The Indian Ocean is home to some of the most exotic islands in the world all of which have many things in common; crystalline blue waters, beautiful beaches plucked from movie scenes, and sunshine throughout the year. We know from experience that they are as close as you can possibly get to paradise, whether you want to relax, explore the depths of the marine world, or enjoy water-sports on the glistening ocean.
The 115 islands of the Seychelles sit like sparkling, delicate jewels in this protected tropical paradise in the western section of the Indian Ocean. Located just four degrees south of the equator and northeast of Madagascar, over 50% of the Seychelles is comprised of protected areas including National Parks and Nature Reserves, which also includes two UNESCO World Heritage Sites. This creates a unique environment in which flora and fauna can flourish and an archipelago of unspoilt natural beauty for travellers to explore. Remotely set approximately 1600 kilometres from mainland Africa and said to be home to the oldest granite islands in the world, the landscape and topography of the Seychelles islands is like no other. A mixture of coral and granite islands including popular La Digue and Praslin, under a third of these are inhabited, which means it is a truly well-preserved destination with vast areas of wilderness and an array of biodiversity on its islands.
The main island of Mahe is just 17 miles long and 2 to 5 miles wide. Its capital city, Victoria, is small and charming, where hustle and bustle could not be more unfamiliar and the pace of life is enviable. The Seychelles are a mixture of French, Arabic, African and Indian descent and are friendly, easy-going and always delighted to share the beauty of their stunning islands with foreign visitors. Morne Seychellois National Park is located in Mahe’s mountainous interior, covers around 20% of the island’s land and has the nation’s highest peak at 905 metres; wrapped in dense vegetation, it can only be reached on hiking trails, but is an excellent active escape. The Seychelles has also carved itself quite a reputation for eco-tourism due to its protection, and visits to some of the islands uncover a world of prolific birdlife, hawksbill turtles and castaway beaches. The crescent-shaped reserve of Aride Island is one highlight, where you can walk to the island summit to spot the 11 species of sea-bird, two of which have the world’s largest colony on the island.
Mark Twain once said of this astoundingly idyllic volcanic island in the Indian Ocean “you gather the idea that Mauritius was made first and then heaven – and that heaven was copied after Mauritius”. Combine this beauty with unbeatable hospitality for what is the epitome of an exquisite beach destination, but there is much more to Mauritius than meets the eye, and those who visit enjoy a unique multi-cultural experience combined with refined luxury and some of the world’s most sophisticated service. Situated off the coast of Africa approximately 900 kilometres east of Madagascar, Mauritius first achieved worldwide recognition following the extinction of its indigenous and unusual Dodo bird. The largest and most developed island of the Mascarene archipelago, the island is home to over 160 kilometres of beautiful white-sand coastline surrounded by coral reefs. For those who like to venture away from the addictive beaches, Mauritius has its fair share of parks and attractions, many of which are located in the luscious and well preserved inland areas, which include sugar cane fields, historic volcanic boulders, waterfalls and tea plantations. Mountainous Black River Gorges National Park is definitely worth a visit. Located in the southwest, it occupies around 3.5% of the island’s landmass, and has some exceptional hiking trails that include coastal viewpoints and which take you through dwarf forests and woodland areas with rare tambalacoque and dodo trees. Valley of Colours National Park is another area of natural beauty with lush vegetation, streams and waterfalls. The Botanical Gardens in Pamplemousse were originally opened as a private garden by the French Governor of Mauritius over 200 years ago and are home to a vast variety of approximately 800 plants including 80 palms, many of which are indigenous to Mauritius.
Over one thousand ringed islands, an underworld utopia of dazzling colour and perfect beaches to leave you breathless; the Maldives are your gateway to enchanted islands that have become synonymous with paradise. Home to some of the most luxurious hideaways on earth, here sumptuous spas, fine cuisine and world-class diving sites are all regularly voted the best on the planet. Seize the opportunity to connect with the Robinson Crusoe inside of you, at once blissfully disconnected from civilisation (Wi-Fi optional!) and connected to some of the most dramatically vibrant natural beauty, which really does have to be seen to be believed. The Republic of the Maldives is a small nation in the heart of the Indian Ocean on the equator and is a collection of islands that starts approximately 450 miles southwest of Sri Lanka and runs over 868 kilometres. Only a relatively small percentage of these islands are inhabited, perhaps a little over 200, which means there is plenty of undeveloped natural beauty that can be explored using a luxury resort as a base. The capital, Male, (pronounced Ma-ley) is the administrative and commercial centre, where the international airport is located. Arriving at Male, you will journey onward to your chosen atoll either by speedboat or seaplane. The seaplane transfers alone are an experience not to be missed, as these wonderful light aircraft that have been adapted to take off and land on water give you a breathtaking aerial view of the brilliant necklace of coral islands that pass beneath you. A destination that commands the attention of any dive enthusiast or marine lover, the Maldives’ ancient coral reefs grow around the edges of prehistoric volcanoes and literally teem with life, with in excess of 700 fish species. Some incredible dive sites exist, often located in the channels between atolls where the speed of water movement allows for excellent drift diving.
Reunion Island is an overseas French department located within the Indian Ocean 804km east of Madagascar and 175 km west of Mauritius. This unique island is often forgotten under the radar of the blissful beaches of nearby Mauritius, but it really is a hidden gem! Offering both beachside relaxation and extreme adventure, this UNESCO World Heritage Site spans merely 30 miles and is a haven of streaming waterfalls, lush green forest, dramatic mountains and volcanic craters. It is home to one of the most active volcanoes in the world and plays host to hundreds of humpback whales during migration, who flock to the warm waters to give birth to and nurse their young. The central 100,000 hectares of the island (which is around 40% of the area) makes up the Reunion National Park, which is home to a variety of flora and fauna. The Island was originally claimed by French Colonists (who were known as Bourbon) in the 1640s. The population here is around 700,000 and is comprised of residents of French, Creole, Indian and Chinese descent; resulting in a wonderfully diverse and exciting culture. The official language is French, however Creole is the language used for day-to-day life, which is a mixture of Malagasy, French and Tamil. The peaceful islanders are respectful of one another’s beliefs and heritage, and there has been no political or social unrest here for hundreds of years. The island’s capital city, St.Denis, occupies the northernmost part of the island and has a distinctly European feel with many fascinating colonial and religious buildings. Towns such as St-Gilles-les-Bains and l’Hermitage-les-Bains are magnets for tourists because of the idyllic beaches, reefs and fantastic water-sports available, but if you fancy visiting some of the quieter Reunion villages then a trip up into the mountains will be very rewarding. Hellbourg is ideal for cultural visits; it is an enchanting mountain town steeped in history. The streets are lined with old Creole mansions, and majestic mountain walls encase the scenic former spa-town. One of the best locations on the Island for scuba diving and surfing is St-Leu on the central west coast. The most striking features of Reunion are the volcanoes and dramatic cirques (which literally translates to ‘volcano that has fallen in on itself’) which dominate the island’s landscape. The inactive volcano Piton des Neiges (which translates to snow peak), soars to 3070 metres and is great for challenging treks and there is a biological reserve on its lower slopes where over 200 species of plant life and many species of animals reside. At over 530,000 years old, Piton de la Fournaise – or ‘Peak of the Furnace’ - rises 2630 metres and is one of the world’s most active volcanoes, with 3 eruptions occurring over the last 6 years, and is located on the eastern side of the Island.