Nosy Be, which means Big Island, is a good choice as part of a family holiday in Madagascar. In addition to the sun, sea and sand, there are lemurs to watch in the Lokobe Reserve, abundant chameleons, the scent of ylang-ylang and vanilla, a market where you can bargain for spices, sacred lakes, villages and forests – all within easy reach of your hotel.
Nosy Be was a sparsely populated outpost of the Boina Sakalava kingdom until the first half of the 19th century, but is now a lively beach holiday hangout. The main beach sites are on the southwest coast, at Ambatoloaka and Madirokely, and along the west coast to Andilana. The former are busy, by Malagasy standards. On the west coast, from Djamanjary south, the beaches shelve too gradually for good swimming.
The beaches of the north coast are lovely and still almost deserted, protected by the difficulty of access: it is a 20-minute boat journey from Andilana or a bumpy journey of up to an hour from the airport (through Sambirano forest) to the northern coast. There are several good hotels here.
A pretty island a few kilometres from Nosy Be, Nosy Komba is best known for its Black lemurs. Nosy Komba is probably the most visited of the islands around Nosy Be - the day trip to visit the lemur watching site at Ampangorina is one of the most popular excursions from Nosy Be. We book this tour with some misgivings because of the lemurs being perhaps too habituated. That said they do generate revenue from tourism.
This is the side of the island we like the best. Anjiabe is an unspoiled village where people look at you with friendly curiosity and are happy to stop and pass the time of day. The standard of education in the local primary school is impressive. The beaches are clean and both owner-run hotels are small. Between the two is a cove from which you can snorkel. The lemurs in the (secondary) forest above are free and healthy. Coffee is cultivated and life goes on as it always has, in the tiny hamlets hidden in the forested slopes.
Nosy Tsarabanjina is a private island 40 nautical miles northeast of Nosy Be, in the Mitsio Archipelago. It is a small and beautiful mountainous island, fringed by white sand beaches and encircled by coral reefs. Its luxuriant vegetation includes baobabs and pachypodium. You have a fair chance of sighting the rare Madagascar fish eagle and the lovely flycatcher. Constance Tsarabanjina Lodge is a wonderful cboice for honeymooners.
There is plenty to keep visitors occupied in this archipelago. For starters, ethically managed Whale watching excursions are on offer by reputable organisation Cetamada, which from October to December can also arrange for wildlife enthuaissts to swim with Whale sharks. They'll also be able to show you pods of Dolphins at their wildest - exactly as it should be.
On Nosy Be itself, Ambaro Ranch offers excellent horse rising excursions, catering for beginners and those of advanced ability. We visited their well-maintained stables in late 2018 and were impressed. And our guests have thoroughly enjoyed the excursions.
Scuba divers would to best to choose the friendly Sakatia Lodge as a base, as it has what is arguably Madagascar's best diving centre. (NAUI). They offer a variety of diving courses, from Introduction courses to Advanced Diver, Dive Master, Nitrox Diver and Night Diving. With them, divers can enjoy exploring some 20 sites.