Africa is safaris, deserts and incredible wildlife, but the continent’s beautiful islands often get overlooked.
From the easily recognisable Madagascar to the undiscovered São Tomé and Príncipe, Africa’s islands are the perfect places to escape to.
To help you choose between them, this is our expert guide to Africa’s paradise islands.
Perhaps the most famed of Africa’s hidden islands, Zanzibar is home to swaying palm trees, shimmering white beaches and sparkling blue seas. Lying 36 kilometres off the Tanzanian coast, the pace of life in Zanzibar is one of a wonderfully laid back East African rhythm. Beyond its postcard perfect desert island scenery, there’s a lot to explore in Zanzibar. Once known as ‘The Spice Islands,’ the warming scents of cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg being cultivated still waft through the air.
In the past, Arabian settlers and spice traders from India and Indonesia brought their traditions with them, and the influences have today transformed this island into a true melting pot. The UNESCO World Heritage site of Stone Town is well worth exploring, while the island’s stunning coastline is paradise on earth.
2) São Tomé and Príncipe
Arguably Africa’s most undiscovered islands, the islands of São Tomé and Príncipe are a window into a bygone era. A former Portuguese colony, this stunning archipelago is home to some of the most diverse flora and fauna on the planet. It’s often referred to as Africa’s answer to the Galapagos, and it’s easy to see why. Dense tropical forests, volcanic peaks and sweeping cocoa plantations are the main landscapes here, wonderfully complemented by swathes of idyllic beaches dotted with palm trees.
São Tomé is the larger of the two islands, and is teeming with slightly more life than its tranquil counterpart. Although the main city’s cream-coloured fort and old churches bring with them oozes of charm, the other 90% of the island is completely enveloped by rainforest. The pristine jungle opens out onto beautifully untouched beaches, all excellent bases for water sports or simply enjoying the view. São Tomé’s neighbour Príncipe is true paradise, and a designated UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Home to an array of amphibian, reptile and bird species, as well as rainforests, beaches, waterfalls and hiking trails, there’s nothing you can’t do on this heavenly island.
Although Madagascar is known for its wildlife, there’s plenty more to discover on this undisturbed island. 90 percent of all flora and fauna found in Madagascar are endemic to the island, and with a blend of Austronesian, African, Arab and European culture, this island is one of the most multifaceted in the world.
Beyond the capital of Antananarivo, one of our favourite parts of the island to explore is the Anjajavy Reserve. Located in the north-west of Madagascar, this stellar example of sustainable tourism is a 7,200 hectare area encompassing everything from coral reefs to native baobabs. Classified by the WWF as a priority in terms of conservation, the Anjajavy Reserve protects local wildlife whilst improving the livelihoods of the local community. There’s nothing not to love here.
4) Fregate Island, The Seychelles
The Seychelles are a veritable island paradise, and with 115 islands covering five marine national parks, abundant biodiversity and spectacular coral reefs, travellers are spoilt for choice. On Fregate Island, palm-fringed beaches, lush forests and bright turquoise waters come together to make it the perfect destination.
Guests can spend time here relaxing in the luxury Rock spa, or getting acquainted with the islands resident giant Aldabra tortoises. At a 20-minute flight from the larger Mahe Island and just under three kilometres in size, Fregate Island is a previous winner of Conde Nast’s Private Island of the Year Award. If it’s idyllic scenery combined with the opportunity for active pursuits that you’re after, then Fregate Island is the island for you.
5) Bazaruto Archipelago, Mozambique
Mozambique is everything you’d think it would be – hundreds of miles of unspoilt coastline, the warm waves of the Indian Ocean and postcard perfect sunsets. Just off the coast of the southern shores of this fascinating country lies the Bazaruto Archipelago.
One of the highlights here is the diving and snorkelling, with the world-famous ‘two-mile reef’ site showcasing some of the most diverse marine life in the Indian Ocean. With the island to no-one but yourself, a few other guests and the local fisherman, this archipelago is the perfect place to escape the stresses of modern day life.