Diving in Nosy Be, Madagascar

Nosy Be Madagascar from airplane
Nosy Be Madagascar from airplane

Nosy Be is an island off the north-west coast of Madagascar with incredible diving and a chance to see some of Madagascar’s unique wild life. We were there in the middle of September and got to snorkel with whale sharks, watch humpback whales, had fantastic dives in good visibility and reasonably warm water (26C). Topside is excellent as well and we saw lemurs and chameleons. Nosy Be is a volcanic island with several crater lakes – all of different color and reportedly full of crocodiles. There are white sand beaches, acceptable quality road, delicious food and friendly locals. We were there for a week and it felt too short.

Andilana beach, Nosy Be, Madagascar
Andilana beach, Nosy Be, Madagascar

Ambatoloaka is the main tourist beach with quite a few hotels and restaurants. It gets pretty busy but good to go for lunch or dinner on the beach. Andilana is a nice white sand beach in the northern part of the island – has fewer hotels and a couple of restaurants. Small islands around Nosy Be have beautiful white sand beaches and island hopping with snorkeling is one of the main tourist activities.

Nosy Tanikely beach, Madagascar
Nosy Tanikely beach, Madagascar

Nosy Tanikely is one of the small islands around Nosy Be – has a nice beach, excellent snorkeling and there is a view point at the top from where you can see Madagascar mainland and various surrounding islands.

Ambaro beach, Nosy Be, Madagascar
Ambaro beach, Nosy Be, Madagascar

We stayed along the shore north of Dzamandzar town. The long stretch of the beach seems to be named Ambaro. There are a few resorts along the shore but the atmosphere is more quiet and relaxed than on the two main beaches. This is also where several dive shops are. We dove with Love Bubble which was absolutely wonderful. And not only did we have superb diving but also got to snorkel with whale sharks and watch humpback whales.

Humpback whales come to the waters of Madagascar from Antarctica to breed and usually can be seen between July and November. When we visited in September 2019 they were just arriving – much later than usual. At the same time whale sharks arrived earlier then usual at the beginning of September. So we got really lucky to see both whale sharks and humpback whales. We saw about 6-7 whales blowing water and flipping tails but did not manage to get a nice shot of a breaching whale this time. You can only watch them from the boat, no snorkeling allowed.

Humpback whales, Nosy Be, Madagascar
Humpback whales, Nosy Be, Madagascar
Humpback whale tale, Nosy Be, Madagascar
Humpback whale tale, Nosy Be, Madagascar

In addition to diving, snorkeling and beach there is much to do inland on Nosy Be topside. Mont Passot is the highest point on the island and has an amazing view. You get to see the lakes, the surrounding islands and Madagascar mainland. The place is popular with locals for sunset especially on the weekend.

Sunset view from Mont Passot over lakes and Sakatia island, Nosy Be, Madagascar
Sunset view from Mont Passot over lakes and Sakatia island, Nosy Be, Madagascar

There is a good paved road to the top of the Mont Passot. Importantly – google maps shows that there are two roads up to Mont Passot which is not exactly accurate. The good paved road starts not too far from Andilana and we took that one on the way to Mont Passot on our scooter. We then thought to take the road that goest to Dzamandzar on the way back. At the top it starts as a paved road but then progressively turns into a dirt track and then I am not even sure if one can call it a trail even (picture below). At some point we thought we would be lost as sun was setting but we made it back with the last rays of light.

Road from Mont Passot to Dzamandzar, Nosy Be, Madagascar

To see lemurs and chameleons we went to Lemuria Land. It is a plantation and distillery for ylang-ylang and other essential oils and a nature park. It borders Lokobe reserve. We were planning to go to Lokobe reserve but it was not possible to do it within an afternoon and with all the superb diving, whales and whale sharks we left Lokobe for the next time.

Black lemur female, Lemuria Land, Nosy Be, Madagascar
Black lemur female, Lemuria Land, Nosy Be, Madagascar

In Lemuria Land they have several species of lemurs. The park feeds lemurs and you can feed them too. It is not exactly full wilderness experience, but on another hand lemurs live around the island and even in our resort one morning a lemur came over expecting to get a banana treat.

Black lemur male, Lemuria Land, Nosy Be, Madagascar
Black lemur male, Lemuria Land, Nosy Be, Madagascar
Sifaka, Lemuria Land, Nosy Be, Mdagascar
Ring tailed lemur, Lemuria Land, Nosy Be , Madagascar

They also have a collection of panther chameleons at Lemuria Land.

Panther chameleon, Lemuria Land, Nosy Be, Madagascar
Panther chameleon, Lemuria Land, Nosy Be, Madagascar
Panther chameleon, Lemuria Land, Nosy Be, Madagascar
Panther chameleon, Lemuria Land, Nosy Be, Madagascar
Panther chameleon, Lemuria Land, Nosy Be, Madagascar
Panther chameleon, Lemuria Land, Nosy Be, Madagascar

All in all Nosy Be was a surprise. For some reason we totally did not expect diving to be so amazing. Corals look more like you would see in Red Sea than Kenya, Zanzibar or Mozambique. On some level it also looks a little like Philippines with its mountainous volcanic islands and outrigger boats. Nosy Be is about as far south of equator as Anilao is north of the equator at about 13″ latitude so maybe that has something to do with it too. Or maybe that it is still quiet and not overrun by industrial scale diving as in Thailand or Indonesia.

We are told August through November is the best time, December through March is cyclones, after that water is warm and fish life is excellent, but visibility not good. Go!

Amboseli safari, Kenya

Mount Kilimanjaro, Amboseli, Kenya
Mount Kilimanjaro, Amboseli, Kenya

Amboseli National park is famous for the beautiful views of Kilimanjaro and lots of animals especially during the dry season. We went in early March at the very beginning of the rainy season (the rain started the week we travelled) and saw lots of elephants, wildebeest, hippos, giraffes, lions and amazing variety of birds. Mount Kilimanjaro was hiding behind the clouds but you could almost always see part of the snow covered top.

We drove to Amboseli from Nairobi. On the way to the park it took us about 4 hours. Mombasa road is very busy with all the traffic going between Mombasa port and the rest of Kenya and countries further inland. On the way back, because of the heavy rains we hit a massive traffic jam about 60km out of Nairobi. All the trucks and cars were at a standstill. We ended up taking a detour and the journey back took us more than 6 hours.

One day Mombasa road expansion will be finished and then driving to Amboseli from Nairobi would be a reasonable option but until that day it seems the best would be to fly. Also, once the road is expanded, driving to Amboseli from Mombasa and combine Amboseli and Diani beach would be a nice option.

Access road to Amboseli park after unusually heavy rain, Amboseli, Kenya
Traffic jam on Mombasa road, Kenya

Serengeti Safari, Tanzania

Serengeti national park covers about 15,000 square kilometers bordering Maasai Mara reserve in Kenya in the north. Serengeti is most famous for the migration of more than a million wildebeest accompanied by zebra, gazelles and assorted antelopes. It has one of the largest populations of wild life anywhere in the world. Endless grassy rolling planes are perfect terrain for safari. Binoculars and 200m plus camera lens helps.

We left Lake Manyara for Serengeti early in the morning, passing through Ngorongoro conservation area, getting to the Serengeti gate at about lunch time and then heading to the west part of the park reaching at sunset time. Migrating animals were meant to be in the west of the park at the time of our trip in late May.

The drive through Ngorongoro conservation area is stunningly beautiful. As you descend from the crater Serengeti planes open up and you pass small Maasai villages where you can stop for a somewhat touristy experience. We saw quite a few giraffes on the way moving between Serengeti and Ngorongoro.

As we drove through the planes towards Serengeti gate we encountered the tail of migrating herds of wildebeest and zebra. Rains were late this year and animals were still on their way to the west. It is incredible sight – as far as you can see all the way to the horizon there were animals. We then came across a cheetah sitting 2 meters away from the road and watching intently a herd of impala. We waited hoping she would go hunting but she was not in the mood.

On we went and came across lions who just finished their lunch as evidenced by fat bellies of chilling out lions and meatless carcass next to them. Seeing endless herds of wildebeest and zebra, a cheetah and lions before even reaching the gate of Serengeti was very impressive.

After the gate there is a large resting area where most vehicles going in and out of the park stop, get permits sorted out and eat boxed lunch. The resting area is at the foot of a hill from which you get a nice 360 view of the planes. From here we continued on what now was a “proper” game drive since we were inside of the park, towards our lodge in the west. All along the way we saw herds of impala, wildebeest, zebra, gazelles, all sorts of birds, troop of baboons and even jackals. We made it to the lodge just in time for sunset. Sleeping in the tented camp to the purring of lions nearby was surreal.

The next day we went for game drives all around western section returning back to the lodge for dinner. After the second night in the west we headed to the central section of the park.

On the way to the central we came across a troop of baboons feeding on the white flowers. In central part we saw a leopard in a tree with its half finished lunch of impala hanging on a branch. We came across a pride of lions chilling out on a rock outcrop. And saw plenty of elephants, buffalo, giraffes, wild hogs, zebras, gazelles, and all sorts of birds.

We spent a night in the central part with stunning views of the planes around. Next day we headed back to the gate and towards Ngorongoro crater coming across migration on the way back again. Serengeti lived up to high expectations.

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Tarangire safari, Tanzania

Tarangire National Park

Tarangire national park is about the same distance to Kilimanjaro airport as Manyara but for some reason does not seem to feature as prominently on tourist itineraries. The park is located along the river Tarangire and attracts a lot of wildlife during the dry season. We were traveling at the end of May and rainy season was just starting. We only had one half-day game drive in the park but got to see lions, giraffes, all sorts of gazelles and excellent bird life.

We spotted a lion in a tree – similarly to Lake Manyara lions here climb in the trees which they do not do in most other places. We then came across three male lions resting on the road. We followed them as they went towards the river later. On the river we saw a big group of giraffes – apparently properly called a tower of giraffes. At some point we counted fourteen of them coming down to the water for a drink.

Tarangire was a nice end for our Tanzania northern circuit safari. Lake Manyara, Serengeti, Ngorongoro and Tarangire are each brilliant with lots and lots of wildlife. After spending all the time driving around we were also ready to head out to Zanzibar for some underwater time.

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Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania

Ngorongoro crater has the highest density of wild animals anywhere in the world. It is also the world’s largest inactive, intact volcanic caldera. Topography is stunning and you can get really close to the animals. We reached Ngorongoro from Serengeti driving through some very nice scenery and coming across giraffes moving between Ngorongoro and Serengeti.

We arrived to the lodge on the rim of the crater as the sun was starting to go down. Sunset over the Ngorongoro crater was spectacular as we watched clouds pouring over the rim and rays of lights reflecting in the lake at the bottom of the crater.

After very nice breakfast watching the sunrise over the crater we started the game drive. Ngorongoro is a very popular tourist destination and the crater does get quite busy with the vehicles. Animals do not seem to be disturbed by this though and we could get very close to them. We saw herds of wildebeest, zebra, all kind of antelope, wild hogs, buffalo, black-backed and golden jackals.

We were lucky to see caracal though it was a little in a distance. Then we came across a lion on the road walking past parked vehicles. We saw a pride of 8 or 9 lions in a distance and they went hunting wild hogs. Wild hogs got away and looked hilarious running with their tails straight up like antennas. We then saw 3 more lions sleeping. Elephants and hippos are plentiful and we saw a rhino but it was really far away.

Bird life is very good as well with all the greenery and water.

We had only one day in the Ngorongoro and had to leave the crater by about 1:30 since we had to be out of the park gate by 3pm as we had one 24 hour permit. We overnighted in a hotel not far from the gate outside of the park and then headed past Lake Manyara to Tarangire national park for one more game drive and 4th park on this trip.

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Lake Manyara Safari, Tanzania

Lake Manyara national park is about 3 hours drive from Kilimanjaro airport in Tanzania. We visited it on the way to Serengeti and Ngorongoro parks in late May. We stayed at a lodge on top of the hill overlooking the lake with phenomenal views.

After overnighting at the lodge we went for a game drive down at the lake. Lake Manyara and nearby Tarangire national parks are less known than their famous neighbors Serengeti and Ngorongoro which means there are not as many tourists and excellent wildlife – not the least due to the permanent sources of water.

The drive starts through the jungle forest where we saw blue and velvet monkeys, baboons, elephants, wild hogs and impala. Animals seem to prefer to use the road rather than making their way through the thicket of the forest.

Once past the forest the drive heads to the shore of the lake to the flat grassy areas with some bush. There are lots of zebras, wildebeest, buffalo, more elephants, hippos and all sorts of birds

Lake Manyara is known for the unusual behavior of lions who climb the trees along the shore of the lake – something they do not normally do. We saw two lions sleeping in the trees – or rather a part of a paw of one lion barely showing between the branches of the tree and a tip of the tail of another lion.  

The most exciting sighting of the trip was the leopard. Unlike normally sleepy cat, this one was a restless one running up and down the tree, then settling briefly on a branch and staring at us and then running around again. All the cars actually put their roofs down and kept windows closed just in case it decides to jump on a car. Leopard eventually just left but we got some very nice shots.

Leopard, Lake Manyara, Tanzania
Leopard, Lake Manyara, Tanzania

After a full day drive through the park – with lunch boxes provided by hotel – we returned to overnight again at the same lodge before driving off early next morning to Serengeti

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