The ultimate guide to travelling in the north of Madagascar (Antsiranana and surrounding area)

Welcome to Northern Madagascar, a region renowned for its diverse landscapes, wildlife and culture. Covering everything from the brilliant blue of the Emerald Sea to the vast expanses of tsingy at Ankarana, Northern Madagascar is an unforgettable expedition for any traveller. In this guide, we’ll take you on a tour of the gems of the North, sharing the best must-do activities for a memorable experience.

Exploring the Emerald Sea

The Mer d’Émeraude is a tourist attraction located at the entrance to the bay of Diego-Suarez, in the far north of Madagascar. It is a lagoon remarkable for its natural beauty, characterised by shallow waters of a brilliant turquoise blue, separated from the Indian Ocean by a coral reef and a string of islets. This aquatic paradise is protected from the ocean waves by a large coral reef and several islands, providing a calm, unspoilt habitat for a variety of fish, rays, sea cucumbers and sea turtles. Access is mainly by boat from Diego-Suarez or the village of Ramena. You can also reach Ramena by taxi or taxi-brousse, then take a day trip by boat. You’ll find plenty of service providers offering day-trip packages there. Prices for a day trip, including boat transport, food and drink, are around 60,000 Ariary (around USD 15) and could be more depending on the provider. The best time to visit the Emerald Sea is during the dry season, from June to September, when conditions are ideal for kitesurfing, thanks to the constant wind known as Varatraza. It’s also a great time for snorkelling, diving and traditional fishing. Outside the rainy season, however, the waters are inviting for bathing all year round, with temperatures in excess of 25°C. The main attractions to be found in the Emerald Sea include the rich seabed for snorkelling, deserted beaches for relaxation, and water sports such as kitesurfing in the nearby bays. Visitors can also enjoy a fresh meal of grilled fish accompanied by traditional Sakalava coconut rice and visit the fishing villages nearby.

Hiking in the Ankarana Massif

The Ankarana Massif or Ankarana Special Reserve is a national park in the Diana region of northern Madagascar. It is an exceptional site for hikers and nature lovers. This park is famous for its Tsingy formations, the second place where you can admire the Tsingy outside the Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park. The sharp limestone peaks formed by erosion make for a breathtaking landscape. The reserve covers an area of 182.2 km² and was created in 1956. To get there, assuming you are coming from Nosy Be, one option is to take a speedboat across the Mozambique Channel to the port of Ankify, then continue overland for around 140 km on the RN 6 north to Ankarana. And for Diego-Suarez, you can take bush taxis or transfer cars to Ankarana. There is a wide range of activities in the park, with numerous hiking trails to see the Tsingy, the stalactite and stalagmite caves, the canyons and the park’s flora and fauna. The circuits on offer include the Perte des Rivières circuit, the Grotte d’Andrafiabe and Cathédrale circuit, and the Tsingy Meva and bat cave circuit, each of which guides you through different experiences ranging from 1 to over 8 hours’ walking. For the full experience, it is advisable to plan your visit during the dry season, to avoid the heavy rains that could make hiking difficult. The presence of a guide is also recommended to navigate the labyrinths of Tsingy and to enrich your visit with information about the park’s fauna, flora and geology.

The red Tsingy, also worth seeing along the way

On the way to Ankarana, take a short diversion to see the Tsingy Rouges. These red laterite rock formations, created by the erosion of the Irodo River, resemble miniature sandcastles. They offer an impressive geological spectacle, tinted red (hence the name Tsingy Rouge) due to the variety of their hardness, some layers being more resistant to erosion than others. This outstanding site is around 60km south of Antsiranana, near Sadjoavato, accessible from the RN6 road at Saharenana.

Cultural meetings in Antsiranana (Diego Suarez)

The town of Antsiranana, formerly known as Diego-Suarez, is one of Madagascar’s main port cities. The city has a rich cultural diversity and history, marked by a long period of French colonisation. Antsiranana is just as much a cultural crossroads where Malagasy, French and other community influences mingle. The town and its surroundings themselves reflect a blend of cultures and traditions. Colonial buildings, bustling local markets and lively neighbourhoods bear witness to its historic past. The local population is very hospitable, celebrating various traditional festivities and maintaining cultural practices that have been handed down from generation to generation. The culinary traditions in Antsiranana are also a blend of influences, where local Malagasy dishes blend with FrenchIndian and other foreign touches. Local markets display a variety of colourful fresh produce, seafood, and spices that are used to prepare unique dishes. Cultural practices and customs in Antsiranana are also marked by the importance of music and dance. Traditional Malagasy rhythms, often accompanied by local musical instruments, are a vital aspect of celebrations and festivities. Cultural events, such as music and dance festivals, are key moments in the social life of the city, attracting both locals and international visitors. In short, Antsiranana is a melting pot of cultures, where ancestral Malagasy traditions coexist with the legacies of the various waves of colonisation and immigration. This cultural richness is evident in its architecture, gastronomy, music, dance and daily customs, making the city a place to discover for those interested in the history and culture of Madagascar and the Indian Ocean.

Accommodation in the north of Madagascar

Accommodation in northern Madagascar varies greatly in quality and price, with personal touches for every type of traveller. Options include luxury hotels with full services such as spas, gourmet restaurants and organised excursions, to affordable seaside bungalows and friendly guesthouses. Prices can vary from very economical to premium rates, depending on location, season and services offered, such as Wi-Fi, swimming pool, or direct access to the beach. For specific information on accommodation, including current prices and services offered, we recommend that you consult us directly, as you can benefit from a fairly inexpensive rate, both in and out of the tourist season.

Travel advice

Best period : April to November, the dry season, is ideal for outdoor activities.
Getting around : We will always advise you to hire a 4x4 car with driver to explore in complete safety.
Respect for the environment: Be aware of the impact of your visit; respect nature and communities.
Respect the Fady or Taboos : Please note that the town of Antsiranana also has a number of tambous that must be respected, especially those relating to Sakalava culture. Please respect them.
For your activities : In northern Madagascar, you'll find a variety of transport providers, including car hire services, taxis and transfers organised by hotels. For activities, tour operators offer excursions to sites such as the Tsingy Rouges, the Mer d'Émeraude and Ankarana National Park. Beware of scams: always compare prices, check online reviews and opt for recommended or certified service providers to avoid inconvenience.

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Do not hesitate to contact our Madagascar specialists

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