Hard to Reach, Impossible to Leave: A Remote Getaway in Madagascar

As the tiny plane nears the Nosy Be airport, passengers press their faces against the windows, craning their heads to catch a glimpse of this new land. For most, seeing the verdant islands floating in a glimmering ocean is a first. Even for those living in southern Africa, getting to Madagascar is challenging. Especially Nosy Be, a wildly pretty island off the northwest coast of the country. There is only one flight from Johannesburg every Sunday, and once the plane lands, it turns right back around. Miss it and you’ll have to find another airline (there are flights from Milan and Reunion Island), haul yourself to Antananarivo (the capital city on the main island), or stay another week. “Getting around in Madagascar necessitates a healthy degree of patience,” says Darren Humphreys of tour operator Travel Sommelier. “National airline Air Madagascar is nicknamed ‘Air MAD.’ Ultimately, they will get you to your destination, but not always the time—or day—that you had planned.”

There are certainly worse places to get stuck. Not only is Madagascar’s landscape ever changing and otherworldly (emerald ocean, mangroves, dense rain forests, prehistoric rock formations), but the country has a distinctive ecosystem, with animals and vegetation that can be found nowhere else on earth. “Madagascar has forever been in the shadow of the more glamorous Indian Ocean islands—Seychelles, Maldives—despite possessing untouched beauty and some of the world’s most bizarrely unique fauna and flora,” says Humphreys. And more recently, Madagascar has been giving other Indian Ocean islands a run for their sand dollars.

As we dip toward land, I spot a bright turquoise helicopter with “Time + Tide” emblazoned across it—my ride to Time + Tide’s Miavana. Created by the original developer behind North Island in the Seychelles, and designed by the same architects, Miavana has 14 cutting-edge villas, constructed from steel, glass, and natural fabrics, that overlook the pearly beach and emerald ocean. The lodge is unfussy in all its luxuriousness and manages to marry opulence with a casual, beach-house feel. Nothing about the lodge is dull—turquoise cushions and bright-stripe chairs fleck the outdoor decks and gleaming retro furniture adorns the villas. Even the buildings, made of stone acquired from a family owned quarry and cut by skilled local masons, turn soft pink in the afternoon light.

While there are currently no lemurs on Nosy Ankao, the property can arrange a trek to look for the notoriously shy animals on a nearby island, just a short helicopter ride away. If you decide to stay on the island, you’ll find that many guests start the day with “a morning beach stroll and swim that offers the opportunity to swim with dolphins, observe nesting turtles, and meander through a fishing village that has not changed in centuries,” says Humphreys. Fishing, scuba diving, and nature walks are also popular activities, though just relaxing and listening to the sounds of nature can easily occupy an entire afternoon. If missing a flight out of Nosy Be means being a castaway on this island for an extra week, perhaps it’s not such a disaster at all.

Written by Mary Holland
Published July 20, 2017
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