sail boat on the coast of Madagascar



Yacht Expedition Designer Lana recently ventured to Madagascar on a sailing journey along the coastline and nearby islands, going in search of lemurs and mighty baobab trees, and visiting conservation teams and speaking to scientists along the way.

I don't recall the last time I visited a place that consistently elicited a sense of awe coupled with the recurring thought, "Wow, I've never seen anything like this before." During my trip to Madagascar, I found myself uttering this phrase several times each day. The richness of both cultural heritage and natural wonders in the region was nothing short of overwhelming and profoundly beautiful.

Upon landing in Madagascar, my senses immediately heightened observing the tapestry of unique cultural identities. During the course of the island’s history, a cultural blend of Austronesian seafarers (Malagasy), Arab traders, and European settlers all contributed to shaping the current melting pot of beautiful people, a euphony of languages, and distinctive traditions. As I stroll through the bustling marketplace enveloped by expansive rice fields in the island's capital, Antananarivo, I am pleasantly overwhelmed by the unmistakable aroma of renowned Malagasy vanilla. Fully immersed in the vibrant universe of this lively bazaar, I engage in conversations with local traders, farmers, and craftspeople. Each purchase of a bag of spice comes with its own legend or the life story of the merchants. As my wallet empties, my mind fills with fragments of Malagasy culture. 

two men on a sail boat
Lana snorkelling
baobab trees


In Nosy Be, I am greeted by the Sakalava people, descendants of the Austronesian seafarers, who inhabit the northwest coast of the island where my sailing adventure unfolds. As we set sail to explore the remarkably diverse coastline of Madagascar and the nearby islands, I am joined by a seasoned Sakalava boat crew, whose generational sea wisdom promises an exceptional journey. In their company, I feel both privileged and well-prepared to delve into the journey ahead.  

During the austral summer, the waters around Nosy Be (big island) are blessed by the presence of magnificent whale sharks. Signalled by the vertical dives of seabirds and the churning waters created by feeding juvenile tuna, we set out to spot these magnificent creatures sharing the feast on bait balls formed by small schooling fish. We are also lucky enough to jump in the water with huge manta rays feeding in the turquoise waters offering over 20 metres of visibility for diving and snorkelling. We then hit Nosy Sakatia, a green turtle haven. This glistening lagoon is home to over 300 massive green turtles, feeding, playing and dancing within three metres of crystal-clear water. They are very comfortable with humans and this is a safe space for them to be, with no surrounding threats. Coming face-to-face with these creatures is an experience I will never forget. 

sail boat in Madagascar
Lana hiking
waterway and green landscape


Continuing south along the coast, we explore the maze of mangrove forests in search of the endangered serpent eagle under the remote guidance of the renowned Dr Lily-Arison Rene de Roland, who is simultaneously tracking them ashore on the northeast coast. Although unsuccessful, I was generously briefed with a wealth of knowledge on the mangrove and coral reef ecosystems surrounding us by our incredible guide, Christophe. In addition to being our guide and host, Christophe is a skilled adventurer, conservationist and a good friend on this mission. Although his passport reads Reunion Island, his soul dances to the rhythm of Malagasy. 

We anchor the boat in the shelter of Komansary Bay to explore secluded beaches and adjacent forests in search of the magnificent sifaka lemurs. You can easily see lemurs in reserves around Madagascar, but finding them in the wild outside of any human-designated areas is a different story which requires knowledge of their ecology as well as tracking skills. Christophe has seen sifakas in this area before, and he is on track to find them again. After two hours of roaming through thick forest, interrupted by breaks of climbing massive baobabs, we make our way back to the beach. As we are about to give up, we see a family of three sifaka springing from branch to branch along the string of baobabs lining the coast. There is no need for binoculars, as they are a mere eight metres away from us - another “I have never seen this before” moment for myself. 

Lemur in a tree
sand strip between Madagascar and island
group hiking


As a child, I avidly watched travel documentaries featuring explorers who shared glimpses of Madagascar. Among the recurring themes, one really stood out - endemic. It wasn't until I witnessed the unique wonders of Madagascar with my own eyes that the true depth of its meaning became clear to me. Madagascar boasts an extraordinary level of biodiversity, with approximately ninety percent of its wildlife existing exclusively within its borders, placing it among the world's most important biodiversity hotspots. Some of these include the Madagascar pygmy kingfisher, aye-aye lemur and the panther chameleon. Perhaps the most fascinating species are the baobab trees - six of which are endemic to Madagascar. 

On the sixth day of our voyage, favourable ocean conditions and the brisk southeast trade winds carry us overnight to the peaceful sanctuary of Moramba Bay. The early hours aboard the boat unfold as a captivating experience, particularly when greeted by the spectacle of a private bay surrounded by petite mushroom tsingi islands adorned with magical baobabs. Nestled within the razor-edged tsingi rocks, these towering giant trees oversee the quaint bays embraced by ivory-hued beaches and lush green mangrove forests, each claiming its corner of the sheltered coves. The energy expended during the overnight journey becomes a small price to pay for the enchantment of waking up to the serene beauty of this secluded haven. We toss our masks and fins into the ocean and backflip into the water to meet our gear as we prepare for a day of snorkelling and spearfishing in the bay. After several hours exploring, we return to the vessel with waterlogged hands, a giant trevally for dinner and a feeling of harmony and equilibrium between ourselves and our surroundings.  

giant tortoise
rocky mountain sides


The next day, we head ashore in Anjajavy to meet the incredible team behind the Giant Tortoise Rewilding Program. In the 19th century, the Giant Tortoise, endemic to Madagascar, went extinct due to humans. They provided a great source of food for long voyages and were thus popular amongst seafarers. Luckily, prior to their extinction, some of them were transported to the Seychelles (also as a food resource) where new populations established. In 2018, Malagasy authorities confiscated 12 Giant Tortoises at the border from an illegal wildlife trader. Since then, the conservation team at Anjajavy Lodge has taken them in and began the rewilding of this species in Madagascar. In the last five years, the group has produced 104 tortoise hatchlings and juveniles - which is an incredible statistic. It is safe to say that the populations are thriving, and once the juveniles are ready, they will begin the process of rewilding them around the island. 

side of mountain at dusk

As an expedition designer, I dedicate my energy to crafting uniquely personal, meaningful, and private experiences for each adventurer's journey. In Madagascar, my thoughts raced with fervour, wheels turning at full speed in my mind. As I drifted in the embrace of crystal-clear waters above a lively coral reef, engulfed by the graceful dance of giant green sea turtles, all beneath the watchful presence of a colossal baobab tree nestled on a tsingi mushroom island, ideas effortlessly flowed through my head, and the itineraries seemed to craft themselves. 

As I boarded the plane back to South Africa, I realised I had left a piece of my heart with Madagascar. I am not sure exactly where along the coast I lost it, but I know for sure that I will be back soon to find it. 

Madagascar aerial view

Following her Madagascan foray, Lana helped out for a day at SANCCOB (Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds) and sat down with staff to discuss what local sea bird conservation looks like in South Africa. You can read her interview on behalf of Pelorus Foundation here:


Get in touch with Lana and our Yachting Team to start planning your own unforgettable experience in Madagascar.

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