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!

Diving Tofo Beach, Mozambique

Tofo beach or praia do Tofo on the coast of Mozambique has a beautiful white sand beach, good surf, and excellent diving. We were traveling around new year time and saw manta rays, whale sharks, variety of large rays and schools of fish. Mantas are seen year round with one of the largest recorded resident populations. Humpback whales pass through on their migration between June and October.

Round ribbontail ray, Tofo beach, Mozambique
Round ribbontail ray, Tofo beach, Mozambique

What to see

Logistics

Tofo beach in Inhambane province of Mozambique is about 500km north of Maputo along the coast. We flew from Maputo to Inhambane airport and took a taxi to Tofo which takes about 20 minutes. Tofo beach has several resorts, self-catering accommodation and a bunch of restaurants and bars. The place is small and you can walk around everywhere.

New year's eve on Tofo beach, Mozambique
New year’s eve on Tofo beach, Mozambique

We were in Tofo for new year’s and the beach got busy with tourists and locals coming to celebrate the new year’s eve and day on the beach.  By January 2 most people were gone and life was back to chilled-out normal on the beach. During our stay at Tofo the winds picked up for a couple of days and the sea was too rough to go out diving.  We walked along the beach to the light house and the next beach called Barra. It was also nice to just hang in one of the restaurants along the beach enjoying the view and nice cocktails made with fresh fruit.

Tofo beach, Mozambique
Tofo beach, Mozambique

We dove with Peri Peri divers who run an efficient and professional operation.  We usually did two dives out.  The idea is to combine a dive at one of the further reefs either south or north of Tofo with a dive in the bay which allows for an “ocean safari” looking for whale sharks in transit during the surface interval.  We were lucky and saw a whale shark from the boat and then it came past us on the dive. We saw mantas on 5 out of 8 dives in Tofo.

Manta Ray, Tofo beach, Mozambiqu
Manta Ray, Tofo beach, Mozambiqu

Mantas come to get cleaned on cleaning stations along the reef and according to the researchers at Marine Megafauna Research Center who came along with us on some of the dives mantas can stay on the reef up to 8 hours getting cleaned. So basically we were diving in a manta’s spa!  The reef is at about 25-28 meters and it is best to dive on nitrox to maximize bottom time. All in all Tofo has exceptional diving and was an excellent trip in combination with Ponta do Ouro. Having heard amazing stories about humpback whales arriving in large numbers to the waters along Mozambique shore it is definitely on the list for a repeat visit.

Sea apple, Tofo, Mozambique
Sea apple, Tofo, Mozambique

Diving in Donsol, Philippines

Whale shark at Manta Bowl, Donsol, Philippines

Whale shark at Manta Bowl, Donsol, Philippines

Why go diving in Donsol

Donsol is one of the best places in the world to see whale sharks.  Whale sharks aggregate in the area between December and June with peak season between February and May. In Donsol Bay whale sharks come up close to the surface to feed. Whale sharks are protected and it is only allowed to snorkel with them in Donsol Bay.

Manta Bowl is a shoal at about 20 meters deep in the middle of a channel between Luzon and Ticao islands. It is about 2 hours by banca from Donsol. We did three days of diving at Manta Bowl – and saw whale sharks, manta rays, eagle rays, white tip sharks, schools of jacks, tuna and juvenile barracuda.  Visibility was reasonable at about 15 meters and water was on a cold side at C23. Currents at Manta Bowl are very strong and you need to use reef hooks to have a decent bottom time as current can push you off the shoal pretty quick. This was some of the best diving we have done in the Philippines and we definitely did not expect to see so many pelagics so near to the shore!

What to see

Logistics

Sunset view from Vitton hotel in Donsol, Philippines

There are two main options for diving Manta Bowl – one is to dive from Donsol another is to stay on Ticao island.  Since we originally planned to also snorkel with the whale sharks and had only limited time we decided to stay in Donsol at Vitton hotel.  It is on the shore with beautiful sunset views over the ocean, good food, basic clean and comfortable rooms, and within 50 meters of the whale shark interaction center which runs the whale shark snorkeling tours. It is also near to other resorts and the absolutely wonderful BARacuda restaurant. We had dinner there three nights in a row  and they serve some of the best seafood we had in the Philippines – very simple fresh fish and prawns with nice salads and other sides.

Getting back to banca after a dive at Manta Bowl

We dove with Giddy’s place dive shop and had excellent experience. Our instructor Jeremie was highly professional, the trips were perfectly organized and his guiding was brilliant as we got to see whale sharks on 7 out of 9 dives and had good bottom times of about 45 minutes each dive. We liked that they were trying to make sure that divers had matching level of experience as we saw that other operators took everyone to dive Manta Bowl – even open waters with ten or so dives – which is scary considering currents.

Manta ray, Manta Bowl, Philippines

Giddy’s resort is located in Donsol downtown. We were picked up every morning at 7:30am at our hotel and driven straight to the boat. Trip to Manta Bowl takes about 2 hours depending on the waves.  Lunch, coffee, water and towels were provided on the boat. We did all three dives on Manta Bowl each day. Other option includes going to San Miguel island which reportedly has very nice reef and corals.

Donsol town with Mayon volcano in the background

Donsol is a small town. There is one ATM but when we went to it on Sunday it already ran out of money so it is good to make sure to bring cash as most places (except Giddy’s) do not accept credit cards. Diving trips take pretty much all day coming back at about 5pm. We did not make it to the fireflies tour though heard good reports about it.  We also did not make it to waterfalls or to Mayon volcano.  We will need to come back for a longer stay next time!