When I was working in South Africa, a friend who loves secluded tropical islands, suggested a quiet girls’ retreat. We were both recovering from a hectic period of work assignments and were in desperate need of a tranquil getaway. Luckily, we were spoiled for choices near South Africa and immediately were drawn in by the magic of Madagascar’s secluded beaches and unique biodiversity.
Our desire for seclusion and French vibes led us to Île Sainte-Marie, a remote island off of the east coast of the main island. The island checked all of the boxes for tranquil beach getaways: secluded sandy beaches, serene sunsets, seafood, tropical fruit, and biodiversity.
Île Sainte Marie, also known as Nosy Boraha, is definitely off the beaten path. The quickest way to get to the island is via a one-hour flight from the capital, Antananarivo. Air Madagascar offers some limited direct service from Paris or Marseille as well.
Despite the remoteness of the destination, we were able to enjoy an affordable trip. [Tip: South African Airways is a member of Star Alliance and flights can be booked with United Airline miles.]
Secluded Beach Resorts
There are a handful of small and mid-sized resorts and lodges on the island, which can be booked for a great deal on Expedia with advance planning. [Advanced booking is especially recommended during the peak whale watching season and Christmas holidays.] We arrived mid-week and had the resort’s pool and beach to ourselves until Saturday. I didn’t budge from the pool chairs the first day, but there were daily Zebu (humped cattle found throughout the island) crossings to observe at the beach.
Malagasy cuisine incorporates the traditions of the numerous migrant populations and explorers that have passed through this island at the crossroads of Africa and Asia. Local dishes incorporate Madagascar’s world-famous vanilla and other locally produced spices and tropical fruit. The staple meal is a rice dish accompanied with laoka (a meat or vegetable prepared in a curry like sauce which often includes a hint of vanilla). Whether you are a spice lover or obsessed with French pastries, you will savor Malagasy food.
Meals were included with our accommodation and included a variety of traditional Malagasy dishes, French cuisine, and fresh grilled seafood. Despite the warm weather, my friend and I polished off the coconut-based soups made with fresh roasted spices. For a celebratory dinner, we splurged on the upgraded lobster meal – all for less than a 10 Euro supplement!
After a couple of days lounging by the pool, it was time to venture out to discover the diverse animal species and rich flora that draw visitors to Madagascar. The island is frequently referred to as the eighth continent because of its unique flora and fauna – with over 100 species found only on Madagascar!
Scientists estimate that the island split from Africa over 160 million years ago and has developed its own unique ecosystem over millions of years, which has allowed lemurs and other wildlife to thrive. If you are a fan of Disney’s animated film Madagascar, then this is your opportunity to see lemurs up close in-person or observe chameleons change colors to blend into the natural environment.
Île Sainte-Marie is a popular destination for whale watching during the Southern Hemisphere’s winter (July to October). Humpback whales mate in the waters between Île Sainte-Marie and the main island during this time. A variety of whale watching and snorkeling excursions can be booked through Les Baleines Rand’eau.
Madagascar is also home to some rare species of tortoise. Unfortunately, they are in danger of extinction due to poaching.