Top 10 African island breaks

Posted by Danielle Barnes on 1 November 2016

When most people think of sunny beach holidays, their minds jump to the Caribbean or Mediterranean. However, there are a fair share of island getaways in Africa where you can get that quintessential white sandy beach and palm tree photograph. The continent is home to some of the best beaches and island breaks in the world. It’s paradise, often at a fraction of the price.

Each of these African island getaways have warm oceans, deep histories, friendly people and enough things to do to keep you there for a little longer than you might have expected.

 

1. Zanzibar

Zanzibar beaches

 

Things to do in Zanzibar

Zanzibar is an island attraction that has a little bit of everything. Little has changed on the island over the past 200 years and Stone Town remains the cultural heart of Zanzibar. Spend time walking through the narrow and winding alleys while marveling at the grand Arab Houses and intricate door designs – more than 500 different examples of brass-studded, carved and wooden doors can be found here. Stone Town was recently declared a World Heritage Site by United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).

Take about three hours out of your day to discover why Zanzibar is the Spice Island. Visit the Kizimbani Village where you can taste exotic fruits, spices and other rare plant species. One of the most interesting fruits on the tour is the jackfruit, which is the largest tree-borne fruit in the world and can weigh between one and 15 kilograms. Tours to the Spice Island can be arranged via your hotel. Getting around Zanzibar does not need to be expensive: find out how to travel around Zanzibar like a local.

Getting to Zanzibar

There are a number of airlines that fly to Zanzibar via Dar es Salaam, Nairobi or even Addis Ababa; currently, Mango offers a direct flight from Joburg to Zanzibar which is surprisingly affordable.

When is the best time to go to Zanzibar?

Warm weather prevails all year round, although the rainy season is between March and May. It is a rarity that travellers will see overcast weather, as the rain usually happens overnight and in the early morning. Temperatures fall in the mid- to high-twenties for most of the year, with the hottest months being February and March.

 

 2. Mauritius

Photo by Russell Smith.

Photo by Russell Smith.

 

Things to do in Mauritius

Mauritius is more than just a beach. The Pamplemousses Botanical Garden is its most-visited attraction and some say it would take a week to cover the vast area of land, which is filled with more than 650 varieties of plant species. Not many people have that amount of time so make sure you see the famous baobabs, the palmier bouteille (type of palm tree that has a swollen trunk) and the giant water lilies.

Port Louis is the capital of Mauritius and offers a lot to see and do. The main highlight is China Town, which is bursting-at-the-seams with merchandise and trinkets to take home. If you are prone to going into a shopping frenzy, it might be best to have someone with you to make sure you do not clear the whole place out. Don’t forget to visit some of the best food markets in Mauritius, visit one of the best restaurants in Mauritius and try a selection of the 25 awesome things to eat and drink on the island.

Mauritius is concerned with its conservation and rightly so. There is an abundance of wildlife and landscape that needs to be kept intact. The Mauritian Wildlife Foundation is the only Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) in Mauritius that makes its life mission the protection of the nation’s endangered plant and animal species.

 

Getting to Mauritius

Most flights depart from Johannesburg, South Africa. Alternatively, find an exclusive Mauritius travel package here.

When is the best time to go to Mauritius?

The island of Mauritius enjoys a relatively mild climate all year round but the best time to visit is between the months of April and June and between September and December.

 

3. Madagascar

Gone fishing. Sunrise means fishing for many men living near the sea at Salary Bay. Photo by Vuyi Qubeka.

Gone fishing. Sunrise means fishing for many men living near the sea at Salary Bay. Photo by Vuyi Qubeka.

 

Things to do in Madagascar

Ranomafana National Park is one of the most visited places in Madagascar because of its convenient location, good access and great biodiversity and is home to over 12 species of lemur. It also forms part of the Rainforests of Atsinanana, which comprise six national parks spread along the eastern side of the island and together make up one of Africa’s top World Heritage Sites. The golden bamboo lemur was, in fact, the inspiration for the establishment of the park in 1991, a few years before Dr. Patricia Wright discovered that this species was near extinction.

Also read: what it’s like to run in one of the most remote regions of Madagascar

Alternatively, check out the Royal Hill of Ambohimanga. It’s a royal city and burial site made up of an ensemble of sacred places which have kept their spiritual character, evoking a strong sense of national identity. For the past 500 years it has remained as a pilgrimage site to which locals and people from around the world come to visit.

Getting to Madagascar

Flying into the capital city of Antananarivo used to be your only option. However, Airlink now flies direct to Nosy Be, a tiny and beautiful island off the mainland. If you’re looking for a relaxing tropical island experience, rather than the urban landscapes and clamour of culture in the capital, this is your best bet.

Also read: In photos: falling in love with Madagascar

When is the best time to go to Madagascar?

The best time to travel to Madagascar is between July and November. Travel is still recommended between April and June (and December), however you may encounter some rain. It is not recommended to go between January and March when their rainy season it at its highest.

 

4. Seychelles

Things to do in Seychelles

With a population of only 87 000, spread over a total of 115 islands which bear 15 types of mangoes, 17 types of banana and four types of coconut and have no monkeys, snakes or tigers, the Seychelles archipelago is the definition of paradise. One of its islands, Cousin Island (the first to become an internationally-owned reserve) is managed solely by local staff. Their objective is to save the population of the Seychelles warblers. It is also the most important breeding site for the hawksbill turtle. The reserve benefits local communities on the neighbouring Praslin Island through eco-tourism. The island is open to visitors five days a week.

If you are staying on the neighbouring island Praslin, arrange a trip to Cousin Island through your hotel or guesthouse. They will either sort out the details for you or act as an agent to find a local tour operator charter who can take you to the island. Visitors over the age of 12 will pay SR500. This is Seychelles’s local currency, the Seychellois Rupee (SR), which translates to R425 at time of publishing. Visit Cousin Island’s official website for all the details.

The St Anne National Marine Park is roughly twenty minutes from Seychelles’s main island, Mahé, by slow boat. Green and hawksbill turtles are often found due to the large amounts of sea grass attracting them. Bottleneck dolphins also frequent the marine park. Enjoy local food at some of the restaurants on St. Anne’s itself.

 

Getting to the Seychelles

You can fly direct to the Seychelles with Air Seychelles, who have just opened up a weekly flight from Durban in addition to their Joburg option. If you don’t mind stopovers, there are also very affordable flights available with Ethiopian Airlines and SAA.

When is the best time to go to the Seychelles?

Seychelles enjoys a year-long warm, tropical climate so there is no time of the year that is off-limits; although different times of the year may be better suited to particular interests. For sailing and snorkeling enthusiasts Seychelles is perfect all-year round. For activities such as fishing and diving it is recommended to go between October and April and March-May/September-November respectively.

 

5. Lamu Island, Kenya

Tusker beer, Lamu Island. Photo by Sarah Duff.

Tusker beer, Lamu Island. Photo by Sarah Duff.

 

Things to do in Lamu Island, Kenya

Lamu Old Town is the oldest and best-preserved Swahili settlement in East Africa. The town is characterized by its architecture, which features inner courtyards and elaborately carved wooden doors. Since the nineteenth century Lamu Old Town has become a significant centre for the study of Islam and Swahili cultures. Lamu Old Town is a World Heritage Site and has been continuously occupied for the last 700 years, unlike other Swahili settlements.

The Lamu Museum is a part of The National Museums of Kenya, which helps to preserve and promote the cultural heritage of the island. It is a great place to learn about what makes Lamu Island tick. Focus on the historical side of this area as trinkets are said to be overpriced. It is best to get your memorabilia in town.

There has been some threat of terrorist activity in Kenya, but this is mostly restricted to the border areas. Lamu was last affected in 2014 – it’s best to do a fair amount of research on the current situation before you book flights, and make sure you’re comfortable with the level of risk.

Getting to Lamu Island, Kenya

Lamu Island can only be reached by boat with daily flights coming to and from Mombasa and Malindi. The usual hosts of airlines have flights to both areas of Kenya, although Mombasa is the suggested route as flights are a lot cheaper and quicker. From Mombasa you need to fly to an airstrip on Manda, which is opposite the harbour of Lamu Island.

When is the best time to go to Lamu Island, Kenya?

The best time to visit Lamu is between the months of November and March.

 

6. Reunion

Beachside chairs, taken using the Little Stopper and 0.6 soft grad ND filter at 10.40am. ISO 100, f/22, 30 sec

Beachside chairs. Photo by Teagan Cunniffe.

 

Things to do in Reunion

Okay, technically Reunion is a part of France: but seeing it’s only a four-hour flight from Joburg (and South Africans don’t even need a visa) we’re shoehorning it in. You’ll thank us: it’s one of the most interesting Indian Ocean islands. Piton de la Fournaise is a volcano on the island of Reunion, which is recorded to be one of the world’s most active and productive volcanoes.  The volcano is a hot-spot, which means that the eruptions are short-lived but frequent.

Also read: 12 of the most delicious things to eat and drink in Reunion

Visit the seafront park of La Barachois in Saint-Denis to catch the refreshing sea breeze. Lined by cannons facing out to sea, the park has a monument to the Reunion-born aviator Roland Garros who is leaning on a propeller. Admire the beautiful landscapes, waterfalls, and beaches in this awesome photoblog: Reunion Island in photos.

 

Getting to Reunion

Even though Reunion is technically part of France, South Africans don’t require a visa when travelling there. SAA flies direct to Saint-Denis, but your best bet is to keep an eye on Air Austral – from time to time they have amazing flight specials, where you can get to Reunion for around R5000 return. The Reunion Island tourism website is also full of information for South Africans.

 

When is the best time to go to Reunion?

The best time to go to Reunion is between April and November. This is their winter season but the temperatures are a lot more moderate than in their summer.

 

7. Quirimbas Archipelago

Mogundulo Island, Mozambique by Justin Fox

 

Things to do in the Quirimbas

The Quirimbas National Park is renowned for its wildlife, gorgeous beaches and mangrove forests and that’s only one of the 27 islands that make up this chain in northern Mozambique. Ibo Island is known for its silver-smithing, and the archipelago as a whole is one of our top 10 sailing spots in Africa.

Getting to Quirimbas

You can fly to Pemba with LAM Mozambique Airlines, via Maputo. For a slighter higher fee, you can fly directly from Johannesburg to Pemba with SA Airlink.

When is the best time to go to the Quirimbas?

The climate is tropical: most people choose to travel in winter (May – November) as summer is extremely hot and humid. January and February are the rainy months, although tropical storms are less of a problem in the north than the south of Mozambique.

 

8. Djerba

Photo by alex and mac

Things to do in Djerba

It is said that every major town and city in Tunisia has a Medina and Djerba is no exception (A medina is an old town where you can wander through narrow passages and covered alleys.) Learn to soak up the culture as you see the traditional architecture and shop at the souk (market-place).

The Lalla Hadhria Museum offers travellers the chance to learn about some Tunisian and Arab-Islamic history. This large museum has fifteen galleries, which are full of thousands of art pieces.

Tunisian tourism has been hard-hit since terrorist attacks in November 2015, and although the government is cooperating with America and the United Kingdom in terms of curbing the threat, it’s not out of the woods yet. We’ll be keeping a close eye on the island, to find out when it’ll be safe for foreign travel again.

Getting to Djerba

It can be very expensive to fly to Djerba. British Airways goes from Cape Town to London, London to Luxembourg, and then from there to Djerba. Flights are not as frequent as the other island destinations, so it will take some forward-planning and is not for the faint-hearted.

When is the best time to go to Djerba?

The best time to visit Djerba is between May and October due to the weather.

 

9. Cape Verde Islands

Photo by IDS.photos 

Things to do in Cape Verde Islands

Find out about turtles in Cape Verde by visiting the Turtle SOS Guided Walks & Hatchery. During July-September, take guided walks to see a turtle coming ashore to lay her eggs. Then from August-December marvel at nature as baby turtles are being born in the hatchery. Travellers can adopt a baby sea turtle and receive a certificate and photographs of your baby turtle being born.

Blu Bar is unique in Cape Verde with its stylish, cool and classy atmosphere. It is a popular place to visit for locals and travellers alike to hear live music and soak up the island vibes. The Blu Bar is found in the centre of Santa Maria, next to the town square.

Getting to Cape Verde Islands

There seem to be only a few ways to get into Cape Verde. The most popular way is flying into Praia, and then travelling to the other islands from there.

When is the best time to go to Cape Verde Islands?

Cape Verde Islands has a steady tropical climate, which makes it warm enough to visit throughout the year. The busiest time to visit is between November and April.

 

10. Comoros Islands

Photo by Juergen Kurlvink

Things to do in Comoros Islands

For the more active at heart and adrenaline junkies there is an opportunity to hike Mount Karthala. From there, why not descend into the crater of this active volcano? It is claimed to be the largest active crater in the world. Some travellers make a trip of it and spend a night at the shelter provided.

Visit Mayotte, a French-administered town that is surrounded by coral reef and boasts excellent beaches and scuba-diving facilities, or you could explore the largest lagoon in the world by dugout canoe. Take a trip back in time in the town of Dzaoudzi, which is home to a forested islet named Pamanzi, a plunging waterfall named Sulu and the remains of an old mosque at Tsingoni.

Getting to Comoros Islands

Flights into Comoros generally go into Moroni, which is the largest city of Comoros. Flights land at the Moroni Prince Said Ibrahim International Airport. South African Airways, Kulula and British Airways offer flights, as well as Kenya Airways and Emirates.

When is the best time to go to Comoros Islands?

Like many of these African island breaks, the Comoros Islands has a tropical maritime climate. The best time to visit is the dry season, which is between May and November.

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