Each location within the Indian Ocean is enriched with its own unique character and history—discover this stunning area of the globe with Arts & Collections.
Of all the world’s oceanic divisions, the Indian Ocean is the third largest. Located between Africa, Australasia and the Southern Ocean, the region embraces a vast mix of landscapes and cultures. Whether you’re in search of calm lagoons, slick restaurants and cool highlands or timeless ruins, astounding wildlife and lambent coral reefs, the Indian Ocean has something for everyone.
When to go: June to October
Flight time: London to Zanzibar (one stop), approximately 13 hours
Best for: Island adventures
Sitting just off the coast of Tanzania is Zanzibar. Contrary to popular belief, it is an archipelago of islands with Unguja—known as Zanzibar Island—and Pemba being the two largest. Zanzibar Island is nicknamed the ‘spice island’, unsurprising then is its focus on flavourful cuisine.
Travellers can engage their senses by navigating the abundant street food vendors that dish up fried and scrumptious snacks. Common dishes include Zanzibar pizza—eggs, meat or vegetables wrapped in fried dough—octopus curry, biryani and sweet mandazi (Swahili doughnuts). The vivacity of Zanzibar’s Shirazi heritage is instantly apparent, even from stepping off the plane.
Plantation homes make for an interesting escapade, while Stone Town provides a wealth of intriguing historical sites. Being surrounded by some of the world’s finest vistas, Zanzibar is the ultimate place for beach-bumming. There is also a plethora of activities to keep tourists entertained such as deep sea fishing, snorkelling and windsurfing.
Don’t miss: Cultural Arts Centre
Founded in 2008, the Cultural Arts Centre promotes the indigenous culture of Zanzibar and provides sustainable livelihoods for local artisans. The centre and shop deliver a refreshing take on the usual crafts found elsewhere in Stone Town, focusing instead on traditional techniques and materials. Try your hand at one of the courses that teach art, jewellery and soap creation.
When to go: December to April
Flight time: London direct to Malé, 10.5 hours
Best for: Tropical diving
There’s a reason that the Maldives has become synonymous with honeymooners. Even before you touch down, the seaplane view over the archipelago’s coral atolls is simply breathtaking. Pristine beaches and crystalline waters make every cove and lookout spot worthy of a postcard. Falling into the paradisiac formula, palm trees line the shorefront and sway in the gentle breeze.
What the Maldives has in abundance is luxury accommodation; quality hotels provide packages and lodging to suit every circumstance. Visitors are also never in want of an elegant meal; high-class restaurants across the Maldives serve grilled seafood, sushi lunches and pan-Asian delights. Above all else, the Maldives offers some of the best diving in the world.
The well-kept underwater gardens are a mecca for marine life. Divers can catch a glimpse of the turtles and gigantic manta rays—or, better yet, whale sharks—that float through the neighbourhood.
Don’t miss: National Museum
Maldives’ National Museum is located in the capital, Malé. While the building may not be the most elegant, the intrinsic items inside are fascinating. Despite having some of their most precious items stolen in 2012, a number of exhibits remain for visitors to immerse themselves in. Examples of weaponry, religious paraphernalia and quirky relics help trace the surprising history of the Maldives.
When to go: February to October
Flight time: London direct to Seychelles, approximately 10 hours
Best for: Idyllic beaches
Nestled just off the east coast of Africa, the Seychelles remains unspoilt and utterly gorgeous. The group of islands is supplied with miles of tropical rainforest. Peering through the topaz waters of the Seychelles is comparable to looking through a freshly cleaned windowpane. This makes for great diving conditions—one of the area’s main magnetisms. Large boulders and pearlescent sands help to form its unbeatable beaches.
A few select coves exhibit naturally pink sand, which closely resembles the colour of rosé Champagne. This has become a trademark of the region. There are also several protected nature reserves in the Seychelles that house rare plants and animals. Some lucky visitors may witness sea turtles hatching on Bird Island—a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The Seychelles is home to some of the world’s most upmarket hotels and resorts that have a huge emphasis on comfort and indulgence. Boutique services provide guests with anything and everything.
Don’t miss: Festival Kreol
The Festival Kreol takes place in the last week of October in 2018; it involves a huge celebration amongst the local communities in Mahé. The event has Creole and Seychellois identity at its roots. Island culture will be brought to life through dance, arts, crafts, fashion, music and food. Creole artists from around the world flock to the festival to exhibit their work and promote their indigenous talents.
When to go: September to October
Flight time: London to Antananarivo (one stop), 14 hours
Best for: Offbeat adventures
Primordial forests of baobabs—distinctively shaped native trees—sweeping deserts and sleepy volcanoes define Madagascar’s iconic landscape. In very few places would you find such an intense amalgamation of panoramas in such close proximity. Much of the flora and fauna of Madagascar are endemic to the island, adding to its allure for nature lovers.
Its tropical climate nurtures six rainforests and the surrounding coral reef remains the fifth largest on Earth. The island’s signature inhabitant is the furry-faced lemur, which can be spotted swinging between branches of the canopies above. In spite of its majesty, Madagascar does have one shortcoming: poor transport links. Makeshift bridges and dismal roads mean that reaching your desired destination can often be an adventure within itself.
Luckily, there are ample amounts of hiking, diving, fishing and whale watching options available to make travelling worthwhile. For those wishing to return to civilisation, Madagascar’s capital Antananarivo offers great shopping and eating opportunities.
Don’t miss: Zafimaniry woodcarvings
The Zafimaniry—an ethnic group of people from the highlands in Madagascar—has retained a tradition of woodcarving through generations of their clan. Their intricate, geometric designs are deeply meaningful and are included in UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage List, making them a must-see for visitors. Arrange a trip to one of the Zafimaniry communities to experience the beauty of their homes, furnishings and ornaments first-hand.
When to go: May to July and September to October
Flight time: London to Saint-Denis (one stop), 16 hours
Best for: Natural wonders
The French island of Réunion is the ultimate destination for individuals that crave the thrill of the outdoors. One of its most iconic landmarks is an active volcano, Piton de la Fournaise, which stands at an impressive 2,632 metres. Budding explorers can traverse its domineering slopes to reach the summit and marvel at the phenomenal view.
Waterfalls are dotted throughout the island, posing an attractive vista for tourists. The coasts are sprinkled with white and black sand beaches—ideal for getting in some well-deserved relaxation time. Popular heart-thumping activities in Réunion include paragliding, canyoning, mountain biking, horse riding and rafting. Gourmands will rejoice at the sight of the fare on offer.
Réunion’s cuisine is a healthy balance of Creole, Indian, Chinese and French flavours. Seafood is a fixed part of the local diet; you couldn’t want for fresher produce. French-inspired bakeries line the streets of the larger towns, selling delicate cakes and pastries.
Don’t miss: Fèt Kaf
In Réunion, Fèt Kaf is a public holiday that takes place on 20 December. It commemorates the abolition of slavery, which occurred on this day in 1848. Various festivities take place across the island to mark the occasion. Street events, float parades, song and dance concerts, history and poetry workshops and other such frivolities celebrate freedom and local identity.
When to go: May to December
Flight time: London direct to Mauritius, approximately 12 hours
Best for: Cultural gems
Mauritius strikes an irresistible chord with families, couples and lone travellers alike. This dreamy setting is supplied with soul-soothing sun all year round, although humid climates make December and January more prone to cyclones. In some areas, the land rises steeply, revealing dramatic crags that appeal greatly to hikers.
Otherwise, tourists can spend their days playing golf on one of the many championship-standard courses or relaxing at a luxury outdoor spa. Just off the bustling tourist hub of Flic-en-Flac lays a world of underwater diving treasures. The shallow waters and stunning topography of the coral reef create the perfect environment for spotting sea creatures.
Wondrous sugar cane and spice plantations are dotted throughout Mauritius—drop by for a visit and take home a souvenir. What really sets Mauritius apart from other islands is the warmth of the locals and the vibrancy of their traditions. A much-loved Mauritian custom is the table d’hôte. This openly hosted meal is filled with delicacies of the region like honeyed lamb with cinnamon and dholl puri—a fried stuffed bread.
Don’t miss: Natural History Museum
The Natural History Museum in Mahébourg is a colonial mansion, a building which played an important part in the island’s past. In 1810, after the Battle of Grand Port, British and French naval officers were taken here for treatment. The museum recounts the events of the battle through salvaged items including cannons, weaponry, garments and supplies. There is also a bell, a cache of Spanish coins and a replica of Napoleon’s boat on display.
This feature first appeared in Arts & Collections Volume 3, 2018. Click here to view the digital version of the magazine.
See also: Must-see Museums in New York