Embarking on a northeast journey from Mantasoa, we exchanged the lush embrace of the eastern rainforests for the sun-kissed allure of the Ile Sainte Marie Island Archipelago. After a full day’s traverse to Mahambo, we eagerly boarded the El Condor ferry, transporting us to the internationally acclaimed haven just off the East Coast.
Ile Sainte-Marie and its sister isle, Ile Aux Nattes, unveiled themselves as captivating tropical sanctuaries renowned for warm waters, scenic beauty, and undisturbed serenity. The landscape unfolded with swaying coconut palms, ivory-white sandy beaches, and tropical fish gliding beneath the tranquil azure waters. It was a manifestation of island time, a rhythm we would gradually attune ourselves to, as the travel brochures wisely cautioned.
For the early riser in me, the day commenced before the sun breached the horizon, seeking out endemic avian treasures to augment my burgeoning bird list. Observing the local fishermen casting their nets into the bay, sustaining themselves from the bounty of land and sea, added a cultural richness to the dawn tableau.
A substantial breakfast ensued as we marvelled at the sea’s gentle cadence and the warm sunlight filtering through the myriad palms adorning the shore. Following an uneventful but scenic two-hour ferry crossing, anticipation mounted as we approached the small harbour of this new tropical haven. A swift Tuck-Tuck ride led us to our waiting Pirogue for the brief journey to Ile Aux Nattes, separated from its sibling by a narrow channel no more expansive than twenty meters.
This secluded utopia, nestled in the far reaches of eastern Madagascar, epitomized the essence of beauty, culture, and history. Far from crowds, tour buses, and fast-food chains, Ile Aux Nattes offered a remote haven, a Madagascar at its purest. The only permitted vehicles were motor boats and Pirogues, rendering this paradise beneath the sway of coconut trees a true Tropical Island Paradise.
As the sun dipped below the horizon, casting a spectacular sunset, our feet were gently caressed by the warm waters—a fitting conclusion to another day of adventure in our newfound home.
Opting for the tranquillity of Ile Aux Nattes over more tourist-laden locales like Nosy Be, it felt like our family of explorers had the island entirely to ourselves—a castaway experience on our private haven.
Sambatra Beach Lodge:
Sambatra Beach Lodge would prove to be a wonderful location for our visit; it is well-run and has fantastic hosts.
Embark on an exhilarating journey to the enchanting Sambatra Beach Lodge, nestled off the captivating North East Coast of mainland Madagascar, just a stone’s throw from the pristine Southern tip of Ile Sainte Marie. This hidden gem, also known as Ile Aux Natte Island, awaits your arrival after a swift and scenic 45-minute flight from the bustling capital, Antananarivo.
Feel the thrill as a short 5-minute taxi ride transports you to the edge of Ile Sainte Marie Island, where a brief 10-minute pirogue ride across the estuary reveals the secluded paradise of Ile Aux Natte Island. Chart your course with GPS Coordinates: 17º06’16.10″S – 49º48’03.86″E.
Sambatra Beach Lodge, a vibrant haven, is more than just a destination; it’s an English-speaking sanctuary owned and operated by a dynamic South African group. Our multilingual management staff, fluent in English, French, and Spanish, extends a warm welcome, promising an unforgettable experience.
Dive into luxury with our beachfront bungalows, a mere hop away from crystal-clear waters and an expansive, sun-soaked beach – a true haven in this island paradise. Our commitment to a “Home Away From Home” atmosphere ensures personalized service, complete with delectable home-cooked meals crafted by our skilled chefs.
Six uniquely decorated beachfront bungalows offer comfort and space, each boasting an en suite hot water shower, basin, and toilet. Step onto your private covered patio to revel in breathtaking views of Sambatra’s Reef against the backdrop of mainland Madagascar, providing the perfect setting for mesmerizing afternoon sunsets.
But the adventure doesn’t end there. Explore the mysterious Pirate Cemetery on our neighbouring island, Sainte Marie, the only one in the world. Ascend the Ile Aux Natte Lighthouse for a nominal fee and savour a panoramic 360-degree view of the southern reef from its balcony.
For underwater enthusiasts, snorkel freely around Ile Aux Natte’s vibrant reef or join our sandbar excursion, where white sandy beaches and crystal-clear waters beckon for swimming, snorkelling, and picturesque photo opportunities.
Indulge in the culinary delights at Sambatras Beach Restaurant, where our local chef fuses Malagasy, French, and South African influences to create a menu that tantalizes the taste buds. As the sun dips below the horizon, relive the pirate era at our beachfront bar, sipping on local rum while overlooking the vast expanse of the Indian Ocean.
For a truly immersive experience, venture into the heart of Sainte Marie’s mangrove forests with a local guide, paddling through the winding waterways in a traditional wooden pirogue.
Escape to Sambatra Beach Lodge – a symphony of adventure, luxury, and natural beauty. Contact us at +261 33 7683499 or reach out to Vincent (English) at firstname.lastname@example.org and Valerie (French or Spanish) at email@example.com. Visit our website at www.sambatrabeachlodge.com and connect with us on Facebook at Sambatra Beach Lodge Madagascar. Your extraordinary escape begins here!
Days were spent revelling in the embrace of the warm waters, exploring secluded beaches, and engaging in lively bingo sessions at Lucky Dube, overseen by a fellow South African. Our island exploration extended to Ile Sainte Marie, where we visited the world’s only Pirate cemetery.
ON THE SMALL ISLAND OF Ile Sainte-Marie, four miles off the coast of eastern Madagascar, lie the bones of pirates who terrorized the seas during the 17th and 18th centuries.
For around 100 years, Ile Sainte-Marie was the off-season home of an estimated 1,000 pirates. A recently discovered map from 1733 refers to it simply as “the island of pirates.” Situated near the East Indies trade route, the beautiful tropical Island’s numerous inlets and bays made it the perfect place to hide ships. Pirates worldwide lived in wooden huts adorned with flags that signified which captain’s “crew” they belonged to. It was a pirate’s paradise. There were local women to satisfy their lust and plenty of tropical fruit to satisfy their hunger.
When one of the pirates died, they were buried on a scenic, palm-shaded hilltop cemetery overlooking the water. Today, 30 headstones remain, including a few sketched with a skull and/or crossbones, the international symbol of piracy. Legend has it that the notorious William Kidd is buried in a large black tomb in the cemetery, sitting upright as punishment for his dastardly deeds. He was actually buried in England, but his legendary ship, the Adventure Galley (rediscovered in 2000), was left docked near the Island, and his booty is said to be buried somewhere in the surrounding sea. In fact, the prospect of undiscovered treasure from at least half a dozen documented shipwrecks off the coast continues to lure adventurous explorers to this very day.
The pirates were off Ile Sainte-Marie by the late 1700s when the French forcibly seized the Island. It was returned to Madagascar in 1960. Today, Ile Saint-Marie is a thriving tourist destination. The crumbling cemetery, its graves half covered by tall, swaying grass, is open to the public. It is an ironically peaceful and still place, filled with the bones of violent and restless men.
Travelling northwards, pausing for snorkelling sessions amidst vibrant corals and fish, our Tuk-Tuk traversed pot-holed roads to the northern shores, where we indulged in crayfish feasts and swam in the sacred pools of Piscine Naturelle d’Ambodiatafana.
Returning after dark in a pirogue guided by moonlight, we fell into our bungalow beds, serenaded by the rhythmic waves caressing the shore.
The climax of this extraordinary island odyssey unfolded as we chartered a motorized pirogue to the three sandbar islands of Illotes Au Sables.
Illots Au Sables (Sand Islands), composed of Nosy Rinditra, Nosy Andromba, and Nosy Alanana, revealed white sand banks perched on a coral base encircled by a turquoise lagoon. A natural aquarium, these islets offered superb coral reefs for snorkelling and free diving, with nesting birds gracing the landscape. Adhering to local customs, we learned that visits on Tuesdays and Thursdays were forbidden, along with the consumption of pork and raffia.
The crescendo came as an avian spectacle, with an array of sea birds roosting on the shores—Greater and Lesser Terns, Brown and Lesser Noddy, Ruddy Turnstone, and Grey Plovers at Illotes Au Sables (Sand Islands). Departing these sacred shores was bittersweet, marking the end of our vacation in Wild Madagascar. Homeward bound, we cherished the memorable moments spent in this paradisiacal sanctuary.
Read all about this fantastic Island HERE: Information from https://www.charlotteplansatrip.com/en/madagascar-en/
The ultimate travel guide for Ile Sainte-Marie in Madagascar: 7 cool activities to do!
Click here for all my blogs about Madagascar.
In this blog, you will find everything you need to know about Ile Sainte-Marie, a tropical island in Madagascar! From 7 fun things to do and activities in Ile Sainte-Marie to the tastiest restaurants and the best hotels to sleep. Welcome to Madagascar’s beach paradise!
A paradise in Madagascar: Ile Sainte-Marie
Imagine, the atmosphere of Bali but without 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! This is also the place to see humpback whales! More about this in this Ile Sainte-Marie travel guide!
Travel guide to Ile Sainte-Marie, Madagascar
Ile Sainte-Marie is only 50 kilometres long and 7 kilometres 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.
Fun 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.”
Where is Ile Sainte-Marie located in Madagascar?
Ile Sainte-Marie is definitely my favourite highlight of Madagascar. This small island lies in the northeast of Madagascar. You can fly to Sainte-Marie island or catch the ferry. Read more about how to get to Ile Sainte-Marie below. First a map with Ile Sainte-Marie and other major sights of Madagascar:
Map of the sights of Madagascar
Free travel guide to Avenue des Baobabs: the scenic trees of Madagascar!
How do you get to Ile Sainte-Marie?
There are only two options to get to Ile Sainte-Marie from Antananarivo. The first one is flying and the second is taking a boat. Both options have their pros and cons.
Option 1: Flying to Ile Saint-Marie (fast & expensive)
You can choose to fly from Antananarivo to Ile Sainte-Marie in 50 minutes with airline Tsardia (brand of Air Madagascar). The flight prices are not cheap: €170 for a single ticket! Take into account a possible cancellation or rescheduling of your flight.
Cancellation of domestic flights is rather normal in Madagscar for domestic flights. It is also possible to fly from other major cities in Madagascar to Ile Sainte-Marie.
Tip: check the website of Airline Tsardia for promotions. Sometimes they give you a 50% discount if you book a return ticket and fly on a specific weekday!
Option 2: Taking the bus & ferry (slow and cheap)
The alternative is to go by boat. We choose this option since we had the time. It is much cheaper and better for the environment. The easiest way is to catch the Costisse bus from Antananarivo to Tamatave. This takes around 7 hours (book in advance your ticket with Cotisse). Stay for a night in Tamatave and take the next morning the combination of bus & ferry with El Condor.
Early in the morning, the El Condor bus leaves from Tamatave to Mahambo. This bus ride takes around 3 hours. From Mahambo, you take the ferry to the port of Ile Sainte-Marie. The ferry takes around 3,5 hours. Costs: €5 for the Costisse bus and €27 for the El Condor bus + boat combi ticket. So, the total cost of €33 per person (excluding accommodation costs for one night in Tamatave).
Tip: Be aware that the sea can be quite rough. Ries got very sick on our way to Ile Sainte-Marie. So, take precautions if you get easily seasick too.
Way of transport in Ile Sainte-Marie
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. If the distance is short, walking is also possible. The roads are safe to walk on during day time.
How to get to Ile Aux Nattes from Ile Sainte-Marie?
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).
Read here all about our experience of a whale safari in Ile Sainte-Marie!
The best hotels and lodges of Ile Sainte-Marie
There is more than enough accommodation on Ile Sainte-Marie. If you rent a car or scooter, it does not really matter where you sleep (just keep in mind the bad roads in the far north). If you want to stay close to shops, restaurants and bars, choose a hotel close to the main town Ambodifototra. This town is the place where you arrive by ferry. Are you looking for beautiful beaches then you have to go to the south or to the north part of Ile Sainte-Marie.
All the way in the south, you can make the crossing to the much smaller island: Ile Aux Nates. Here, you have no cars and you do everything on foot or by boat. See our favourite hotels and lodges for Ile Sainte-Marie below:
Villas de Vohilava €
Villas de Vohilava has beautiful bungalows on the beach, perfect for families or couples. The location is nice with the beach on your doorstep, a delicious breakfast and it’s the perfect location for a whale safari! From €40 per night (2 people).
Samaria lodge €
If you want to sleep close to a beautiful beach in Ile Sainte Marie you have to stay at this hotel. Samaria lodge offers beautiful rooms! This quiet location is far away from the centre and other sights. You stay here from €39 per night (two people).
Princesse Bora Lodge €€€
Ready for luxury and more comfort? Then choose this beautiful hotel with a lovely swimming pool. You can dive, snorkel and get nice massages here. This hotel is located in the south of Ile Sainte-Marie. From €144 including breakfast (two persons).
Read about all the hotels in Madagascar we can recommend!
7 awesome activities and things to do in Ile Sainte-Marie
- A must activities on Ile Sainte-Marie in Madagascar: 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 whaleboat 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.
Whale tour and research company Cetamada
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!
Be aware: 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.
- Visit the pirate cemetery on Ile Sainte-Marie
A fun thing to do, but not super 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.
- Cool activity: 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 since the roads aren’t great, it takes a while before you get here. 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!
Visit Natural pools in the north of Ile Sainte-Marie
Drive for around 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!
Waves hit the rocks hard outside the bay, they 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: Upon arrival, you will be ambushed 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!
- Visit 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!
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!
Tips: 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 activities on Ile Sainte-Marie: diving and kite surfing
Diving is great 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 have a perfect spot for kite surfing. We visited the Bora Kite centre where you can take one hour of lessons for €40.
- Spoil yourself and your partner with 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).
- Another fun thing to do: visit the beautiful island of 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 better option is to sleep on this island as well! Like we did! A mini travel guide about Ile Aux Nates will follow soon.
Read here everything you need to know about Nosy Be and what you can do there!
The best restaurants of Ile Sainte-Marie
Most restaurants are close to the port where you arrive if you travel by boat to Ile Sainte-Marie. You also find all sorts of (local) restaurants and along the main street of the island. Below, a few restaurants where we had a nice bite.
The best restaurants of 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 kilometres south of Ambodifotatra.
The best dinner during sunset is at Samaria Lodge, 27 kilometres north of Ambodifotatra.
Lunching in a relaxed setting and then go for a swim in the sea? That is possible at Natiora Lodge, 20 kilometres north of Ambodifotatra.
The best boulangerie/bakery of Ile Sainte-Marie:
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 kilometres 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.
Wondering if a trip through Madagascar is expensive? Read more in our Madagascar budget blog!
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