by Matthew Sterne on July 13, 2015
6 min read

Even for those experienced travellers it can be tricky to completely discern between all the Indian Ocean islands. If you struggle to tell the difference between the Maldives and Mauritius or your sea shells from your Seychelles then this is for you. Each island enjoys its own unique attractions and qualities and all are worth visiting in their own right. To help you tell which one appeals specifically to you we crafted this special guide.

Orientation map of the Indian Ocean Islands

Islands: 1 (3 other islands form part of the Republic of Mauritius)
Population: 1.3 million
Area: 2,040 km2
Best time to visit: April – June, September – December
Activities: Scuba Diving, Deep Sea Fishing, Surfing & Hiking

Mauritius is considered the ideal island getaway. Postcard perfect beaches and world-class resorts ensure that this palm-fringed oasis of beautiful beaches, coral reefs and tropical rainforests is immensely popular.

Mauritius has a number of destinations, each offering a unique experience. Many travellers head north to Grand Baie, a seaside village and large beautiful bay that’s popular with tourists. The west coast is sheltered with calm waters while the east coast is rougher with a rocky coastline. The south is the least developed with more stretches of wild nature and offers a secluded getaway. There is a wide variety of accommodation on the island – you can choose from rustic retreats, luxury lodges or five-star hotels.

Islands: 2 Archipelagos
Population: 25 million
Best time to visit: June – October
Activities: Fishing, Scuba Diving, Snorkeling  

Mozambique is fast becoming one of southern Africa’s premier beach destinations and for good reason too. Its spectacular 2,500km coastline plays host to beaches of indescribable beauty, white silky sands, tropical warm waters and an array of fishing communities. Parts of it are still off the beaten track and offers travellers the opportunity to lounge on secluded beaches with no people or buildings in sight.

Mozambique has two collections of islands – the Bazaruto and Quirimbas Archipelagos. The Bazaruti Archipelago is number of islands scattered off the coast of Vilanculos. The archipelago is now a national park so the marine reserve is protected and offers excellent snorkeling and scuba diving.

Deep in the northern reaches of Mozambique, the Quirimbas Archipelago is one of the world’s most remote beach destinations. This vision of paradise contains a collection of over 30 islands off the coast of Pemba. These islands stretch for over 250km from Ilha Tecomaji in the north to Ilha Mefunvo in the south. These two archipelagos are blissful destinations and provide the perfect way to cap off an African holiday.

Islands: 26 atolls, 1190 coral islands
Area: 298 km2
Population: 340,000
Best time to visit: December – April
Activities: Scuba Diving, Snorkelling, Beach Relaxing
The Maldives - Indian Ocean IslandsMaldives is your quintessential island paradise of powder-white beaches, crystal-clear turquoise water and just enough palm trees to string up a few hammocks.

The richness and variety of the marine life are astonishing with the Maldives being home to some of the best diving and snorkeling in the world. The warm underwater playground is home to beautiful coral labyrinths and a dizzying array of life from tropical fish to turtles and even whale sharks.

As the Maldives possess some of the best beaches in the world it is a popular romantic holiday destination. Every resort in the Maldives is its own private island, and with over 100 to choose from the only problem is selecting where you want to stay.

Islands: 1
Area: 2,511 km2
Population: 850,000
Best time to visit: All year
Activities: Hiking, Canyoning, Rafting, Paragliding, Mountain Biking

This French enclave has a range of cultural influences but the real star of the show is the incredible rugged landscape that holds stunning forests, mountains, waterfalls, volcanoes and beaches. It is an outdoor lover’s ideal destination as the wide range of activities allow visitors the opportunity to see this beautiful island from the land, sea, river or air.

Considered a little off the track compared to the likes of the more well-known islands, this island of adventure offers non-stop excitement for intrepid travellers. Reunion deserves the nickname is has earned of “Little Hawaii”.

Islands: 115
Area: 459km2
Population: 89,000
Best time to visit: All year
Activities: Island hopping, Scuba Diving, Snorkelling 

The calm scene of Anse Lazio Beach in Seychelles

Image credit: Bjørn Christian Tørrissen

The Seychelles is an archipelago of 115 islands of white sand beaches and tropical forest with pristine coral reefs that hold an abundance of tropical fish. Towering palms frame rustic retreats, which open up onto this unspoiled getaway.

The Seychelles is ideal for island hopping. This is a fantastic experience and a very popular way to see the different islands either via plane, cruise or private yacht. The major destinations are Mahe Island, which is the main island, Praslin Island and La Digue Island which is smaller and more remote.

Islands: 2 Main islands, Unguja and Pemba, with many smaller islands
Area: 2,461 km2
Population: 1 million
Best time to visit: June – February
Activities: Watersports, Cultural and Culinary Tours in Stone Town

Only 40kms from the Tanzanian mainland, Zanzibar is at the crossroads of Africa, the Middle East and Asia. The influence on the culture, cuisine and architecture is evident in Stone Town especially and it is this aspect of Zanzibar that makes it the most interesting Indian Ocean destination.

Zanzibar also offers some of the world’s best beach resorts. And then of course there are the beaches of Zanzibar, which are perfect for anyone who simply wants to enjoy a lazy and luxurious beach vacation. Zanzibar and its outlying islands are home to some of the finest beaches in East Africa and offer a fantastic option as a way to end a safari on the mainland.

Islands: 1 main island (4th biggest in the world), with 250 smaller ones
Area: 587,041 km2
Population: 22 million
Best time to visit: May – October
Activities: Hiking, Snorkelling,

Aerial view of Sainte Marie Island in MadagascarFilled with a spectacular array of amazing wildlife and ringed by stunning beaches, Madagascar is an entirely unique holiday destination. Roughly the size of Texas or France, this haven for tropical fauna and flora is one of the world’s premier conservation areas possessing thousands of endemic species.

Madagascar is home to strange and alluring lemurs, magnificent baobabs, fascinating reptiles, soul-stirring landscapes and pristine beaches. This incredibly diverse land has 5,000km of coastline, 450km of barrier reef and 250 islands. Divers will relish the chance to see rays, whale sharks, reef sharks and more, while snorkelers will be awed by the dynamic colour and vitality of the corals, turtles and fish. Madagascar’s uniqueness and diversity ensure that it holds a special place in the hearts of all who visit it.

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