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Whale watching in Madagascar

By Martha Hales

Île Sainte-Marie is blessed. Not only is it blessed with gleaming white beaches and swaying coconut palms, but it is also blessed with whales. Schools of humpback whales leave their feeding grounds in the Antarctic and make the journey to the warm waters around Île Sainte-Marie, just off the northeast coast of Madagascar, to calve and rear their young. Every June to September they can be found in large groups within a relatively small area, making them easy to spot on a whale-watching trip.

Whale breaching at sunset off Ile Sainte Marie, Madagascar

It is a fine spectacle to witness these marine giants breaking the surface to blow and gliding effortlessly through the blue, especially if you are lucky enough to catch sight of a mother with her calf. Yet here on Île Sainte-Marie the show is even more impressive. July to September is mating season, and the whales reunite in spectacular fashion, leaping out of the sea, twisting and falling back to the surface with a huge splash. They also sing lustily under the waves to attract a mate, which scuba divers in the vicinity will be able to hear. Most whale watching boats are equipped with gadgets that allow you to listen in on the underwater choir.

Mother and calf humback whale

Choose a reputable company to take you whale watching, approved by Megaptera, the organisation which protects and studies these intriguing mammals. You can even opt to join the scientists on a study trip, recording whale song and counting the whales. The Madagascan authorities have strict limits on the numbers of boats allowed to track the whales to prevent them becoming stressed. While you are out on the water you may also be lucky enough to encounter dolphins, whale sharks and skate.

Ile Sainte Marie Madagascar

Aside from the entrancing courtship rituals of the whales, the island of Sainte Marie itself is one of Madagascar’s most celebrated destinations. All of the beaches are special, whether they long sandy stretches or hidden coves dotted along the coast just waiting to be discovered. Many are undeveloped, only accessible by bike or pirogue (local style of boat) and sheltered by coral reefs. The turquoise lagoon makes a fabulous photo, but is so shallow it's not much good for swimming, though snorkelling and a paddle are delightful. Divers and snorkellers will be spoilt for choice - healthy coral grows in abundance and the colourful marine life is easily accessible. There are even some wrecked pirate ships to explore with your scuba gear.

Beach of Ile Sainte Marie

Inland, island life is unhurried and tranquil, following timeworn traditions of family, food and simplicity. Bicycle hire is available at most hotels and offers a relaxing and rewarding way to get to know the backwaters and the villages a little better at a pace that allows for a real sense of connection with your surroundings. Hire a pirogue to explore the mangroves and experience first hand even more of the unique flora and fauna that make Madagascar and Île Sainte-Marie such a magnet for nature lovers everywhere.

pirogue off coast of Ile Sainte Marie, Madagascar

Make it happen

Our local experts in Madagascar are perfectly placed to create a bespoke holiday for you taking in the best whale watching in Île Sainte-Marie. Get in touch with them to make an enquiry and, before you know it, you'll be packing your bags for the holiday of a lifetime in Madagascar. To speak to someone in the TravelLocal office, please call +44 (0) 117 325 7898.