A piece of Madagascar in India – The geological marvel of St. Mary’s Island

Let’s throw in a wild idea: a chunk of one continent hitching a ride to another continent. Sounds like something out of a sci-fi movie, right? It’s not that far-fetched when we’re talking about a piece of Africa, specifically Madagascar, landing up in India. Sounds far-fetched, right? After all, Madagascar is nestled off the southeastern tip of Africa, a whopping 5,598 kilometres from India. So, how exactly did a piece of this distant island manage to find itself in India? Did it take a wrong turn and end up swimming across the ocean? Or maybe it took a giant leap across continents? 

The story is as fascinating as it sounds and dates back 88 million years to a sub-volcanic event that set this journey in motion. Nestled in the Arabian Sea, off the coast of Malpe, Karnataka lies St Mary’s Island, which is just a cab ride away from Udupi. It shares features similar to the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland’s tall interlocking basalt columns that look spectacular and otherworldly. This cluster of four small islands is not just another spot on the map but a relatively undiscovered gem teeming with geological wonders and secrets waiting to be explored.

St Mary's Island in India

A geological odyssey – Earth’s ancient jigsaw puzzle

Pangea, the ginormous supercontinent, started to split up around 200 million years back. This was during what the scientists call the Early Jurassic Epoch. Fast forward through millions of years of earth-shaking drama, and we’ve got our modern continents and oceans. This includes the big blue Atlantic and the vast Indian Ocean. The story of St. Mary’s Island is a saga that began 88 million years ago. This was a time when the world as we know it was vastly different. The Earth was undergoing dramatic changes – continents were in flux, and massive volcanic activities were the norm rather than the exception. 

This was the stage on which St. Mary’s Island was formed, through sub-volcanic activities. However, unlike its more famous counterpart, St. Mary’s remains largely uncharted by the masses. It preserves its geological formations that stand as silent witnesses to the Earth’s vibrant past. These formations, primarily composed of columnar basaltic lava, are a testament to the island’s fiery origins and offer a rare glimpse into the processes that shape our planet.

The discovery of the St Mary’s island

Vasco De Gama
Vasco De Gama

The islands’ historical significance is immortalized by the footprints of Vasco De Gama, the famed Portuguese explorer who landed here in 1498. This event is not just a footnote in the annals of exploration but a pivotal moment that connected distant worlds. Naming the island “O Padrão de Santa Maria” in dedication to Mother Mary, the virgin mother of Jesus, Vasco De Gama added a layer of cultural heritage to the island’s already rich tapestry. 

From here, he proceeded to Kozhikode in Kerala. This moment of cross-continental connection highlights the island’s role in the broader narrative of global exploration and exchange, underscoring the human penchant for discovery and the unbreakable bonds it creates across time and space.

A confluence of continents – The Island’s geological kinship with Madagascar

Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of St.Mary’s Island is its geological kinship with Madagascar, evidencing the ancient land bridges that once connected distant lands. The basaltic rock formations, with their towering presence and striking resemblance to structures found in Madagascar, narrate a tale of continental drift and volcanic activity. 

Gondwana and Laurasia formed the Pangaea supercontinent during the Carboniferous. This shared geological heritage is a puzzle piece in understanding the supercontinent Gondwana’s breakup, offering insights into the forces that have shaped the Earth’s surface over millennia. This connection serves as a reminder of the island’s place in the world’s dynamic geological history and its role in piecing together the story of our planet’s evolution.

Udupi cabs

The Island’s inhabitants – A glimpse into unseen worlds

While devoid of human inhabitants, St. Mary’s Island is a bustling hub of avian and marine life, each species adding its unique brushstroke to the island’s natural tapestry. There is a small children’s park on the island. From the majestic flight of the brahminy kite to the secretive lives of camouflaged crabs, the island is a microcosm of nature’s diversity. Here are some of the best places you can go bird watching in India. Here are some top destinations for bird watching across India.

St Mary's Island in Karnataka

This thriving ecosystem offers visitors a chance to step into a world where nature reigns supreme, where the rhythms of life continue undisturbed by the hustle and bustle of human existence. It’s a living museum, showcasing the delicate balance of ecosystems and the interconnectedness of all living beings.

The Isle of tranquility – A sanctuary of peace and natural beauty

Above all, St. Mary’s Island emerges as a sanctuary of peace, a place where the hustle of the modern world fades into the background, replaced by the timeless music of nature. It’s a haven for those seeking solace in the natural world, offering a retreat where the mind can wander freely among the towering basalt columns, across the pristine beaches, and under the canopy of the clear blue sky. 

The island invites visitors to experience the art of being, to find joy in the simple pleasures of nature, and to reconnect with the earth in its most unadulterated form. It stands as a beacon of tranquillity, a reminder of the beauty that lies in the quiet corners of the world, waiting to be discovered.

Tips for visiting St. Mary’s Island

Before you set off for the serene and untouched beauty of St. Mary’s Island, nestled off the coast of Udupi, it’s essential to arm yourself with some key tips to ensure your adventure is as smooth as the sea breeze. This idyllic spot, untouched by the hustle and bustle of city life, offers a unique blend of natural beauty and geological wonder. However, its untouched nature means visitors need to come a little prepared.

  • Pack your sunscreen, a cool hat, and sunglasses, and bring along plenty of water since you won’t find these essentials on the island. And yes, it gets pretty toasty there.
  • Leave the fancy shoes at home. You’re hopping on a ferry to get there, and you’ll have to wade through water for the last bit. So, something easy to slip off is your best bet.
  • Looking to stay overnight? While St. Mary’s Island itself offers no lodging, the nearby city of Udupi, located just 12 kilometres or about 50 minutes away, provides ample accommodation options. Given its proximity to both the island and Mangalore (about 55 kilometres or 1 hour and 10 minutes away), Udupi serves as the ideal base for tourists looking to explore the area.
  • The island is untouched by commercialization; no shops or buildings, which means fewer crowds. It’s all about the natural beauty, so enjoy the solitude.
  • Ferries from Malpe run between 9:30 AM and 5:30 PM, but they take a break from June to September.
  • Entry is Rs. 250 per person, Rs. 200 if you’re bringing a camera, and ferry rides are between Rs. 250 to Rs. 300.
St Marys Island from Malpe

Journey through paradise – Things to do in St. Mary’s Island

Embarking on a journey to St. Mary’s Island opens the door to an array of enchanting experiences, set against the backdrop of its pristine beaches and the azure embrace of the Arabian Sea. This tranquil haven, devoid of the clamour of urban life, invites adventurers, peace-seekers, and nature enthusiasts alike to indulge in its untouched beauty and the simple joys it offers. Here’s what you can look forward to:

1. Beach trekking

Exploring St. Mary’s Island on foot, especially beach trekking, stands out as a prime activity. The simple joy of ambling along the shore, with the unique landscapes of Daryabahadurgarh Fort, Vadabhandeshwara Temple, and Malpe Beach awaiting your discovery, makes for an unforgettable experience.

2. Watersports at St. Mary’s Island

For those seeking adventure, St. Mary’s Island offers an array of popular watersports, including

  • Surfing
  • Rafting
  • Kayaking
  • Parasailing
  • Windsurfing
  • Scuba diving
  • Snorkelling

3. Shopping

Though not located on the island itself, a short 50-minute journey to Udupi will reward you with vibrant markets. Here, you can indulge in shopping for exotic spices, exquisite handicrafts, and traditional jewellery. Ratha Beedi is one of the must-visit shopping destinations in Udupi.

Best time to visit St Mary’s Islands

October through January is considered the prime time to explore St. Mary’s Island, thanks to the agreeable weather that enhances the beach experience. During this period, ferry services from Malpe Beach to the island operate between 9:30 AM and 5:30 PM, aligning with the island’s open hours. It’s worth noting that the ferry service takes a hiatus from June to September.

How to reach St. Mary’s Island

Islands in India

If until now, how to reach St. Mary’s Island is what you have been wondering quite genuinely with concern to plan your day trip comfortably, worry not. The island can be reached by all means of transport.

  • By Air: The nearest airport to the island is the Mangalore Airport, which is 58 km away from Malpe. You can book an airport taxi from Mangalore to this boarding point and then board a ferry for St. Mary’s Island.
  • By Rail: Situated around 4 km from Malpe is the railway station of Udupi. You can easily find an auto rickshaw or a cab for Malpe.
  • By Road: The coast of Malpe is well connected by road to Mangalore and Udupi as well. You can book a local cab from Udupi to make your way to the boarding point of St Mary’s islands. 
  • By Sea: Running from Malpe Harbour to St.Mary’s are a lot of ferries that cost around INR 250 to INR 300 per person (two-way) and cover the distance of 8 km in just 20 minutes. Boats for St. Mary’s Island also leave from Tegma jetty.  If you want an authentic experience on your day trip, prefer going by sea.

The ultimate explorer’s checklist – Must-visit places around St. Mary’s island

Maravante in Udupi
Maravanthe Beach

St. Mary’s Island serves as the perfect starting point for explorers looking to dive deeper into the beauty and cultural richness of Karnataka. As you plan your journey, consider extending your adventure to include several places to visit in Malpe and beyond. Here’s a curated list of must-visit places near St. Mary’s Island that promise to enrich your travel experience:

  • Malpe Beach – Just a stone’s throw away from St. Mary’s Island, Malpe Beach is renowned for its golden sands and adventurous water sports. It’s a perfect spot for those looking to soak up the sun or indulge in activities like jet skiing and parasailing.
  • Udupi Sri Krishna Temple – A spiritual journey awaits at the Udupi Sri Krishna Temple, located approximately 13 kilometres from Malpe. This revered site is famous for its intricate architecture and the religious significance it holds in Hinduism. Check out this comprehensive travel guide to Udupi to plan your visit. 
  • Kaup Beach – Known for its striking lighthouse and serene ambience, Kaup Beach is a picturesque locale that offers breathtaking views of the Arabian Sea, especially at sunset. It’s an ideal place for a peaceful evening stroll.
  • Anegudde Vinayaka Temple – Situated in Kumbashi, Anegudde is dedicated to Lord Ganesha and is one of the revered pilgrimage sites in Karnataka. It’s believed to bring good luck and remove obstacles for its visitors.
  • Maravanthe Beach – Offering a unique sight with the Suparnika River running parallel to the Arabian Sea, Maravanthe Beach is a visual marvel. Its tranquil waters and scenic beauty make it a haven for nature lovers.
  • Kodi Bengre Beach – This secluded beach is where the river Suvarna meets the sea, creating a stunning landscape. It’s an excellent spot for those seeking solitude and a connection with nature.

Explore St Mary’s Island’s splendor with Savaari


Embarking on an adventure to St Mary’s Island promises a journey filled with breathtaking moments, especially when you first lay eyes on its unique rock formations. To ensure that your journey kicks off without a hitch, consider beginning with a hassle-free ride to Malpe by leveraging the convenience of the Savaari app.

Starting your journey smoothly with Savaari sets the stage for an exploration filled with stunning landscapes, the excitement of discovering an island with ties to Madagascar, and the pleasure of immersing yourself in the local culture and natural beauty. St Mary’s Island, in its wild splendour, stands as a testament to the ever-changing beauty of our world and the incredible adventures that lie in wait for those eager to explore.

Last Updated on April 5, 2024 by Shabari Shankar

A quick summary
A piece of Madagascar in India - The geological marvel of St. Mary's Island
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A piece of Madagascar in India - The geological marvel of St. Mary's Island
St. Mary's Island in Karnataka, India, is a geological marvel with distinctive columnar basaltic lava formations, reflecting its ancient connection to Madagascar. Discover its mysteries and wonders.
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About the author

Shabari, a modern-day wanderer, seeks out the hidden stories within the world's serene landscapes and vibrant cultures. She views each person as a living, breathing tale, a unique signature in the grand narrative of existence. With an insatiable curiosity for local customs and traditions, Shabari explores the rich drapery of humanity wherever her journey leads. Her passion is to unravel the secrets of tranquil temples, scale majestic mountains, and share the ancient wisdom they hold. Join Shabari on her quest for solace amidst the world's quiet corners and let her writing transport you to the heart of these captivating adventures.

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