A thin strip of land off Madagascar’s northeast coast, sleepy Île Sainte-Marie (also known as Nosy Boraha) is a place of soft-sand beaches backed by palms and fishing villages where old traditions are still alive and well. You can spend the last few days of your Madagascar trip relaxing on the shores, diving in reefs clouded with kaleidoscopic fish and, between June and September, looking for migratory humpback whales offshore.
The island was a popular base for pirates who plundered the Indian Ocean in the 17th and 18th centuries. Today, though, the one and only town, Ambodifotatra, is an undisturbed haven with a handful of cafés, a Catholic church and a popular market.
After a busy trip taking in Madagascar’s highlights and hiking through forest in search of the country’s unique collection of wildlife, a few days of island relaxation calls. You don’t have to go far, with Île Sainte-Marie easily accessed via a short light aircraft from Antananarivo.
Here, you can take a more relaxed pace. Staying in a small beachside lodge, you can fill your days with as much activity as you like. Near-deserted beaches of creamy sand are lapped by clear water warmed by the sun, where you can spend entire days unwinding with a book.
Your lodge can usually provide you with snorkeling equipment so you can observe life beneath the waves. If you’re an experienced diver, head out on a diving session to the coral reefs, while beginners can opt to take a diving course to obtain an international PADI certificate.
If you’re visiting between June and September, you can take a boat trip in search of humpback whales, which migrate from Antarctica to Madagascar’s warm waters to breed and calve. Guides, who are often marine researchers, can help locate the whales and tell you more about them as you watch them spout water and flip their flukes above the waves.
Back on dry land, most lodges have bicycles for hire. You could spend a morning or afternoon pedaling along (poorly maintained) roads lined with mango, clove, cinnamon and breadfruit trees, pausing at fishing villages dotted with bamboo houses. As you pass beaches, you’ll notice traditional wooden pirogue boats moored in the shallows.
You can take a guided trip to the island’s only town, Ambodifotatra, to find out more about its past role in 17th- and 18th-century piracy. Its strategic position close to the maritime routes linking ships to the East Indies, along with the island’s abundance of sheltered bays and inlets, made it a base for infamous pirates such as Olivier Levasseur, who was known as La Buse (The Buzzard) for the speed and ruthlessness of his attacks, and Henry Every, dubbed ‘The King of Pirates’ after being one of few pirate captains to have escaped with his bounty without being arrested.
It’s also worth taking time to explore the town’s market, enjoy a cold drink in one of its pavement cafés and see Madagascar’s oldest church, the red-roofed Notre Dame de l’Assomption, built by French Catholics in 1857 (unfortunately it’s closed to visitors).
At the end of each day, you can dine on fresh seafood (the island’s particularly known for its crab) washed down with Île Sainte-Marie’s signature drink — coconut milk enlivened by a large measure of pastis.
Best time to visit Île Sainte-Marie
You can visit Île Sainte-Marie from April to December, with only the cyclone-prone months of January to March worth avoiding. To time with whale-watching season, visit between June and September.
Map of Île Sainte-Marie
Places & hotels on the map
Places near Île Sainte-Marie
- Masoala National Park 148 kilometers away
- Nosy Mangabe 160 kilometers away
- Maroantsetra 168 kilometers away
- The Pangalanes Canal 199 kilometers away
- Mantadia National Park 273 kilometers away
- Andasibe National Park (Perinet) 274 kilometers away
- Antananarivo 336 kilometers away
- Anjajavy Private Nature Reserve 358 kilometers away
- The islands & beaches of Madagascar 406 kilometers away
- Ankify 410 kilometers away
- Baobab Beach 416 kilometers away
- Nosy Komba 419 kilometers away
- Nosy Be 438 kilometers away
- Antsirabe 447 kilometers away
- Ankarana Special Reserve 452 kilometers away
- Nosy Mitsio Archipelago 468 kilometers away
Photos of Île Sainte-Marie
Accommodation choices for Île Sainte-Marie
We’ve selected a range of accommodation options for when you visit Île Sainte-Marie. Our choices usually come recommended for their character, facilities and service or location. Our specialists always aim to suggest properties that match your preferences.
Ideas for experiencing Île Sainte-Marie
Our specialists seek out authentic ways to get to know the places that could feature in your trip. These activities reflect some of the experiences they've most enjoyed while visiting Île Sainte-Marie, and which use the best local guides.
In June, humpback whales come from the waters of the South Pole to the Ste Marie Channel, not far off the coast. The channel is protected by the East coast of Madagascar and by Sainte-Marie, ideal for whales who come to breed and calve.View details