City located on the northern end of the island, it is also called Antsiranana in Madagascar. It is a popular destination for the diversity of its attractions and superb location with breathtaking landscapes. We can not not like Diego and we explain why.
Diego, an idyllic location
Diego is the 5e city and the 3e port of the big island. It is nestled in the midst of four bays that form a species of four leaf clover, 156 km long:
- the Welsh cul-de-sac bay,
- the bay of the French,
- the Bay of White Pebbles,
- Thunder Bay.
This is the 2e Largest bay in the world after that of Rio de Janeiro and is also among the most beautiful, as well as the Bay of Grikos in Greece, the Bay of Setubal in Portugal, Ha Long Bay in Viet Nam.
It is the singularity of his situation that explains the craze for Diego. On the one hand, the depth of its waters has earned it an important strategic place in the history of navigation, trade and the wars that have followed each other in the world. The traces of this time are still visible in the city and every step you take there is a step in a museum.
On the other hand, the 2,874-meter high Tsaratanana massif, which includes Maromokotro (Madagascar's highest peak), contributed to the region's natural wealth. We change from one climate and one landscape to another only a few distances away. It offers a varied nature, between beaches, tropical forests and a drier part composed of karstic formations.
Its population is just as composite. Originally inhabited by the Antankarana, the Sakalava conquered the region around 1700. The isolation of Diego behind its hills and the accessibility offered by its banks contributed to the blatant cosmopolitanism of its population and its culture. Today we cross all kinds of miscegenation: European, Arab, Comorian, Indo-Pakistani, Chinese and Creole.
Discover Diego, between history and exoticism
City tour: a walk through history
A stroll in the city is like a trip back in time. The upper town is the military district where for example remains the cement of the French and English dead during the Second World War.
The city center and its streets with French names plunge you into the tarnished atmosphere of the colonial era: large brick buildings, arcades, and verandas, with a hint of Indo-Pakistani influence. We are closer to locals in the popular neighborhoods of Tanambao with its markets and lively streets.
The many excursions of Diego
A short day trip to Diego is rich in discoveries between nature, history, nature and beach of dreams. Going along the cornice, you can see Nosy Lonjo, the cone-shaped sugar loaf that stands in the middle of French Bay. True symbol of the city, it is uninhabited and sacred, put in the spotlight on the currency of 100 Ar Malagasy.
We also distinguish in the distance the Mountain of the French, historical site, archaeological and natural whose summit offers a breathtaking 360 ° view of the entire region. There you will see two of the most endangered species of baobabs in Madagascar: the Baobab de Perrier and the baobab of Suarez.
But the must! Let's not forget that Diego is mostly kilometers of paradise beach. The 3 bays are the most famous in the region: Sakalava Bay, Pigeon Bay and Dunes Bay. At the same time, you will be able to punctuate your little escapade by visiting lighthouses, cannons and other military remains.
A day escape to reach the emerald sea and its many islets is a must. A huge lagoon you'll have guessed the color, shallow, ideal for water sports enthusiasts or just to loaf.
All kinds of activities for the most active
Lovers of water activities, Diego is for you: sport fishing, snorkelling, diving, boat cruising, etc. East Coast bays, including Sakalava Bay and Andovokonko Bay, are internationally recognized sites for Kites and Windsurfers. Do not hesitate to read our article devoted entirely to it.
Fans of land sports are not left out for an experience between land and sea. The possibilities of hiking, camping, trekking and cycling are many around the city or more inland. For example, the Montagne des Français is known for its climbing and hiking opportunities.
In the vicinity of Antsiranana, we think of places like the Bay of Courriers and Nosy Hara Marine Park where you can also dive to discover the marine riches of the reserve. A trek or mountain bike on the Cap d'Ambre, located on the extreme tip of the island, more remote and rarely visited, gives a magnificent view of the Indian Ocean, the Mozambique Channel and the Tsingy.
Diego and the must-see tourist sites of the North
Capital of the North of the island, Diego allows you to discover the must-see tourist sites. Here we only cite examples from the many possibilities offered by the region.
35 km west of the city is Montagne d'Ambre, the first National Park of Madagascar, with its dense forest, waterfalls, rich flora and fauna. A trip to the Windsor Castle, a former watchtower fortified by the Vichy forces and later taken over by the English opens a superb view of the history and landscape of the surroundings
karst formations of Tsingy
Further south are the karst formations of the Tsingy, smaller than those of Bemaraha, but no less impressive. They are gray in the southwest to the Ankarana Nature Reserve and its famous suspension bridge, and red to the southeast on the Sahafaly Plateau by forking onto the RN6.
The sacred lake of Antanavo
Always south, 75 km from Diego is the sacred lake of Antanavo. Cultural site better known for the traditional rites that are performed there than for the scenic beauty of the lake. Legend has it that a traveler asked for water from the villagers who lived there, but all refused. Only one woman gave him the favor. In retribution, the traveler flooded the village with water, which turned into a lake, and his villagers turned into crocodiles. Those we can still see at the lake so far. The villagers around them feed them from time to time and come there to make a "wish" or rather a commitment. They then return to thank and honor the ancestors.
The Emerald Sea
The Ankarana Reserve
Rivaling splendor with the Tsingy of Bemaraha, those of the Reserve of Ankarana contain part of the history of the Sakalava people that the guides will tell during the visit. The "Stone Forest" is of a majesty that is worth the trip.
Bay of Rigny and Baobab Island
Accessible from Ambolokely, the island has a hotel whose restaurant is open to non-residents. It takes one hour for the journey.
Recognized climbing spot, the Hara Islands contain sacred places. They are being ranked.
Located south of the Bay of Courrier, the village is distinguished by its wild side. Tour operators offer water sports.
It remains the favorite of the natives of the region. Many possibilities for lodging and eating are available on site.
Renowned for its many caves and lemurs, the place is simply spectacular. Climbing opportunities are additional reasons to go.
We go there by going to the Bay of Courier. At the top of its 391 meters are the ruins of a fort built by the English.
A touristically strategic city
Thanks to these numerous possibilities of discovery, Diego is the ideal crossroads for the most famous tourist cities of the North. We can mention among others Ambanja, the city of spices before joining the archipelagos of Nosy Be. In the same way, it is an ideal stop to reach the cities of the North East as Sambava, the capital of the vanilla and Iharana, by passing by the Reserve of Daraina where you will be able to meet one of the rarest lemurs of the island: the sifaka with golden crown.
From Diego, it is possible to reach these cities by public transport, but it is recommended to rent a private car for more comfort, according to your direction. Some parts of the paved road are indeed in very bad condition or kilometers of track. Alternatively, the national airline connects Antsiranana to Nosy Be or Sambava on a daily flight for a combo of northern discoveries.
Hotels in Diego
The city generally offers a wide choice of hotels for all budgets and tastes. Your choice may relate to their location for example: what part of the bay, downtown or more outward? Luxury hotels are however rare. Ask about the setting and the service to avoid unpleasant surprises.
The restaurants in Diego
The food in Diego is as cosmopolitan as the population. This is the best place to taste sweet or savory dishes made from coconut. The Creole and Arabic influence of the city is felt very quickly on the plates, but different addresses exist for all tastes.
The "Three Bays", a haven of peace in Diégo Suarez
In the Indian Ocean, the Three Bays succeed to offer you exquisite moments of family swimming. About twenty kilometers from Diego Suarez, your excursion will be punctuated with water activities of all kinds.
* Sakalava Bay, paradise for windsurfers
Struck by the medium waves of the Indian Ocean, the Sakalava Bay allows the practice of windsurfing at will. Favorite terrain for foreigners who love this water sport, this stage is accessible in the dry season. At the bottom of the peninsula lies an immense wild beach where you can enjoy moments of solitude after a good dose of adrenaline. Kitesurf enthusiasts are also invited to venture there from a hotel in Diégo Suarez.
* Bay of the Dunes, natural curiosity in its own right
Inviolated, the Bay of Dunes is also a site regularly windy. A myriad of spots for windsurfing awaits the fans. But another annual event attracts the attention of nature lovers passing to the north of the island of Madagascar. Sea turtles come to lay their eggs in the Bay of Dunes in July. They invest hidden recesses at the foot of rock claws. At this time, the visits are regulated to avoid disturbing the spawning.
* Pigeon Bay, the ultimate relaxation site
Formerly covered by a dense tropical forest, Pigeon Bay was home to a huge colony of endemic birds. Today, the site is known by frequent travelers for its very relaxing environment. These places full of serenity are accessible via the Sakalava Bay. An entry (fee) at the cape also allows you to reach this haven of tranquility.
Directions to Three Bays of Diégo Suarez.
From a Diego Suarez hotel, you have to reach the village of Ramena and follow the coast road. A bifurcation then leads to the Three Bays. It is also possible to walk along the coast to appreciate the surrounding landscape before joining the site. Vehicles are also chartered by a hotel Diégo Suarez, with the bonus of the service of a certified local guide.
History of Diego-suarez
Diégo-Suarez takes its name from two Portuguese navigators. Diego Diaz who discovered Madagascar in 1500 and Fernando Suarez who discovers Diego Bay 6 years later. In 1975, all the provinces of the island received a Malagasy name and Diego becomes Antsiranana, which translates literally as "port" in Malagasy. An ancient story tells that pirates founded in the city an anarchist colony known as Libertalia. A book is dedicated to it, but historians tend to believe that it is more fiction than reality. The story is fascinating.
What is true, however, is that Diego was very coveted at one time. Given its strategic location, France erected an enormous military base in 1885. But since 1973, sometimes even to this day, the naval base of Diego leaves room for a naval shipyard of the Indian Ocean. The city also played a particularly important role during the Second World War. The English and Allies sieved the city in 1942, to the detriment of the French, during Operation Ironclad to prevent Japanese fleets from cruising and enjoying the bays of Diego, threatening vital shipping routes. Apart from the remains of this era that you can still visit to this day, a captivating historical guide is available locally. The Fortifications of the bay of Diégo-Suarez detail these events in order to preserve the history of this extraordinary city.