Pairing an African safari with beach time makes for a winning combination. Whether you add your sand and sea to the start of your vacation (the ideal way to de-stress and acclimatize after an international flight) or make the beach the indulgent last chapter of your African story, “surf and turf” is becoming an increasingly popular way to enjoy the very best of Africa and its islands. We’ve listed some of our favorite beach destinations here – we love them because they’re within easy reach of the best safari hotspots. Each is different, but they have a few (very alluring) features in common: we’re talking clear, warm, azure waters, palm-fringed beaches, and prolific coral reef life. It’s time to go coastal and immerse yourself in Africa’s best beach destinations.
The spice island of Zanzibar (pictured above) combines an intriguing history with outstanding natural beauty. Spending time in the capital, Stone Town, lets you explore the intriguing alleyways and catch glimpses of traditional Swahili life through the famous carved wooden doorways. Due to its location off Tanzania’s coast, Zanzibar has always enjoyed trade links with both Africa and the Middle East, and this is reflected in the local culture and language. While traditional dhows still ply the seas, Zanzibar is now much easier to get to, thanks to excellent flight connections from the Serengeti and other major national parks. Zanzibar offers accommodation to suit all budgets – you can even opt to experience a stay in a classical Swahili townhouse with four-poster beds and wonderful views of the rooftops. Our recommendations, however, are all more beach-orientated, allowing you to stroll hand-in-hand through the surf as the sun sets, or sip cocktails as the fishing boats return with the freshest imaginable seafood. To make the most of everything Zanzibar has to offer, try Matemwe Retreat, Mnemba Island, or Baraza.
These islands gleam like jewels in the Indian Ocean and look exactly how you would imagine a tropical island paradise should. Palm trees bend over the pristine white sand beaches, while (in season) turtles dig their nests on deserted beaches. With its economy linked to the Euro, Seychelles is one of the more expensive destinations on our list (which is why all-inclusive resorts make sense). However, you could offset the costs by unearthing some of the legendary pirate treasures that are rumored to be buried on various islands – the perfect chance to channel your inner Captain Jack Sparrow! Reaching Seychelles requires an overnight stay in Nairobi (which is no hardship, thanks to some excellent hotels) if you’re coming from East Africa; there are also direct flights from Johannesburg (but these are much longer). As one of the more exclusive African beach destinations, Seychelles boasts some stunning and secluded resorts, such as Maia Luxury Resort on the main island of Mahé. Alternatively, take a helicopter flight over the sea (watching out for rays and dolphins) to one of the superb private islands such as Frégate or North Island (the last word in secluded island hideaways and favorite honeymoon destination for royalty). Either way, we’d recommend a minimum stay of four nights.
Pemba is Zanzibar’s lesser-known northern neighbor; perfect for when you really want to get away from it all. Pemba receives far fewer visitors than Zanzibar, which means that it could be an even better place in which to experience a traditional Swahili welcome. Despite its otherworldly feel, Pemba can be reached by direct flights from Dar es Salaam but once you’ve landed, you’ll discover an authentic and secluded paradise. Even more so than Zanzibar (just 30 miles to the South), Pemba is renowned as a diving destination and experienced Indian Ocean SCUBA aficionados will tell you that there’s nowhere better to take the plunge. A minimum three-night stay is necessary to make the most of Pemba, and you won’t regret it as you can spend your days under the waves, with breath-taking experiences exploring pristine reefs, or for the ultimate in marine moments, choose the iconic underwater room at Manta Resort where you truly can “sleep with the fishes” and live to tell the tale!
The Indian Ocean island of Mauritius (just four hours’ flight from Johannesburg, and also easily reached from Kenya) is a dream holiday destination with its palm trees, pristine reefs and – as a real bonus, in addition to its gorgeous beaches – a mountainous interior with flourishing rainforests, all of which adds up to a truly tropical destination. If you still have energy to burn after your safari vacation (or you feel you need to work off all those sundowner cocktails and cooked bush breakfasts!), Mauritius offers a more active island experience – but only if you want it. It’s equally a perfect spot in which to read that hefty novel you bought at JFK or LAX, and haven’t opened yet! That is, of course, if you don’t mind yourself being rocked to a deeper level of relaxation in a hammock slung between two trees, or on a sunset cruise around the island. We’d recommend spending at least three nights in Mauritius, and choosing either the One & Only, Four Seasons, or Le Tousserok Resort & Spa when you absolutely, positively have to be the most relaxed person in the room.
Kenya’s claim to be Africa’s most complete destination is based in part on the fact that you can spend the morning watching the Great Wildebeest Migration, and be swimming in the ocean in the afternoon – and all without taking your passport out of your pocket. Light aircraft flights connect the Masai Mara (and other reserves) with the southern Kenyan coast (via Nairobi but without the need to overnight). After your add-on beach vacation, you’re a short hop away from connecting with your international flight home, but that will be the last thing on your mind as you enjoy a last few relaxing days of sand, sea, and sunsets. Kick off your safari boots and enjoy some barefoot luxury at one of our recommended seaside resorts: Afrochic Diani, Maji or Waterlovers. You’re still unmistakably in Kenya, but the color scheme, food, and ambiance are all different. The pace of life is lower, and instead of being serenaded by lions roaring, you’ll fall asleep to the sounds of waves lapping on the shore. What could be a more idyllic end to your African vacation?
The seemingly endless beaches of Mozambique can be easily reached with direct flights from South Africa – indeed, Mozambique begins where the Kruger National Park ends. Mozambique has recovered wonderfully from a conflicted past and is truly coming into its own as a destination for discerning travelers. Discover colonial-era rooms, abandoned pastel-painted holiday villas and picture-perfect tropical islands, as well as some of the best seafood in the world. Just go easy on the infamous “pili-pili” sauce – it’s hot stuff! Or, wash it down with an equally notorious “2M” beer or an “R&R” cocktail. This stands for rum and raspberry, but it could just as easily mean rest and recreation, as Mozambique serves up a beguiling blend of both. Stay for at least three nights to enjoy all that resorts like Azura Benguerra (on the desert island archipelago just off Vilankulos, this is an eco-villa resort in the heart of a Marine National Park) or White Pearl in the south of the country. Either way, you won’t want to leave – but then that’s true for all of these African beach destinations!
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