The 4 Best African Island Vacation Experiences

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…

Who wouldn't want to be a castaway on a beautiful Seychelles island? Who wouldn't want to be a castaway on a beautiful Seychelles island?

1. Mozambique: 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?

A private island off the coast of Mozambique promises an unhurried pace & unique tranquility. A private island off the coast of Mozambique promises an unhurried pace & unique tranquility.

2. Seychelles: Enjoy a beautiful island holiday destination

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 MaheLa 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.

Wake up on one island... Wake up on one island...
... and toast the sunset on another. ... and toast the sunset on another.

#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.

Females return to nest on the beaches where they were born. Females return to nest on the beaches where they were born.

#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!

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.