Ile Sainte Marie, Madagascar
There is only one way to see this place, join the locals and hop aboard a scooter to zip down the 57km of road here. Look over there! An idyllic beach with a thatched hut village. What’s that you smell? Frying fish and other fresh assorted seafood. Continuing along you dodge chickens, pass by cemetery’s marked with the pirate symbol of a skull and cross bone and eventually find a beach that looks like a friken post card. This island paradise is tucked away in a remote corner of eastern Madagascar. There are no big crowds, no tour buses and definitely no McDonalds. This is Madagascar at its most beautiful, cultural and historic setting. It might be remote, but those who make the effort to get here just might find the paradise they’ve always dreamt of! This is Ile Sainte Marie Madagascar.
Getting to Ile Sainte Marie
There is indeed an airport here, but like most destinations within Madagascar flying tends to be very expensive, overbooked and not always frequent. Flying is no fun anyways! Taking the Taxi Brousse from the capital city Antananarivo down from the highlands to the steamy tropical coast is a great alternative!
From Antananarivo, you will arrive in Tamatave after four or five hours. Tamatave is a grungy city with seas of colorful rickshaws ready to whisk you away to your hotel. In the morning you can join one of the Ile Sainte Marie Shuttle services (ask at your hotel), that will shuttle you the remaining four or five hours north to Mahambo where you can climb aboard the El Condor Ile Sainte Marie Ferry.
The Capital of Ile Sainte Marie, Ambodifotatra
This is where it all began. The pirate stronghold of Ambodifotatra. Here pirates would take refuge far from the rest of society, a place they called home. Well, that is what history is led us to believe.
Now, Ambodifotatra is a scattered mix of metal shack bars, tiki restaurants and a few sprawling markets selling fresh fruits and animals. More importantly is the port which is the main form of transport for most to get to and from Ile Sainte Marie.
If your looking for cheap accommodation and scooters Ambodifotatra is the place to be, unfortunately, elderly men from Europe can be seen here for much more scandalous reasons.
Shiver Me Timbers! The Cimetiere des Pirates (Pirate Cemetery)
Even though Ile Sainte Marie was the pirate capital there is not much left that remains of their legacy. Possibly because it was stolen by other pirates! What does remain are the ones who came and never left, the dead?
On the outskirts of Ambodifotatra, there is a small dirt road that leads to a jungle overgrown path. Follow it and you will find a cemetery with a beautiful view over the bay. This cemetery is known as the Cimeteire des Pirates, or for those who don’t know how to speak French like myself, the pirate cemetery.
If you’re here to see pirate history this is it! Several graves are marked with the skull and crossbones and many others have fascinating symbols.
Scooter Riding Across Ile Sainte Marie
Most people who live in Ile Sainte Marie opt for a scooter as the roads are tight and not in the best of condition. By renting a scooter you can explore the islands thatched hut villages, sacred norther pools and get a real feel of Madagascar island culture.
The entire 57km of Ile Sainte Marie have roads, the entire southern half is paved and now most of the Northern bits are as well. You can easily navigate your way across the entire island in one day, but I highly recommend splitting the North and South into two different days as you will come across countless scenic views, empty beaches and plenty of interesting little villages.
Beware, the eastern coasts roads are in terrible condition, I highly don’t recommend taking the scooter this way. There is a 5km strip of road between Ambodifotatra and the North as well that has not been taken care of. Be sure to always go slow regardless of where you are in case of ransom pot holes, livestock on the road, people on the road and psychedelic color-changing chameleons on the road.
Scooters start at about 20 USD per day, fuel is cheap in these Chinese mopeds. Expect to spend 4-5 USD per day on petrol.
Living as a Castaway on Ile Aux Nattes
This is what most are looking for when they come to Madagascar’s Eastern coast. An island with no electricity and seemingly cut off from the rest of the world. Ile Aux Nattes truly makes you feel like a castaway on your very own empty island.
Apart from relaxing and doing absolutely nothing, Ile Aux Nattes does have the opportunity to keep those hyperactive people like myself busy.
Firstly, if you’re not staying on the island you can take one of the small wooden canoes just South of the airport for about two dollars one way. The boat will drop you off on an empty beach near one of the northern end hotels.
The canoe guys will also offer for about 15 USD to take you snorkelling and for a tour around the entire island. I highly recommend this as the reefs to snorkel on are quite far from shore and the Canoe man will stop at some extremely secluded and hidden beaches. The full tour takes about 3-4 hours.
On the island itself, you can walk the several dirt paths that connect the different towns and areas. You can explore some very intriguing fisherman villages here that have not changed much in the past hundred years.
Piscine Naturelle d’Ambodiatafana (Sacred Natural Pools)
Taking a trip up North you will discover Ile Sainte Marie’s more wild side. The jungle is denser and there is an abundance of colorful birds. You will also pass by a rusty decaying lighthouse that is quite interesting before you arrive at the Piscine Naturelle d’Ambodiatafana, which are sacred natural pools.
You will see the sign for parking where an official guide from the nearby village will greet you. Its mandatory to take a guide as the pools are sacred to the Malagasy tradition. It is said that a tribe tried to wipe out the people here and when an elderly woman gave an offering of a coin to the sacred pools her and a few others were spared. In return, she vowed that no alcohol or pork would be consumed here nor will the wearing of shoes.
I asked my guide if he could take me to the village as well. It was incredible! There were hundreds of thatched hut houses and we stopped by the local school to show the children my drone.
As for the natural pools, they are in a stunning setting with a massive white sand beach. Having lunch here and enjoying the views was well worth the drive up here.
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Madagascar Natural Tours
Much of Madagascar is fun to travel independently, but for many regions on the island, you must arrange with a tour company to get to these unique areas. Madagascar Natural Tours is Malagasy owned and run. Their local expertise can help you experience every region and on a budget! Check them out HERE!