The Antsiranana province in the north of Madagascar covers an area of 43,406 square kilometres. The province is divided into two regions - Diana and Sava. The Diana region is further sub-divided into Ambanja, Ambilobe, Antsiranana Rural and the city of Antsiranana, which is the capital of the region and the Nosy Be District. The Sava region includes its capital Sambava, and the principal towns of Antalaha, Vohémar, and Andapa
The Antsiranana Province bordered by the Toamasina Province to the south-east and the Mahajanga Province to the south-west has been described as being "virtually isolated", because of the location of Mount Tsaratanana, the highest peak in the country at 2,800 metres above sea level. The climate of the region generally centres around two seasons, dry and rainy, however rain can be spread a bit more evenly throughout the year than in other parts of the country. The heaviest rains usually fall from January to March which is also cyclone season, so travellers should be aware of this. Temperatures are usually warm all year around, with an average temperature of 25°C.
The main attraction of the Antsiranana Province is its natural beauty. It is an area rich in biodiversity, from its large bay, known as the Bay of Antisiranana that forms part of the coastline in the north, which in recent decades has become a hotspot for conservationists, to the many national parks and reserves. The following national parks and reserves are located in the Diana region: Amber Mountain National Park, Analamerana Reserve, Ankarana Reserve, Lokobe Reserve, Manongarivo Reserve, Tsaratanana Reserve, and Tsingy Rouge. The Sava region also contains wild areas such as the Marojejy National Park and the Masoala National Park.
Other attractions in the province include the city of Antsiranana itself that is not only the entry gate to superb national parks, but also an unbeatable hideaway with pristine beaches and wonderful bays ideal for windsurfing. The Nosy Be Archipelago is one of the most popular tourist spots for its fabulous beaches, water sports like diving and snorkelling, beautiful forest trails and whale watching. The “Vanilla coast” is the term coined for the north-eastern coast between Vohemar and Antalaha, a region famous for vanilla production that features secluded white sandy beaches and stunning scenery.
Ambanja is a city and commune in the Diana region, in the north of Madagascar, located on the northern berth of the Sambirano River and can be reached by the Route Nationale 6. The city is 1,200 kilometres north of the capital and 237 kilometres south-west of Antsiranana. Ambanja is served by the local Airport and small, maritime harbour at Ankify that provides access to the islands of Nosy Be and Nosy Komba.
Over 60% of the population are farmers, with the most important crops being cocoa, coffee, rice and vanilla. Industry, services and fishing provide employment for the rest of the population. The Mahamanina Falls is 14 kilometres away and the Manongarivo Reserve is situated 35 kilometres from Ambanja.
Ambilobe is part of the Diana region in the north of the island. The town is the capital of the Ambilobe district and is located at the Mahavavy River and the junction of the Route Nationale 6 and the Route Nationale 5a that leads to the Sava region. The town is also served by Ambilobe Airport.
Farming provides employment for 40% of the population, with 35% involved in raising livestock, and 10% in fishing. Sugarcane is the most important crop, along with cotton, rice and tomatoes. Industry and services provide employment for 13% of the working population.
Nosy Be, which means "Big Island", is an island off the North-West Coast of Madagascar. Nosy Be is Madagascar's largest and busiest tourist resort with its deserted beaches, coral reefs, lemur reserve, picturesque fishing villages, stunning panoramic views and friendly locals. Although this is Madagascar’s premier beach destination, the island remains relatively low-key. Nosy Be is the most expensive destination in Madagascar, with rooms often costing twice as much here as on the mainland. However, compared to Europe, prices are competitive and many tourists find the lack of major development and relaxed lifestyle worth the extra cost.
The climate is sunny all year-round, and Nosy Be is a paradise for water sports, including diving, swimming, snorkelling and sailing. When you have had your fill of the sea, head inland for the rolling landscapes and explore: the brilliant Réserve Naturelle Intégrale de Lokobe; the cocoa, ylang-ylang and vanilla plantations; the crater lakes and waterfalls, and the miles of dirt tracks accessible only by foot or quad bike. The capital of Nosy Be, Andoany, commonly known as Hell-Ville (after Anne Chrétien Louis de Hell), is actually anything but hellish. The town is a cheerful, relatively smart place where frangipani and bougainvillea frame crumbling ruins of old colonial buildings, and pavement cafes buzz with tourists and expats. Nosy Be is a a truly relaxing, laid-back and exotic destination, with much to offer travellers!
Nosy Komba is a volcanic island off the North-West Coast of Madagascar, that lies between Nosy Be and the main island. The island from above strangely resembles a giant turtle, and is surrounded by volcanic rocks which protect its shores from rough seas. This aspect is reflected in the island’s other name, Nosy Ambariovato, which translates as: the island surrounded by rocks.
Nosy Komba is covered by dense tropical forest and its peak is at an altitude of 622 metres. The island is an increasingly popular tourist destination as it becomes known for its many small and uninhabited beaches as well as for its sparkling emerald-like water. The island is also home to a variety of lemurians, known as Makis, or Macaco. There is no electricity or cars in Nosy Komba, resulting in an attractive tranquillity which when combined with the beauty of nature, make the island a compelling place to be.
Antsiranana which was formerly named Diego-Suarez, is a port city in the far north of Madagascar. Antsiranana is the capital of the Diana region, situated on Antsiranana Bay, one of the largest deep-water harbours in the Indian Ocean, that is made up of several smaller bays. Its remote location, and, until recently, a poor road to the south, rendered it unimportant for freight traffic, but the area is served by Arrachart Airport providing access to the rest of Madagascar.
The wide streets, old colonial-era buildings, and genteel air, make Antsiranana a lovely base from which to explore the northern region. The city moves at a slow pace with nearly everything shutting down between noon and 3pm while residents take long afternoon naps.
Its port is important to Madagascar, exporting tinned fish, and soft and alcoholic drinks – with an important Star (THB) bottling plant on the outskirts of town. With its deep-water anchorage, Antsiranana has also become a firm favourite for cruise ships, which visit between December and March. The ships provide a magnificent sight as they cross the bay, however the outpouring of thousands of visitors for just one day can create chaos in the usually dormant city.
Although there are no beaches in Antsiranana itself, the long, sandy Ramena Beach lies to the north-east. There are also amazing views of the bay, and the town encourages visitors to explore its fascinating history and French colonial architecture that is highlighted by the old covered market and the ruins of the Hôtel de la Marine. Offshore, the conical Nosy Lonja, or Sugar Loaf Island, is considered sacred by locals.
Ankarana National Park
The Ankarana National Park is located 120 kilometres from Antsiranana by National Road 6. This road is in quite good condition, and makes it possible to get to the East entry point in 2 hours. For Western access, there are two tracks taking 3 hours, one after Anivorano, and one just before Ambilobe, however, this is a closed track during July - August because it is cut off by a river.
This reserve of 18,220 hectares, shelters diverse vegetation, and 10 species of lemurs -including the crowned Lemur and the Lemur of Sanford, as well as 92 species of birds, of which 54 are endemic to Madagascar. The massif shelters, at the bottom of its caves, the majority of the species of bats on the island, as well as crocodiles and certain types of blind fish.
Antalaha, is a coastal town, in the Sava region on the North-East Coast of Madagascar, known as the capital of vanilla, since its introduction in the 19th century. Antalaha can be reached by sea, land, or air: via a maritime harbour; or a decent tarred road connecting the town with Sambava in the north; or by plane which is probably the quickest and most comfortable way reaching the town. The airport is about ten kilometres out of town and is served irregularly by Air Madagascar but can be used by private air charters.
About 40% of the working population is employed in farming the main crop vanilla, as well as cloves and rice. Industry and services employ 60% of the population. The area is regularly affected by strong cyclones. In 2004 and in 2007 virtually all of the vanilla crops and much of the town was destroyed, but the town is resilient and always seems to know how to rebuild itself. A long and beautiful beach with huge waves is one of the attractions of Antalaha and there are various accommodation options in this area including Hotel Hazovola, Ocean Momo lodges, and Hôtel Chez Nanie, among many others.
Masoala National Park
Masoala National Park, in North-East Madagascar, is mostly located in the Sava region and partly in Analanjirofo, and is the largest of the island's protected areas. The park was created in 1997 and protects 2,300 square kilometres of tropical rainforest, coastal forest, flooded forest, marsh, and mangrove, and three marine parks totalling 100 square kilometres, featuring coral reefs and a dazzling array of marine life. Due to its vast size and variety of habitats, the Masoala peninsula is exceptionally diverse.
Masoala offers an ideal opportunity to experience the unique flora and fauna of Madagascar. The park features ten species of lemur, including the flamboyant red ruffed lemur, which is native to the peninsula, as well as the Madagascar day gecko, the leaf-tailed gecko, chameleons of all sizes, spectacular birds such as the helmet vanga, and rare species like the red owl and tomato frog. The island reserve of Nosy Mangabe is one of the best sites in Madagascar where you can try to glimpse the elusive nocturnal aye-aye.
The three marine parks: Tampolo in the West, Ambodilaitry in the South, and Ifaho in the East are among the most interesting marine environments in Madagascar. They offer superb opportunities for kayaking and snorkelling. Those visiting from July to early September will not want to miss the chance to see the hundreds of humpback whales that visit the Antongil Bay during their long migration. The bay’s warm protected waters supply an ideal breeding and calving ground for these glorious marine mammals.
The park can be accessed from the towns of Maroantsetra by motor boat or Antalaha by the road to Cap Est, using a daily bush taxi or mountain bike as far as the village of Masoala. The park can also be accessed from several lodges on the peninsula, and there are six park-maintained campsites, at Nosy Mangabe, Cap Est, Ambatolaidama, and each of the three marine parks, with camping materials available for hire in Maroantsetra. Many villages on the peninsula also offer accommodation options including inexpensive bungalows or basic guest rooms. All visitors to the park must be accompanied by an official park-approved guide, and the main trails are at Nosy Mangabe, Tampolo/Ambodiforaha, Cap Est, and a several-day hike is possible across the peninsula. In June 2007, Masoala was designated a World Heritage Site as part of a cluster of parks that represent the biodiversity of the eastern rainforests of Madagascar.
The town of Andapa is location in the Sava region, in the North-East of Madagascar. Andapa is situated in a broad, flat, basin-like valley, surrounded by high mountains on all sides. Over time, the vast lake became swamplands filled with rich sediments from the runoff of the surrounding mountain rainforests. Andapa has become the "rice bowl" or "rice granary" of north-eastern Madagascar, as the basin transformed into huge, lush fields of rice. With population growth, the original tiny hamlets have expanded and formed a web of villages interspersed all through these rice fields.
Andapa is serene and peaceful, a small and delightful world where the people still maintain a simple and harmonious lifestyle. The greatest attraction of the Andapa region for visitors is its extraordinary and spectacular natural environment. Although much of the original forest cover has been lost due to the very deeply rooted tradition of slash-and-burn agriculture, there are several large protected areas that have been set aside to preserve the magnificent virgin rainforests of the region, including the Marojejy National Park, the Anjanaharibe-Sud Special Reserve, the Betaolana Corridor, and the large Makira Project further to the south.
Sambava is a city and commune in the Sava region on the North-East Coast of Madagascar. It is the capital of the Sambava District and Sava region and is reached via the Route Nationale 5a that runs from Ambilobe to Antalaha and a local airport. Farming still employs nearly half of the population here, with vanilla the most important crop. The Marojejy National Park is close by and there are white, sandy beaches to enjoy and several hotels in the area to use as a base.
Marojejy is located in North-East Madagascar, between the towns of Andapa and Sambava. It is considered to be one of the most strikingly beautiful and wild areas of this vast island, unique for its dense, jungle-like rainforests, sheer, high cliffs, and plants and animals that are found nowhere else on earth. Marojejy National Park encompasses 55,500 hectares of land, and protects the entire Marojejy Massif.
The Marojejy Massif was described in 1948 by Professor Henri Humbert, the eminent French botanist, as the most impressive range in all of Madagascar due to its grandeur, its rich flora, and particularly its unspoiled natural state and he ensured that Marojejy was protected as one of Madagascar’s strict nature reserves. In 1998 its status was changed to that of a national park, which meant it would be open to all visitors and not just research scientists. In 2007, Marojejy was officially designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in recognition of its unmatched biodiversity and spectacular landscapes.
The forests that range from low altitude rain forest through to high altitude mountain scrub, are home to an impressive list of flora and fauna including: at least 275 species of ferns, 35 species of palms, 149 species of amphibians and reptiles, and 118 species of birds. The park also hosts 11 species of lemurs, including the critically endangered Silky Sifaka.
Rugged and untamed, Marojejy is one of the few places in the world where you can trek from the dense, vine-shrouded jungle to the high mountain tundra in a relatively short distance of two kilometres, which can take four to five hours. There is one path that leads from the entrance of the park to the summit, with three camps along the route: Camp Mantella at 450 metres, in lowland rainforest; Camp Marojejia at 775 metres at the transition between lowland and mountain rain forest; and Camp Simpona at 1,250 metres in the middle of the mountain rainforest. Camp Simpona serves as a base camp for the trek to the summit.
Vohemar, a coastal town, also known as Iharana, is located in the Sava region and situated on a peninsula in northern Madagascar. Vohemar is of ancient Islamic origin and was probably the first part of Madagascar to be settled by Arabs, and Muslim graves dating from the 17th and 18th century can be found here. The town was once destroyed by the Portuguese but is now an important maritime harbour. There is a domestic airport here but the easiest way to reach Vohemar is by the road is coming from Sambava, 155 kilometres away, whereas the road from Antsiranana is in poor condition and can take up to 14 hours.
The local population mostly make their living from farming, livestock and fishing. Attractions in the area include the Green Lake, also called Andranotsara, which is located 7 kilometres to the south. The lake is said to be a former village whose inhabitants were transformed into crocodiles! There are several hotels in the area including La baie d'Iharana, Hotel Sol Y Mar, Hotel Galaxy, and Hotel Le Lagon Bleu.