Blue-sky thinking: 20 amazing adventure holidays in the Indian Ocean

·12-min read
yacht - Dream Yacht Charter
yacht - Dream Yacht Charter

It’s not all about white-sand beaches, palm trees and cocktails. There are adventures to be had in paradise, too. The world’s third largest ocean inspires thrill-seekers, whether you are looking for out-of-this-world scuba diving, combining a beach holiday with a safari, or learning to sail a dhow. 

Sailing around Lamu 

The safari is Kenya’s big ticket, but its coastline and islands also impress. A two-hour flight from Nairobi lies the island of Lamu, one of the coast’s original Swahili settlements. Go snorkelling and fishing and learn to sail on the Flipflopi, a boat made from recycled beach plastic, manned by the same crew that built it. Master boat builder and skipper Ali Skanda will take you to a deserted island for a barbecue. 

Far and Wild Travel offers a 10-day holiday from £3,120 per person, full/half-board mix, including activities and internal flights. farandwild.travel

sailing lamu
sailing lamu

The Big Five and the beach

If you fancy an inland adventure before Indian Ocean relaxation, add a safari at one of East Africa’s best-known spots. The Maasai Mara National Reserve, the Serengeti National Park and the Ngorongoro Crater are also home to the Maasai people whose traditions and modern way of life are often a highlight of a trip to this region, if done via an ethical operator. Afterwards, head to Zanzibar to explore the Unesco-listed Stone Town and enjoy the sunsets and snorkelling on the Northern Beaches.

Intrepid Travel’s 10-day East Africa Highlights tour costs from £2,490 per person including accommodation, most meals and all game drives, with a Zanzibar Beach Break add-on from £390 per person. Excludes flights. intrepidtravel.com

Intrepid Travel
Intrepid Travel

Swim with whale sharks 

The East African island of Mafia, in Tanzania’s Mafia Archipelago, has one of the world’s longest whale shark seasons from October to February, when these remarkable creatures feed on the ­plankton that arrives from the Rufiji River. The largest fish in the sea – with no teeth and a gentle disposition – can reach an incredible 40ft in length and weigh up to 20 tons. Base yourself on Butiama Beach, where you can spot sea turtles, go scuba diving or kayaking and take dhow boat trips.

Gane and Marshall offers seven nights at Butiama Lodge, half-board, including internal flights between Dar es-Salaam and Mafia Island, transfers and use of kayaks from £1,100 per person. ganeandmarshall.com

Whale Sharks
Whale Sharks

Kitesurfing with dolphins 

Zanzibar’s Paje Beach with its flat, shallow lagoon is one of the world’s best kitesurfing spots whether you are a pro or a novice. Its two main kitesurfing seasons run from mid-December until February, known as the Kaskazi, and from May until October, the Kuzi – and dolphins and turtles are known to join the ride. You can also go diving, snorkelling and stand-up paddleboarding, or head into Jozani Forest, one of the world’s last remaining sanctuaries for red colobus monkeys.

Zanzibar White Sand Villas offers a four-night package from £945 half-board, including a six-hour kitesurfing pack. whitesandvillas.com

White Sand Villas
White Sand Villas

Island-hopping by dhoni

The Maldives is full of impressive resorts, but you can experience the archipelago in a different way aboard a traditional dhoni. These multi-purpose sailing vessels are commonly used in the Maldives, south India and Sri Lanka, often as fishing boats, ferries or even cargo ships – and many have now been adapted for multi-day cruises. Explore the islands and sandbars of the South Malé and Felidhu atolls, relax on Bodu Moro or sit down to a traditional drumming session on Fulidhoo. 

G Adventures offers a seven-day group tour by boat from Malé starting at £1,199pp. The price includes six nights on a dhoni, meals, snorkelling, a guide and transfers. Travellers can also take part in beach clean-ups via the Maldives Plastic Project. gadventures.com

Hike Mauritius 

A former French colony that then came under British rule, Mauritius also drew the attention of Charles Darwin. He first visited on his second Beagle voyage in 1836, although he didn’t “discover” the island as is reported – it is thought Arab sailors were the first to discover it around 975AD. Hike along the Morne Brabant peninsula, a Unesco World Heritage Site that is also great for kitesurfing; see the geological formation of Seven Coloured Earth at Chamarel; and visit the Mauritius Wildlife Foundation at Blue Bay Marine Park.

Premier Holidays offers seven nights all-inclusive at Veranda Tamarin from £1,249 per person including international flights. premierholidays.co.uk

Mauritius
Mauritius

Remote reef diving and guided swimming 

Seven hundred miles south of the Seychelles’ main island of Mahe are the remote atolls of Astove, Cosmoledo and Alphonse, with incredible dive sites just a 15-minute boat ride away. At Astove, at low tide, you can even walk from the shore to the edge of a reef wall that drops 330ft and is home to turtles, groupers, Napoleon wrasse, dogtooth tuna, wahoo, sailfish and sometimes hammerhead sharks. If you’re a swimmer, consider a small group guided swimming holiday on a liveaboard. 

Original Diving’s 12-day Diving Discovery Expedition costs from £12,375 per person. The price includes flights, transfers, airport services, accommodation, all dives/kit hire and local concierge service. originaldiving.com 

SwimTrek’s Seychelles trip costs from £2,650 per person, including daily guided swims, hiking, six nights’ accommodation, all meals and airport transfers. swimtrek.com

Seychelles
Seychelles

Sail on a crewed yacht

If you fancy yourself as a sailor but don’t know your gybe from your jib, a private room on a crewed yacht is a great way to experience the Seychelles. Places such as Anse Major, accessible only by boat on the northwest coast of Mahe, are en route, plus other relatively undervisited spots such as the reefs of Cocos Island, car-free La Digue and Curieuse’s national park (with its tortoises). At Cousin’s nature reserve, you will also see the giant palm leaves of “cocos de mer” with trunks more than 130ft high.

Dream Yacht Charter offers trips of three to 10 nights’ duration aboard catamarans with a full crew. As a guide, a seven-night cruise costs from £1,062 per person full-board. dreamyachtcharter.co.uk

The highs of remote Réunion

Located 497 miles east of Madagascar is the French overseas department of Réunion, a volcanic island that is renowned for its bird life, hot springs and waterfalls. Hike before dawn to witness a superlative sunrise from the highest point on the island (and indeed in the Indian Ocean), Piton des Neiges, with views of the active Piton de la Fournaise volcano. Réunion’s mix of African and French cultures, village walks and the coastal resort of St Gilles add to the adventure.

KE Adventure has an 11-day trip from £1,675 including all accommodation, transfers and guides. keadventure.com 

Reunion
Reunion

A multi-adventure self-drive 

Hairpin bends and volcanic scenery make the activity of driving alone an adventure on Réunion, passing sugarcane fields and rum distilleries that tell part of the story of the island’s past and present. Its “cirques” – natural amphitheatres, once the craters of now-­dormant volcanoes – are surrounded by hiking trails, with opportunities for ­canyoning, climbing, mountainbiking and abseiling down waterfalls. There is also plenty of snorkelling, scuba diving, surfing and paragliding at spots such as Hermitage Beach.

Rainbow Tours offers a two-week self-drive tour from £2,450 per person including flights, Group A car hire and 14 nights’ accommodation with breakfast. rainbowtours.co.uk 

Explore the Comoros

East of Mozambique and northwest of Madagascar lies this archipelago of three volcanic islands, which are infrequently visited by tourists. The largest of these is Grande Comore, home to Mount Karthala, an exhilarating climb at 7,746ft. For marine life, Mohéli’s ­snorkelling reefs, dolphin sightings and private beaches are rightly renowned, while the island of Anjouan with its misty mountains and deep valleys is often considered to be the most spectacular of the trio.

Undiscovered Destinations offers a Comoros Discovery tour from £1,599 per person, including 10 nights’ accommodation on all three islands and activities. undiscovered-destinations.com

Aye-aye adventures

It’s one of the most elusive primates on earth and, like most of Madagascar’s lemurs, an endangered species. The Farankaraina Reserve near Maroantsetra is known for its aye-aye sightings with at least eight of the primates living in the forests, while the Masoala Peninsula, one of the last significant areas of eastern lowland rainforest left in Madagascar, is home to Masoala National Park. Inside, you can spot the rare helmet vanga bird, red-ruffed lemurs and the striped tenrec, a mammal that is not dissimilar to a hedgehog.

Reef and Rainforest offers a 10-day tour from £2,945 per person including domestic flights, guide, ­accommodation, most meals, activities and transfers. reefandrainforest.co.uk 

aye-aye
aye-aye

Road trip in Madagascar’s wild northwest 

The northwest of Madagascar is an adventure lover’s dream. Responsible Travel’s small group road trip is full of activities including trekking, canoeing, biking and wild camping. This trip takes you from the highlands into villages and national parks including the island’s eroded “tsingy” rock formations and Ankarana Reserve, believed to have the highest density of primates of any forest. On the island of Nosy Be, you will camp on Anjiabé beach. 

Responsible Travel’s 13-night group trip costs from £2,795 per person, excluding international flights but including accommodation, internal flights, plus some meals and activities. responsibletravel.com

Seeking the rare dugong 

Benguerra Island in Mozambique is the ideal spot to seek the rare, elusive dugong, in Bazaruto National Park. If you don’t, you may well encounter an abundance of easier-to-find marine animals including dolphins, whale sharks, black marlin and giant trevally instead as you snorkel, dive or fish (strictly catch-and-release) in these pristine waters. There are plenty of inland adventures to be had too: horse riding beside sand dunes, lakes filled with flamingos – or book a helicopter tour for a bird’s-eye view you won’t forget.

The Luxury Safari Company is offering stays at Azura Marlin Beach from £540 per person per night. Flights cost extra. theluxurysafaricompany.com 

KwaZulu-Natal’s coastline

KwaZulu-Natal is one of South Africa’s most striking provinces, its Indian Ocean coastline allowing for a bush-to-beach experience without the need to fly to an island. Stay at community-run Rhino Lodge, the first private concession inside the lush Hluhluwe-iMfolozi National Park, for a Big Five experience, before the magic of Thonga Beach Lodge, part-owned by the local community, for guided snorkelling and in season, scorpion and spider walks.

Best of South Africa Travel offers an eight-night KwaZulu-Natal Beach and Bush Adventure from £2,470 per person. bestofsouthafricatravel.com

KwaZulu-Natal
KwaZulu-Natal

See the Big Seven in the Eastern Cape

Explore the region between Port Elizabeth, the bottlenose dolphin capital of the world, and Port Alfred for everything from horseriding and watersports to safari drives and birdwatching. Addo Elephant Park also offers the chance to see the Big Seven – the southern right whale and the great white shark, plus the usual Big Five – while the Oceana Beach & Wildlife Reserve can count 220 types of bird, 30 animal species and four miles of Indian Ocean beach all in one setting. For wildlife enthusiasts, game drives in the Shamwari Game Reserve highlight Eastern Cape conservation initiatives.

Mantis Collection offers an Eastern Cape Meander from £2,024 per person including accommodation, meals, some drinks and game drives. mantiscollection.com

Trains, waves and elephants 

There are hundreds of opportunities for adventure in Sri Lanka. You can bike around the World Heritage temples of Anuradhapura, climb the Rock Fortress of Sigiriya and hop on a train into the central highlands to learn about the history of the tea plantation, the island’s colonial past, and the people who work the land. Go whale-watching off the south coast, birdwatching at Bundala national park and spotting elephants at Udawalala, not to mention kitesurfing, rafting and hiking across the island.

The Travel Gallery offers a 15-night adventure from £2,600 per person including flights, accommodation, and activities. travel-gallery.co.uk 

Paddle Sri Lanka’s longest river 

Paddle down the Mahaweli River for a three-day self-supported expedition with wild camping, hiking and glamping in the rainforests of The Knuckles Mountain Range. You could also go whale-watching, try canyoning and rafting, and even set up camp right by an elephant corridor in the jungle. End at the ancient city of Polonnaruwa.

Much Better Adventures’ nine-night trip costs from £1,788 per person including accommodation, meals, transfers, guides, equipment and permits. muchbetteradventures.com 

Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka

Trek on Socotra Island

The island chain of Socotra has long fascinated travellers, cut off from mainland Africa by the Guardafui Channel, with Yemen to the northwest and Somalia to the southwest. Today, civil war in Yemen adds to its isolation. Socotra Island itself is Unesco-listed, has 95 per cent of the archipelago’s landmass and even today hosts species which have become extinct elsewhere, hence its “Galapagos of the Indian Ocean” nickname. Secret Compass’s trip aims to complete a 74-mile camel-supported trekking traverse of Socotra’s main island, through the Hajhir Massif mountain range, past dragon blood trees, meeting local communities and trekking along its Indian Ocean coastline.

Secret Compass’s Socotra expedition (leaving on March 31 2021) costs from £2,999 per person including tent accommodation, all food and soft drinks, on-the-ground transport and guides. secretcompass.com

Diving in the Andaman Islands

Often said to offer the world’s most pristine diving conditions with visibility up to 130ft, the 500 outcrops that make up the Andaman Islands are, along with the Nicobar Islands, a territory of India although closer to Thailand, in the middle of the Bay of Bengal. Renowned dive sites include Dixon’s Pinnacle, which attracts schools of trevallies, barracudas and hunting tuna, and Jackson’s Bar, best known for the Kuhl’s sting rays which gather on the sea floor. 

Laca Dives offers a four-night trip at Big Tree Resort in Chidiya Tapu from £930 per person including accommodation, PADI training, Open Water certification, snacks on board and transfers. lacadives.com

Andaman Islands
Andaman Islands

Overseas holidays from the UK are currently not allowed, but are set to restart on December 2.

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