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A broad peninsula about [50km] out of Fort Dauphin, Sainte Luce is an avenue of three hamlets leading up to an expanse of ocean at Manafiafy. Framed by coconut trees, lakes, rivers, sandy bays and rocky outcrops, it's more than picturesque and provides nourishment for the soul of anyone who enjoys wandering.
Due to the presence of a tourist lodge, mining exploration, Peace Corps, and NGO projects in the area, Sainte Luce is more than familiar with visitors and has always given a very warm welcome to any new arrivals. The occasional patter of researchers down the central road hasn't fostered a culture of hawking or adjustment to cater for visitors and the area functions beautifully as it always did, epitomising the mora mora (slowly slowly) attitude to enjoying life that's celebrated throughout Madagascar. There's few places seemingly more joyful in the evening, under the abundant coconut trees and fireflies—which is very welcome as the main occupation of sea fishing by pirogue can be gruelling and dangerous, with few weather conditions constituting a day off.
I'm surprised there's still no taxi-brousse that goes directly here from Fort Dauphin, given the size of the population and the amount of visitors the peninsula sees. Currently you're stuck with walking the [12km] from Mahatalaky, the nearest market village, after getting a taxi-brousse to here (or vice-versa). If you ask around there's usually somebody who wants to make a bit of money and will meet you to help with bag carrying for the right price. They'll probably run the entire way laughing just to make you feel incredibly unfit. There's also one or two 4x4s passing through daily and it's always worth seeing if there's space for you—everybody else will be doing the same.
If travelling in your 4x4, the area is reached by taking an unassuming right turn off of the [RN12a] after heading north from the right turn at Makatalaky junction. A lot of the road to Sainte Luce from Fort Dauphin is very bumpy. Let me rephrase that: it's bad and it's even worse that it's a national highway. I've been on lots of other roads in Madagascar whose conditions have been warned as less than ideal but few have been as unfortunate as the road to Sainte Luce. Plenty of sections are just regular bad, with a top speed of [20kmph] but there's sporadic straits that vaguely resemble the gates to hell. You'll be required to drive diagonally through these fiery pillars while revving all four wheels in first gear. That's if the road is intact enough to have somewhere for the wheels to follow. Don't get me wrong, it's doable by any good driver and any driver going out this way will be familiar with the roads. It's not painful, there's just a lot of holding onto the handle above your head. Besides, it's worth it. Not only is Sainte Luce beautiful, the views and villages along the way are equally pretty.
|4x4||day||Fort Dauphin Return||[MGA275000]||3hrs|
There's no transport around Sainte Luce itself, just a [3km] long avenue between the three hamlets that's never anything other than enjoyable and friendly to make your way down. It's pretty much flooded most of the year now as some residents in Ampanasatomboky have embraced the poor drainage and encourage the stream to flood the road as a priority for water channelling over pedestrians. Be prepared for some shallow wading. The puddles that fill the undulating roads through Ambandrika and Ampanasatomboky must have reached pond status by now and the resident geese in the first add a certain charm when not snapping at your ankles.
Sainte Luce is home to at least four varieties of lemurs: red-collared brown, southern woolly, fat-tailed dwarf, and mouse lemur. They're all nocturnal but for the red-collared brown which are visible most days searching for berries in small groups. If you don't see them jumping between trees you'll at least hear their pig-like grunts and snorts snuffling around the group on the move.
In the past two years or so the latest generation have become more tolerant and curious of people being within metres of them, sometimes stopping and watching back. Happily, this is likely indicative of enough time having passed since humans were a threat. It also makes catching a sighting of a family all the more enjoyable.
At night it's easy to see mouse and fat-tailed dwarf lemurs scurrying along branches above you. Less easy are the southern woolys who can remain elusive despite their significantly larger size.
The area is also home to a large colony of flying foxes (whose numbers have multiplied significantly in 2018 after a successful conservation programme), various chameleons—dominated by the larger warty variety—and the charismatic phelsuma antanosy gecko with its distinctive three red stripes. As with everywhere in Madagascar, this is the tip of the iceberg in terms of herps and invertebrates. There are a significant number of arachnids of every form, including spiny orb-weavers and net-throwers—the latter concocting a bundle of silk in their out-stretched forelegs, held in place until they're ready to throw it over their prey of choice.
Snakes are well represented with some resident tree and ground boas nesting throughout the forest. Further away, loggerhead sea turtles lay nests on the beaches by Manafiafy, making a heroic dash towards the ocean when they finally hatch. The lower number of raptors and carnivores in the area propels their likelihood of a marathon victory but they still have the Indian Ocean to contend with once submerged.
Manafiafy Lodge is quite enamoured with the passing humpback whales and has built a raised platform to get a better vantage point. As with the larger Fort Dauphin area, humpbacks migrate close to the shore with their newborns and it's easy to spot breeches from around July to October.
The nile crocodile is just about surviving in the area, living in the backwaters of Sainte Luce's narrow, winding river systems. Having been hunted for food and safety concerns for years, few make it to a large size and they're rarely seen.
What started in 2012 as a means to tackle the overreliance on a single industry (fishing) in the area and encourage a renaissance of past traditions has become an inspiring collective of over 100 artisans. Embroided works are incorporated into just about any accessory you can make from swathes of material and encapsulate bold, patterned depictions of local traditions, wildlife and folklore.
The Stitch Sainte Luce workshop, along the roadside in Ambandrika, doubles as a gallery for completed works and welcomes drop-in visits from the curious who might want to purchase.
Spacious beach-side luxury bungalows based on the all-inclusive model of facilitating any feasible guest request or expedition
Manafiafy, Sainte Luce, Fort Dauphin
+261 32 056 1900 www.madaclassic.com/manafiafy/[USD445 - 550]
Manafiafy Lodge reveals little at its entrance other than an unusually well-maintained front garden. Given that the area is not somewhere you browse for accommodation last minute, especially at this price, signage would do little as everyone arriving at this secluded hotel is expected. Its scattered buildings remain out of view until you park near the dining area and appreciate how well hidden it is amongst the dense foliage lining the small crescent bay. This approach is consistent with all five of its bungalows spaced along the length of Atsimiasy Beach (an appropriate name, meaning ‘No work’, though more in reference to the fishermen leaving it free for tourists rather than an ode to good or bad times).
The lodge offers you a little taste of paradise on earth. Sainte Luce takes care of the location, the people and the wildlife while the lodge ensures you can see as much or as little of it as possible (you would do yourself a serious disservice to do the latter) in the most comfortable, decorated, and well-fed manner that they can muster up.
In terms of mustering it up, they've arranged some excellent guides, waiting staff, chefs, kayaks, speedboats, snorkelling equipment, advice, and company all at your disposal at a time that suits. For example, if you find the [100m] stroll from the dining lodge to your bungalow too much effort, they'll take you in their jeep along the back road right to your bungalow door while pretending this isn't ridiculously lazy in the slightest. Speedboats pull up within [15metres] of your bungalow to take you on sunrise cruises down Sainte Luce's rivers while having flasks of coffee and snacks ready to wake you up and make you realise you're on a boat. All of this is casually planned at the end of your meals where you can decide to take a lazy day, left in peace, or discuss what would suit you from a choice of suggestions.
Food was delicious and catered for a variety of dietary requirements without fuss. It also felt straightforward for them to mobilise any meal needed should there be a chance you'll be out somewhere where you might get hungry. Due to the effort required to obtain ingredients for each guest each day in an isolated area there wasn't a menu, as such. But there was always a choice depending on your appetite or mood that day and good variety throughout the stay. If you're a seafood fan, this fishing hotspot will treat you very well but thought is put into everybody's requirements, whether that's an aversion to fish, an allergy, or a vegan diet. A nice touch was never quite knowing where you'd be seated. Depending on the weather (or just to mix things up) you may be in by the firepit under a shelter, out in the garden or further out on the beach, illuminated by lanterns and torches.
If I've one nitpick, it's that the arrangement of fittings in the lodges may be a bit too good at helping you familiarise yourself with a partner. While it's safe to presume most couples will have no issues with the stone shower area facing outwards into the room, they may not be ecstatic about how open the toilet is to the same room. There's not much to see visually other than the back of a head over the half-wall. However, little is spared when it comes to surround-sound audio.
The rooms are also a little bit open to the elements at the top edge which acts as a gap for ventilation. This didn't introduce many visitors to the room and we'd little issue with mosquitoes due to being right by the sea. In fact, it added to the ambience by making the ocean sound that little bit more present than it would coming through closed windows. You're sleeping within metres of the waves and your really feel it. I mention this only because some may be squeamish about sealing off every single wall and may want to know. The rooms are kept incredibly clean so they've little to fear as long as they can tolerate the occasional harmless visitor.
Prices are per person sharing, per night. A supplement is required for those alone and discounts are available for multiple night stays. The lodge is closed from most of January to March each year.
Small forest clearing for volunteers with space for tents and simple dining, showering and latrine facilities.
Ambandrika, Sainte Luce, Fort Dauphin
+261 20 922 1265 www.seedmadagascar.orgN/A
Not an open campsite but in use by those volunteering on the SEED Madagascar's SCP scheme and arguably the most diverse way for a visitor to stay in Sainte Luce. As it's not a drop-in facility, anybody staying here will be volunteering with the NGO and have registered with their SCP program in advance.
There's spaces to pitch whatever camping equipment you have with you and plenty of trees for hammock-based sleeping providing its weather-resistant. Basic latrines and showering facilities are available on site as well as filtered drinking water. Three hearty rice-based meals are served each day and there's a laundry service available. SEED Madagascar provides scheduled camion buses directly to the campsite from their offices in the centre of Fort Dauphin. Visit their website to learn about their valuable project work in Sainte Luce and the wider Anosy region.
Small and basic beach-side huts with a seperate dining lodge and bar
Manafiafy, Sainte Luce, Fort Dauphin
Built in 2017 with a few rooms still under construction in 2018, these beach huts provide the first budget accommodation in Sainte Luce for weekend visitors. Besides Manafiafy Lodge, they serve the only chilled drinks available in the area (thanks to a solar powered fridge) which makes it next to impossible to resist stopping by on a warm day.
We had to call for staff to come from nearby houses when we dropped in unannounced and food required some further advance warning so try and arrive much earlier than you hope to eat if unable to pre-arrange anything.
If the sun has been consistent for the day they also provide another novelty for the area: satellite tv on a small screen in the bar as well as a small stage area for people to make new regrets on.