Nosy Be is the biggest island located 8 km off the northwest coast of Madagascar in the Mozambique Channel. It is the most popular tourist destination in Madagascar for tourists who love beachfront resort type of tourism. And it is also known as one the best honeymoon destinations.
Nosy Be means “big island,” referring to the small islands that surround Nosy Be. But actually, it’s not that big at all; you can drive around the entire island in just three hours!
As Madagascar has been populated throughout its history by successive waves of migrants from various corners of the Indian Ocean, the cultural meltings have evolved into an intricate set of beliefs and lifestyles.
Visiting Nosy Be is an “effort” well worth making.
How to get to Nosy Be.
There are two ways to reach this awesome corner of Madagascar. Since we are talking about the most popular tourist destination in Madagascar, there are many airlines flying from Europe to Nosy Be. In case you are finding yourself already on mainland Madagascar you can take a ferry from Ankify. The ferry from Ankify to Nosy Be takes about 40 minutes and there are no schedules. They depart when they are full. It costs 1000 Ari Ari one way.
Due to the old ferries they use, breakdowns happen often, so you can decide to travel by fast speedboats spending around 80.000 Ari Ari, or you can sleep that night in Ankify and travel to Nosy Be the day after. This last option is to be kept in mind especially by those who are self-driving in Madagascar and need to take a car ferry to travel from Ankify to Nosy Be or vice versa.
In my case, I flew by Air Madagascar from Milan to Nosy Be and landed at the Fascene Airport. I also had a chance to take the ferry when I visited the Millot Cocoa Plantation in Ambanja. Like anywhere in Africa, it is quite challenging.
On my way back to Nosy Be, I had to take the speedboat because the ferry (for reasons that I didn’t understand well) was not in service that evening. It took half an hour.
If you are in Antananarivo, then you can also consider travelling to Nosy Be by a domestic flight. It is an hour’s flight from the capital Antananarivo.
How to get around in Nosy Be.
To get around Nosy Be, you have options for public transport (called Taxi Brousse) as well as private, hired transportation.
Like in any other travels, hiring a vehicle is always a good option since you can get where you want to go without depending on others.
I rented a scooter and went all around the big island at any time without any problem. Renting a scooter in Nosy Be comes with a very small cost. I paid 8 000 Ari Ari per day. I was given a map with routes and places to see. It was really helpful.
I never tried the Taxi BrOusse in Nosy Be.
Tourism in Nosy Be.
With white beaches and turquoise crystal clear sea surrounded by palm trees, Nosy Be is a true paradise. While the rest of the country has only a few tourists and therefore no good facilities for tourists, here it is completely different! Being the best tourist destination in Madagascar, Nosy Be has many facilities in terms of food, accommodations, and services. Here there are many travel agents who organize day trips to the nearby islands or to the mainland.
In short, there is more than enough to do in and around Nosy Be that I’m sure you will never get bored!
10 Best Things to Do in Nosy Be.
- The Big Island Island is the perfect place to discover the marine life with its beautiful coral reef and sea turtles. As I saidalready there are many tour operators, organizing wonderful day trips so you can choose the one which fits your needs.
- A day trip to Nosy Iranja is a must while staying in Nosy Be. You will be amazed to see the crystal clear warm waters and the unspoiled nature. Nosy Iranja is actually made of two small islets connected by a thin white sandbank covered by water during the high tide hours. Nosy Iranja is about 75 minutes or so by speedboat from the main beach on Nosy Be. Nosy Iranja is a real heaven on earth.
- Visit the Hell Ville Market; here you can see what the island has to offer. All the hotels in Nosy Be do an early morning purchase at the Hell Ville Market, so here so you can learn where the food you eat comes from.
- Take a walk during the low tide hours. The sea water disappears for one or two km leaving not only a particular landscape but allowing you to see the submarine world. You can see the children fishing the trapped fish with a stick.
- Have a stroll into their small villages and explore the local life of the indigenous people. Life in the Nosy Be village is totally different from what you see in the tourist area. Walking around Nosy Be is not dangerous at all. Just remember that French is their official language, but only educated people know it and no one out of the tourist area can speak English.
- Nosy Be is famous for its Male Panther Chameleons. They are 17 centimetres in length and their coloration goes from green, blue, yellow, to red.
- Nosy Be is also famous for The Andoany stump-toed frog. These tiny frogs grow up to twelve millimetres long and like the Male Panther Chameleons they are found in specific places. You must ask your guide about them.
- Take a boat ride to Nosy Komba. It is about 25 minutes from Nosy Be. Even if the beaches here are less attractive compared to others in Madagascar, a visit to Nosy Komba is recommended mostly to see the wild animals, especially the lemurs for which Madagascar is famous for.
- Visit Mont Passot. It is a former volcano, and it is the most visited location of Nosy Be after Nosy Iranja. Mont Passot is the highest point of Nosy Be from where you can see outstanding landscapes on the whole Mozambique Channel.
- Last but not least, don’t forget to enjoy the sunsets along the beaches in Nosy Be. Sometimes when you go chasing after the day trips, you miss the most beautiful show! Free by the way.
Read Also: The Emerald Sea, Madagascar
Behind the resort tourism in Nosy Be.
Lucky for me it has never been enough to relax on the beach during the whole holiday period and this is exactly what made me wander beyond the space frequented by the mass of tourism in Nosy Be.
Most of the tourists who visit Nosy Be Island just stay around the beach area and they come back home without seeing or knowing about the real Malagasy life.
That kind of vacation of course has a why, but on the other hand it also makes sense that once you have reached a destination which is quite far from the place you live and that probably you are never going to return to again, that you go snooping in their villages to see their real lifestyle, which is totally different from what you see in the resort area in Nosy Be.
Nosy Be is not only pristine beaches with breathtaking views or resorts owned by Europeans to make your stay perfect and unforgettable, but behind that, it also has a very challenging day-to-day life with over 90% of the population living with less than one American Dollar per day. Rates of chronic malnutrition are so high, and the population is growing faster and faster for lack of a proper birth control system.
They are facing so many problems: They have no doctors, so the people with any illness just have to wait in the hope that the disease will pass soon. I haven’t seen elderly people in Nosy Be; probably their average age is very low.
Children rarely go to school and very often they don’t know how far the next city is or where it is geographically located. They are everywhere in their compounds: up in the trees, feeding the chickens and goats, or simply playing.
Most of the Malagasy houses in Nosy Be village don’t have electricity, especially in the rural areas, so they can’t refrigerate their food. Accordingly, the daily need for food is a concern every day.
They walk miles and miles to reach the nearest market which could even be 40 kilometers away.
They don’t have toilets in their communities. The Malagasy houses have only one room which is used for sleeping, and all other activities are carried out in the not-gated compound area together with the others of the same community.
I don’t even want to mention the secondary needs such as cars or dresses.
It is not so easy to communicate with them because they hardly speak their national language of French. From how their schools are organized, I feel that there is still a lot that needs to be done before education can play its role.
It is anyways interesting to see their daily life, to see people busy with their routine activities. It has been certainly an experience that I will never forget.
The worst of Nosy Be.
The Big Island is not only about pristine beaches for relaxing and having fun. It also has a very dark side: sexual tourism, especially child sexual tourism. UNICEF estimates that 50% of the prostitutes in Madagascar are under the age of 18.
In fact, in Ambatuluka, which is a main tourist centre of Nosy Be, I often saw children with old people, and it was really something disgusting. I heard that the child sex tourism problem exists also in other cities like Tamatave and Diego Suarez, as well as the capital city of Antananarivo.
Madagascar has so many resources and I’m sure it can be developed without unnecessarily resorting to sex tourism.
Apart from this sad chapter about the daily life in the Malagasy Village in Nosy Be, Madagascar is one of the most unique places in the world that is worth a visit for any kind of travel.
And there are many places to see and things to do in Nosy Be, therefore I highly recommend it as part of your bucket list.