemurs live.
Anjamarango Beach Resort: This resort is located on the north western point of the island and has a sandy beach in front of the resort. The reef is about 200 meters off the shore which allows for some great snorkeling. There are 2 types of accommodations.
The premier kind are large beach huts with air conditioning and private bathrooms and are located right on the beach. The sound of water lapping and birds chirping would wake us up and lull us to sleep every morning and night. We created a daily routine of watching the sun rise in the morning from our bed. And watching the sun set from our private loungers in front of the waves. The cost for this type of hut starts at $85 USD per night with breakfast for 2.
The second type of huts are located on the second level. They are also quite large and have a good view of the water. However, they do not have air conditioning. Prices for these start at about $60 USD per night and include breakfast for 2.
The infinity pool is fantastic as it overlooks the water. It is salt water and warm. There is a good (and very inexpensive) restaurant on site that offers Malagasy foods, fresh fish as well as some French favorites. The chef would make me different vegan dishes which I quite enjoyed. After breakfast we would retire to the large open air loft above the restaurant which looks over the water. There are many comfortable couches to sit on and the wifi was better here. In addition, there is a billiards pool and Foosball table.
Furthermore, there are many excursions offered by this hotel from trips to Lokobe Reserve to day trips to deserted islands with fabulous coral reefs for snorkeling, to fishing trips. Or you could just chill on the beach.
Keep in mind that during the afternoons (2 pm – 5 pm) this hotel would shut off it’s electricity.
Constance Tsarabanjina Madagascar: This magnificent and luxurious accommodation is located on a tiny island north east of Nosy Be. These sandy white beaches and crystal clear water certainly rival that of the Maldives. This is a beloved destination of honeymooners and people who want some pampering, peace and quiet.
Keep in mind that although breathtaking, like the Maldives, guests here will be isolated for the duration of the stay. There are a variety of accommodations here starting at about $475 USD/night.
Must do Excursions
The options for things to see and do in Nosy Be can keep one busy for a very long time. So it is important to balance these outings with time spent on the beach or just relaxing by the pool. Here are our favorite things to do on this island:
- Lokobe Nature Special Reserve: This is a protected reserve, meaning that thankfully, the many animals within it are protected from poaching and abuse. We did this excursion from the Anjamarango Beach Resort and it took about 45 minutes by mostly rough roads to get here. We arrived at the Ambatozavary fishing village. From there ,we walked with our guide and paddler to our pirogue boat which we paddled for about 25 minutes to the beaches of Lokobe Reserve. Ultimately we walked into the park and were able to see 2 different types of lemurs: Macaco Lemur and the nocturnal Sportive Lemur. We also so chameleons, snakes, an owl and many varieties of birds.
- Nosy Fanihy: is a small uninhabited coral island which you can visit for snorkeling and lunch. The trip is on a pirogue boat, with an option to paddle (if you feel like it). This deserted island has the nest of one of the last pairs of Ankoay, the endemic eagle of Madagascar! It is ideal for snorkeling because of it’s white sand beach and transparent turquoise water.
- Nosy Sakatia, Nosy Komba, Nosy Tanikely, Nosy Mitsio and Nosy Iranja are some of the other options for visiting uninhabited coral islands which are guaranteed to take your breath away.
- Ylang ylang flowers: smelling these intoxicating flowers from the trees along the road is highly recommended. This is a much cleaner and more refreshing scent than the Coco Chanel No 5 perfume which highly depends on the Madagascar ylang ylang flower! Note: many vendors will try to sell you some of the ylang ylang perfume. There are a few different levels of quality for these “scents” so buyer beware.
Wrap Up Nosy Be
Nosy Be, is a tiny slice of heaven that really surprised us. We did not expect this island to be so diverse and relaxing. It’s the perfect place to forget about work and unplug.
Laying on a lounger, listening to the mesmerizing waves crashing on the shore, it’s easy to let time float by. The birds chirp and sing, and the intoxicating scent of ylang-ylang flowers fills the air.
In addition to the beaches, amazing snorkeling and other water activities, the island has a lot more to offer. The Lokobe Nature Reserve is a wonderful place to spend some time, watching the lemurs, chameleons, snakes and other exotic animals and birds do their thing in the wild. And of course there are all of the other small islands (Nosy’s) to paddle to or just enjoy for a day or even an afternoon.
However, one must remember that this is a poor country. Connectivity is slim to none. There are no large stores to purchase western items which you may crave. And this is a tropical island, so expect mosquitoes and other insects. But, if none of those things hold you back, then we think you will really enjoy the vibe of this magnificent island.
Have you been to Madagascar or Nosy Be? What did you think? Did you enjoy this place as much as we did? Let us know in the comments and please do ask us questions. Our goal is to help fellow travelers get the most out of their adventures.