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Ile Sainte Marie
Ile Sainte Marie is a small, tropical paradise just a 1hr flight from Antananarivo. Never ending deserted beaches lined with coconut palms on the edge of sheltered bays sharks cannot get into, encourage swimmers.
It takes just 2.5hrs to traverse the island by foot including exploring the tropical forest tucked into the centre of the island.
The Malagasy name for the island is Nosy Boraha, and it means either Island of Abraham or Island of Ibrahim. Originally a shelter from Indian Ocean pirates, it was given away as a wedding present to the French, and then presented to the motherland by La Bigorne, the son-in-law of King Ratsimilaho.
The pirates’ cemetery is particularly enchanting, with graves that go back as far as the 1830’s, with skull and crossbone carvings in the headstones.
A large part of the attraction of this island is the proximity to humpback whale breeding waters. They are normally seen here between July and September, and many of the boats that are used for whale watching are fitted with hydrophones to allow visitors to hear the amazing singing of the whales.
Otherwise, it is possible to take a trip around the island on a pirogue; the absolutely deserted beaches of the northeastern peninsula are bewitching, with waters that a mixture of emerald green and deep blue being a large part of the allure. There is a coral reef which you can dive on from a pirogue.
On the island itself, walking across it takes about two and a half hours, and can be a rewarding way to see the different areas from coast to coast. To the north is an impressive natural swimming pool, with a waterfall, big pool, and enormous basalt rocks.
To the south of the island lies Ile aux Nattes, which is car free and more peaceful than the main island. It has pristine beaches and the accommodation is mainly hidden bungalows. There is an impressive orchid known as l’orchidée rose, which is 2 m high and has deep pink flowers. This is unique to the island.
On all the islands in the area, snorkelling and diving are common activities; lobsters live here in large numbers, and there are several huge coral tables.