If you're planning a paradise island holiday then you've probably got palm-fringed beaches and warm turquoise water in mind. You'll want beachfront accommodation, delicious seafood and opportunities to both relax and explore.
Good news: the Indian Ocean islands of Mauritius, Seychelles and the Maldives have all the makings of a classic tropical island vacation but each is quite different from the other. While Mauritius is a single island ringed by reefs and beaches, the tiny coral islands of the Maldives have just one resort each, and the Seychelles Archipelago rests somewhere in between the two with some large and developed islands, others tiny and deserted.
Naturally, each island destination specialises in luxurious beach holidays but which is best for you? Well, we've made choosing a little simpler: it depends on who you are...
The Solo Traveller: 'Me time' in the Islands
With fewer visitors spread out over many islands, it's the Seychelles that offers more exclusivity and privacy. A hotel with more than 25 beds is described as 'large' in the Seychelles and the archipelago is justly famous for its deserted beaches and private islands - fewer than 200 000 people visit a year.
Mauritius attracts four times the number of annual visitors. There is exclusive accommodation of course but Mauritius is mostly about got-it-all resorts, exotic live entertainment, 18-hole golf courses and water sports.
In the Maldives, although each resort is located on its own island, the small size of the islands means that you probably won’t have your own private stretch of beach. So if its ‘me-time’ you looking for, head for the Seychelles.
The Energetic Adventurer: Action and Activities
If you want to jet-ski after breakfast, windsurf before lunch and have water skiing booked for the afternoon, then Mauritius is the place to go - just about every hotel and resort is packed with activities. Non-motorised water sports and snorkelling equipment are normally free; you'll need to pay for water skiing, scuba diving, parasailing and jet skiing. Additionally, many resorts have tennis courts, gyms and golf courses, and you can even hire a 4x4 and explore Mauritius on your own.
Although all motorised sports are banned in Seychelles for conservation reasons, this means the diving and snorkelling is fantastic. The Inner Islands rest on an easy-to-access shallow plateau and the pristine Outer Islands offer experienced divers barely explored reefs. The Seychelles is also home to world-class big game and salt-water fly-fishing plus activities like windsurfing and sailing.
Because the islands of the Maldives are small and otherwise uninhabited, activities are limited to what is offered by the resort and these are largely focused on exploring the ocean. Scuba diving and snorkelling in the Maldives is some of the best on the globe and the vast number of deserted islands in the archipelago make it an attractive place to go island hopping.
Read more about an Africa diving holiday.
The Romantic Traveller: Celebrations and Honeymoons
Whether you're on honeymoon or celebrating a special anniversary, passion in paradise is what these islands do best: expect ocean-edge dinners, beautiful accommodation, pampering spas and personalised service in Seychelles, Mauritius and the Maldives.
Mauritius is second-to-none in its fantastic hospitality ethos that includes big smiles and highly trained staff, while the Maldives is known for its over-the-top and opulent venues – think underwater restaurants and spas, tree-top pods and overwater villas. However, when it comes to exclusivity and natural beauty, the Seychelles is hard to beat, and its beaches have been voted among the most beautiful in the world. On private islands such as Denis, North and Desroches you can enjoy your own azure corner of the Indian Ocean while a low-key private butler anticipates your every need.
Read more about a Seychelles honeymoon
The Nature Lover: Hikes, Dives and Bikes
With a long tradition of conservation behind it, the Seychelles is home to several marine parks as well as forest and mountain reserves. Dive with the plankton-eating whale shark - the world's largest fish - in the protected waters of the Seychelles; visit Cousine Island, its entire 27 hectares a designated bird and turtle nature reserve; and head for far flung Aldabra Island where a 150 000-strong colony of giant tortoises can be found.
Long associated with the fate of the extinct dodo bird, Mauritius has had great success with modern conservation efforts but they have not pursued eco-tourism as consistently as the Seychelles. But by no means is Mauritius a concrete jungle: there are plenty of mountains, forests, waterfalls and the famed Seven Coloured Earth Dunes at Chamarel - where the sand is multi-hued - to explore.
The Maldives comprises hundreds of small, flat islands set on 26 coral atolls, and most of the sight-seeing is done underwater. Dazzling lagoons and large reefs are the archipelagos natural draw card and almost all of the islands have access to good snorkelling and diving.
The Beach-Loving Family: Fun in the Sun
Mauritius is the perfect family beach holiday destination for families with kids. Sunny, safe, smooth-running and with an apparently never-ending list of activities, it really does cater for every member of the family. Moreover, most of its hotels and resorts offer professional kids' clubs to take care of and entertain children of all ages so parents can have a holiday, too. It's also a short-haul from South Africa, with regular flights from the Kruger National Park, Johannesburg, Cape Town and tropical Durban.
When going to the Seychelles, it's usually best to leave the children behind. With a few exceptions, there are no kids' clubs to keep them entertained and the emphasis is on a refined tranquillity - no water skiing, no tube rides and no jet-skis. Similarly, most resorts on the private islands of the Maldives rarely cater for children, and activities are limited to snorkelling and diving.
Read more about a Mauritius family holiday
The Exclusive Luxury Seeker: Private Dining and Sole-use Villas
The Maldives has come a long way in the last 40 years - from a few thatched huts, no electricity and no central bank to a premier island destination offering a good variety of inclusive resorts, boutique hotels and shipwreck-chic beach villas. Mauritius has always been known for its world-class hotels and the island is home to several astonishingly decadent resorts and Michelen-starred chefs but Seychelles has caught up and, in many ways, overshot both Mauritius and the Maldives in terms of exclusive luxury accommodation.
Resorts in the Seychelles tend to be smaller and the lodgings more luxurious. Private islands such as Denis and North Island are completely exclusive to their guests while sole-use beachfront villas across the archipelago offer the ultimate in private living. Beautiful North Island is where Prince William and Kate Middleton chose to spend their honeymoon.
Our Favourite Mauritius Hotels and Resorts:
Belle Mare Plage: lying on two kilometres of beachfront, this expansive resort has numerous restaurants and bars, excellent facilities for children and is a haven for keen golfers.
Lux le Morne: protected by a sheltered bay, Lux le Morne has a lovely spa, a large sandy beach and plenty for the kids to do.
The Oberoi: with 20 acres of tropical gardens, traditional Mauritian spa treatments and superb fine dining, The Oberoi is one the island's accommodation highlights.
View all our recommended Mauritius accommodation
Our Favourite Seychelles Hotels and Resorts:
Banyan Tree: a collection of luxury villas - each with its own plunge pool - overlook one of the most beautiful bays on Mahe Island.
Denis Private Island: discerning travellers will love the simple exclusivity of its private villas, set on 'Garden of Eden' Denis Island.
North Island: so private and exclusive its secluded villa, it's rumoured that Kate Middleton and Prince William elected to spend their honeymoon there.
View our recommended Seychelles accommodation