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Indian Ocean Islands

10 best Indian Ocean Island Destinations offshore of Africa

Some of the world’s most alluring tropical island destinations are lapped by the warm waters of the Indian Ocean offshore of Africa. Some of these islands, for instance, Zanzibar or Lamu, lie a short distance from the mainland and form an extension of the facing country and its tourist circuit. Others, such as Madagascar and Mauritius, stand in ecological, cultural, and political isolation many hundreds of miles offshore. Geologically, the islands are varied in origin: some are massive volcanoes that rise from the ocean floor, others are coral protrusions, while others still have been separated from the African mainland by tectonic drift or river mouths. What all these islands share, however, is some superb beaches, rich marine wildlife, and in most cases a well-developed tourist industry. 


It would be reductive to characterize Madagascar as simply another Indian Ocean beach idyll. Extending across 224,530 square miles, this is the world’s fourth-largest island, one whose long isolation from other comparably-sized landmasses has transformed it into a unique evolutionary cauldron whose biodiversity includes more than 10,000 unique plant and animal species. Adventurous travelers could dedicate many weeks to exploring Madagascar’s vast network of national parks and its menagerie of lemurs, chameleons, and other oddball creatures (see https://fairtradesafaris.com/news/introducing-madagascars-most-weird-and-wonderful-creatures/). For a more conventional seaside holiday, head to the offshore volcanic islet of Nosy Be, which is lined with classy beach resorts and serviced by its international airport. 



Zanzibar ticks almost every conceivable box as the perfect post-safari or standalone Indian Ocean getaway. Situated just 30 miles offshore of mainland Tanzania, the island is easily reached by air from practically any of East Africa’s major cities or safari destinations. Its coast is lined with one stunning beach after another: Nungwi and Kendwa offer a sociable party vibe, Paje, and Jambiani cater more to kite-surfers and watersport enthusiasts, while the likes of Matemwe and Kiwengwa have a more tranquil vibe. Zanzibar’s rich maritime history and Swahili culture come to the fore in its atmospheric Stone Town, a vibrant urban enclave whose labyrinth of alleys is lined with historic buildings. Other highlights include spice tours of the island’s famous clove plantations, tracking Jozani Forest’s habituated Kirk’s red colobus monkeys, and some wonderful snorkeling and diving in the surrounding reefs. 

Read about things to do in Zanzibar here https://fairtradesafaris.com/summer/8-cool-things-to-do-on-zanzibar/



Mauritius is arguably the ultimate Indian Ocean beach destination. A large volcanic island that rises from the Indian Ocean floor 1,200 miles off the African mainland, it is lined by picture-perfect beaches whose white sands and swaying palms conform to every expectation of a tropical seaside paradise. For many visitors, Mauritius is all about the sophisticated beach party atmosphere of its top resorts. But there’s also plenty to amuse more adventurous travelers. Offshore, the world’s third-largest coral reef offers superb diving and snorkeling, while larger marine wildlife includes dolphins, whales, and turtles. The hiker-friendly Black River Gorges National Park protects 26 square miles of rainforest and harbors all eight of the island’s endemic bird species (but no longer the notorious dodo, a Mauritian endemic now confined to museums). The island’s diverse culture is personified by the capital Port Louis, where grandiose 18th-century colonial edifices stand alongside characterful traditional wooden homesteads, and the out-of-town Pamplemousses Botanical Garden, founded in 1770, is the oldest such institution in the southern hemisphere. 

To learn more about marine wildlife associated with Africa, read https://fairtradesafaris.com/news/introducing-africas-marine-giants/


The most northerly and remote tourist focus on the Kenyan coast, the sleepy Lamu Archipelago has few of the attributes one would associate with a conventional seaside resort. True, the archipelago boasts its fair share of idyllic beaches and dazzling coral reefs, but the focal point for most visitors is Lamu Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that dates back to early medieval times. Lamu is unique among its historical peers in that it has not been abandoned as a ruin nor incorporated into a modern town, but stands intact as a compact labyrinth of cobbled alleyways and whitewashed buildings whose sense of architectural cohesion and historical continuity is unmatched in East Africa. The old town is irresistibly easygoing, and it is easy to fill your days strolling through the narrow alleys chatting to locals, arranging dhow trips to the archipelago’s other islands, tanning on nearby Shela Beach, or chilling on the breezy rooftops beneath a pristine night sky.

Check out https://fairtradesafaris.com/news/10-best-places-to-visit-on-kenyas-swahili-coast/ for more suggestions for beach holidays in Kenya. 

Picture of the town, Lamu Kenya – a UNESCO World Heritage Site – incorporates several historic buildings


If you’re looking for a standard beach holiday, you might think twice about Réunion. True, this most westerly of the Mascarene Islands boasts its fair share of seaside resorts, but for every tourist catching a tan at beaches such as Saint-Gilles or Saint-Pierre, you’ll find many more exploring a mountainous interior dominated by Piton de la Fournaise, the Indian Ocean’s highest peak at 8,635ft, and one of the world’s most active volcanoes. Rich with hiking possibilities, Réunion’s fertile volcanic slopes support lush evergreen forests and grassy meadows, but the scenic highlight is the ascent via the bleak Plain des Sables to a viewpoint overlooking the solidified lava flows and subsidiary cones nested in the main caldera. Politically, Réunion is not a fully-fledged country but a remote Overseas Department of France, and this is reflected in the excellent continual Creole cuisine. 


It’s tempting to label Pemba as Zanzibar for Misanthropists. Fairer perhaps to say that the smaller and less developed of the two main islands that comprise the Zanzibar Archipelago is the ideal beach destination for those who want to get completely away from any kind of touristy resort scene. But while very few tourists make it to Pemba, there is plenty to occupy the select few who do. For snorkelers and divers, the pristine 20-mile reef that runs south from Ras Kigomasha hosts some staggering coral formations and several natural aquariums seething with colorful reef fish. A more esoteric highlight is Ngezi-Vumawimbina Forest, which protects a jungle-like tract of indigenous forest inhabited by the endemic Pemba scops owl, Pemba green pigeon, Pemba white-eye, and Pemba Sunbird.

Pemba Island


Situated 1,000 miles off the coast of Kenya and Tanzania, the 115 islands comprising the Seychelles Archipelago were all uninhabited prior to the 16th-century arrival of Europeans and in most cases still are today. Tourist brochure images focus on the photogenic beaches that line larger islands such as Mahé and La Digue, the most famous being Anse Source d’Argent, with its stunning backdrop of balancing granite formations. However, the archipelago is also a thrilling ecotourism destination, one whose diverse marine and terrestrial wildlife are protected by a network of national parks and reserves comprising 40% of its land surface. Praslin Island’s Vallée de Mai Nature Reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, protects the archipelago’s largest remaining palm forest and shelters endemic species of black parrot, blue pigeon, and kestrel. The uninhabited islets of Outer Seychelles offer great snorkeling and diving and form a key breeding site for the spectacular red-tailed tropicbird, white-tailed tropicbird, and greater frigatebird.


Despite being a separate entity from the Zanzibar Archipelago, Tanzania’s more southerly and relatively undeveloped Mafia Archipelago is quite similar in feel. The beaches of Mafia are ideal for swimming and suntanning, but the archipelago is best known for its offshore attractions, which include snorkeling and diving some of East Africa’s finest coral reefs, as well as exceptional game fishing. Lodges on Mafia tend to be small, exclusive, and focused mainly on diving and fishing, but several old Swahili ruins dot the archipelago. 

Mafia Archipelago


Located in the Mozambique Channel northwest of Madagascar, the volcanic Comoro Archipelago comprises four islands, three of which form a sovereign country called the Union of the Comoros, while the fourth, Mayotte, like Réunion, is an Overseas Department of France. The islands of the Comoro Archipelago boast many of the same attractions as their counterparts deeper in the Indian Ocean – beautiful palm-lined swimming beaches, coral reefs alive with marine life, forested volcanic peaks, and rich traditional culture – but they are relatively poorly developed for tourism, partly due to sporadic outbreaks of political instability. An interesting feature of these islands is the predominantly Islamic culture, whose blend of Swahili, Arab, Somali, and Indonesian elements reflects a history of maritime trade and settlement that dates back to the 6th century. 

Bazaruto Archipelago

Protecting a pristine archipelago renowned for its sandy beaches, towering dunes, coral reefs, and exceptional snorkeling and diving, Bazaruto National Park is Mozambique’s most exclusive fly-in beach destination. There’s only a handful of small exclusive resorts on the archipelago, all of which exude a barefoot luxury vibe that provides a perfect complement to similarly upmarket bush camps in nearby safari-orientated destinations such as Zambia, Botswana, and Zimbabwe. 

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