Africa's best beach destinations: Discover paradise on the African Continent

For when whizzing around those dusty savannahs in search of zebras and/or top quality wine gets a little too much, Africa’s beaches await with serene sands to lie upon and azure waters to dunk into. And, with over 30,000 kilometres of coastline encircling the continent and peripheral islands, there’s plenty of space for everyone. Of Africa’s 38 coastline-clad countries, a few, in particular, stand out, such as Mozambique for pristine coral, or Madagascar for coastal islets to rival the Maldives. The beaches of Kenya, Ghana, Tunisia and the Democratic Republic of Congo also vie for attention with abutting lagoons and upscale resorts, though if we were pushed to choose just 10 of the best African beach destinations, we’d pick the following.

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Bloubergstrand, Cape Town, South Africa | Photo: Tyzana Craig

1. Seychelles

The original couple’s retreat, the Seychelles host a series of Africa’s most romantic beach spots across the archipelago. The most photographed beach in the world is located here – Anse Source D’Argent on La Digue – but that certainly isn’t the extent of the Seychelles boulder-laden beauty spots. For more fine beaches, we suggest the super-soft sands of Cote D’Or and the takamaka-shaded area of Anse Lazio both on Praslin Island, though the hawkbill turtle hatching area of Grand Anse Kerlan will appeal most to wildlife lovers. Fly fishing and swimming with whale sharks are popular activities on La Digue and beyond but it should be said that motorised water sports are banned across the Seychelles.

On the largest island of Mahé, the wild shores of Anse Intendance are best to catch the turtle hatchling action between October and February, with nearby Anse Soleil making waves at sunset. By basing yourself on Mahé you’ll be granted ruggedly handsome backdrops as well as a number of five-star luxury resorts, such as Fregate Island Private Resort where golf buggies will zip you from the infinity pool to the clifftop to the on-site art gallery in no time at all. Fregate House does Creole cuisine to a T but the island is spoilt for choice in that regard; our favourite combo being to start at Plantation House for BBQ followed by Anse Bambous Beach Bar for cocktails. Discover more places to stay with our rundown of the 10 best (and most gay-friendly) hotels in Seychelles.

Seychelles | Photo: Kamil Rogalinski

Seychelles | Photo: Alin Meceanu

2. South Africa

South Africa scores top marks in many of our favourite things. World-class wineries; check. Vast national parks; absolutely. Abundant wildlife; of course. Powdery sands you’ll never want to wipe off your body; you betcha! Most of the best beaches in South Africa don’t come backed by forest or palm, but the epic cliffs and rock formations surrounding them are sure to make a lasting impression. Enjoy South Africa best beaches from afar, with a wide view accented by mountains and distant twinkling cities, enjoyed over a glass of wine and a meal. Otherwise, get down to beach level and encounter the local wildlife, everything from penguins and seals to humpback whales and great white sharks (best seen on a cage dive from Gansbaai). Of South Africa’s 2,798 kilometres of coastline, the finest sections are based on either the Wild Coast or Transkei region, where adventure amongst stunning scenery is readily available.

For the Wild Coast, start your adventure at Port St. Johns and move out from there to discover the secluded beaches on the other side of Umzimvubu River gorge or perhaps the lagoon and waterfall at Uvongo. Coffee Bay is another favourite South Africa beach on the Wild Coast, featuring a series of cliffs and lush hills overlooking the Indian Ocean. Much further up the coast on the northeast border to Mozambique, lies iSimangaliso, one of the harder-to-reach vacation destinations in South Africa, worthy of a visit thanks to its biodiversity and 218-kilometre coastline edging wetland reserve, dunes and swamp forests. If you make the journey, the best bathing beaches are Cape Vidal and Sodwana Bay (also home to Africa’s southernmost coral reefs), though for pristine sands and seclusion, head ever further north to Black Rock, Bhanga Nek and Kosi Bay. Visitors arriving in the summer season (October to March) can also consider joining a research team to track the nesting habits of leatherback and loggerhead turtles.

Cape Town is well known as one of the best vacation destinations in South Africa but did you know you needn’t travel far at all to find sensational beaches. Camps Bay lies just 10 minutes from the city centre by car, where white sands come lined with lively restaurants and bars, making it a leading hangout spot for the city’s socialites. Consider spending the night at The Bay Hotel to explore the local coastline in more depth, visit the Clifton beach coves in a morning to wave at the penguins on Boulders Beach and the surfers on Muizenberg before possibly trying your hand at kitesurfing in view of Table Mountain at Blouberg. On a longer trip outside of Cape Town, consider driving to De Hoop Nature Reserve en route to the famous Garden Route beaches and national park. De Hoop is just three hours from Cape Town, hosting spectacular whale watching from the shore (during breeding season between July and November). Discover where to stay with our guide to SA’s best wine hotels and our Cape Town travel guide.

South Africa | Photo: Taryn Elliott

South Africa | Photo: Stephan Louis

3. Mauritius

Mauritius may be the model of paradise but a lot remains to be discovered beyond its pretty face. A small island off the coast of eastern Africa, Mauritius offers myriad adventures, most revolving around the water, though mountains, forests and waterfall trails can also draw your sights inland. Those looking for the centre of the action will enjoy Grand Baie Beach for its proximity to Port Louis, the capital and cultural hub where you’ll find authentic Creole cuisine. Both Grand Baie and fellow northern gem Trou aux Biches offer calm waters and various water sports, such as kitesurfing, snorkelling and kayaking, plus local restaurants and various accommodation types all along the shore. Other top choices include Le Morne, a 1.5-kilometre natural beauty with its own lagoon and golf course at the base of a mountain near Chamarel Waterfall. The Seven Coloured Earth Geopark is also a must-see in Mauritius, after which you’re invited to jump on a quad bike and tour the wild south, revving through forest and along cliffs.

Flic en Flac takes up a long stretch of the island’s west coast, favoured for its length and water sports options. Belle Mare to the east however is similarly tempting, a secluded stretch coated in white sand and green vegetation with a bonus lagoon. The view at sunrise from the balcony of the beach’s many upscale hotels is truly worth waking up for. Besides beachside lazing, discover our pick of the top things to do in Mauritius.

Mauritius | Photo: Xavier Coiffic

4. Zanzibar

Lying just off the coast of Tanzania, Zanzibar is the perfect place for a relaxing getaway before or after a safari on the Serengeti. Besides beaches, Zanzibar is recognised for its unique mix of African and Middle Eastern heritage, as shown in the bold architectural styles of Stone Town where Arabian spice markets unravel down winding, cobbled streets. The undisputed home of the best Tanzania beaches, Zanzibar has a few stunning examples to show off. Firstly, there’s Nungwi to the north; once a small fishing village and dhow-building hub but now a popular vacation spot noted for its palms that lean temptingly towards sand and sea as well as its white-sailed dhows that’ll take you on a sunset ride to remember.

Another beach in Zanzibar worth a mention is Kendwa Beach on the island’s northernmost tip, a beach so beautiful that luxury resorts now line its length. To the east, calm waters at Bwejuu, Jambiani and Paje also offer their own share of top resorts, but those looking for the most exclusive vacation Zanzibar has to offer can try Pemba Island (a one-hour flight from Dar es Salaam). For something in between, Mnemba Island is your place, less developed and allowing for those private beach moments. Swim, snorkel and turtle watch to your heart’s content, sleeping in a private beach banda belonging to Mnemba Island Lodge, the only accommodation on the island.

Alternatively, Mafia Island also proffers some of the best beaches in Zanzibar, much loved for their castaway feel and easy access to incredible dive sites shared with whale sharks from October to April. Like what you hear? Discover more of the majesty of gay Zanzibar any time of year.

Zanzibar, Tanzania | Photo: Humphrey Muleba

Zanzibar | Photo: Dmitry Limonov

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Mozambique is the choice for travellers who want to strip things back and appreciate pure nature. Here you’ll get windswept palms and soft white sand lapped by warm waters

Mozambique | Photo: Redcharlie

5. Mozambique

The Maldives and Seychelles may have their refined appeal, but Mozambique is the choice for travellers who want to strip things back and appreciate pure nature. Here you’ll get windswept palms and soft white sand lapped by warm waters bearing healthy reef systems and marine life including dolphins, dugongs, rays, turtles and whale sharks. As such, diving and snorkelling are the go-to activities here, especially around the Quirimbas Archipelago just off Mozambique’s coast, an area protected as a national park. Of our favourite islands in Quirimbas, Medjumbe is best for castaway romance, Quilalea for snorkelling day trips and Vamizi for well conserved coral reefs.

Outside of Quirimbas, there’s still so much to do in Mozambique, notably surfing, fly fishing and diving from Tofo Beach or lounging in serenity on nearby Tofino. For exclusivity by the Champagne bucket load, the Bazaruto Archipelago wins out for its selection of upscale African beach resorts, many of which are sustainable developments, such as the Kisawa Sanctuary which 3D prints its own building materials! If a private island is what you’re after, Ilha Caldeira is the one, with the villas at Banyan Tree Hotels & Resorts likewise among the nation’s most sustainable. Wreck diving is a fine choice while staying on Ilha Caldeira, though whale watching, kayaking and island-hopping tours will also delight.

Rolas Island, Mozambique | Photo: Dimitry B

Photo: Thomas Nguka

6. Kenya

The Maasai Mara may steal all of Kenya’s thunder with its annual Great Migration, but elsewhere in the country you’ll find peace and quiet away from the wildebeest stampede. Head to the south-east coast an hour outside of Mombasa to find some of Kenya’s best beaches, namely the famous Diani Beach that stretches on endlessly to carpet a number of all-inclusive resorts and intimate hotels such as AfroChic. While kitesurfing is the chief activity on Diani Beach, over on Watamu Beach in Malindi Marine Reserve Park, snorkelling and diving are your priorities, granting sightings of green and hawksbill turtles swimming amongst what are known as East Africa’s best offshore coral formations.

If all else fails to excite, then perhaps the Lamu Archipelago is for you. Away from it all, in the waters off Kenya’s north coast, these islands – namely Kiwayu, Lamu, Manda, Manda Toto and Pate – are the tranquil idylls that combine both natural beauty and cultural heritage. Lamu Island is listed by UNESCO for its importance to ancient Swahili culture (showcased on walking tours of Lamu Town), while the sublime beaches nearby Shela Village can provide luxury resorts. If you can’t decide on one island, try an island-hopping dhow cruise for easy access to them all!

Nyali Beach, Mombasa, Kenya | Photo: Sylvia Szekely

Watamu Beach, Kenya | Photo: Ali

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Sitting pretty in the Gulf of Guinea off Africa’s west coast, São Tomé and Príncipe (formerly the Chocolate Islands) await with barefoot luxury vacations to remember

7. São Tomé and Príncipe

Sitting pretty in the Gulf of Guinea off Africa’s west coast, São Tomé and Príncipe (formerly the Chocolate Islands) await with barefoot luxury vacations to remember. You’ll feel like a castaway on either of the two islands, though the larger and more developed São Tomé will allow for more activities. If torn, simply walk across to Bom Bom Island, located off the northern shores of Príncipe, for some of the nation’s best beaches. The eco-friendly Bom Bom Island Resort manages two such beaches as well as a bar and restaurant, perfect for escaping it all.

On return to Príncipe, enter the virgin forests for birdwatching tours, or stick to the encircling coast for whale watching, deep-sea fishing and snorkelling. Of the best beaches on Príncipe, there’s wild Margarida (accessible by boat or on foot) followed by the oft-deserted Praia Banana, of Bacardi commercial fame. On São Tomé meanwhile, Praia dos Tamarindos is considered the best option for swimming, easily accessible from the colonial capital. Then, Praia Bateria provides another islet escape, a crescent cove resting between two rock walls on Ilhéu das Rolas.

São Tomé and Príncipe | Photo: Joao Ferreira

Photo: Thomas Nguka

8. Madagascar

The vast diversity of Madagascar’s natural world cannot be overstated; there’s Afrotropic rainforest on one side and desert on the other, connected by karsts, canyons and staggered hills and all beautifully enwrapped in 5,000 kilometres of coastline. Madagascar is also intensely biodiverse, home to lemurs, chameleons and more, and the relatively low-key tourism industry (with some national parks seeing only 100 visitors each year) makes for a wonderfully preserved environment. Cultural homestays in rural villages are a great way to learn about local lifestyles before embarking on kitesurfing, rock climbing and biking adventures.

When ready to rest, we recommend Île Sainte-Marie, a sliver of an island found off the northeast coast. The secret coves here come complemented by turquoise waters perfect for diving and snorkelling and made all the more interesting for their pirate history, as seen at the pirate tombs at Baie des Forbans (Pirates’ Bay). Other islets to discover include Nosy Nato with its no-car policy and charming lunch restaurants. Then, the Mitsio Islands might steal you away, as the so-called ‘Maldives of Madagascar’ with crystal waters, white sands and diverse wildlife. Nosy Iranja is another series of two islands, connected by a strip of sand only visible at low tide. Known as the island of turtles, Nosy Iranja is good for wildlife watching all year round, with its very own lighthouse designed by Gustave Eiffel.

July and August mark whale watching season across Île Sainte-Marie, though elsewhere whales can be seen throughout June to September. On the mainland, Manafiafy is a secluded spot on the south coast, lined by trees and water sports facilities, while the neighbouring beach at Ifaty in the southwest features fishmonger’s houses and famed coral reefs. Another beach for fishing culture is Anakao, a colourful locale both above and below the water’s surface. Perhaps the most popular beaches in Madagascar belong to Nosy Be, and, though expensive, the picture-perfect shores here come frequented by rare Omura whales and backed by waterfalls and vanilla plantations. Fill your schedule with the insights of Mr Hudson, referring to our ultimate 10-day Madagascar itinerary.

Madagascar | Photo: Graphic Node

Madagascar | Photo: Alessandro Zanini

9. Cape Verde

A collection of 10 volcanic islands off the coast of Senegal in West Africa, Cape Verde gives vacationers a taste of Portugal on a sizable choice of beach breaks. Some Cape Verde beaches are more remote than others, such as Chaves Beach on the west side of Boa Vista island, easily recognised by its Atlantic-carved dunes that run over five kilometres long to provide a desert backdrop for seaside fun. Though remote, you can find hotels on the west coast and delicious local seafood all over. For more options on Boa Vista, head down south to Curralinho Beach, for surfable waves and diving opportunities, or Santa Monica (in the southwest) for nine kilometres of uninterrupted white sand, perfect for sunset strolls.

São Vicente is another Cape Verde island with some sand up its sleeves. São Pedro Beach is a favourite among water sports lovers, particularly windsurfers wanting rugged mountain vistas, though Laginha Beach is a worthy alternative owing to its proximity to the port city of Mindelo and views over the Santo Antão mountains from beach bar Kilimbo. Lastly, it’s to Sal we go, Cape Verde’s most developed island though no less beautiful for it. Here, Santa Maria beach shines as a place for bathing and water sports (windsurfing, kiteboarding and sailing included), with added culture at the pier by way of colourful fishing boats and a selection of attractive bars.

Photo: Nias Nyalada

Photo: Sunsetoned

10. Skeleton Coast, Namibia

As a bonus, we had to mention the beautiful beaches in Namibia. Our top ticket is the stretch of coastland known as the Skeleton Coast that starts north of Swakopmund and runs 500 kilometres to Angola. Like the end of the earth, the awesome sands here feature towering dunes some 900 feet high that crest and fall suddenly into the Atlantic Ocean. We don’t recommend trying to pitch a sun lounger but rather you’ll marvel at the beauty of such wilderness before exploring a thousand shipwrecks, whale skeletons leftover from the bygone whaling industry, and all the more living wildlife.

Namib translates as ‘vast place’, and this is certainly shown on the Skeleton Coast, a place backed by empty desert and dry riverbed. The Namibia beaches here come shrouded with mist for much of the year, as a result of cool Atlantic air meeting the warm Namib Desert, but this only makes the landscape more intriguing and biodiverse. Though the land seems desolate, elephants and hyenas have adapted to the land, and colonies of Cape fur seals also live here. In the water, plankton, schools of fish and whale families can also be spotted, attracted by the strong currents and mild temperatures. If you’d rather not explore the region on foot, book a four-wheel-drive vehicle or fly-in safari, the latter of which will allow access to the northern Skeleton Coast National Park.

Skeleton Coast, Namibia | Photo: Andrew Svk

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