Despite the unstable political situation since the beginning of the year, Ian, Marcine, Carolyn, Bunny, Lol and Schalk took advantage of the lull in Madagascar’s tourism to make the most this charming tropical island, discovering a quiet, safe hideaway.
“Bon jour! …Um, how do you say ‘full body massage’ in French?”
Darn, despite our five-week crash course in French we had clearly still not learnt all the important bits. At least we didn’t have to worry about obnoxious tourists, long queues and exorbitant prices. Since the coup that shook Madagascar at the beginning of the year the constant flow of tourists from Italy and France had all but ceased. It is important to note, that at no time did we feel threatened or unsafe- the Malagasy people went out of their way to welcome us and make our stay in their beautiful country a memorable one. Another great advantage is that no visas are required until December 2009.
We’d been planning our holiday to Madagascar since our last trip in May 2008, which we thoroughly enjoyed and realized that there were still too many little islands that we had not explored.
We departed from OR Tambo airport and flew towards Antananarivo with Air Madagascar. Tana, as it called by the locals, is the capital of Madagascar and a vibrant and beautiful city. Although this is the city where most of the protests took place, the city was quiet on both nights we spent at the lovely Relais des Plateaux Hotel. I highly recommend this hotel – the food and service were excellent and the staff even spoke a bit of English.
The next day we flew to Nosy Be which is a tiny island off the north coast of Madagascar. We disembarked from the airplane into 35deg heat! Definitely time to whip out the sunscreen and sunglasses.
We were met at the airport by a taxi which took us to Chanty Beach Hotel Villa. Just a few metres from the beach this resort is a quiet hideaway with lovely shady gardens and warm German/Malagasy hospitality (They offer both self-catering chalets and B&B).
For lunch, we found ourselves repeatedly drawn to the Sambatra B&B which offered the most amazing seafood, and great service. If you have an afternoon to spare when not consuming large amounts of calamari, prawns and fish, catch the ferry to Sakatia Passions – only ten minutes away this is simply a little piece of paradise with fabulous snorkeling in clear blue water.
On our last night at Chanty Beach, Bert the Captain of the Admiral Explorer joined us for dinner. That night he bought the yacht right into the bay which allowed us to get onto the yacht bright and early the next morning. This was simply the highlight of our holiday – four nights and five days on a luxury 50-foot catamaran, while our Captain took us to the best snorkeling beaches and tropical hideaways in Madagascar.
The first day on the boat was a long stretch to Nosy Mitsio. This allowed us to get our sea legs and view all the beautiful islands along the way. We were immediately joined by a Black Marlin who swam alongside the yacht for some way, jumping right out of the water. The men on the boat took the opportunity to do some fishing, catching Kingfish, Barracuda and Mackerel. Captain Bert took us to some very isolated islands with the most awesome snorkeling, beautiful shells, rock formations and white beaches with clear blue water… it was unbelievable.
On board we were treated like royalty. Frederick the cook, prepared daily seafood spreads which we could only rate as “number 1”! These were accompanied with lots of fruit and salads, lovely Madagascan coffee and French breads. Mowgli, one of the deckhands, also kept us entertained, and slightly tipsy, with his killer Caipirinias – rum, sugar, water and lots of limes and not forgetting the Three Horses Beer!
The accommodation on the Admiral Explorer was incredibly comfortable and spacious with four cabins, two with two double beds and two with one double bed. But despite the luxury lodgings, we spent most of our time sunbathing on the deck, and listening to our Captain giving us all the info on the locals and the islands as we sailed passed them – he has been living there for over nine years and we couldn’t have asked for a better guide.
Nossi Komba – a popular island for unique wildlife including lemurs, pythons and tortoises. The Le Plage bar a local meeting spot and the markets are a great place to shop for local crafts (look out for the beautiful hand-made table clothes).
Unfortunately our time on the Admiral Explorer came to an end and Captain Bert glided into Ambondrona beach, back on Nosy Be island, dropping us at Nosy Lodge, our final destination. Nosy Lodge is a beautiful resort with six bedrooms, owned and run by a Belgium couple who were excellent hosts. This lodge has a swimming pool as well as lovely lush gardens.
While at Nosy Lodge we spent our days exploring Hell-Ville – and no, this is certainly nowhere near hell! In fact, this town is the vibrant and colourful capital of Nosy Be. A must-stop while here is the Nadipo’s, which serves the best pizza! It’s also a meeting place for all the locals when coming into town to do their shopping.
The most noticeable thing about Hell-Ville is the old yellow Fiat cars, many of which now serve as taxis. I get the impression that France took all these cars and dropped them off on Nosy Be. They were all in a great condition and ideal for the very narrow roads around the island.
Both the Chanty Beach and Nosy Lodge resorts offered massages by the local Malagasy women who come to the resorts. This is an absolute treat – a full body massage only costs R60 and it takes about 1½ hrs. Oh yes, “full body massage” in French is massage de corps complet – definitely a phrase we are sure not to forget any time soon.
Madagascar is a truly great holiday destination, and it’s right on South Africa’s doorstep. The flights are only about 3hrs from Johannesburg to Antananarivo. From Antananarivo to Nosy Be the flights were approximately 1hr20min.
We were in Madagascar from 25 April to 6th May 2009 – each day the temperatures averaged between 30-35 deg and the sea temperature between 27-30 degrees! Make sure you pack lots of sunscreen and are prepared for the heat. All we take is our costumes, sarongs, a hat, shorts and a couple of light T-shirts. Keep space in your suitcase for the great crafts and tablecloths which are very reasonably priced.
We will be back in 2010 if not before! A highly recommended holiday destination!
Written by: Marcine Cooper