From the Maldives to Mauritius or the Seychelles to Réunion Island, these blissful retreats are the epitome of paradise.
When writer Mark Twain visited the remote island of Mauritius in 1896, he quoted an islander as saying, “Mauritius was made first and then heaven; and heaven was copied after Mauritius”. And it appears nothing has changed since. But there is more to this dreamy island than palmfringed beaches and azure waters.
Due to its remoteness, Mauritius was completely uninhabited until the 16th century, when it was colonised by the Dutch. Named after Prince Maurice of Nassau, a member of the Dutch Royal Family, the Dutch sought to take advantage of what natural resources were available, including ebony and sugar cane.
In 1968, after further colonisations from the French and British, Mauritius finally became independent. To this day the intoxicating blend of cultures and religions brought by the various settlers continues to thrive on the island. With Indian temples, botanical gardens, colonial houses and history-steeped museums, Mauritius is an island for exploring.
The Seychelles – once a secret hiding area for pirates – won their independence from the British in 1976. Today, the islands are a true cultural melting pot, with citizens who claim origins from across the globe. Spanning an archipelago of 115 islands, this collection of islets is home to some of the world’s most luxurious beaches, in addition to a remarkable array of flora and fauna. Most of which you’d be hard-pressed to find anywhere else on the planet.
Praslin, the second largest island in the archipelago, and arguably the most beautiful, features the stunning Vallée de Mai UNESCO World Heritage site. Once believed to be the biblical Garden of Eden, this pristine forest contains clusters upon clusters of the coco de mer palm (which is unique to the Seychelles), vanilla orchid, palmiste, splayed traveller’s palm and Chinese fan. Aldabra Tortoises and rare Black Parrots may also be seen here.
Lying northwest of the Seychelles is another paradise for naturelovers, Madagascar. This extraordinary island, marooned after the breakup of the ancient Gondwana supercontinent some 160 million years ago, carries a plethora of endemic wildlife. From aye-aye primates and egg-cup sized lemurs to curious chameleons and the fossa – the only real predator on the island, Madagascar is the ideal destination for anyone looking to observe unique animals in their natural habitats.
Some 190 miles from Madagascar, sitting in one of the largest lagoons in the world, is the French region of Mayotte. According to history, the territory geographically belongs to the Comoros archipelago. However, Mayotte’s inhabitants opted to forgo independence and retain their link with France in the 1974 referendum. The sprawling capital, Mamoudzou, is the place to sample the region’s Frenchinfluenced culture and charm. Here you will find Mayotte’s best restaurants, markets and an abundance of souvenir shops.
Another French outpost, tiny Réunion Island is booming with natural beauty. Towering mountains, breathtaking canyons, colourful towns and villages and stunning waterfalls are all waiting to be explored. But the pièce de résistance of course is the Piton de la Fournaise, one of the most active volcanoes in the world. You can marvel at this impressive attraction from the sky, or from a viewpoint right on the crater’s outer rim. In addition to the spectacular scenery, the cuisine is well worth a try too. You’ll find French, Indian, Creole, Chinese and even Italian foods, all prepared with a bit of an island twist, making use of the copious fresh fish, fruit, vegetables and spices available on the island.
There is no better way to end an Indian Ocean exploration than in the Maldives. Made up of 26 atolls in a necklace reaching down to the equator, the Maldives consists of over a thousand islets – and of these, only 200 are inhabited. The pint-sized capital of Malé showcases a more energetic side to the Maldives. This pleasingly quirky place is home to mosques, markets, museums and a maze of small, bustling streets lined with skyscrapers – a stark contrast to the laid-back pace of island life elsewhere in the country. From here, tours are available to the gorgeous tropical island resort of Kuda Bandos, which is home to picture-perfect, white-sand beaches.
Top 5 Indian Ocean experiences
1. Helicopter Flight, Réunion Island
Take to the skies and discover the dramatic landscapes of Réunion.
2. Coral Cruise, Victoria, Seychelles
Board a glass-bottom boat and head out into the crystal-clear waters of the St Anne Marine Park to hand-feed fish.
3. Nosy Komba, Nosy Be, Madagascar
Spend time with lemurs in their natural habitat and observe their intriguing behaviour.
4. Robinson Crusoe Adventure, Seychelles
Admire the coco de mer palm and giant land tortoises on Curieuse Island.
5. Walking tour of Malé, Maldives
Take in the sights and sounds of the crowded and bustling markets, in one of the smallest capitals in the world.