Diego Suarez – renamed Antsiranana since the 1970’s - sits at the extreme northern tip of Madagascar overlooking Antsiranana Bay, one of the world’s largest naturally protected bays.
This small town has an unmistakable coastal charisma that hits you as soon as you leave the small airport to be greeted by cohorts of ancient yellow Renault 4 taxis. Its wide main street with crumbling (literally) colonial buildings adds to the sense of faded history. The town has a number of hotels where you can enjoy excellent seafood with either views over - or a short walk - to the bay itself.
The town is worth a morning at least to explore, from the sea front with its statue of Marshall Joffre - more famous for his exploits during World War one, but credited with the organisation of the town in the early 20th Century – to its many craft shops and cafes that line the main street.
Above all there’s an atmosphere of gradual decay that speaks of generations of underinvestment by successive governments – with large colonial buildings collapsing almost in front of your eyes (seriously, stand clear). Once ornate mini palms now 60 ft long protrude through collapsed roofs, empty windows and hollow stairwells.
So while it’s worth breaking your journey here, the main reason to come to Diego Suarez is to use it as a springing off point to explore the north of the island, whether that be the stunning bays with white sandy beaches and turquoise water a short distance to the north of the town, or the wonderful parks in this area of Northern Madagascar, namely Amber Mountain and Ankarana National Parks.
It’s worth noting that you do need to be a little careful when you time your visit to Diego Suarez as once a fortnight or so, large cruise ships dock here and flood the place with tourists for whom this overnight is their only experience of Madagascar. This means Diego Suarez isn’t the place to do your shopping for souvenirs.