Africa, with nearly 20,000 miles of coastline, presents a beach lover with a true dilemma: how to home in on a vacation destination when the choices range from the rugged splendor of South Africa's Wild Coast to the paradise islands of the Seychelles and Mauritius. Proclaiming the 10 absolute best African beaches would be a fool's errand; this list barely scratches the surface of the possibilities. However, if you're dreaming of an African beach vacation but have no idea where to go, this top 10 list can kick off your research.
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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 10 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 through March
Perfect For: Honeymooners, Couples
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Bom Bom Island, Príncipe
Surrounded by the Gulf of Guinea off the coast of West Africa, 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 5,000 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 through October
Perfect For: Couples, Nature Lovers
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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. The islands are at their most beautiful from 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 through September
Perfect For: Honeymooners, Scuba Divers
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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 through May and October through November
Perfect For: EveryoneContinue to 5 of 10 below.
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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. Lamu Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of Kenya's oldest settlements, founded by the Swahili nearly 700 years ago. 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 through 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 through December and April through May
Perfect For: Families
07 of 10
South Africa has more than 1,500 miles 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, makes a natural jumping off 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 through February
Perfect For: Families, Adventurers
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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 within 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 10 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 be 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 the upscale eco-resort Princesse Bora; check into Vanivola, a Hotel de Charme; or opt for the budget Baboo Village.
Best Time to Go: July through September
Perfect For: Couples, Nature Lovers
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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 through July
Perfect For: Families