Africa’s Best Post-Safari Beach Retreats
By Philip Briggs | Updated January 21, 2021
Although sub-Saharan Africa’s tourist specialty is undoubtedly wildlife safaris, the region also boasts many fabulous tropical beaches. From the Indian Ocean islands of Mauritius, Madagascar, and Zanzibar to the string of palm-lined idylls lining the mainland coast between Kenya and South Africa, these seaside destinations offer an ideal opportunity to chill out after the rough and tumble of a safari through the interior.
My favorite beach in East Africa, Watamu stands on Turtle Bay, a gorgeous stretch of white sand that runs down to sparkling turquoise waters studded with a striking archipelago of mushroom-shaped outcrops. Shallow offshore coral gardens alive with darting reef fish offer calm conditions for snorkeling, while nervous swimmers can observe this captivating submarine from the safety of a glass-bottomed boat. A popular base for deep-sea fisherman and scuba divers, Watamu is only a few miles from the jungle-bound Gedi Ruins, a brooding complex of medieval palaces, mosques, and tombs that once formed part of a prosperous and cosmopolitan Swahili trade emporium.
Kenya’s most popular coastal resort, Diani offers a great choice of accommodation running down to a picture-perfect white beach hemmed in by tall coconut palms. There’s excellent snorkeling and diving in the coral reefs of nearby Kisite-Mpunguti Marine National Park, while a stroll around the atmospheric old town of Mombasa, home to Portuguese-built Fort Jesus, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, provides an opportunity to soak up the local Swahili culture and cuisine.
La Digue (Seychelles)
The fourth-largest island in the Seychelles, an Indian Ocean archipelago nation set 1,000 miles off the coast of Kenya, La Digue is justifiably renowned for its jaw-dropping beaches. Anse Source d’Argent, all calm turquoise waters sheltered by shallow reefs and fringed by breathtaking balancing boulder formations, has been called the world’s most photogenic beach, but its fame and popularity mean it can get quite busy. By contrast, the more remote and peaceful Grand Anse and Anse Cocos can be accessed only on narrow cycling and walking tracks.
Mahale Mountains National Park (Tanzania)
Not exactly your conventional seaside destination, the Mahale Mountains is worth considering if you want your beach holiday to retain the wilderness feel of a Tanzanian safari. The park’s main draw is the opportunity to track a 100-strong community of chimpanzees habituated by researchers in the 1960s. But Mahale is also a fabulous inland beach destination, set on the shore of 418-mile-long Lake Tanganyika, which is the world’s longest, second-deepest, and reputedly least polluted freshwater body. The water here is so clear you can stand chin deep and see your toes wriggle on the floor, while the remote setting, below a forested mile-high stretch of the Rift Valley escarpment, is absolutely sensational.
The evocatively named ‘Spice Island’ of Zanzibar, 30 miles offshore of Tanzania, is an ideal add-on to a Serengeti safari, but also a superb holiday destination in its own right. The main attraction is the exceptional choice of beaches: Nungwi and Kendwa are known for their sociable party scene, Paje is the center of a thriving kite-surfing community, and Matemwe and Kiwengwa are ideal for those seeking a more serene retreat. Snorkeling or diving the shallow coral reefs that enclose Zanzibar is a ‘must-do’. So, too, is a day trip to or overnight stay in the historic Stone Town, whose timeworn alleys evoke the island’s role as a hub of Swahili maritime trade and culture.
Bazaruto National Park (Mozambique)
Stretching 1,500 miles from north to south, Mozambique boasts a longer Indian Ocean frontage than any other country on mainland Africa. The sandy beaches of the south are popular both as a seaside chill-out venue and as a base for active marine pursuits. My favorite spots on the mainland include family-friendly Ponto do Ouro, set below tall forested dunes bordering South Africa and the laidback village of Tofo. But there’s no better compliment to a safari in landlocked Zimbabwe, Zambia, or Botswana than one of the exclusive luxury resorts that dot Bazaruto National Park, which protects a pristine archipelago renowned for its sandy beaches, coral reefs, and world-class snorkeling and diving.
The Indian Ocean island of Madagascar boasts some superb beach resorts, most famously Nosy Be, a pretty volcanic islet that functions as a self-standing seaside holiday hub complete with its own international airport. Madagascar also boasts rich biodiversity including more than 10,000 unique plant and animal species, from prehistoric-looking baobab trees to cuddlesome lemurs and outsized chameleons. For those with a superficial interest in wildlife, an excursion from Nosy Be to the habituated black lemurs of neighboring Nosy Komba should be sufficient. More serious wildlife enthusiasts would be better off spending a few days at Ranamofana, Andasibe-Mantadia, or one of the country’s many other national parks.
Rising from the Indian Ocean floor 1,200 miles east of Africa, volcanically-formed Mauritius boasts a gorgeous 200-mile coastline serviced by a world-class selection of upmarket and boutique resorts. The most popular beaches follow the north coast from award-winning Trou Aux Biches to Pereybere, but there are plenty of more remote hideaways elsewhere. Unlike Madagascar, Mauritius supports little in the way of terrestrial wildlife, but there are excellent diving and snorkeling in the offshore reefs.
Cape Town (South Africa)
Historic Cape Town is renowned for its lively cultural scene, imperious location below Table Mountain, and proximity to the world-class Cape Winelands. Less well-known is that the peninsula on which the city stands is fringed by a diversity of beaches to suit all tastes and interests. Clifton and Camps Bay are classic swimming venues situated close to the city center. Muizenberg is popular with families and surfers, while Boulders offers a unique opportunity to swim with resident penguins, and Noordhoek is ideal for beach walks or horse rides below spectacular Chapman’s Peak.
KwaZulu-Natal (South Africa)
For residents of South Africa’s landlocked urban powerhouse Gauteng, the province of KwaZulu-Natal is practically synonymous with seaside holidays. Certainly, resort towns such as Margate, Umhlanga, and Ballito are ideal for a conventional beach vacation, especially during the winter months of April to September, when subtropical KwaZulu-Natal is far warmer than other coastal regions of South Africa. But the jewel of the KwaZulu-Natal coast is iSimangaliso Wetland Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site whose 150 miles of Indian Ocean frontage is ideal for those seeking a remote and untrammeled beach getaway that also offers awesome opportunities to view terrestrial and marine wildlife on foot, from a car, by boat, and/or snorkeling and diving.