Travel guide Ile Sainte-Marie in Madagascar

Last Updated on by Charlotte van de Sande

Imagine: the atmosphere of Bali, but without the many tourists. The water of Bora Bora but many times cheaper. And the incredibly hospitable people of Madagascar: welcome to Ile Sainte-Marie. An undiscovered paradise that we never want to leave! In this blog, I will tell you everything you need to know about this wonderful place!

Île Sainte-Marie

Absolutely my favourite place in Madagascar is this small island in the northeast. Ile Sainte-Marie is only 50 kilometres long and 7 kilometers wide. The island was a pirate island in the 17th and 18th centuries, almost the entire population was a pirate. You can see this, among other things, in the pirate graveyard. The Portuguese gave the island the name Ile Sainte-Marie but the island is also known under the name Nosy Bohara, named after one Ibrahim.

Crazy fact about Ile Sainte-Marie: during the independence of Madagascar, the island was never officially handed over to the Malagasy government. Even if it is just a formality, it is funny to think that it is “forgotten.”Ile Sainte-Marie

How do you get to Ile Sainte-Marie?

You can choose to fly from Tana to Ile Sainte-Marie in 50 minutes with airline Tsardia (part of Air Madagscar). The flight prices are not cheap (€ 170 for a single ticket) and take into account a possible cancellation of your flight. The alternative is to go by boat. We did this on the way there and it is great to do if you have the time and you don’t get seasick. The easiest way is to catch the Costisse bus from Tana to Tamatave, 7 hours (book in advance) and the next day with company El Condor to catch the bus to Mahambo which will take you to Ile Sainte-Marie in three hours. Costs: € 5 for the Costisse bus and € 27 for the El Condor bus + boat.

Tip: transport on Ile Sainte-Marie is mainly done by tuk-tuk. We rented bicycles, a scooter and a quad a few times to explore the island. Do you want to go to Ile Aux Nattes? Then you take the boat (pirogue) that brings you in 5 minutes to the shore of Ile Aux Nattes (for just 2000 AR pp).Ile Sainte-Marie

Where do you sleep on Ile Sainte-Marie?

We stayed in the south of Ile Sainte-Marie at Villas de Vohilava in a beautiful bungalow on the beach. There are several villas here, suitable for families and couples. The location is great, three kilometers from the airport (which we often jogged to in the morning) and seven kilometers from the capital Ambodifotatra.

With beautiful beaches on your doorstep, a delicious breakfast and good massages, this is really a nice place!

From € 40 per night (two people). Click here to book directly.Ile Sainte-MarieVillas de Vohilava

What activities do you do in Ile Sainte-Marie?

Go whale watching!

The main reason for us to come to Madagascar is to spot whales. And this can be best done on the island of Ile Sainte-Marie. From the end of June to the beginning of October there are here thousands of whales for mating and giving birth. We did a whale boat trip twice (with Cétamada, booked at our hotel Villas de Vihalova) and saw dozens of whales. So spectacular to see the animals jump, play with each other and even hear. Read more about our whale trip here.Whales ile sainte MarieIle Sainte-Marie


Make sure you book a whale tour at a company affiliated with Cétamada. This is the organization that ensures that whale watching is done in a responsible manner without the whales being affected. They also do whale research, if you have the chance, join the Cétamada team to see some of their research!

Tip: in Madagascar, it is forbidden to get too close to the whales and to go into the water when you are near the animals. So you can’t swim with whales here, this is dangerous for the animals and for you.CetaMada

Visit the pirate cemetery

Fun (but not that spectacular) is the pirate cemetery (also the only one in the world) that is located on an island near the capital city Ambodifotatra. You will find here about ten gravestones from old pirates, but the best thing is actually the view that the graves have: over the bay and other islands here.

Admission + guide costs 15,000 Ar per person.

Rent a motorbike / quad and visit the north of Ile Sainte-Marie.

The most beautiful beaches and bluest sea can be found in the north of the island. On the map, it doesn’t seem that far but because the roads aren’t great, it takes a while before you get here. But believe me, time flies on the motorcycle or quad and in this way you see a lot more of this beautiful island.

Tip: leave early in the morning to enjoy your day as much as possible!Ile Sainte Marie

Natural pools

Drive in about two hours to the northeast where you will find the natural pools. These are two bays that are protected from the high waves by large rock formations in the water. The water here is just like an aquarium, so clear! The sea hits the rocks hard outside the bay, high waves cause splash water that flies up to 10 meters into the air. The best part: you are all alone here. Hardly any tourists visit this place!

Tip: you will be approached immediately upon arrival by a number of guides. We went on our own (which is really great, it’s only a 10-minute walk) and opted for the southern pole. Most guides take you to the north pole, which is much less beautiful!

The most beautiful beach of Ile Sainte-Marie

After a few hours of chilling at the natural pools, get back on your motorcycle / quad and drive to Les Tipaniers Lodge. You reach this via a long dirt road that also goes a bit over a former airport runway. Keep following the road even though it is long, it is definitely worth it, because eventually, you will arrive at the most beautiful beach of Ile Sainte-Marie. You can find this beach at Hotel-restaurant Tipaniers Lodge, a good place for lunch. The beach here is exactly what you imagine of a tropical beach, a must go!

Tip: to break the long drive you can have a drink on the way to restaurant Natiora Green Lodge, also a hotel in a beautiful bay surrounded by green palm trees. Make a stop on the way back at Samaria Lodge (also a hotel) for a drink just before sunset.

Water sports such as diving and kite surfing

You seem to be able to do some great at diving here in Ile Sainte-Marie. Unfortunately, we are taking the Lariam medicine against malaria and we are not allowed to dive, but boy, would we have loved it! Diving has not always a good name in Madagascar, but Padicentrum and diving school Bora Dive has good equipment and excellent diving masters.

On the east coast of the island, you can go kiting. We visited the Bora Kite center where you can take one hour of lessons for €40.

Take a massage!

Nothing better than getting a massage after a day on a boat, a kite or a motorbike. We took the full body massage from Vanille Beaute (at our hotel Villas de Vohilava) and I wonder if I have ever felt so relaxed before! A full-body massage of 1 hour costs 50,000 Ar (€12.50).

Visit Ile Aux Nates

South of Ile Sainte-Marie is an even smaller island: Ile Aux Nates. Take at least a day to explore this island (on foot or by boat). A mini travel guide about this will follow soon.

Where do you eat in Ile Sainte-Marie?

La Virangue: La Virangue restaurant is located at the hotel where we sleep. Here, good food is served in a casual (with your feet in the sand) atmosphere.

For tasty pizzas, head to Chez Nath, a restaurant a few kilometers south of Ambodifotatra.

The best dinner during sunset is at Samaria Lodge, 27 kilometers north of Ambodifotatra.

Lunching in a relaxed setting and then go for a swim in the sea? That is possible at Natiora Lodge, 20 kilometers north of Ambodifotatra.

Boulangerie Choco Pain has the best pain au chocolat I have ever eaten. So good in fact that I stepped on an old mountain bike in the burning sun to cycle eight kilometers back and forth to get some extra pain au chocolat.

Tip: there is a small supermarket in the capital Ambodifotatra, where the boulangerie is also located. Both the supermarket and the boulangerie are closed between noon and 2 pm (the boulangerie even until 3 pm). So be on time.

Travel Blogs MadagascarClick here for all my blogs about Madagascar.

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