When mentioning an African holiday, most people will probably think of a safari tour, a visit to an ancient Egyptian monument or perhaps a trip to Cape Town or Marrakesh. However, Africa also has some amazing islands lying off its coasts. Madagascar, the 4th largest island in the world is the obvious one but there are also some smaller islands that are definitely worth a trip. These African islands have a fascinating history, unique wildlife and beaches that easily rival those of the Caribbean.
São Tomé Island is the largest island of São Tomé and Príncipe, a Portuguese-speaking island nation straddling the Equator, off the western coast of Central Africa. Few tourists make it to the island so visitors can dive and snorkel in uncharted waters and explore the sleepy fishermen’s villages at their own, leisurely pace. Other activity options include going to a chocolate factory and enjoying some of the world’s best coffee.
Sal is the most popular island of Cape Verde, an archipelago of 10 African islands located in the central Atlantic Ocean. The island of Sal, which means salt in Portuguese, has become popular due to its nice sandy beaches. The main town is Santa Maria, where there are restaurants, bars, music and nightlife. Pastel shaded houses and shops line the streets.
Mohéli, also known as Mwali, is the smallest of the three African islands which make up the nation of Comoros. It’s wild, undeveloped and sparsely populated with few modern amenities. It is also home to the only national park in the Comoros, Mohéli Marine Park and snorkelers looking for colorful coral reefs will not be disappointed. Sea turtles, dolphins and whales are all protected in the park.
The small island of Nosy Be is Madagascar’s premier tourist destination attracting thousands of tourists from across the globe year round. Although Nosy Be’s beaches don’t look as picture perfect as some other beaches in the Indian Ocean, they do win points for tranquility, clear turquoise water and excellent seafood restaurants serving seafood diner on the sand.
Djerba is the largest island of North Africa located off the coast of southern Tunisia. It boasts beautiful sandy beaches and a peaceful and silent countryside. It is one of the few remaining places in Tunisia where a Berber language is still spoken. The town of Ajim was the 1977 location of the Mos Eisley exterior scenes in the first Star Wars movie.
Reunion is a French overseas territory with a population of about 800,000 located east of Madagascar and south west of Mauritius, the nearest island. Swahili, Arab and Portuguese sailors all visited the island but it was the French who colonized the island in 1665. Reunion is similar to the island of Hawaii insofar as both are located above hotspots in the Earth’s crust. It’s highest volcano is Piton des Neiges at 3,070 meters (10,070 feet) above sea level.
Lamu Island is a part of the Lamu Archipelago of Kenya. Lamu Old Town, the main town on the island, is one of the oldest and best preserved Swahili settlements in East Africa. Made of coral stone and mangrove timber, the town features inner courtyards, verandas, and elaborately carved wooden doors. There are no roads on the island, just alleyways and trails, and therefore, there are few vehicles on the island.
Mauritius is a small, multicultural island in the Indian Ocean, east of Madagascar and southeast of the Seychelles. Mauritius was an uninhabited island until the Dutch arrived in 1598. The Dutch left in 1710 due to tough climatic conditions. The French took their chances 5 years later only to surrender the island to the British in 1810. From then on, the island was renamed Mauritius and remained under British rule until it attained independence. Mauritius is well-known for having been the only known habitat of the dodo. This bird was an easy prey to settlers due to its weight and inability to fly, and vanished less than 80 years after the initial European colonization.
Zanzibar (also referred to as Unguja or Zanzibar Island) is the largest and most populated island of the semi-autonomous archipelago of Zanzibar, off the coast of Tanzania. The African island has been for centuries an important trading center, a melting pot of African, Indian and Arab influences. Zanzibar’s major attraction is Stone Town, with its whitewashed, coral rag houses, charming shops, bazaars, mosques, squares and courtyards. Another big attraction are the beautiful white sandy beaches lapped by the turquoise sea.
Praslin is the second largest island of the Seychelles with a population of around 6,500 people. Once a hideaway for pirates and Arab merchants it is now a popular tourist destination with several hotels and resorts. It’s white sandy beaches such as Anse Lazio and Anse Georgette are among the most beautiful in the world. It also has substantial expanses of tropical forests with birds such as the endemic Seychelles Bulbul. The beautiful Vallée de Mai Nature Preserve is known for the unique coco de mer and vanilla orchids.