Sparkling sands, towering palms, and turquoise-blue waters are all part of the draw of holiday destinations in the Indian Ocean. From the laid-back bliss of the Seychelles, Mauritius, and the Maldives to the natural wonders of Réunion Island, Madagascar, and Sri Lanka, the Indian Ocean is home to some of the world’s most beautiful and sought-after places.
However, both the breadth and quality of choice in this tropical corner of the world can make deciding where to holiday difficult, as each place sounds just as good as the next.
So, with this in mind, here are seven gorgeous Indian Ocean holidays destinations.
With soft white sands, crystal clear waters, and palm-fringed coastlines, Mauritius’ reputation as a beautiful beach holiday destination is justified. It might be a tiny island, but there’s so much to do here – whether you’re after tranquility or adventure.
Mauritius’ 720 miles of coastline make it easy to find a perfect beach – though the island’s west, south, and east coasts are particularly known for their immaculate white sands.
One of the longest stretches is Belle Mare, a beach which borders a stunning coral-protected lagoon. Le Morne Beach, in the west, also sits at the foot of the dramatic Le Morne Brabant peak – a UNESCO World Heritage Site – and offers unforgettable views.
However, if you’re after adventure and activity, there’s plenty to do in Mauritius besides kicking back on the beach.
You could visit the Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam Botanic Garden (one of the best in the world); explore Mauritius’ French-colonial inspired capital, Port Louis; or get back to nature in Black River Gorges National Park. Home to over 300 species of plants and nine species of birds only found in Mauritius, the park offers a unique wildlife experience.
Or, if you fancy taking to the sea, why not head off on a boat trip to see dolphins or try out some of the many water sports on offer – like water-skiing, kite-surfing, or sea-karting? Or, you could go snorkeling and explore one of the largest unbroken barrier reefs in the world.
Discover the magic of Mauritius
2. Sri Lanka
Whether you’re after nature, beaches, or a cultural experience, Sri Lanka has it all.
With over 120 species of mammals, 171 species of reptiles, 227 species of birds, and one of the world’s largest populations of blue and sperm whales, Sri Lanka is an animal-lover’s dream.
Head to Yala National Park to get up close with elephants, sloths, and langur monkeys – and, if you’re lucky, you might spot a leopard too. Or, head to the sea, for possible sightings of turtles and blue whales.
If it’s a cultural adventure you’re after, then Sri Lanka’s original royal capital, Anuradhapura, is well worth exploring. Many people like to do this by tuk-tuk, which only adds to the fun. Or you could spend a day climbing up Sigiriya – a rock-top fortress in central Sri Lanka, which dates back to the fifth century. It’s one of Sri Lanka’s seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
If you’re feeling particularly adventurous and you’d like to cover a larger stretch of Sri Lankan land, why not hop on the picturesque railway journey from Kandy to Ella? The train route is ideal for exploring the country’s varied scenery, visiting local villages, and interacting with the locals – and has become one of the most sought after things to do in Sri Lanka.
Then, when you’re ready to relax, you’ll find perfect solitude with the soft sands and coconut palms on one of Sri Lanka’s tropical beaches. Some of the most popular beaches include Unawatuna, Dalawella, Wijaya, and Hiriketiya.
Experience the magic of Sri Lanka
Home of the ring-tailed lemur, the cat-like fossa, and the silky sifaka (a type of lemur famous for leaping through the trees using just their back legs), Madagascar is a bucket-list destination for any nature lover.
Around 90% of the mammals and plants here are endemic, so seeing them here is truly an experience that can’t be found anywhere else.
Andasibe National Park, Ranomafana National Park, and the island of Nosy Be are some of the best areas for wildlife spotting in Madagascar. And in Isalo National Park, you can swim in the mesmerizing ‘Blue and Black’ natural pools, which are set deep within the canyons.
For some culture and history, The Royal Hill of Ambohimanga – a UNESCO World Heritage Site – dates back to the pre-colonial Kingdom of Imerina. As Madagascar’s religious capital during the 19th century, and still a spiritual and sacred place today, it’s the most significant symbol of Madagascar cultural identity. During a visit you’ll find two palaces, a small pavilion, and four royal tombs to explore.
Madagascar’s crystal clear waters and breathtaking beaches aren’t to be missed either – many of which are set on their own private islands.
Nosy Be, Nosy Kumbda, and Ile Aux Naites (nicknamed ‘paradise at the end of the world’) are some of the most sought after. And for a total escape, Tsarabanjina – a small island in the archipelago of Nosy Mitsio, around 50km northeast of Nosy Be – is the place to come. It’s so remote here, you can temporarily disconnect from the rest of reality.
Connect with nature in Madagascar
4. Réunion Island
Réunion Island looks like a tiny speck in the Indian Ocean on a map – but zoom in and you’ll find a remarkable holiday destination that’s distinctly different to its better known neighbour, Mauritius.
The island was uninhabited until French immigrants settled on the island in the 17th century. And today, Réunion remains a French overseas region, with French as its official language.
Much of the island is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, so this wonderful French-flavoured island is full of adventure and intrigue. Colourful villages are surrounded by the dramatic landscapes of lava fields, waterfalls, deep canyons, and active volcanoes – it’s an outdoor lover’s paradise.
On a hiking tour of Piton de la Fournaise – one of the most accessible active volcanoes on the island – it’s difficult not to be blown away by the varied terrain and outstanding natural beauty of Réunion. At the summit, the expression ‘walking on the moon’ starts to become clear, as this surreal view looks like something from another world.
For a day exploring, St. Denis, the capital and largest town of Réunion, is the place to go. It’s great for wandering around, visiting markets, and marveling at beautiful architecture. As is the beach town of St. Gilles les Baines with its colourful shops; and the lively Saturday market in St. Pierre on the south coast where you can taste local specialties like Bon Bon Piment (a savoruy fritter treat).
5. The Maldives
Famous for its overwater resorts, pristine beaches, and turquoise waters, the Maldives takes luxury to new heights.
But aside from being famously popular among honeymooners, there’s much more than what meets the eye to this picture-perfect holiday destination. And, you can find plenty of cultural wonders, delicious food, and unique wild encounters.
The ocean here is its own brand of blue and, as a result, offers some of the best snorkeling sites in the world. It’s for this reason that scuba divers from all over the world venture here for the chance to spot manta rays, whale sharks, and hawksbill and loggerhead turtles.
Staying in one of the many luxury resorts is blissful. But, because they exist entirely in their own bubble, it’s worth visiting a so-called ‘local island’ – like Huraa, Maafushi, and Hithadoo – if you’d like to get a taste of authentic Maldivian culture. On these local islands you can buy fresh mahi-mahi (also called dolphin fish) directly from fishermen and explore the pristine white streets.
Traditional Maldivian cuisine is mainly based around three main ingredients; fish (usually tuna), coconut, and starches containing grains and vegetables – namely because not much else grows here! Gulha, for example, is a popular evening snack made from tuna, pepper, onion, and coconut, all deep fried. Though, if this doesn’t tickle your tastebuds, there’ll be plenty more familiar options available in restaurants.
Check out our article, 9 unmissable things to do and places to visit in the Maldives, to find out more.
Escape to the Maldives
Made up of four main islands and a collection of smaller ones, Zanzibar is a small archipelago off the Tanzanian coast in East Africa that doesn’t always get the limelight it deserves.
The palm covered isles and strikingly aqua-blue colour of the ocean are a scene of paradise. And the deserted beaches, colourful coral reefs, and the lush hills of Pemba Island give Caribbean breaks a run for their money. The lack of crowds here is just an extra plus.
With more than 40 different tropical islands spread throughout the entire archipelago, island hopping is a must in Zanzibar – and it’s easy to do too.
The islands are also a haven for watersports – with diving, sailing, windsurfing, and kite surfing all available on the main island. But, the vibrant coral reefs, in particular, offer an immersive, mesmerising adventure.
And in Stone Town – Zanzibar’s UNESCO-listed capital – there’s a fascinating blend of Arabic, Persian, Indian, and European influences. The capital dates all the way to the 1st century and is bursting with things to see; including colonial-style houses, a 17th-century Old Forest, and a museum dedicated to Freddie Mercury, who was born in Zanzibar.
Uncover the beauty of Zanzibar
7. The Seychelles
The Seychelles are an archipelago of 115 islands off the east coast of Africa. They’re well-defined by the large granite boulders that line picture-perfect beaches.
Landing on the main island of Mahe (the entry point to the Seychelles), you’ll find the tiny capital city of Victoria – as well as plenty of fabulous resorts, activities, restaurants, beaches, and one of the highest mountain ranges of Seychelles. With so much to see and do, you could easily spend your entire holiday here.
However, while both beautiful and in high demand, Mahe is also the busiest island in the Seychelles, so if you’re after some peace and quiet, it’s worth venturing further out to some of the other islands.
Praslin Island, or Isle de Palme, is most popular for being the home of the Vallée de Mai UNESCO Heritage Site – an area of original palm forest which remains largely unchanged since prehistoric times. And with two of the most beautiful beaches in the world, Anse Lazio and Anse Georgette, true paradise can be found here.
For nature lovers, Aride Island, Moyenne Island, and Aldabra Island are among the best places to visit.
The Aride Island Nature Reserve is home to several endemic species of flowers, the highest density of lizards in the world, and is the breeding ground for 18 species of seabirds.
Moyenne Island is popular for the giant tortoises that roam freely; and Aldabra Island is home to the world’s largest raised coral atoll, where tiger sharks, manta rays, and white-throated Aldabra rails (the only flightless bird in the Indian Ocean) can be seen.
Explore the paradise of the Seychelles
Arguably one of the most beautiful areas in the world, it’s no surprise that holidays to the Indian Ocean remain as popular as ever.
Whether you fancy kicking back on the beach in Mauritius, exploring underwater wonderlands in the Maldives, or spotting unique wildlife in Madagascar, there are few places more magical than the Indian Ocean.
For more holiday inspiration, head over to the travel section of our website. Here you’ll find everything from European travel experiences to long-haul trips and adventure holidays.