Nosy Boraha, Madagascar, was formerly a pirate hideout (more commonly known as Ile Sainte Marie) and has a charming, relaxed pace.
On this island 200 mi/320 km northeast of Antananarivo, we met elderly Madagascar villagers who had never visited the main town, even though the island is just 30 mi/55 km long and 4 mi/7 km wide. Only one road connects the main town, Ambodifototra, with scattered settlements of bamboo and palm. It has an interesting pirates' cemetery (be sure to read the inscriptions on the tombs—particularly the ones with skull and crossbones). Ambodifototra also has an early-19th-century Catholic church.
At the southern end of the island is Ile aux Nattes (reached by canoe), which offers good beaches, good food and good snorkeling. Fishermen ply the waters in dhows, and you can often watch whales cavorting not far from shore. Female humpback whales take their young there to teach them essential skills: We met a French traveler who had seen a female whale tossing her offspring into the air to teach it to breach.
There are many hotels and bungalows, most along the western coast. Most people reach Nosy Boraha via Air Madagascar, but there's also daily ferry service from Soanierana-Ivongo on the Malagasy coast. Both options are slow and uncomfortable.
Hotels with vacancies send a vehicle to meet each flight, but in the high season (July-August), it's best to make advance reservations.
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