Antsiranana, known as Diego Suarez until 1975, is the capital of Madagascar's northernmost province. It has one of the world's most beautiful deep-water harbours, complete with a photogenic sugarloaf mountain.
A ring of mountains surrounds the town, which has a diverse population of about 80,000 Sakalava, Antakarana, French, Arabs, Chinese and Comorians.
In 1942, the Allies launched Operation Ironclad and landed forces at Courrier Bay and Ambararata Bay, just west of Diego Suarez. Hundreds of British soldiers fell in the Battle of Madagascar, most of them buried in the special British cemetery in the centre of town. The cemetery, with its rows of white gravestones, is maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
The town is the gateway to Montagne d'Ambre and Ankarana national parks, and many visitors simply pass through Antsiranana, careless of its charms.
Those with the time to linger and discover the decaying colonial architecture (the old covered market and the former Hotel de la Marine for seafarers are notable examples), the vibrant market and the wealth of crafts workshops will find Diego atmospheric and enjoyable. The old military quarter, north of Place Foch, occupies a peninsula and overlooks the port. A particular pleasure of walking around Diego is the unexpected variety of stunning views over the bay, seemingly around almost every corner.
There is a variety of hotels and restaurants in town, and at Ramena beach, about 20 km to the east. There are baobabs on the route between Diego and Ramena.
Almost equidistant between Ramena and Diego is the Montagne des Français. The ascent offers superb views over the bay, and the prospect of good birding and sightings of Sanford's brown lemurs. The cliffs and cave attract rock climbers.
At the rock formation known as 'Windsor Castle', you will find some tsingy and a variety of drought-resistant endemic plants. From the top (390m), the panorama stretches from Montagne d'Ambre in the south to the remote Cap d'Ambre, the northern tip of Madagascar. Traces of the World War II fortifications are still visible.
East of Ramena is a series of deserted bays: Baie des Dunes, Baie de Sakalava, Baie des Pigeons.
Read more about Antsiranana (Diego Suarez)