What is it about islands? We associate them with buried treasure, footprint-free beaches, swaying palm trees, lapping waves and carefree days wiled away under a life-giving sun. Most of us will never be lucky enough to own a private island and have a piece of paradise all to ourselves, but there are places in this world where our dreams and fantasies about islands can come true, if only for a little while.
Here are our ultimate island experiences for ‘sky’s-the-limit’, bucket list daydreams…
#1 A Private Island of Your Own
If Mozambique isn’t exactly a household name, then the pocket of mostly uninhabited islands that make up the Quirimbas Archipelago off its remote north coast are even less so. Go one level deeper into the Quirimbas castaways, and you will find Medjumbe Island, a classic ‘desert island’ that ticks the boxes for long, white beaches, water the colour of a turquoise jewel and an abundance of exotic creatures living in its untrammelled indigenous forest.
Anatara Medjumbe Island Resort & Spa has only 12 secluded thatched villas scattered on a private beach that is also home to coconut crabs and seabirds. The resort is perfect for a family reunion or a big-ticket blow-out – what better place to mark your half-centenary than with 15 of your nearest and dearest on an island all of your own?
How to do it? The aptly named Quirimbas Castaway Dream tour is a good place to start. Your biggest decision during your 6-day stay will probably be choosing between a massage and going diving in the gorgeous coral reefs.
Other private island escapes: Azura @ Quilalea Private Island is another gorgeous Quirimbas escape, while Mnemba Island Lodge is a slice of rustic luxury off the coast of Zanzibar. For a private Seychelles experience we recommend North Island Lodge, the Hilton Seychelles Labriz Resort & Spa and Denis Private Island Lodge.
#2 Island Hopping
The Seychelles (pronounced ‘say-shells’) is a republic made up of about 155 different islands. I say ‘about’ because the tinier islands have been known to come and go, rising and falling on the whims of tides and tectonic shifts. But there’s no need to worry about joining the denizens of the lost city of Atlantis: the Seychelles’ largest islands of Mahe, La Digue and Praslin are as stable as they are ravishingly beautiful. This is a place where staggering granite boulders, sugar-like white sand, tangles of tropical jungle and a sea that’s as clear as azure stained glass effortlessly shape a dreamy tropical escape.
You may consider it a hardship to have to stay at only one of these beauties but you actually needn’t choose (like children, you can’t have a favourite). In this case, more is definitely more and ‘island hopping ’ – spending a few days on one before sailing or flying off to another - is the way to go.
How to do it? The 10-day Seychelles Island Hopping Paradise holiday will see you passing your blissful days on Mahe, Praslin and La Digue.
#3 Watching Marine Turtles Hatch
It’s a big one: waiting patiently for baby turtles to hatch on a remote beach and then watching them waddle their way to the ocean. This is bucket list item that captures all life’s greatest emotions – the excitement when you hear the first shells cracking, the awe at seeing new life being hatched, the suspense at watching these clumsy creatures – only minutes old – frantically make their way to the safety of the sea, the bittersweet horror when one is taken by a gull or another predator (other creatures must survive too, after all) and the unadulterated joy when they do make it. Watching the cycle of life can be addictive and animal lovers sign up in droves to be a part of this experience.
Africa’s Indian Ocean beaches are home to five species of marine turtle – green, hawksbill, loggerhead, leatherback and (the adorably named and least-seen) olive ridley – that return to matriarchal ancestral nesting grounds to lay their eggs.
How to do it? Once again, the remote Quirimbas is one of the best places to see turtles hatch (try Vamizi Island). The Seychelles are also a prime spot and Lemuria on Praslin Island could put you in the centre of the action during breeding season. Don’t overlook Zanzibar – easy to get to with good infrastructure, its islands offer ‘barefoot luxury’ at its best. Discover the best of Zanzibar's Mnemba Island on the 7-day Mnemba Barefoot Luxury Paradise tour package.
#4 Go Back in Time...
Because islands are so far from cities and are generally quite difficult to get to, change comes slowly to them and they tend to be melting pots of whichever cultures lived there in the past. Zanzibar, for example, is an intoxicating mix of Arabic, Swahili and Italian colonial influences with occasional dollops of the 21century. The Seychelles, too, are a jumble of eras, like a treasure-filled attic in an old manor house.
One of the charms of island life is the slower pace and laid-back attitude – Africa is, after all, the originator of the phrases ‘Hakuna matata’ (no worries or no problem) and ‘Pole pole’ (slow down, it’ll happen when it happens, there’s no rush). When on vacation, it's best to go with the flow and hop on your bike or even an old-fashioned oxen cart to get around. It may take a little longer, but you’re bound to have more fun!
How to do it? On the Three Island Seychelles Escapade, the principal means of transport on La Digue, Praslin and Mahe will be by great, galumphing oxen or your own pedal power. It’s the ultimate way to have zero carbon emissions. On little La Digue Island we recommend Le Domaine de L'Orange: explore the forests on a bike or visit the L'Union Coconut Plantation museum.
Or check into Coral Lodge 15.41, which lies across the bay from Ilha de Mozambique, a World Heritage Site and brimming with charming time-worn buildings, old-fashioned markets and a laid-back attitude to match. There's also the added thrill of being able to dive shipwrecks off Ilha's historical shoreline.
For something quite unusual, Chole Mjini Lodge on tiny Chole Island off the coast of Mafia Island offers a unique take on African island life.
There may not be pirates’ treasure of gold coins and purloined diamonds buried on Africa’s islands but that doesn’t matter because they can unlock even greater personal riches: the satisfaction of fulfilling a life-long dream and the quiet thrill of ticking off one of your biggest bucket list adventures.