Richly scenic and diverse, the far northern tip of Madagascar holds some of the country’s best-known attractions. The relatively accessible parks of Montagne d’Ambre, with its beautiful rainforest, and Ankarana – a dramatic massif of limestone pinnacles – are close to the main RN6 road connecting Antananarivo with the biggest town in the north, Diego Suarez, which has one of the world’s finest natural harbours. The highway passes well to the west of the highest mountain range in Madagascar, the inaccessible Massif de Tsaratanana, where Mount Maromokotro peaks at 2876m. Off the sheltered west coast lies the fabled island of Nosy Be, with smaller and even more alluring islands dotted around the warm waters of the Mozambique Channel.
With a distinct annual rainy season (Dec–March), the natural vegetation of this region is largely deciduous dry forest, but highland rainforest takes over from about 800m above sea level, and lowland rainforest – a biome known as the Sambirano ecosystem after the major river – spreads as far as Nosy Be, the southeast corner of which is still shrouded by a cloak of primary rainforest sheltering a number of rare and endemic species.
This part of Madagascar gets more visitors than any other, with regular charter flights to Nosy Be from France and Italy, drawn by the infrastructure, climate and warm seas. Diving and snorkelling are popular here, and kite- and windsurfing are big around Diego.