Sainte-Marie, the island of pirates in Madagascar


When we think of pirates, we are reminded of Jack Sparrow with rigged eyes, Captain Hook, fearsome but also a bit ridiculous and Long John Silver, the unforgettable pirate with only one leg of Stevenson’s Treasure Island.

The figure of the pirate, mythologized in literature, cinema and television, has entered the world of fantasy for centuries and, at times, it seems that the pirates in the flesh never really existed.

In Madagascar, however, there is a place that confirms its existence and tells how the pirates of the 17th century lived and died. The remains of a village built together with the local population are not far from a pirate cemetery, the only one known in the world.


Pirates in Madagascar

The Madagascar is an island of coconut trees, lonely bays and unique flora and fauna that have evolved in isolation total, in 135 million years after the separation from Africa. Visiting Madagascar is an experience at least once in a lifetime that attracts visitors from all over the world every year.

A few centuries ago, however, the coasts of this wonderful island attracted a different kind of visitors. Pirates and privateers mainly infested the Caribbean Sea and the coasts of Africa but in the heyday of piracy, from 1690 to 1720, even the northeast of Madagascar became a fixed stop for pirates who intercepted the ships returning from India West.


Island of Sainte-Marie

The island of Santa Maria is easily reached from the mainland. It is 40 km long and just 10 km wide and is one of the most idyllic and fascinating islands in the Pacific.

Even the pirates thought so and there was a time when it had become a real refuge. Imagine huge sailing ships at anchor in front of the island and hundreds of pirates to revel unload barrels of rum, divide spoils and precious stones and cook barbecues (or barbacoa as it was called at the time).

The pirates had chosen Nosy Boraha as an official den because there was enough spring water and abundant resources. In short, it had become the place to recruit new sailors, caulk ships and repair them, a real pirate headquarters.


Pirate Cemetery

On a hill, in the shade of palm trees and overlooking the ocean, there is the only known pirate cemetery in the world. About thirty stone tombstones are still intact, many of which are adorned with the Jolly Roger, the skull with crossbones as the official symbol of pirates.

Not far from the island of Santa Maria is Ranter Bay, the bay where he lived his last years James Plantain, a ferocious pirate who decided to settle in Madagascar and create a village together with the local population living like a spiecie of kings until the end of his days.

Larsson in his novel ” The True Story of the Long John Silver Pirate ” sets Silver’s Treasure Island pirate on Ranter Bay, surrounded by the slaves he had freed and loyal to him until the end.

Today the island of Sainte-Marie is famous for the sighting of humpback whales that at certain times of the year cross the Sainte-Marie strait.

How To Get

Internal flights to Sainte-Marie depart from Antananarivo. Alternatively, the island can be reached by boat. Those departing from Antananarivo pass via Tana, Tamatav, Ivongo and from there by boat. Alternatively, from Mahambo the El condor boat departs which is the best and is reached by a shuttle from Tamatave, which leaves at six in the morning. If the sea is good, you can reach Sainte-Marie in about 1 hour by boat. The whole journey from Antananarivo takes about 2 days.

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