Diego Suarez in Madagascar

Port of Diego Suarez

Port of Diego Suarez

After our late night arrival near the entrance to the bay off Diego Suarez, we slept in a bit later than normal. Unfortunately, the winds that had died off during the night were soon howling again by mid-morning. We thought it would be a simple trip to the town of Diego Suarez just five miles away. But, the 30 knots of wind were on our port beam and we had wind and waves blasting spray over the entire boat on the way over. We initially went to a small bay near the town, but they only had moorings and it was not as well protected. So, we moved around to the commercial port and anchored near two large shipwrecks that were mostly submerged near the shore. That location has flat water and some protection from the wind, and it is quiet, but it has other drawbacks as we found out later.

Diego Suarez, also known in the local language as Antsiranana, is a town with a huge protected bay in a northern part of Madigascar. It was apparently named after 16th century Portuguese sailor. There is a cargo ship port off the town, and an airport. An island in the middle of the convoluted bays is a naval base, although we never saw any naval ships there and only signs of farmers on that island which was behind our boats at the anchorage.

Taxi at cafe

Taxi at cafe

We had information that crime is a problem near the town, so we never left our dingy ashore and took turns going ashore. We found the town to be a cultural and visual delight each time we went ashore. We would drop ourselves off at a small ferry dock next to a half-sunken sailboat. Sometimes there were sheep grazing near the trash dump nearby. Locals were hanging out at a small cafe which was next to a building where women were often doing laundry. Going up the trash-filled dirt road near the cargo warehouses was not always pleasant. Later we would pass a large fish processing plant which had an awesome painting of fish along one wall. I took a cool picture of a tax in front of a cafe near there (which I really like). Later I noticed there are three languages on the cafe (Malagasy, French, and Spanish).

Once in the town, we started passing an eclectic mix of old-style colonial buildings, in various stages of disrepair, and then we would happen upon nicer buildings with hotels, bars and restaurants catering to expats and tourists. There were a surprising number of older retired french men who were often seen sitting with pretty young local women.

Street Selling

Street Selling

As we would walk through the town, we would often have local people offering to sell us things. There were numerous taxis of various types, and we soon learned that the long walk to the market could be saved by grabbing a tuk-tuk taxi and paying only 75 cents or a dollar for a ride all the way across town back to the docks. Before getting to the market, we found a nice supermarket called Score – that also catered to the foreigners – which had surprisingly good foods including cheeses, a large variety of drinks, a bakery, candies, and more. On the far side of town was a sprawling market that really surprised us.

The Market

The Market

We have seen markets all over the world where we would buy fresh fruits and vegetables. They are usually a delightful way to see the real locals of a country. The market in Diego Suarez was stunning. A huge variety of local peoples from all walks of life. We saw the extremely poor and also locals who have moved up in society wearing modern clothing and using cell phones. We saw unusual types of foods, meats being butchered in the open air, live animals being sold, dried and cooked fish, pickled foods in plastic soda bottles, and more. There were kids of all ages just playing in the market, mothers feeding infants in the stalls, and of course there was trash everywhere. Fortunately for us, it didn’t rain while we were there because it would have been a muddy mess. But, we really enjoyed visiting the market and I really recommend reviewing the photo album below.

Baby at the market

Baby at the market

There was one picture Gina of s/v Solace took of a baby playing in the dirt at the market. The photo didn’t turn out well on the camera, but I spent an hour or two processing it with tools I use. I really like how it turned out. Click on the image for a bigger version.

One day, we were walking by some stores and spotted some very interesting wooden global maps. Then I saw some high-quality ship models as well. After a store attendant opened the store for us, we went to have a closer look. I was really tempted by the maps and one of the ship models which provided a look at the insides of a wooden sailing ship from the 17th century. But, I was shocked to find the maps cost over 600 Euros and the ship was 2900 Euros. They were excellent quality though. See the pictures in the album.

After a few days, with 30 knot winds blowing every day, our boats were covered in red dirt from head to toe. Every step we took on the decks just spread red foot prints over everything. And, we noticed our sheets and halyards, even the shrouds, were covered on the front with red dirt. I had Karen take me up the mast and I washed the shrouds so the red dirt would be less likely to get on our new main sails when we deployed them later.

Here is the photo album giving you a taste of Diego Suarez:

View slides with subtitles and maps


In the middle of the night, Karen heard some shouting and it woke me up as well. Karen got up to investigate first and she looked around the boat, but didn’t see anything. She came back to me and said she heard English. I said it must have been Paul and Gina on s/v Solace, so I turned on our radio. Next I tried sending a text message because I saw them shining a flashlight around the boat. They wrote back saying someone had came onto their boat and tried to steal a portable generator they had tied down in the cockpit. Paul woke up and shouted, and the man jumped off the boat into the water. There was a dug-out canoe waiting nearby. They discovered ropes had been cut on the generator, and later discovered two bundled ropes had been cut and taken off the bow deck. Paul and Gina were fine, but shaken by the violation of their property, and the realization the guy had a knife.

The next night, we both implemented infrared security alarms (that we bought from this original site) on the decks of our boats. And the day after that, we decided to move our boats back to the entrance of the bay in preparation to head around the cape at the north end of Madagascar. The winds were forecasted to drop some the next day. Although, on our way back to the entrance, we were once again trudging our way through 30+ knot winds to the other side.

Diego Suarez was definitely a memorable visit. But, we had stayed several days waiting for the weather break and were anxious to get around to the calmer waters and winds on the west side of Madagascar. Below is a map of our anchorage at Diego Suarez. If you zoom in you can see the sunken ships nearby.

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2 Responses to Diego Suarez in Madagascar

  1. Nanag says:

    Frank, you know about the Ebola outbreak in Africa I hope. Where are you going next?

    • Frank Taylor says:

      Africa! 🙂 But, don’t worry, we’re aware of the health risks and location. Ebola is only transmitted by bodily fluids while the person is sick, so we’ll stay well away from sick people.

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