The classic African vacation is, of course, a safari, but it’s by no means the only incredible experience that the continent offers. In fact, some of Africa’s most beautiful destinations are not on the mainland, but in the warm oceans that survive it (and in one case, in a Rift Valley lake). Check out our list of Africa’s top island getaways if you’re looking for a romantic week-long break, or to relax for a few days after a safari (how about that for a ‘surf and turf’ combo?). Pack your swimsuit and sunglasses – you may not need much more.
North Island, Seychelles
Thanks to the Noah’s Ark island rehabilitation programme, North Island is not just one of the most indulgent destinations on the planet, but also a place of refuge for endemic species from endangered birds to giant tortoises and the sea turtles which lay their eggs on its pristine beaches. Generosity is the watchword here, and it’s readily apparent in the way the guests are looked after; in the space and luxurious features of each villa; and in the service provided by the villa attendants (think a butler in flip-flops with a warm smile, and you’ve got it). Whether you want to fish, paddle-board, enjoy spa treatments or simply indulge in the beauty of your surroundings, North Island is a true gem. And if the old pirate stories are to be believed, there is buried treasure there, too!
Réunion Island, Indian Ocean
Réunion Island is in the Indian Ocean, to the east of Madagascar and close to Mauritius. As a result of the wrangling of empires, it remains a part of France to this day. Réunion is known for its varied natural beauty, including mountainous regions which have an almost lunar appearance, lush green forests, and picture-perfect lagoons. This diversity of scenery is reflected in its rich cultural heritage, which contains elements from the many countries which have played a part in its history. French influence is very much in evidence, but so too are Buddhist and Hindu traditions, and the unique and delicious cuisine serves up reminders of Réunion’s Spice Route history.
Pemba Island, Tanzania
Just 30 miles to the north of Zanzibar, lies the much smaller island of Pemba. Greener and hillier than its neighbor, Pemba has only more recently become a destination in its own right. Small farms still grow the cloves that made the Swahili Coast such an important trading power in centuries gone by. The ‘discovery’ of Pemba as a wonderful island getaway is largely due to the prolific marine life just off its shores – it has some of the richest and most colorful reefs to be found anywhere in Africa. The waters around Pemba are also renowned for game-fishing, which happily these days have adopted more sustainable practices such as tag-and-release. You may not have heard of Pemba, but visit and you’ll be hooked.
Thanda Island, Tanzania
A unique and extremely luxurious private island off the Tanzanian coast, within reach of both the dive sites of Mafia Island and the vibrant city of ‘Dar’, Thanda was the brainchild of the Swedish couple behind South Africa’s Thanda Safari. They’ve created a very exclusive destination that’s a harmonious blend of New England and Scandinavian styles, with a Zulu name, surrounded by tropical coral reefs. And yes, it’s every bit as wonderful as it sounds. Our favorite feature (apart from the wild oysters and champagne that are served with mouthwatering regularity) is the glass-walled rim-flow swimming pool that rises luminously from the main deck. The ultimate luxury, however, is being able to explore an ecosystem that features whale sharks and manta rays.
Madagascar has long been famed for its incredible biodiversity and amazing wildlife (lemurs, anyone?) – and you can now experience what makes Madagascar so magical while enjoying the luxury of Miavana Island Sanctuary. In the local Malagasy language, Miavana means ‘to bring together’ and with its blend of luxury and natural beauty, you really get a sense that the team behind Miavana have brought together the best of all that Africa’s islands offer. Activities including forest walks and lemur encounters, SCUBA diving, and snorkeling, are your entry into a world that few have experienced, but many dream of. The only challenge is that first, you’ll have to tear yourself away from your pampered in-villa experience!
Mumbo Island, Malawi
Malawi is justifiably known as the ‘warm heart of Africa’, and at the heart of Lake Malawi lies Mumbo Island. It’s the only one of our handpicked collection of African Island getaways that are surrounded by fresh water. Sensitively constructed on the smooth grey boulders of the island, the rustic charms of the only lodge are greatly enhanced by the azure waters of the lake – waters which invite exploration by kayak or with a snorkel and fins. You’re bound to spot some of the lake’s endemic cichlids – species of fish that are found nowhere else on earth. At night, relax on the deck and watch as local fisherman use lanterns to lure their catch – a traditional practice that gave Lake Malawi its ‘Lake of Stars’ tag.
Zanzibar is an irresistible blend of endless white beaches, warm seas, and fascinating culture. Birthplace of Freddie Mercury, Zanzibar has fascinated travelers for centuries. Once the undisputed center of trade with the Orient, Zanzibar’s Swahili culture (combining Arabic and African influences) makes exploring the capital, Stone Town, an absolute must. Peer through the famous carved wooden doorways for compelling glimpses of a way of life that has survived the currents of history, or step away from the hustle and bustle and discover near-deserted beaches overlooked by luxury lodges. Zanzibar is the subject of so many legends that it has become an almost mythical destination. Whether you prefer history or natural history, you’ll find much here to delight you, as traditional dhows ply the trade winds just offshore.
If this blog post has inspired you to set sail for one of Africa’s top island getaways, contact us today and we can make it happen.