Nosy Be is a small island a few kilometres off the north-western coast of Madagascar. It’s Madagascar’s quintessential beach-holiday destination. Nosy be has a delightful climate almost year-round and white-sand beaches so pure they squeak. Its coral reefs are colourful and prolific and the tropical waters, warmed by the Agulhas Current, beckon you in.
Inland, forested reserves and lush ridges are home to island birds, peculiar reptiles and lemurs. This makes Nosy Be an unmissable destination for sun seekers and nature lovers on Madagascar tours. On its south coast, the small port town of Andoany ( commonly known by its former French name, Hell-Ville) connects Nosy Be to mainland Madagascar by ferry. It’s awash with bright colours, tuk-tuks, old colonial buildings and busy markets selling fresh seafood and spices and everywhere the hypnotising scent of ylang-ylang blossoms drifts through the air.
Nosy Be, meaning ‘Big Island’ in Malagasy, is situated off the north-west coast of Madagascar and is home to the most beautiful views and best beaches, making it the country’s most popular tourist destination. Culture Trip takes a look at the best things to see and do on the paradise island of Nosy Be.
Known as ‘The Perfumed Island’ because of its ylang-ylang plantations, Nosy Be is the number one beach destination in Madagascar. Its waters also offer an impressive and largely undisturbed diving experience. And thanks to the Donia Music Festival, Nosy Be is now also a sought-after venue for events like the Nosy Be Jazz Festival (NBJF) in April and the Libertalia Music Festival in May.
It’s tropical climate and superb location makes it Madagascar’s beach-resort destination per excellence. Though Nosy Be’s clear inclination towards mass tourism, it is yet a largely sleepy place with sugar cane plantations, rum distilleries, ylang ylang bushes, lounging lemurs, and little air of expectation. Not to forget that this still beautiful island offers some amazing snorkelling and diving opportunities and some primary forests with a great wildlife.
History of Nosy Be in Madagascar
The first human inhabitants of Nosy Be were small bands of Antankarana and Zafinofotsy. This was before the Sakalava migrated there and became the most numerous ethnic group on the island. These people were joined later by some Comorians, Indians or Antandroy.
Nosy Be made first major appearance in Madagascar's history when King Radama I announced that he intended to conquer the whole west of the red island up to the sea. That plan was eventually achieved when the Sakalava Kingdom of Boina came into his possession in 1837 when Queen Tsiomeko's army was defeated. The French colonized the island from 1840, founding an outpost named Hell-Ville (from French Admiral de Hell).
In 1849, slavery was abolished by the French, though the slaves were owned by Malagasies. It caused a Malagasy revolt against the French. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the island was governed by the French as an internal protectorate within the colony of Madagascar.
The French used both military force and diplomacy to maintain their position in the island, appointing the former ruler of Nosy Be Binao as the gouverneur principal of the island. Though it was difficult for the French to control the littoral, they founded a plantation colony in Nosy Be, mainly producing sugar and cash crops.
During the Russo-Japanese War Nosy Be became a supply station for Russia's Second Pacific Squadron. The main fleet led by Admiral Zinovy Rozhestvensky reached Nosy Be on January 9, 1905, where it met a smaller detachment led by Admiral Dmitry von Fölkersam that had arrived already on December 28, 1904. The fleet stayed for two months for refurbishing and coaling, leaving on March 17 to meet its fate ten weeks later at the Battle of Tsushima.
What to See and Do in Madagascar
Nosy Be’s landscape is varied and it is characterized by a great many hills that are overlooked by Mount Lokone (450m) and Mount Passot (350). From these high vantage points, you have an exceptional view onto Nosy Be Bay, but also on the Radama Islands (south) and Mitsio Islands (north).
There are eleven volcanic lakes on the island, which constitute an enormous water reserve for humans and crops. The whole coastline is punctuated by a great number of gorgeous bays and deserted beaches lined by palm trees. There are also many small islets and rocks which are often visited by refuges seeking for some private. Temperatures are pleasant around the whole year. Notice that humidity can be particularly bad during the tropical summer.
Many people come to Nosy Be specifically to spend time on the beach—and there are plenty to choose from. Perhaps the most beautiful beach on the main island is Andilana, located on the northwest tip. It’s famous for its pristine white sands, clear waters, and excellent swimming and in the evening, its impressive sunsets.
Nosy Be’s surrounding islands and islets are also known for their beaches. In particular, Nosy Iranja boasts a slender spit of pearly white sand that doubles as a sea turtle hatchery, while Nosy Sakatia combines scenic beaches with rare bird life and indigenous flora.
Snorkeling and Scuba Diving
Scuba diving and snorkeling are favorite pastimes on Nosy Be. Some of the best reefs are located in the marine reserve that surrounds uninhabited Nosy Tanikely, where vibrant coral cover supports a wealth of tropical fish, turtles, rays, and sharks. Scuba
Nosy Be offers diving courses and fun dives, while Les Baleines Rand’eau is an excellent option for whale shark snorkeling tours. Every year between September and December, these magnificent fish can easily be seen in the waters around Nosy Be.
Nosy Be’s land animals are just as enjoyable. In the island’s southeast corner lies Lokobe National Park, where walking trails wind their way through the thick rainforest, allowing you to come face-to-face with indigenous wildlife, including the vulnerable black lemur.
Gray-backed sportive lemurs and nocturnal mouse lemurs also live in Lokobe, as do more than 50 types of reptile and 35 types of amphibians. Among them are the world’s smallest frog and chameleon species. The national park is a haven for birds, too. Keep an eye out for endemic owls and kingfishers.
Though small, Nosy Be and its surrounding islands are rich in culture. Pay a visit to the enormous, centuries-old Sacred Banyan Tree on the outskirts of Mahatsinjo village, or walk amidst crumbling French colonial architecture in Hell-Ville.
Nosy Komba’s Ampangorinana craft market is filled with stalls selling traditional raffia toys and elaborate Richelieu embroidery, while the annual Donia Festival welcomes musicians from all over the western Indian Ocean in a celebration that lasts for several days. Other notable cultural events include the Libertalia Music Festival and the Nosy Be Jazz Festival.
Climate and Weather Conditions in Nosy Be
Nosy Be has a tropical monsoon climate. Daytime temperatures remain relatively consistent throughout the year, with an average annual mean of 77 degrees F (25 degrees C). Seasons are divided into the wet season (October to early May) and the drier season (late May to September). The former is hotter, more humid, and more prone to cyclones, although Nosy Be’s location on the northwest coast means that it is more protected from extreme weather than the exposed east coast. The dry season sees the most sunshine.
It is most humid in summer (December, January, February). The Tsaratanana massif partially protects the island from the strong north-east winds affecting the region in August or during tropical depressions. The wet season lasts from October until the beginning of May, followed by a relatively short dry season that lasts through September. As characteristic of its climate however, it still sees moderate amounts of precipitation even during this time. Daytime temperatures remain fairly steady throughout the year, hovering around 30°C (86 °F), while the nights are slightly cooler during the dry season.
Best Time to Go to Nosy Be
The best time to travel in terms of weather is undoubtedly during the dry season. At this time of year, there are also fewer mosquitoes, and underwater visibility is at its best. However, the wet season sees fewer crowds and lower accommodation prices. As mentioned above, September to December is also the best time to travel if you want to swim with whale sharks; December is also baby lemur season. The Donia Festival is usually held at the end of May. Malaria is a risk throughout the year on Nosy Be, and prophylactics are recommended.
|Languages spoken||Malagasy, French|
|Currency used||Malagasy Ariary|