Nosy Be is an Island 8km off the northwest coast of Madagascar in the Mozambique Channel; several smaller islands are located nearby, including Nosy Komba, Nosy Sakatia and Nosy Tanikely. Together they form the beautiful archipelago of Nosy Be. The island of Nosy Be, which means ‘Big Island’ in Malagasy language, is a volcanic island with eleven volcanic crater lakes. It’s known for having one of the smallest frogs and chameleons in the world and it’s home to the panther chameleon and different species of lemurs. It’s without a doubt a must-visit when you travel to Madagascar.
Nosy Be Island is the perfect place to discover amazing marine life with its beautiful coral reef and the opportunity to swim with sea turtles. There’s even a chance of seeing humpback whales and whale sharks. Nosy Be mainly acts as a hub to explore the nearby islands. There are many tour operators, like Nazaire Excursions, who can help you planning a trip to the different islands. Most boat excursions depart from the bay of Ambatoloaka. Keep that in mind while planning your trip to Nosy Be Madagascar.
There are many places to see and things to do in Nosy Be and its archipelago and every island has a unique reason to visit. Therefore I highly recommend Nosy Be as part of your Northern Madagascar itinerary. But on top of that there are much more places to visit in Madagascar. Of course you can't miss the unique Madagascar Boabab trees. Find here everything you to know before visiting the Avenue of the Baobabs or other things to do in Morondova.
For a complete Madagascar itinerary read my Ultimate Madagascar Travel blog, including a 2-week itinerary along all the amazing National Parks.
Professional travel photographer Kim Paffen traveled to Madagascar. For Traveltomtom she already wrote a complete travel guide full of North Madagascar tips + itinerary and other Africa travel blogs like Mountain Gorilla trekking in Uganda and the Ultimate Uganda travel itinerary. In this Nosy Be travel blog she will share the top 5 things to do in Nosy Be!
1. Watch the sunset at Mont Passot
Mont Passot or Bongo Pisa in Malagasy is the second highest volcanic peak on Nosy Be, from where you have great views over the surrounding crater lakes like Nosy Be’s biggest Crater Lake Amparihibe and its adjacent Antsidihy Lake. Together with other lakes they surround the Mont Passot volcano, which rises 329 metres above sea level.
The terraced viewpoint provides a 360° panoramic view over the Mozambique Channel and some of Nosy Be’s crater lakes. From the top you can also see Nosy Faly, Nosy Komba, Nosy Sakatia, Nosy Tanga, Nosy Ratsa and Nosy Tanikely. Another Nosy Be Madagascar travel tip is to visit Mont Passot at sunset! Watching the sunset from Mont Passot is absolutely stunning and among the best things to do when visiting Nosy Be.
Mont Passot is a 45-minute drive from Nosy Be city. The entrance fee is about 10.000 Ariary ($3). From the parking it’s a short steep hike to the viewpoint. You will also find souvenirs stalls, toilets and a small restaurant at the Mont Passot viewpoint. The black lemurs are also part of the experience. They are used to tourists and most of the time jumping around, hoping to be fed by tourists. A secret Nosy Be travel tip is to do one of the 3 different hiking routes along the crater lakes. Along the way you will enjoy numerous birds, a beautiful waterfall and a hanging bridge.
It’s a good idea to plan your trip to Mont Passot one of the first days on the Nosy Be island, because you’ll immediately get a good sense of the island and its archipelago.
2. Cross the iconic sandbank of Nosy Iranja
Nosy Iranja is one of the most popular and beautiful islands of Nosy Be's archipelago. It lies around 40 km to the southwest of Nosy Be island. The charm of Nosy Iranja lies in its pure beauty. It’s actually made up of two Islands, connected by a 1.2 km dreamy white sandbank, which can be crossed at low tide.
The big island (Nosy Iranja Be) is a typical fishermen village with a small community. Don’t forget to walk uphill to the lighthouse, one of the best things to do in Nosy Be. The lighthouse is designed by Gustave Eiffel. You’ll walk along a few stalls with souvenirs and on top of the island you will have great views of the iconic sandbank and azure blue waters of Nosy Iranja.
The island is sometimes referred to as ‘Turtles Island’, because it’s hosted around marine turtles. There is a beach where marine turtles lay their eggs during high tide at night. If you’re lucky you can watch the eggs come out. We only saw a few turtles in the sea when we entered Nosy Iranja by boat. As soon as it gets low tide the chance of seeing turtles is low.
I really loved the laid back atmosphere of this idyllic tropical island with many coconut palms and tropical flowers. It’s an amazing thing to do when you travel to Nosy Be! Also a great Madagascar travel tip is that you’re allowed to sleep on this beautiful island! There’s a small hotel, which makes it possible to stay overnight and enjoy the sunset while the crowds travel back to Nosy Be. You can have your breakfast at sunrise and have the island for yourself. Make sure to put this on your list of things to do in Nosy Be
Most trips to Nosy Iranja (and the other islands) depart from Ambatoloaka Bay by motorboat around 8.30 and it will take 90 minutes to reach the Island. The tour will include a great seafood lunch with grilled fish, shrimp- and zebu skewers, rice, vegetables and some fresh salad and fruit. Don’t forget your sunscreen and/or a hat.
3. Nosy Komba (Lemur Island) & Nosy Tanikely
A trip to Nosy Komba is often combined with a trip to Nosy Tanikely because it’s only 15 minutes by boat. Most trips start around 8.30 from Ambatoloaka Bay to Nosy Komba and around 12.30 from Nosy Komba to Nosy Tanikely.
Nosy Komba (Lemur Island)
The island of Nosy Komba, what literally means ‘Lemur Island’, is the most populated and second largest volcanic island after Nosy Be. This island has 12 local villages and is home to a large number of black lemurs. Its original name is Nosy Ambariovato, which means ‘surrounded by many stones’. It takes around 20 minutes by boat to get to Nosy Komba.
Don’t expect to have a wild or authentic experience. The black lemurs are so habituated to human contact that they come close waiting to get pleased with bananas, so if you’re the kind of tourist that likes to have photos with Lemurs sitting on your shoulder while feeding them bananas, a boa hanging around your neck or pick-up turtles to check if they’re male or female, then you will like this Island visit. :(
I left the Island with mixed feelings since it was my first time to see Lemurs in the wild, but not how I expected it to be. The guides feed the Lemurs to come down from the trees, but luckily the lemurs are sacred for Malagasy people and free to roam around the island (not fenced).
I don’t like it when guides are picking up animals like turtles and boa constrictors. They hold the boa in a small enclosure for 3 months, only for tourists to hang them around their neck and take photos with it. After 3 months they free the boa in search for another one. In Nosy Komba you will also find a 400+ year-old Aldabra turtle. If you’re more a naturalist like me, then skip this visit and enjoy for example a long hike in Lokobe nature reserve, a much better thing to do in Nosy Be Madagascar. You will spot the same animals there but they are not being fed or picked up by guides.
We only did a 1,5 hour walk that ended at some souvenirs stalls in a local village where children were singing songs, but it’s also possible to do a long hike. It’s possible to do a hike to the top of the island (622m). This trek will take around 5 hours and brings you to the largest village on the island called Ampangorina. You will walk through the dense jungle and cross a lot of plantations. The villagers grow fruits, vanilla and coffee to sell on Nosy Be and to trade with bakers and fisherman.
Apart from the nature, you will also see multi-coloured birds, butterflies, chameleons and of course lemurs. At the village of Ampangorina, you will see a lot of beautiful Malagasy handcrafts like masks, necklaces and tablecloths. I think it’s better to do this long hike to the top of the Island instead of a short walk along the lemurs surrounded by many tourists. Don’t forget to put on cloth shoes and bug spray for this hike!
Since 2010 Nosy Tanikely has become a Marine National Park and a protected marine reserve. It’s Nosy Be’s primary snorkelling and diving spot with lots of coral, colourful fish and sea turtles and snorkeling/diving is of course among the best things to do in Nosy Be Madagascar. It’s only 10km west of Nosy Komba. For us, Nosy Tanikely was the perfect place to simply relax. We did a little snorkelling, had a picnic lunch at the beach, enjoyed the water and climbed into the lighthouse on top of the island from where we had beautiful views of Nosy Komba. We also spotted some lemurs climbing the trees.
When you enter the island from the seaside looking towards the beach, the best coral reef lays on to the far left. The beach is nice to relax, but not the most spectacular one comparing to the surrounding beaches like for example Nosy Iranja.
During November and December you’ll have a chance of seeing some whale sharks and in July and August you’re able to spot humpback whales in the area of Nosy Tanikely. If you visit Nosy Be around that time definitely add this to your list of things to do.
4. Swim with turtles on Nosy Sakatia
Nosy Sakatia is located west of Nosy Be, five minutes by boat or canoe. Many people go there to relax, enjoy the beautiful beach and clear water, swim with turtles or do some diving or snorkelling. Nature lovers will love its biodiversity. You will find flowers such as orchids and chameleons on the island.
5. Lokobe Nature Reserve: the world's smallest chameleons
The Lokobe natural reserve is a must-visit for all nature lovers and one of Madagascar’s five Strict Nature Reserves. It’s the last original forest of Nosy Be's region and officially declared as a National Park in Madagascar since 2011. It protects most of Nosy Be’s remaining endemic vegetation and some of Madagascar’s endemic wildlife.
The island is known for its panther chameleon, the black lemur (or Eulemur macaco), the (nocturnal) grey-backed sportive lemur (or Lepilemur) and some mouse lemurs. It’s also known for having one of the world’s smallest frogs and chameleons. Apart from that you will probably spot snakes and many wonderful plants like ylang-ylang trees, vanilla orchids and travellers’ palms. One of the unique places to visit in Madagascar and of course an amazing thing to do in Nosy Be.
How to get to Lokobe Reserve?
To get to Lokobe Strictly Reserve you will cross the large city of Nosy Be to go directly to a fishing village called Ambatozavavy (about 30 minutes by car). From the village it’s about 45 minutes by local pirogue peddling your way through the Mangrove forests until you reach the island.
Lokobe Park is divided into different circuits. We took a circuit of about 1,5 hours where the flora is very dense. We saw black lemurs, sportive lemurs, two boa constrictors, endemic frogs, a nocturnal gecko or the king of camouflage that sticks to trees and different chameleons from the smallest chameleon in the world (Minima Brochesia) to a colourful panther chameleon. The black lemur is not completely black. The male is dark brown (almost black) and the female has a chestnut colour with white tufts around the ears and cheeks.
What to bring for your trip to Lokobe?
Before you leave your hotel put on shorts or a dress, a shirt and flip-flops. Depending on the weather or recent rains you might have to walk through the mud to reach your pirogue. After a short walk over the mud (sometimes dry, sometimes muddy), you’ll have to walk through the water for a few metres to get into the canoe. The water will get to your knees so therefore it’s better to wear shorts and flip-flops. Put your shoes in a plastic bag and a long pants and long sleeve in your daypack. Once you arrive at the island change your clothes and put on some mosquito repellent. The island has lots of mosquito and they like our ‘vazaha’ skin!
After the island visit it’s best to change your clothes again and put your shoes in a bag or tie them around your daypack. They might get wet when you lay them on the floor of the canoe. When you arrive back in the cosy fisherman village you’ll be treated with a nice lunch of rice, fish, crabs and shrimps with some vegetables. I liked the trip to this reserve very much and we only saw two other tourists in the forest.
How to get to Nosy Be
Depending on where you are, there are several ways to get to Nosy Be. The most convenient is to book a direct flight Fascene Airport. There are several airlines that offer direct flights (even international ones from Europe). If you’re already in Madagascar you can either go by car and ferry (from Ankify Harbour on Madagascar’s main land) or you can book a domestic flight with their local airline Tsaradia. The last option is probably the fastest and easiest way to travel to Nosy Be.
Nosy Be Tour Package
If you only have a couple of days in Nosy Be and you’re looking for a Nosy Be (or even North Madagascar) tour package I would recommend getting in touch with Madabest. Together with Nazaire Excursions, Madabest can arrange all the above-mentioned Nosy Be activities. When you travel to Nosy Be with them they make sure you don't miss any of the amazing things to do.
Interested in exploring more highlights of the Treasure Island Madagascar? Check out my ultimate North Madagascar Travel Blog for the best North Madagascar itinerary, countless Madagascar travel tips and the best places to stay in for example Nosy Be and Diego-Suarez. More things to know when traveling to Madagascar can be found in my Ultimate Madagascar Travel blog, including the best itinerary for 2 weeks in Madagascar.
Click here if you are visiting the Madagascar Baobab trees, the famous Avenue of the Baobabs close to Morondava or if you want to know more about this place then click here for a Morondava Travel Guide.
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Enjoy your trip to Nosy Be!