Recognized as the world’s fourth largest island, Madagascar is famous mostly for its impressive line-up of unique land animals.
However, Madagascar’s waters are just as beautiful and rich in life – much of which cannot be found elsewhere. The country is host to one of the world’s longest, uninterrupted coral reefs, which ensures a highly-diverse profile of marine creatures. Around the coast, there are about 34 species of whales and dolphins, 300 types of hard corals, 1300 species of bony fish, 5 types of turtle, and 56 species of sharks.
What’s even more interesting is that about 10% of the world’s population of humpback whales spends a third of each year in Madagascar’s soothing and warm waters. Every year, from June to September, divers head to the country to witness these massive sea mammals breed, breach, and take care of their young. Birth rates are at a high in August, when mother humpbacks swimming with their calves is a common sight.
While Madagascar offers numerous sites and destinations to the inquisitive diver, the best diving experience is to be had around Nosy Be and its surround islands. Numerous dive sites can also be found around the southern tip of the island (mainly around Ifaty).
Whether you’re looking for a wreck dive or marine life encounters, Le Cocoteraie offers both. The wreck of a 55 metre-long fishing boat can be found there at a 15 metre depth, which serves as an artificial shelter for lobsters, lionfish, crocodile fish, massive wreck-fish, and more.
Experienced divers can check out the Anivorano Rocks. In this 20-meter deep dive on granite stones, you’ll encounter Napoleon fish, corb, and barracuda. Be alert at all times though, as the current at Anivorano Rocks is usually strong.
Cape Alebrand, located on the island’s northern cape, is another site frequented by experienced divers. This nice 20-meter dive has a sandy bottom filled with granitic rocks. But what attracts divers to this destination is the diversity of marine life that it offers including black-tipped sharks, barracudas, gray sharks, skates, and sea eagles.
Island of Ste. Marie
Located near Madagascar’s eastern coast is the Island of Ste. Marie – extending 60 km from north to south and measuring 5 km in width. Yet to experience mass tourism, Ste. Marie is the perfect destination for divers who like to get close to nature and enjoy their privacy.
While the eastern region of the Island of Ste. Marie is famous for shipwrecks, most divers flock to the island to see and take photos of humpback whales. From late June, these magnificent sea mammals migrate in huge numbers from the cold waters of the arctic to the warm waters between Ste. Marie and the mainland.
Up until the end of September, you can watch the humpback whales breaching, courting each other and playing with their young there.
Ile Aux Nattes
Pronounced as “Eal Oh Nut,” this extremely beautiful tropical island is also known as Nosy Nato. Sitting on the southern tip of St. Marie, Ile Aux Nattes is a very small island. To give you an idea of how small it is, you can explore the whole location in less than 3 hours on foot!
However, despite its diminutive size, Ile Aux Nattes has everything that you could ask for from an exotic island destination – from pristine, white beaches with palm trees all over the shore, to a blue lagoon teeming with a large variety of marine life – and everything else in between.
There’s something for every diver in the waters of this tropical island. New divers can gain some experience at Le Pagode (an easy 12-meter dive) and be treated to the sight of a pagoda-shaped coral reef, a variety of fish life, lobsters, and turtles.
The Shark Pass, at a depth of 8 metres, also qualifies as an excellent dive site for newbies. However, keep in mind that you can only dive at this site during high tide. While divers often have to put up with relatively strong currents, getting up close with small grey sharks, surgeon and parrot-fish, and carangydes makes it all worthwhile.
And if you’re on the hunt for a good wreck dive experience, head to The Wreckage – a 12-metre dive located on the island’s southern cape near the coral reef. Enter the tug wreckage where corbs, dentex, glass-eyed fish and a 100-pound giant wreck-fish reside.
Paroi Des Merous
If you’re new to diving, it’s best to skip this diving site. At a depth of 40 metres, its waters are always riddled with strong currents, so as a result is suitable for experienced divers only.
Beneath the surface however, is a melting pot of numerous fish species, including big groupers known as Merou barracuda, snappers, kingfish, and potato bass. Paroi Des Merous is also an excellent site for taking photos of nudibranchs, majestic turtles, and precious porcelain shells.
With excellent water visibility, depths of 15 to 55 meters, and an average water temperature of 28°C to 30°C, Ramades is a site that both experienced and beginner divers can enjoy.
You can start your trip by heading towards Greg’s Wall, which is one of the most sought after dive sites in Madagascar. Home to marine caves and with a huge, colorful diversity of sea fauna and flora, the underwater scene at Greg’s Wall is always vibrant.
Near the Tanikely Marine Reserve, divers often encounter guitar sharks, mantas, and stingrays.
Black Wall is an impressive black coral forest and the exodus of pelagic fishes is a wonderful sight to behold.
Made up of 14 islands, Mitsio is just one of Madagascar’s finest scuba diving and snorkeling destinations. Dive the Orgues and an encounter with sharks, stingrays, groupers, and giant trevallies is almost always guaranteed.
If you like to see large shoals of fish on a dive, then Ankarea Rocks (15 meters deep and good for new divers) is the site to go to. Large quantities of caranx, giant trevallies, unicorn, surgeon, and surgeon fish, and even sharks occasionally lounge there.
At Mitsio, you’ll also encounter numerous outcrops of rocks – including a 250-metre giant that rises out of the sea. Regardless of which site you go to, you’re bound to encounter tens of thousands of fish, turtles, barracudas, and trevallies at Mitsio.
Surrounding Nosy Be are several islands, most of which offer excellent diving opportunities with untouched reefs. Water visibility is generally good – between 15 to 30 meters – and the water temperature is excellent all year round at 26°C to 32°C.
Of all the numerous sites in Nosy Be, Tanikely Island seems to be the most popular among divers. This well-preserved marine park is home to massive gorgonian sea fans, numerous hawksbill turtles, nudibranchs, black-tip sharks, leopard sharks and lots of colourful fish and vibrant corals.
The climate at Nosy Be is warm throughout the year; however, many divers opt to take the plunge between September and November, when the chances of running into humpback whales is high. As for the rest of the year, you can still enjoy your time at Nosy Be – get up close with manta rays, awe at the sight of massive whale sharks, explore some of the wrecks in the area, or pass your time with a relaxing drift dive.
Currency: Malagasy Ariary (MGA)
Dive Season: All Year Round
Climate: Tropical (along the coast); Temperate (inland); Arid (along the south)
Air Temperature: 21°C/70°F (Nov-April) and 15°C/59°F – 20°C/68°F (May-Oct)
Water Temperature: 28°C/83°F (Jan-March) and 25°C/77°F (July-Sept)
Visibility: 5 to 20 meters
Skill Level: Novice to Professional