Mauritius reopens its borders to South African visitors at the start of October, offering vaccinated travellers the freedom to fly in and flop on a lounger, or head out and explore without the need to quarantine. Unvaccinated? You’ll need to fork out for 14 days of hotel quarantine. That’s a no-brainer.
And while Ile Maurice has plenty of lazy charms to tempt you into an island holiday, it’s not the only show in town. Scattered across this gorgeous corner of the Indian Ocean you’ll find a clutch of other tropical beauties waiting to welcome visitors once again.
Mauritius is the largest island in the group called the Mascarenes — named for the Portuguese navigator Pedro Mascarenhas, who stopped by in April 1512 – but the others all share the same volcanic origins and laid-back island charm.
So if you’ve been to Mauritius before, consider hopping the hour-long flight east to the glorious island of Rodrigues. It’s the smallest island in the Mascarenes, just eight kilometres by 18, and surrounded by a vast lagoon of turquoise seas. The reefs and channels offer superb scuba diving and snorkelling, while the calm seas and steady trade winds have made this unassuming island a hotspot for kite-boarders. Tiny coral islands offshore offer a castaway day out and fantastic birding, while idyllic beaches in quiet coves are a welcome change from the busy sands of Mauritius.
Key to the charm of Rodrigues is the fact that mass tourism has yet to arrive here. There are no sprawling resorts, just family-run auberges and boutique hotels offering a handful of comfortable rooms and an immersive taste of island life.
To the west of Mauritius, the island of Reunion wears its volcanic origins as a badge of honour. In the south the towering Piton de la Fournaise – the Peak of the Furnace – is one of the world’s most active volcanoes, regularly throwing rivers of lava down the slopes of this vertiginous island.
While the heart of the island is filled with dramatic peaks, the coastline is fringed with idyllic beaches, pristine coral reefs and laid-back seaside resorts. It’s an island made for adventure, with scuba diving and whale watching offshore, or hiking, biking and paragliding on the mountain slopes. There’s no shortage of resorts to ‘fly-and-flop’, but rather hire a car and spend your days exploring. And remember to drive on the right.
Though no visa is required, Reunion is an ‘Overseas Department’ of France, so you’ll need to parlez some French to get around, and have euros in your wallet. It’s not the cheapest island getaway in the Indian Ocean, but it is surely the most dramatic. Air Austral is set to resume direct flights from Johannesburg to Reunion on November 2.
Or jet into northern Mozambique to trade dramatic natural landscapes for remarkable historic sites.
For nearly 400 years the island of Ilha de Moçambique was the capital of the country, a heavily fortified port that controlled the valuable trade in gold, ivory and slaves along the east coast of Africa. The ramparts of Fort of São Sebastião bristled with cannons, and the cobbled streets of the island thronged with sailors, islanders and traders. Today it remains Mozambique’s only World Heritage Site.
And though a narrow bridge now crosses three kilometres of sea to link Ilha to the mainland, the island has lost little of its time-warp charms. Guides from the Museu da Ilha de Moçambique offer a fascinating wander through the island, past the lively Mercado Municipal, Hindu temples — an oddity on an island where Islam arrived a thousand years ago — and the serene seaside Chapel of Nossa Senhora de Baluarte, built in 1522.
While the western edge of Ilha offers a handful of charming seaside hotels, it’s worth staying a little further afield. Coral Lodge is a 30-minute boat ride away, with palm-thatched villas strung out around a small peninsula, and private decks offering views of either mangrove forests or sparkling seas. Out in the channel, sailing dhows tack against the trade winds, much as they’ve done for a thousand years. For a beach holiday with a dose of history, you’ll struggle to beat the coastline of northern Mozambique.