Written by The Leap on 10 / 02 / 2015
Gap Year Advice
Valentine’s Day. Love it or hate it, it’s a nationwide phenomenon that’s almost impossible to avoid. So, rather than trying to do so, why not use the hype surrounding February 14th as an excuse to do some travelling?
A romantic getaway doesn’t even have to involve having a romantic partner. You could travel alone in the hope of finding one, or simply take your best mate along. And forget Paris, New York and Venice, because I’m not interested in the cliché romantic destinations you've heard about hundreds of times before, at least not in this post.
Instead I’d like to introduce you to a place that may have never even crossed your mind...
Millions of years ago, Madagascar was part of Africa. Torn from the continent by a violent earthquake and set adrift, it became the world’s fourth largest island.
With its mountains, forests, beaches and coral reefs, Madagascar is the perfect place for either a romantic adventure or a relaxing holiday. What makes it even more special is that most people don’t realise this, so you’re unlikely to be surrounded by hordes of other tourists (though with its abundance of wildlife, I can’t guarantee you won’t have a few furry friends at your side!)
Whatever type of romantic you are, there’s something for everyone on this island paradise, so you’re bound to find the perfect spot to spend your getaway.
Ile aux Nattes may be small (it can be explored on foot in under three hours) but it’s extremely beautiful and offers unspoiled tropical beaches, palm trees and turquoise waters filled with exotic marine life. On top of this, you'll find all sorts of plants and animals, such as ruffed lemurs, which have recently been reintroduced to the island.
The only way to reach Ile aux Nattes is by lakuna (a traditional wooden canoe) from Sainte Marie, which takes just five minutes. Look out for the Fanilo Blevec lighthouse, which is now not in use, but is a significant historic monument of the island. Keep your eyes peeled for humpback whales too, which come to the area to breed.
Tsarabanjina is a vision of paradise, offering visitors absolute exclusivity. Located 40 miles from Nosy Be, this tiny island in the Mitsio archipelago is about as secluded as they come and contains just twenty-five thatched bungalows and several private beaches, making it the perfect place to truly get away from it all. Combine this with magical sunsets every evening and you’ve got yourself the ideal romantic holiday destination.
Be sure to check out the tomb of the Sakalava Kings on the small peninsula of the eastern beach and Les Quatre Frères (four brothers) - mythical rocks where a large number of birds come to build their nests. Malagasy lore is full of tales, legends and traditions related to death, so it's a fascinating excursion. There's some amazing insight into Madagascar death legends in this post on thefairytaletraveler.com, as well as some truly breathtaking photos - well worth checking out.
Belo Sur Mer is a quiet fishing village on Madagascar’s western coast, known for its salt evaporation ponds, traditional wooden sailing vessels and, of course, its fish. It’s not exactly lively, but if you're happy being surrounded by nature and just a handful of fisherman and sailors, this is the place for you.
You can plan day trips to venture out and explore the island’s parks, or simply take a long stroll on one of its gorgeous beaches before enjoying a dinner of fresh local seafood.
Don’t miss out on a visit to Kirindy Mitea National Park, which boasts the greatest density of primates in the world, along with spiny forests, coastal mangroves, grassy dunes, lakes, beaches and coral reefs.
The idyllic Anjajavy on Madagascar’s northwest coast is reached only by air and, believe me, those holiday butterflies will kick in as soon as you approach the landing strip – you’ll fly over forests and mangrove swamps and witness the spectacular contrast between the turquoise waters and the red earth of the peninsula.
The best thing about Anjajavy though is the prolific wildlife, which can be spotted at a private nature reserve covering an area of 450 hectares. The Anjajavy Nature Reserve is brimming with flora and fauna and several different animals, such as chameleons, bush pigs, lemurs and frogs.
Another thing worth doing here is taking a boat trip to the islands of Moramba Bay, where you’ll find tombs tucked away in caves and little coves, a wonderful way to enjoy a sunny afternoon.
It might not be the most obvious choice of romantic destination in Madagascar, but the volcanic island of Nosy Komba is perfect for those who want to do something a little different with their other half. This part of the country is perfect for scuba diving, snorkelling and spotting wildlife, such as turtles, lemurs, chameleons and a variety of birds.
You could even spend a whopping six weeks on Nosy Komba should you decide to volunteer and travel in Madagascar on your gap year with The Leap, during which you’ll receive instruction towards your PADI advanced level, diving twice a day for five days a week. You’d then have the chance to venture out into the Lokobe Nature Reserve, where you’ll witness some amazing marine wildlife, before relaxing on a pristine white beach to watch the sun go down.
If that hasn’t given you the urge to travel to Madagascar, then I’m not sure what will! If you’ve been to any of these places, then we’d like to hear from you – let us know what your must-sees and dos are by posting them in the comments box below.
on 10 / 02 / 2015