The beautiful island of Ile Sainte Marie, off the eastern coast of Madagascar, is steeped in myth and legend, having once been the home of swashbuckling pirates. With gorgeous beaches, aquamarine waters and resplendent fauna and flora, you cannot blame the buccaneers of the 17th and 18th century for choosing this utopia as home.
The slender, 50 km long island is a paradise for snorkelling and diving, while the humpback whale watching between July and September ranks up there with some of the best in the world. Several species of lemur can be encountered in the forest vegetation, along with a spectacular array of colourful orchids.
The only significant town – Ambodifotatra – is situated in the south, while the other small villages are mostly comprised of charming bamboo and palm huts. Some interesting sights in the town include a French Catholic church dating back to 1837, and a monument marking a war between the French and British in 1845. South of the town, in Baie des Forbans, you can have the eerie experience of walking through the world’s only pirate cemetery, which is supposedly home to the grave of the infamous Captain Kidd. Several authentic pirate vessels also lie in the bay, one of which is thought to be Kidd’s Adventure Gallery.
Most of the hotels and resorts lie on the western coast of the island, where tourists can enjoy an intoxicating holiday atmosphere, a taste of Malagasy culture and the flavour of coco rum. The eastern side of the island is less developed, but plays host to beautiful forests and reefs. In the far north, attractions include a gorgeous natural swimming pool with a waterfall and huge basalt rocks, as well as the old Albrand Lighthouse.
The little island of Ile Aux Nauttes is situated in the far south, and boasts an even more idyllic atmosphere than the mainland. Roadless and traffic-free, the island plays host to some of the best beaches in Madagascar. It takes around three hours to walk around the whole island, experiencing everything that the gorgeous stretch of coastline has to offer. Visitors can also take a short walking tour to see the island’s incredible l’orchidee rose, a two-metre high orchid with deep pink flowers.
Ile Sainte Marie can be explored by foot, bicycle, motorbike or quad, and it is well worth taking a trip on a traditional pirogue to explore the coast.
While the majority of beachfront hotels offer whale watching experiences, a stay at Princesse Bora will allow you to assist whale researchers, giving you an incredibly intimate look at these majestic creatures.
The island’s weather can be unpredictable, and at any time of the year several days of rain and wind can be expected during a long stay, interspersed with beautifully calm and sunny weather. The best months of the year tend to be June and Mid-August to December.