Of all of Madagascar’s tourist spots, Nosy Be is one of the most popular with holidaymakers, most certainly thanks to the island’s unique beauty, as well as its rich culture and specific biodiversity. Nosy Be or ‘the island of perfumes’ is also surrounded by smaller idyllic islands, heavenly locations for visitors.
In the past, during the reign of Ambary II, Nosy Be was called Vario Be. Its named was changed to Nosse-Be in 900. Early on, it became a stopover point for Arab sailors. Later on, a trading post, Madagascar’s most important, was set up in Mahilaka and a second one in Ambanoro or Marodoka. Indians soon settled here, creating infrastructures that can still be seen to this day. In 1842, the French occupied the island, calling it ‘the pearl of the Indian Ocean’. Thanks to its very fertile soils, they developed agriculture, notably plantations of sugar cane, rice, coffee, sweet potatoes and cassava. Ylang-ylang was only introduced in 1920, soon cultivated to make the archipelago one of the world’s most important producers of essential oil on the plant. The crop, coupled with the production of spices, gives it the name of ‘the island of perfumes’. Today, Nosy Be is an exceptional tourist destination, offering a range of activities, both on the sea, under the sea and also on land. The island’s main ethnic groups are the Sakalava and the Antakarana.
The capital, Hell Ville
The town, located on the southern side of the island, is its administrative centre and houses approximately half of the island’s population. Infrastructures such as banks, cyber-cafés, administrative buildings, as well as Nosy Be’s main harbour, where most of the exchanges with the mainland take place, are located here. It also has hotels, restaurants, souvenir shops, supermarkets and grocery stores, as well as nightclubs. Hell Ville is a former colonial town and actually owes its name to Rear Admiral Anne Chrétien Louis de Hell, governor of Reunion Island during the colonial period. Its infrastructures have hardly changed since then.
The history of Nosy Be Island
The history of Nosy Be dates back to the beginning of the arrival of Arabs on the island in the 900s. At this time a city called Mahilaka was created which created the first trading post of the island. These first inhabitants lived on the export of copal, iron, chlorite, rock crystal, gold and slaves, a maritime connection with a large part of the countries of the Indian Ocean.
Read more about the history of Nosy Be Island here
Lokobe, the primary forest
Lokobe is an integrated nature reserve located in the south-east of Nosy Be. Covering an area of 740 ha, the primitive forest is a true natural sanctuary, with a very high level of endemicity. A justification for preserving the forest is the presence of an endangered species of lemur, the Eulemur macaco macaco, endemic to Lokobe. The reserve, with its rich biodiversity, is also home to 376 species of fauna and a large array of flora. In addition, the landscape of the nature reserve is exceptional.
Marodoka, a historical site
This former Swahili village, which used to be called Ambanoro, was one of Madagascar’s first trading posts. It was a centre for the slave trade, as well as for spices and gold. Today, several cultural elements still bear witness to the site’s history: the island’s first harbour, the ghost house, Madagascar’s first mosque, the Indian house, as well as the Indian cemetery. Nosy Be lies inside the cocoa producing region, and Marodoka has a plantation, which can be visited.
The sacred tree of Mahatsinjo
Settlement by the Indians also left cultural vestiges, such as the sacred tree of Mahatsinjo. In Hinduism as well as in Buddhism, the tree is seen as a symbol of wisdom and knowledge. For the Sakalava, it is an instrument of communication between heaven and earth, between the living and God, through the spirits that they believe dwell in the sacred tree. The site is one of the places of worship, offering and prayer.
The highest peak, situated on the volcanic hill of Mont Passot, culminates at 329m and offers a spectacular 360° vista over the island’s breathtaking scenery. The island is surrounded by eight sacred lakes, inhabited by freshwater fish. There are three possible routes that can be taken to discover the wealth of the site: Antsahamanavaka for the lakes, the sacred waterfall and the variety of medicinal plants; Antsidihy for bird-watching, the ylang-ylang plantations and the Sakalava villages; Amparihibe for a hike among the orchids.
Andilana, haven of peace
Andilana, the island’s most stunning beach, forms the northern tip of Nosy Be. The combination of colours: the white sandy beach, the turquoise blue of the water and the emerald green of the vegetation creates a simply idyllic environment. Emanating sheer calm, Andilana is much sought after by visitors in search of relaxation plus marine activities.
The surrounding islands of Nosy Be
Nosy Komba, the most populated of the archipelagos around Nosy Be, is known as lemur island. It is covered by dense forest, home to several species of lemurs. Considered as sacred, they are all protected by the local culture. In the past, the island was the refuge of the Sakalava queen Tsiomeko, after she had been banished from the mainland of Madagascar.
Nosy Antanihely or Nosy Tanikely, which literally translates as ‘the island of small territory’, is a marine and coastal protected area. Its unique ocean floor is a true giant aquarium! Its terrestrial biodiversity is also exceptional. Trekking, diving and a whole range of activities are available, enabling visitors to discover the delights of this little island.
Nosy Iranja is known for its white sand bank, 2km or so in length, linking up two small islands: Nosy Iranja Be and Nosy Iranja Kely. Iranja is an incredibly beautiful peaceful spot, with its turquoise waters shimmering in the sun and its long stretch of white sand. Also harbouring wide biodiversity, Nosy Iranja is covered with lush tropical forest. Its waters, teeming with fish, are home to several species of sea turtle.
The Mitsio archipelago, to the north-east of Nosy Be, is a group of uninhabited islands with heavenly beaches including Tsarabanjina, Les Quatres Frères (a paradise for birds), Nosy Tolholo (a true kingdom for grouper fish), as well as Grande Mitsio. The beauty of the islands is further enhanced by the baobabs and orchids that grow there.
In an authentic and heavenly setting, Nosy Mitsio is an extraordinary and remote destination located about 50km from Nosy Be with a wealth of exceptional natural attractions both on land and at sea.. Besides landscapes of rare beauty, the archipelago offers swimming in water with a temperature around 25 to 30 °C.
Grande Mitsio is also remarkable for the geological formations in the south of the island. The island of Tsarabanjina, with its lush vegetation, white sandy beaches and great diversity of fauna, is sacred for the Sakalava.
Nosy Sakatia, or ‘orchid island’ is the most popular islands around Nosy Be. Its reputation is partly due to its fields of vanilla, coffee and above all orchids. It is also home to rare birds and endemic plants, while the surrounding sea teams with green turtles and other species of fish, such as jack mackerels or barracudas.
Nosy Fanihy or ‘bat island’ is virtually deserted, a paradise for anyone in search of true peace and quiet. Like the neighbouring islands, Nosy Fanihy also has white sandy beaches and crystal clear waters sheltering a multitude of fish species.
Among Nosy Be's surrounding islands, Nosy Faly is the one that also has the best preserved authenticity, especially because of the presence of a cemetery of Sakalava king (ethnic group) and the will of the majority of "vahazas" residing on the island to build in respect of the environment. The island also preserves its environmental beauty, thanks to its fauna (turtle and panther chameleon Nosy Faly) and its flora. A track crosses the island along its length connecting small villages on the ridge from which trails lead to the fishing villages nestled in the coves and beaches most protected. From August to October, you can also watch the humpback whales pass near the island.
There are paradisiacal corners in Madagascar to explore: One of them is the small island of Nosy Mamoko, a haven of peace – made for relaxation!
After two hours sailing from Nosy-Be, 35 miles from the Nosy-Be coast, you will arrive at your destination. A favourite spot for fishermen, this island is the least known of the Nosy-Be archipelagos. Notice to nature lovers, the rainforest occupies a large part of the island making Nosy Mamoko a real place of luxuriant vegetation.
Scuba diving in Nosy Be is an unforgettable adventure for beginners or professionals. The National Marine Park of Nosy Tanikely is exceptional for diving and for snorkelling. The Nosy Be Island has over 20 scuba diving operators affiliated to the Malagasy Federation of Scuba Diving.
The Nosy Be Archipelago is well-known for its beautiful islands, unique beaches and relaxed lifestyle. This “Pearl of the Indian Ocean” is also a good position to observe the marine megafauna: Humpback whales, Omura whales, lots of dolphins, whale sharks, Manta and Mobula rays and other sea turtles appear to value these conditions of rich, calm waters, to live, feed and breed.
When to go
With an average temperature of 26°C, the ideal period to visit Nosy Be is between April and November.
How to get there
Take a regular Air Madagascar/Tsaradia flight directly to Nosy Be. You can also travel there by boat from the port of Ankify. There are boat trips organised from Nosy Be to the other islands, the only way to reach them.
Where to stay
We can recommend: Nosy Be Hôtel & Spa, Nosy Saba Island Resort & Spa, Sakatia Lodge, Ecolodge Nature Sauvage, Hôtel Valiha, Hôtel Home Madagascar or Vanila Hôtel & Spa.
Where to eat
In addition to your hotel, for more adventurous culinary experiences dine at local restaurants: Côté Jardin, Le papillon, Chez Lydie, The Ravinala Restaurant or Batumoch.
What to see
Nosy Be and its surrounding islands are true spots for dreaming and adventure, where you can practise a range of activities, mainly on sea, but also take advantage of the heavenly beaches. Hiking, picnicking, big-game fishing, cruises, kitesurfing, snorkelling, swimming or diving, as well as enjoying a massage or simply sunbathing, all await. You can also discover the rich and diverse local culture.