Île Sainte Marie

This cliché of a tropical island is home to endless desert beaches overhung by coconut palms, bays protected from sharks by coral reefs and a relative absence of unsightly tourist development.

Here is a cliché of a tropical island with endless deserted beaches overhung by coconut palms, bays protected from sharks by coral reefs, hills covered with luxuriant vegetation and fantastic whale watching in season. Although Île Sainte Marie is developed for tourism, it has been done in a tasteful, low-key way and the island maintains a traditional ambience: most of the hotels are small-scale with rustic bungalows.

Travellers love it: ‘As soon as we saw the island from the air, we were ready to ditch our travel plans and spend the rest of our trip nestled in paradise. Everything about the island is intoxicating: the smell of cloves drying in the sun, the taste of coco rum and the warmth of the sea.’

The island, due east of Soanierana-Ivongo, is 50km long and 7km at its widest point, with the much smaller – but even more delightful – Île aux Nattes just off its southern tip. The only significant town is Ambodifotatra; other small villages comprise mainly bamboo and palm huts. The island is almost universally known as Île Sainte Marie – few use its Malagasy name: Nosy Boraha.

Île Sainte Marie unfortunately – or perhaps fortunately, given the dangers of overdevelopment – has a far less settled weather pattern than its island rival, Nosy Be. Cyclones cause damage every few years. At any time of year expect several days of rain and wind, but interspersed with calm sunny weather. The best months for a visit tend to be June and mid-August to December, but good weather is possible anytime.