Beach Holidays in Africa: The Best Places For Sun and Surf

Africa is not all about safaris and souks — it’s also a great place for a beach holiday. That’s because the beaches of Africa are as diverse as the continent itself. Beach holidays in Africa can involve a remote island hideaway, a pulsating urban oceanfront, or a refreshing lakeside retreat. And if you like to multi-task while on vacation, you can also consider a combination safari/beach holiday. This roundup, while by no means comprehensive, provides a glimpse of what Africa has to offer.

A beach near Mombasa. (Shutterstock)

A beach near Mombasa. (Shutterstock)

Kenya

The beaches just to the north and south of Mombasa are some of the most memorable in Africa, with swaying palms towering over pearly white sand and crystal-clear water. Some popular ones include Nyali Beach, Diani Beach, and Bamburi Beach. Further up the coast are the resort towns of Malindi and Watamu, whose surrounding beaches can connect you with wildlife and watersports, particularly kitesurfing, and access to one of east Africa’s best offshore reefs. Kenya’s other beach hotspot is the Lamu archipelago off the northeast coast, where the beaches on Lamu, Manda and Kiwayu islands offer solitude, Swahili culture and excellent snorkeling. Non-stop flights to Nairobi are available from many North American and European cities, then it’s just a short connecting flight to the coast.

Nungwi Beach, Zanzibar (meunierd / Shutterstock)

Nungwi Beach, Zanzibar (meunierd / Shutterstock)

Zanzibar

Almost every beach on this exotic island off the coast of Tanzania is a head-turner, but some are more memorable than others. At Nungwi beach on the northern tip of the island, you can laze the day away on powdery white sand while watching traditional dhows sail off into the sunset. On the east side, the fringing lagoons, shallow water and light winds of beaches like Matemwe and Dongwe provide the perfect conditions for kitesurfing, reef walking, kayaking and sailing. And tiny Mnemba Island, a perfect retreat for those seeking remote solitude, sits atop a coral atoll with unlimited diving possibilities.

Inhaca island, Mozambique (Paulo Miranda, flickr)

Inhaca island, Mozambique (Paulo Miranda, flickr)

Mozambique

Mozambique’s beaches are just starting to be discovered by the rest of the world, so they still have a certain “unspoiled” feeling that is sometimes lacking in the more popular parts of Africa. With 1,500 miles of coastline there are a lot of beaches to choose from, but the best ones tend to be clustered around the town of Inhambane (i.e. Tofo and Barra), and in the islands of the Quirimbas and Bazaruto archipelagoes (i.e. Quilalea or Benguerra). For those who don’t have the time to trek to these relatively remote spots, beaches such as Catembe and Inhaca are just a short way from the capital of Maputo.

Taghazout Beach, Morocco (Shutterstock)

Taghazout Beach, Morocco (Shutterstock)

Morocco

Since Morocco has two coasts — the Atlantic and Mediterranean — it’s got twice the number of beaches to explore. On the windy Atlantic side, Essaouira is a prime spot for surfing, windsurfing and kitesurfing, while the brown-sugar Agadir beach offers a good all-around mix of sun, surf, spas, culture and nightlife. For a slightly more secluded getaway, head to Sidi Ifni or the sublime bay at Dakhla. On the calmer Mediterranean side, Tamuda Bay is a blissful family-friendly spot not far from the strait of Gibraltar, while the newer resort area of Saidia, near the Algerian border, is also worth checking out.

A beach in Gambia (Shutterstock)

A beach in Gambia (Shutterstock)

Gambia

The coastline of this tiny west African nation is basically one long, uninterrupted beach. Popular with Europeans seeking winter-sun holidays, numerous affordable and friendly beach resorts dot the coast. Kotu Beach and Kololi Beach around the city of Serrekunda are both beautiful but can get touristy and crowded, and swimmers should beware of strong currents. For a quieter experience, head north or south. To the north, Cape Point offers more room to stretch out, but still good proximity to town. Even further north, the beaches of Jinack Island are blissfully isolated, and the current is much more mild. In the far south of the country is the idyllic Kartong Beach, a secluded unspoiled favorite of those who like to get off the beaten path.

Seychelles

This Indian ocean island chain is the ultimate tropical beach paradise. Every island is ringed with spectacular strands of sand, lapped at by gentle aquamarine waves. The beaches of La Digue island are perhaps the most dazzling, including Anse Source d’Argent, and Petite Anse. Prasalin island is a close second, with Anse Georgette and Anse Lazio offering the most picturesque settings and best snorkeling. For really raw, untamed beaches, try the island of Mahe, and for both land- and ocean-based wildlife viewing, head to the beaches of Bird Island where dolphins, sharks, turtles, and of course birds abound.

Mauritius

Mauritius rivals the Seychelles as the most popular Indian ocean beach resort island. Miles of startling white sand draw almost a million beachgoers and watersports enthusiasts every year. On the north end of the island Grand Baie is a good launch point for watersports, boating, and even skydiving, but the waters are a bit busy for swimming — except for the cove at La Cuvette. Families and snorkelers like Trou aux Biches, because of the calm shallow water and offshore reef. Divers can also access a number of sunken wrecks here. On the east side, take a ferry to Ile au Cerfs, which offers not only startlingly white sand beaches, but also golf and parasailing. At Blue Bay, on the southern end, the marine park can be explored by glass-bottom boat or with a mask and snorkel.

Lake Malawi

Don’t forget that freshwater lakes also make for great beaches. The vast inland Lake Malawi and its offshore islands offer golden sands, exotic fish, and elegant resorts — just like the beaches of the Atlantic, Indian or Mediterranean seas. The lake’s location at the crossroads of Malawi, Mozambique and Tanzania equals close proximity to dozens of game reserves and national parks so you can combine a safari holiday with a beach trip. The most-frequented beaches are at the southern end and include Senga Bay, Cape Maclear and Nkudzi Bay. The less developed northern shore features Chikale Beach, Dwangwa, and Kande Beach. On the east is stunning Nkhata, and peaceful Likoma Island has several lovely beaches and a blend of budget and high-end accommodation.

durban

Durban, South Africa (Shutterstock)

South Africa

There are almost too many beach towns in South Africa for one paragraph. The warmest waters can be found anywhere from Durban up to the border with Mozambique, and many South Africans head to this stretch of coast for their own beach holidays. For an urban beach vacation, try Cape Town-area beaches such as Camps Bay, Clifton, Blouberg and Llandudno. Many of these windy beaches offer excellent surfing and kiteboarding. Then there’s the Wild Coast, so named because of unspoiled, untamed beaches such as Coffee Bay, Morgan Bay, and Chintsa.

Dahab, Egypt (Shutterstock)

Dahab, Egypt (Shutterstock)

Egypt

The towns of Hurghada and Sharm el Sheikh are rightly known as world-class beach destinations. The tourist-friendly resorts, warm water and wide beaches are very popular with European visitors, for whom it’s just a one- or two-hour flight. Sharm is also a scuba diving mecca, as it’s the gateway to the excellent Red Sea reefs just a short distance offshore. For less touristic experience head to the hippie-ish enclave of Dahab (Sinai) or even better, Marsa Alam. Both are less-developed and less-frequented than Sharm or Hurghada, but that’s changing. So go now, before things get too crowded.

tunisia country profile

The beach at Hammamet, Tunisia (Shutterstock)

Tunisia

Tunisia’s got over 800km of soft, pretty beaches and a well-developed resort scene. Urbanites can head to La Marsa, which is only forty minutes by tram from downtown Tunis. The resort town of Hammamet is perched on some of the country’s most beautiful ocean-front real estate, and qualifies as one of Tunisia’s most sparkling tourist destinations. About an hour from Hammamet, Sousse has some truly spectacular, if a little overcrowded, beaches; picture soft turquoise water, flanked by land that’s buttered with golden waves. To really escape the crowds, head to El Hawaria, which is 120km from the capital on the tip of Cap Bon.

Kate Thomas contributed to this article.

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