Nosy Mangabe’s only landing beach is on the west shore, where a glorious 500-metre crescent of sand is backed by a fringe of gently sloping forest, fishermen’s huts at the southern end, and the national parks office and some basic visitor facilities at the northern end. The walk behind the beach continues past the visitor centre to a picturesque bridge over a stream and a waterfall where you can swim, and then continues north to the Dutch engravings at the Plage des Hollandais (around 7km) – a crop of names carved into giant rocks on the sand, also easily reach by sea. The inscriptions date from between 1601 and 1657 and archeologists have established that, far being a collection of “Thomas was here” graffiti, they are the remnants of an informal postal service, whose carvers used this spot to leave letters, wrapped in tar cloth envelopes, to be picked up by ships passing in the opposite direction.
As you head inland, a steep circular trail leads up to the summit of the island and back again to the fishing huts (about 6km) via some old Betsimisaraka tombs and the lighthouse. There’s a map at the visitor centre covered with alluring pictograms of the animals you’ll see en route.