The African continent offers approximately 18,950 miles/30,500 kilometers of coastline and with it, an innumerable array of spectacular beaches. With so many possible destinations to consider, choosing where to go on your African beach vacation can be difficult. Options range from the rugged splendor of South Africa's Wild Coast to the paradise islands of the Seychelles and Mauritius. Although this list of our top 12 beach destinations barely scratches the surface, it's a good place to start the trip planning process.
This article was updated and re-written in part by Jessica Macdonald on November 14th 2018.
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Mnemba Island, Tanzania
Located off the north coast of Tanzania, Mnemba is a private Indian Ocean island and part of the historic Zanzibar Archipelago. The island offers the best snorkeling and scuba diving in Zanzibar, and there are ample opportunities for whale watching, swimming with dolphins and whale shark encounters in the island's clear, warm waters. It's also the perfect destination for a romantic honeymoon or anniversary celebration. The only accommodation on the island is Mnemba Island Lodge, an exclusive collection of 12 private beach bandas owned by luxury travel company &Beyond. Each cottage has its own veranda and sits nestled in the shade of the island's lush tropical forest.
Best Time to Go: July to March
Perfect For: Honeymooners, couples
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Bom Bom Island, Príncipe
Situated off the coast of West Africa in the Gulf of Guinea, the island nation of São Tomé and Príncipe is home to some truly spectacular beaches. Príncipe is the smaller of the two islands, with a population of just 6,000 people. Two of the island's best beaches are part of Bom Bom Island Resort, an eco-friendly accommodation option on Príncipe's northern shore. Its bar and restaurant are located on a tiny islet, linked to the mainland by a long walkway. The virgin forests of Príncipe are a birdwatcher's paradise. Other activities include snorkeling, whale watching, deep-sea fishing and keeping an eye out for the region's nesting turtles.
Best Time to Go: June to October
Perfect For: Couples, nature lovers
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Quirimbas Archipelago, Mozambique
Picture 32 pristine coral islands washed by the crystalline waters of the Indian Ocean, and you'll have a good idea of the paradise that awaits you in Mozambique's Quirimbas Archipelago. In 2002, 11 of the most southerly islands came under the protection of the Quirimbas National Park, set up to protect the region's magnificent wildlife. To see the region at its most beautiful you'll have to go underwater, where thriving reefs provide the opportunity to dive or snorkel with Napoleon wrasse, dolphins, whitetip reef sharks and a myriad of colorful tropical fish species. Ibo Island also holds some cultural interest, thanks to a series of ruins that date back to the country's Portuguese colonial past.
Best Time to Go: May to September
Perfect For: Honeymooners, scuba divers
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Anse Source d'Argent, Seychelles
The Seychelles archipelago has long been one of the world's most romantic destinations and its beaches feature frequently in global Top 10 lists. One of the island nation's most famous beaches is Anse Source d’Argent, located on the island of La Digue. This stretch of pure white sand is perhaps the archetypal paradise beach, with dramatic boulders, shallow turquoise waters and gently curving palm trees. It's a great place to soak up the sunshine or go snorkeling, although its perfect beauty also makes it a popular stop for visiting daytrippers. If you'd rather avoid the crowds, head to the more exclusive beaches on remote Desroches, Denis, or Fregate islands.
Best Time to Go: April to May or October to November
Perfect For: EveryoneContinue to 5 of 12 below.
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Lamu Archipelago, Kenya
Lamu is a collection of islands located off the coast of Kenya north of Mombasa. The beaches of Shela Village on the main island offer the quintessential Indian Ocean ingredients: powdery white sands, excellent snorkeling and clear blue waters. Founded by the Swahili people nearly 700 years ago, Lamu Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of Kenya's oldest settlements. Its quiet, narrow streets are fascinating to explore and the fact that there are no cars on the island just enhances the sense of stepping back in time. To see more of the archipelago's secret beaches, book an island-hopping cruise on a traditional dhow.
Best Time to Go: November to March
Perfect For: Families, budget travelers, couples
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Situated off the east coast of Madagascar, Mauritius is another Indian Ocean archipelago with endless opportunities for beachfront relaxation. One of the country's best beaches is located on the main island, near the small town of Trou-aux-Biches. A mile-long stretch of fine sand, the town's public beach boasts calm, family-friendly waters. Its west coast location means that it is largely sheltered from the weather during the rainy season, while local restaurants serve cuisine that reflects Mauritius' multicultural heritage. Watersports keep children and adults entertained, and the southern end of the beach offers a range of accommodation options to suit all budgets.
Best Time to Go: September to December and April to May
Perfect For: Families
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Port St. Johns, South Africa
South Africa has more than 1,600 miles/2,500 kilometers of coastline and much of it is extraordinarily beautiful. The Wild Coast or Transkei region combines breathtaking scenery with an astounding array of adventurous activities. Port St. Johns, the vibrant settlement known as the gateway to the Wild Coast, is a natural starting point. Explore the beautiful gorge carved out by the Umzimvubu River and the secluded beaches that stretch out on either side of the river mouth. The region's strong Pondo culture is another highlight, and herds of local cattle are often seen enjoying the view from the beach as well.
Best Time to Go: November to February
Perfect For: Families, adventurers
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Likoma Island, Malawi
For a truly unique beach vacation, consider a trip to Lake Malawi. It's the third largest lake in Africa, and its clear waters and golden beaches are reminiscent of the coast, except with fresh water. Likoma Island is located inside the Mozambican border but technically belongs to Malawi. It has several gorgeous beaches and a luxurious eco-friendly resort, Kaya Mawa. Alternatively, Mango Drift Backpackers offers a great budget accommodation option. Likoma is very peaceful with just a few cars on the island. You can walk inland to see the villages and the island's cathedral; or you can kayak, snorkel, or swim in the lake's refreshing waters.
Best Time to Go: Year-round
Good For: EveryoneContinue to 9 of 12 below.
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Île Sainte-Marie, Madagascar
Île Sainte-Marie lies just off the coast of eastern Madagascar and until a few years ago, your luggage would have been transported from the tiny airport to your hotel on a wheelbarrow. This tropical paradise boasts sunshine all year long, incredibly warm waters and perfect white sand beaches fringed with palm trees. The island was a popular haven for pirates during the 17th century, and there's a pirate cemetery near the main town. You can view humpback whales in season (July to September) and dive among gorgeous coral gardens. Stay at upscale eco-resort Princesse Bora; check into mid-range Baboo Village or save money at comfortable 2-star option Vanivola.
Best Time to Go: July to September
Perfect For: Couples, nature lovers
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Curralinho Beach, Cape Verde
Located off the coast of Senegal, Cape Verde comprises 10 volcanic islands blessed with wild, untamed beaches. All of the islands are imbued with a distinctive Brazilian flavor, thanks to the country's Portuguese heritage. While most visitors come to enjoy the beaches, it's the delicious food, sunshine, and morna music that brings them back every year. One of Cape Verde's best beaches is undoubtedly Curralinho Beach, located on the island of Boa Vista. The ocean is warm, the current is minimal, the diving is spectacular and the waves are perfect for surfing. There are several accommodation choices on the island including a few all-inclusive resorts.
Best Time to Go: April to July
Perfect For: Families, surfers
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Skeleton Coast, Namibia
Those with a taste for extreme adventure should consider a trip to Namibia's isolated Skeleton Coast. This untamed stretch of coastline starts just north of Swakopmund and extends 300 miles/500 kilometers to the Angolan border. It is characterized by soaring dunes that drop off abruptly into the frigid waters of the Atlantic Ocean, and although it's certainly not a place for sunbathing or socializing, it is one of the world's last true wildernesses. Nature lovers can spot vast Cape fur seal colonies in addition to desert-adapted elephants and hyenas. Abandoned shipwrecks like the Eduard Bohlen make for fascinating photographs. The northern Skeleton Coast National Park is only accessible by fly-in safari with a licensed operator.
Best Time to Go: October to March
Perfect For: Adventurers, nature lovers
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Cape Town, South Africa
The Mother City has it all - world-class restaurants, incredible culture and some of the most beautiful beaches on the continent. There's something for every kind of beachgoer in the Cape Town area - whether you're an animal lover hoping to swim with penguins at Boulders Beach or a pro surfer planning to take on the seasonal big waves off Hout Bay. Arguably, the most photogenic beach is Bloubergstrand, where white sands look out over Table Bay towards the iconic silhouette of Table Mountain. In summer, fashionable Camps Bay Beach is the place to see and be seen; while just a little further south Llandudno cove is a tranquil destination for those that prefer a bit of peace and quiet.
Best Time to Go: Year-round
Perfect For: Everyone