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The Caribbean and Mediterranean have some serious competition when it comes to island holidays because Africa truly has it all.
From an archipelago that is 115 islands strong to a volcanic wonder waiting to be hiked and biked, an Indian Ocean island holiday off of Africa’s coastline is bound to put the spring back in your step, leave sand on your toes, and a sun-kissed blush on your cheeks. There are plenty to choose from, so we’ve compiled a list of our favourites:
First on the list are the archipelagos off the coast of Mozambique, both offering the quintessential island experience but each with their own touch of charm.
The endangered dugong may very well be the unofficial symbol of the Bazaruto Archipelago. Africa’s largest population of this rare, manatee-like animal lives in the warm Indian Ocean waters surrounding the archipelago’s main island alongside dolphins, humpback whales, manta rays, and whale sharks. And the treasures of the deep don’t stop there. This collection of islands is superb for both a family holiday and a couples retreat.
After flying under the radar for far too long, the Quirimbas Archipelago is quickly turning into one of the most sought-after island destinations this side of the continent. More remote and (if possible) more romantic than the Bazaruto Archipelago, this is the place for honeymoon hideaways. In Quirimbas, you’ll be met by the unspoilt beauty of powder-white beaches, palm trees, and turquoise waters – minus the swarms of tourists.
Hop from one island to the next on a lazy dhow cruise or—if you’re feeling adventurous—go scuba diving or snorkelling among the coral reefs. The warm waters are home to turtles, dolphins, and whales. If game fishing is your sport, venture further out to sea in search of bonefish, marlin, mackerel, sailfish, and dogtooth tuna.
Image credit: Felix Lipov
A picturesque chain of atolls in the Indian Ocean makes up the minute Republic of Maldives. Malé, its capital, is often touted as one of the most densely populated cities in the world – hardly surprising considering its diminutive size! This pint-sized hub is the thrumming core of the Maldivian island nation and acts as the gateway to utopian island resorts and paradise getaways.
The original inhabitants of the island were an ancient fishing community who settled on the nearby riverbanks. In the centuries that followed, the island was exposed to Buddhism, Islam, and was, among other things, a British protectorate and trading partner with the Portuguese. Its colourful history is reflected in the numerous mosques dotted around the island, in the Sultan’s Park and National Museum, and the nearby tomb of Muhammad Thakurufaanu.
Image Credit: Jantz Kurt
Malé’s narrow streets and vibrantly painted houses are best explored on foot considering the island’s size. However, there are roving taxis to be found. Affordable and frequent ferries run between neighbouring islands including Hulhulé, where the airport is located, and Villingili, an island known for its pristine beach and excellent diving and snorkelling.
Image credit: Dmitrijs Mihejevs
We like to call the next one on the list the Hawaii of the Indian Ocean. With Réunion Island‘s dramatic scenery, verdant mountain peaks that touch the clouds, and one of the most active volcanoes in the world to match, it’s not hard to see why.
This landmass is significantly dwarfed by its much larger neighbour, Madagascar, while its volcano, Piton de la Fournaise, is perched on the south-east corner of the island where daredevils, outdoorsmen, and those generally intrigued, can hike into its caldera – when it isn’t erupting, that is. Otherwise, visitors will have to be satisfied with the magnificently fiery display from a distance. The remainder of the island is made up of streaming waterfalls, lush forests, mountainous landscapes, and contrasting beaches of white and black sand.
Neat streets lined with bistros, boulangeries, and brasseries, alongside trendy waterfront cafes, will have travellers to Réunion island’s capital, Saint-Denis, mistaking their location for a town somewhere in France. Yet beneath this small coastal city’s ostensibly French veneer, there is an undeniably creole core. Full of museums, colonial and religious buildings, and a host of other epicurean delights, a visit to Saint-Denis should be part of every Réunion itinerary.
Image credit: Vicente Villamón
Mauritius is often lauded as one of the most advanced and established island nations in Africa. With a thriving economy and business sector, superb transportation systems, and a great location a short flight away from Johannesburg, this is a great place to holiday if you’re in search of an island vacay with first-world amenities. As with most of Mauritius, it is a place of beautiful beaches and several excellent resorts.
The island is also dotted with tropical vegetation and a booming social scene. Take the plunge amid the rays and barracudas that call the surrounding waters home, or head out to the big blue to hook a marlin or tuna. Championship golf courses are also found on the island, offering an intricate challenge for even the most seasoned golfer.
Image credit: Brocken Inaglory
If that isn’t quite your cup of piña colada, there are other ways to enjoy the island and its waters containing prolific sea life. Hop on to one of the many glass-bottomed boats that depart daily for tours around, or float across to neighbouring islands, such as Île des Deux Cocos which comes complete with its own mysterious shipwreck.
A land of spices, warm waters, pearly beaches, and rich marine life – it’s no surprise that the Zanzibar Archipelago is a tourist destination. The main island, Unguja, is a place where worlds collide in the capital city. One small creek separates the historical Stone Town (formerly the capital of the Zanzibar Sultanate) from the developed Ng’ambo, a settlement for African slaves in the mid-1800s and now home to developed office and apartment blocks.
Acknowledged as the historical and cultural core of the capital, Stone Town’s waterfront is dotted with architectural and traditional delights, from the Old Fort and House of Wonders—the former containing local markets and an arena for small shows while the latter’s terraced walls house a museum of Swahili and Zanzibar culture.
The stunning white walls and turquoise stuccos that adorn the balconies of the Old Dispensary are a visual pleasure, while at night the enticing Forodhani Gardens tempt visitors with its market of ethnic seafood.
The smaller satellite islands surrounding Zanzibar island offer a more secluded and less developed alternative to their larger neighbour. On Mafia Island and Pemba Island, visitors can dive with whale sharks, snorkel among colourful coral reefs and keep a keen eye out for the endearing pygmy hippo while cruising through mangrove forests.
In some places, rainforests of long-limbed succulents house leaping lemurs, while stout baobabs sport trunks branded with red-and-yellow swirls. Elsewhere, powder-white sands dissolve into cerulean waters, hiding tropical barrier reefs. This kaleidoscope of nature forms the fabric of Madagascar.
Image credit: Mathias Appel
With 250 islands, 450km of the barrier reef, and around 5,000km of coastline, the tropical island’s shores prove hard to resist. Divers are spoiled for choice – from underwater cathedrals to rusted shipwrecks – and share the deep waters with rays, whale sharks, and reef sharks.
Snorkel among curious fish, colourful coral, and graceful turtles. Those keen to keep their heads above water can watch the humpback whales breach, join a local fisher on a pirogue trip, or simply recline in their hammock.
Isalo National Park covers 81,500ha of Jurassic sandstone massif and is home to ringtail, brown, and sifaka lemurs, as well as sacred Bara burial sites. Delve into the island’s history, from the pirate cemetery strewn with palms, to the twelve sacred hills of Antananarivo. Madagascar is a cultural melting pot of intricate beliefs and ancestral rituals as well as ethnic spices and exotic cuisines.
Image credit: Larre
Far off the coast of East Africa, a chain of islands are the glittering jewels encrusting the necklace that is the Seychellois Archipelago. 115 islands and islets make up this small Indian Ocean island nation, home to some of the best beaches in the world.
This is the tropical paradise you thought only existed in movies. Spend your days discovering atolls and their beautiful beaches, and the larger islands blooming with colourful bougainvillaeas, frangipane trees, hibiscuses and palm trees. The crystal-clear waters of the Saint Anne Marine Park are comprised of six small islands surrounded by an abundance of sea life whose delicate ecosystem is fiercely protected and a sight to behold.
Are you ready to embark on your African island adventure? Get in touch today or browse through our scintillating selection of Indian Ocean Island Tours for more inspiration.
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Jozi-born, Knysna local, and recovering yachtie, Melanie decided that she missed being land-based after 18 months sailing the seas. Now that she lives in the most beautiful city in Africa (she is adamant about this fact), you will find her trying out new things around Cape Town, dreaming about her next holiday, and using Wikipedia to enhance her skills as an encyclopaedia of useless information.
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