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Nosy Be/Komba, Madagascar
Nosy Bé, meaning Big Island in the Malagasy language, lies just a stone's throw off Madagascar's northwest coast. It is a remote and exotic destination. With its deserted beaches, rustic hotels and unhurried pace, it attracts travellers looking for a laid-back vacation.
The fertile island is the centre for the production of perfume essence from the ylang-ylang trees. The heady scent of their flowers gave Nosy Bé the name "Perfumed Isle." Other local products include sugar cane, coffee, vanilla and pepper; they are grown for export in large plantations.
Hellville, the island’s main town and port, is situated in a sheltered bay. It is named after a former French governor, Admiral de Hell. The town features a few old colonial buildings, a busy market, some small boutiques and tourist shops along the busy main street. At the quayside, vendors display embroidered linens, wood carvings and straw articles.
Trips into the lush countryside may include a ride up to Mt. Passot. At 950 feet (285 metres), this is the highest point on the island. The view from the top offers an extensive panorama of crater lakes nestled between verdant hills.
Most visitors make the boat trip to Nosy Komba. The tiny island is known for its lemur reserve. These arboreal primates, with their large eyes, soft fur and long curling tails, have lived unharmed for centuries in the forest behind Ampangorina village. The lemurs are a popular tourist attraction and a profitable source of income to the small local community.
Guests must be aware that the standard of living is that of a third world country and that the tourist infrastructure in this port is very limited.
The ship is scheduled to anchor off Hellville. Guests will be taken ashore via the ship’s tenders. The centre of town is within walking distance. Taxis are generally available at the pier should you wish to go farther afield. Be sure to check the condition of the vehicle and negotiate the price before setting out. English-speaking drivers are in short supply.
Small shops in the town centre and vendors at the pier offer embroidered tablecloths, blouses, shirts and children’s wear. Local perfumes, spices, wood carvings and woven straw items are also popular. The local currency is the Ariary. Most shops will accept U.S. dollars.
The rich harvest of the sea and the land is put to good use in the local cuisine. The French influence is strong; you will also find tasty Arab, Chinese and Indian dishes. It is advisable to eat only in restaurants or hotels that come recommended. Drink only bottled beverages.
Colonial buildings and old cannons overlook the bay. The colourful marketplace is brimming with produce stands and vendors selling local handicrafts.
Palm-ringed sand beaches and quaint hotels offer lazy hours of swimming and sunning. Be aware that beaches are not very attractive during low tide.
When sightseeing independently, please, be aware of poor roads and taxis in varying conditions. Private arrangements cannot be guaranteed in this port.