The Islands of Africa

Written by  Rita Cook

Africa IslandThere are a number of islands off the coast of Africa that are neither safari destinations, nor do they offer the typical African experience. For the intrepid traveler looking for a taste of culture and a beach break for a few days, these islands in the Indian Ocean offer nothing less than a delicious chance to break from the norm and really get a feel for the journey.
The island of Mauritius has a culture steeped in a melting pot of Indian, African and French influence, all part of the island’s history. Indeed, Americans should put Mauritius on their bucket lists. Europeans have known about this high-end travel destination for years.

Take in the many colors and tastes on the island. Your senses come alive as you lounge by the ocean and enjoy the breeze, where you will also have the chance to observe many nationalities living as one.
It would be remiss not to mention that Mauritius is where the dodo bird hailed from. The bird has been extinct for about 300 years, but you can learn all about the species at the country’s National History Museum, where one of the few remaining skeletons can be seen.
The capital of Mauritius is Port Louis, located on the northwest coast. It is a booming city to be sure; in the evening head to the Caudan Waterfront to enjoy the scene. The Central Market offers many local wares, with a lively local atmosphere that comes alive as the Mauritian people enjoy life. The Central Market has been a Port Louis staple since Victorian times, and was renovated about 10 years ago. You can buy your souvenirs here, in addition to Chinese medicines and aphrodisiacs which are are plentiful for purchase, offered by members of a large Chinese population living in Mauritius.
For racehorse enthusiasts there is the Champ de Mars, the oldest course in the Indian Ocean region. Head to the Citadel, officially called Fort Adelaide, built between 1834 and 1840, and rising 240-feet above the sea. It is the only fort that is not currently in ruins in Port Louis, and the sweeping views from there are spectacular.
The northern part of the island is where you will find the most development, but even so, it is charming. The Balaclava area sports a variety of high-end hotel options such as the Westin or the Maritim Resort & Spa. On the property of the latter the Chateau Mon Désir is quite special because it has been integrated within what is left of an old pirate’s hideaway located on the hotel grounds, known as the Balaclava Ruins. The style is colonial, and inside the dining area is colorful and old world.
On the south of the island of Mauritius, take in the dramatic landscape. It is vastly different here than in the other parts of the island, with high cliffs and a rugged coastline that reminds the tourist of the power of the Indian Ocean.
In the southwest part of the island, the Outrigger Mauritius Beach Resort is just 45 minutes from Mauritius International Airport. Its laid back vibe, coupled with high-end luxury, is located inside the nature reserve of Bel Ombre.
No matter where in Mauritius you end up, a mandatory highlight includes the La Maison Eureka House. A colonial house and museum, you can tour the house, stroll the gardens and even have a Mauritian lunch on the property. Built in 1830, the house is a Créole residence that was owned by British and French aristocrats in the 19th century and is one of the largest houses on the island, with 109 doors and windows. The museum offers glimpses of music, art, antique maps, Chinese and Indian housewares, and even a colonial-era shower.
Sugar is an important part of the island of Mauritius’ past and present. At Sugar World you will visit an ancient sugar factory that is now a wonderful historical museum called L’Aventure du Sucre. At the end of the tour, visitors get to wash all their newfound knowledge down with a free rum and special sugar tasting.
So much to see and do in Mauritius, even for visitors from the United States. It’s an easy trip since there are nonstop flights from many gateway cities in Europe to Mauritius daily.

Madagascar
Madagascar, off the coast of Africa, will make even the most jaded traveler stop and ponder. The wildlife is extraordinary on the island and nature plays a colossal part at any tourist stop.
It is the fourth largest island at 228,900 square miles, and over the past 15 years there have been over 600 new species discovered in Madagascar. It is a biodiversity hotspot, and over 90 percent of the wildlife found here can’t be found anywhere else in the world.
The natural heritage is being preserved with many protected areas - good for the unique animals who call this place home. Along with the flat-tailed gecko, and the popular lemur, with 50 types of lemur species living on the island, there is also an unusually large variety of frog species found here. And, have you ever even heard of a leaf-nosed bat, golden orb-web spider or the ant lion? You can hike, dive, kayak and even go caving in Madagascar, including to the Bat Caves of Ankarana.

Zanzibar
A colorful cultural encounter for the soul, the much talked about Stone Town on the island of Zanzibar is an Arabian experience that takes the visitor back in time. A semi-autonomous part of the country of Tanzania, the magic of Stone Town are the multi-leveled townhouses with balconies and doorways leading into traditional homes that definitely call to the traveler. There are narrow streets with shops, and at the souks you will find local crafts. Take a look at the clock tower in House of Wonders, so called because it was the first building in Zanzibar to have electricity and an elevator. Other sights to see are the Guliani Bridge and Ngome Kongwe, or the Old Fort of Zanzibar.
Zanzibar is part of an archipelago that has many small islands in its group, plus the two larger islands of Unguja and Pemba. Overall, you will find the destination quite budget-friendly and it’s a great stop for anyone with a yen to dive off the coast of Africa.

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