Within a few years, Diégo Suarez and its region has become one of the world’s meccas for kitesurfing and windsurfing. The Baie des Sakalava and the Mer d’émeraude are two world-class spots, which are featured on the covers of most windsurfing and kitesurfing magazines throughout the world. The varatraza wind which blows 250 days a year, warm and crystal clear water, introductory, free ride and wave spots turned the North of Madagascar into one of the prime destinations for windsurfing and kitesurfing. Kitesurfing schools in the Baie des Sakalava and in the Mer d’émeraude teach in accordance with IKO international standards.
Essentially concentrated in the Northwestern part of the Island, sailing calls for the discovery of unexpected places, in the more-than-favorable weather, except for the months of February and March. The mainland protects the coast from large waves and sails will be fueled by thermal winds. Operators are professionals who know their region like the back of their boats. The monohulls and multihulls can accommodate 2 to 8 people, and the crews usually consist of a skipper and a cook, assisted by an additional sailor in some cases. All favorable conditions are reunited to sail away in total peace of mind. The routes can include an upstream river trip into a mangrove, stop-overs in untouched sites, or encounters with populations with lively traditions. You will feel like you are at the edge of the world in Nosy Mamoko, which does not even appear on some maps, or in Kisimamy where every year, a dhow from Zanzibar comes to stock up on shark oil!
This sport was imported in Madagascar in the mid-nineties. In Itasy, the weather conditions are perfect for long flights.
Andringitra (over and over again!) and its stable weather, its spectacular sceneries and its very cooperative population is a “top spot” for paragliding. The close vicinities of Antananarivo are also endowed with some hills which can make perfect takeoff sites.
Access to the sites often requires great expeditions involving long hikes, and journeys through forests. In Isalo, canyoning is practiced only during the rainy season and only outside the park’s boundaries. The Sakaleona, in the West of Nosy Varika, on the West coast is the tallest waterfall in Madagascar. The site was opened in 1997 but its access is very challenging. In Marojejy (Northeast), the altitude differences are considerable and rain is very frequent. In the Montagne d’Ambre, the first operational canyon since 2000, is ideal for initiation. Other more challenging sites are set aside for a more experienced public.
Diving in the waters of Nosy Be
You don’t have to be a professional diver to be carried away by this ecosystem which counts as one of the richest in the world! Here in Nosy Be, the seabed offers a special display, as if all the wonders of this earth had decided to meet here.
The observation of marine animals is regulated by the seasons: during the austral winter, one can spot large sea mammals such as the humpback whales... In the summer, whale sharks, and mantes are the stars of the show. Each year, sea turtles lay their eggs on the beaches of Nosy Be and neighboring islands such as Nosy komba or Nosy Sakatia and on supernatural Nosy Tanihely.
Nosy Tanihely has a national marine park where snorkeling is possible under the guidance of professionals. Nosy Be is a world natural asset of its own, on land and especially underwater. Its sandy seabed is home to a colorful and spectacular fauna living in magnificent corals (Great Gorgonian, Black Coral, Dwarf Coral, Madrepores, Brain coral, etc.).
Hikes are very popular; depending on your experience and the time you can allocate for it, you can choose between several trails, usually in national parks, which account for the majority of the ecotourism features of Madagascar. If you prefer the freedom of self-exploration, the possibilities are fewer, but you could explore the old city of Antananarivo or its surrounding countryside. For instance, you can climb Mount Tsiafajavona or follow a guide through the “Highland Farmers” circuit, or the “sacred sites and blacksmiths’ villages” circuit in Ankaratra ; find the communes where Zafimaniry art is performed and preserved, follow the “River Manambolo and the Trois Frères” the “Route des Caïmans and the Montagne de la femme couchée” circuits, offered by a sustainable tourism association in Ambalavao. Climb the “Montagne des Français” in Diégo Suarez or the “Pic Saint Louis” in Fort-Dauphin, mountain bike through the wild tracks of the Island of Sainte-Marie. And don’t forget Ambatolampy, a gateway to the “Massif de l’Ankaratra”. This will take you through the high altitude Manjakatompo forestry station and its large pine trees, its circuits dedicated to mimosas and its arboretum, its trout farming ponds and its Cold Lake which supplies water to the city of Ambatolampy. You could proceed with a good guide, up the Mount Tsiafajavona, the third highest mountain on the Island.
The Massif of Tsaranoro in Andringitra has confirmed its place as a top climbing spot in the southern hemisphere. Many articles have been written in the international press about this site and its large collection of cliffs, which display different levels of difficulty, and where the quality of the granitic rock is exceptional. The perfect weather, over 9 months a year, and a stunning natural environment are also significant advantages. On the other end of the Island, the Montagne des Français which towers the bay of Diégo Suarez faces the Northwest, which protects the site from the winds. The best season to climb here is from June to November. The Nosy Hara Archipelago, the Islands of Andatsara and Anjombavola also offer possible climbing spots.
SPELEOLOGY or SPELUNKING
25 km South (South West of Antsirabe), Ibity’s landscape consists of crumbled blocks and jagged cliffs. Erosion has carved the area over the last 60 millions years, shaping the “Giant pots”. The sinkhole of the “du Diplodocus”, “de la Jument”, “du Caniche” and “du Perroquet” are some of the caves discovered since 1960. This region is not well known but is full of underground promises!
The Massif of Ankarana, 90 km to the South of Diégo Suarez is “Swiss cheese” with a network of underground rivers like the Manjeba, which runs through the massif. 11 main caves (some of which are sacred) have been listed. In Andranobe (North of Majunga), the underground network spreads over 2km. The concretion ranges from fine needles to 2-meter diameter pillars. The chambers are huge, with vaults rising up to 10m to 15m. Following the river upstream leads to the open air, in a natural pool surrounded by lush vegetation.
Rafting possibilities are virtually unlimited, so long as you are properly monitored by professionals (some rivers can be dangerous). Some interesting routes include Andringitra and its multitude of small rivers, ideal for kayaking and “hot-dogging”. La Lily (in Itasy) winds its course through the volcanic domes and presents good rafting potential. Jolts and gushes are guaranteed in some passes. Lastly, the “La Mazy” runs in the same region, at the bottom of a narrow gorge.
OFF-ROADING RAIDS AND AVENTURES
More than any other region of Madagascar, the wide-open spaces of the Great South are ideal for adventures and raids on motorcycles or quads. Two kinds are available and respond to the needs of two different types of adventurers. The first one is the genuine free wheel adventure, whereby you plan your own journey; gather a small group of passionate individuals and off you are to a ride down a dry river bed or zebu-cart trails; get stuck in dead end tracks and find a way out by foot… every now and then you might get the privilege of a little portion of national paved road and by night, camp on the beach using casuarinas to brake the wind. Tombs, anthills, river-crossings, spiny forests, unknown little villages and … soon – or too soon – come home with your head full of great memories!
The second kind, the assisted raid, used to be very popular and should pick up again soon. Flawless logistics: guide-quad, Back-up 4x4, Satellite phones, camping equipment, the equivalent of an entire quad in spare parts, a cook, an aide-de-camp, a physician…
In Madagascar you never just drive your quad for hours through monotonous sand hills!
A specialized magazine article reads: “Much more than just a raid under the tropics, a real initiation journey in one of the most extraordinary countries on the planet”
Handline, trolling or cast fishing, Nosy Be and its satellite islands constitute a “sacred” spots for sport fishing. You can often practice all 3 techniques in the same day as the tide allows. The most interesting catches are the yellow-fin tunas (April to May), the skipjack tunas, the wahoo or barracudas (which can be fished from September to May with peaks in October and February), black marlins (October to March), the dolphinfish and the sailfish that populate the North part of the Mozambique Channel.
Tree Climbing is a new way to discover the environment and experience new sensations. Available activities include adventure circuits in the trees or simple tree climbing with ropes, to discover the canopy. Madagascar and its exceptional endemic trees is a perfect fit for this new activity. In the “Vallée des Perroquets”, a course is already in place for beginner or confirmed climbers, but also for professionals (scientific studies). It is possible to sleep in the trees, and the restaurant will be running by early September.
SPORTS AND AVENTURES IN THE NORTH
The North of Madagascar holds the future of adventure sports, thanks to a great diversity of amazing landscapes and a large number of specialized and motivated service providers. For climbing, Diégo has become, over a few years, a world-renowned spot, owing to the Nosy Hara archipelago and the Camp Corail (NewSea Roc is the mandatory climbing service provider on the archipelago) which display a hundred tracks equipped with European standard marine stainless pins. Over the past few years, another spot has been made available: the “Vallée des Perroquets” (Camp Tree: treetop accommodations).
This site, which belongs to the massif of the “Montagne des Français”, is becoming the most important adventure spot in the outskirts of the city (15 km). With an incredible potential for discoveries, miles of trekking trails, a multitude of unexplored caves (NSR specializes in speleology), circuits for beginners and advanced adventurers, and Mountain bike trails... through coastal villages, inland cross country or descent. These activities are mainly possible during the dry season (April to November). During the rainy season, you can go sea -kayaking on a one day excursion or over several days around the bay of Diégo; you can also discover the mangroves in the Baie des Sakalava in half or full day trips.