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Wow, what a wonderful decision you have to make!
These are by far the best two islands in the India ocean, boasting beautiful beaches, diverse cultures and a wide variety of activities and sights.
Zanzibar and Mauritius may both be paradise islands in a similar geographic location, but they are widely different and will appeal to completely different styles of tourists.
Zanzibar being closer to Africa (and being part of Tanzania) provides the rich heritage of Africa, and a holiday full of adventure and excitement. Mauritius is a lush volcanic island, which has closer ties to Indian culture and is the most progressive country of the Indian Ocean region.
This article has been written to compare the two islands and help you decide which is there better for your holiday.
A honeymoon - Mauritius
A backpack or inexpensive trip - Zanzibar
The 5-star treatment - Mauritius
Mauritius (area 2,040km2)
Mauritius is a dormant volcanic island found in the southern Indian Ocean. This is a sizable island, with multiple white sand coastlines, a mountainous interior and numerous resort towns.
The main tourist areas tend to be along the sheltered northern coastline and include Grand Baie, Trou-aux-Biches and Balaclava. There are hotels and tourist areas dotted all over Mauritius and are found on almost every beach, and there are many outstanding beaches!
The capital city, Port Louis, is a residential and commercial hub, not really designed for tourists on a holiday.
Zanzibar (2,450 km2)
Zanzibar is an Archipelago of islands, 35km from Tanzania in the Indian Ocean. The majority of tourists visit the largest island, Unguja but this is often simply referred to as Zanzibar (or Zanzibar Island).
The finest beaches are on the eastern side of Zanzibar Island, but this is also the side of the island most exposed to sea breezes and the huge tidal variation (at low tide it can be a long walk to the seas edge). The quieter areas are to the north of the island and a personal favourite is the town of Nungwi.
Stone Town is the historic capital, and has a surprising amount to see, but is better for a day trip, not for an entire holiday.
The main difference between the two islands for visitors is the standard of the infrastructure. Mauritius has decent roads, western feeling shops, a modern airport and a level of safety which is comparable of any American or European country. Zanzibar has a much more hap-hazardous approach, there are dirt tracks, frequent power outages, and a relaxed attitude to everything.
One of the easiest ways to sum up the differences between the Zanzibar and Mauritius is to look at the GDP capital (average a person earns in a year); Zanzibar is $656 and Mauritius is $11,280. Mauritius will be your safe and secure paradise holiday destination, while Zanzibar offers a developing world experience and adventure.
A worldly traveller may consider Mauritius a little sterile, with an atmosphere not too dissimilar from home, but this may be ideal if you are a more mature visitor or travelling with your family.
Zanzibar is one of the most accessible places to experience Africa, from the welcoming people and colourful cultures, through to the modern challenges that the continent experiences. Zanzibar is a great destination if you are wanting something very different for your holiday.
Unlike many other paradise islands there is actually a lot to do once you tire of spending time on the beaches. There are day trips to Stone Town, Prison Island, the Jozani Forest nature reserve, plus multiple snorkelling or diving trips. Zanzibar is much better for diving than Mauritius. Zanzibar is popular with foreign visitors, but somehow the island never feels overrun with tourists.
Mauritius is the paradise island where you would take older parents or younger children, or for a truly hassle-free holiday. There is considerably less risk from food illness, petty crime, or annoying tourist exploitation, such as overcharging or endless haggling.
Mauritius is one of the safest (based on illness, crime and hassle) holiday destinations in the Africa, India, South East Asia region. If you want an exotic destination but with the comforts of home, then this should be your choice of destination.
Mauritius may be perfectly safe but it far from dull, there are towering volcanoes to explore, reefs to snorkel and forests to hike through.
Encircling Mauritius is a coral reef, and this provides soft white sands and calm sea waters, along with countless snorkelling locations. The south of the island is dominated by huge dormant volcanoes, and the Black River Gorges National Park provides wondrous natural scenery along with challenging hiking trails.
There is a lot to discover while on holiday to Mauritius, and is an ideal holiday destination if you want more than just beaches.
Related articles: Guide to Flic en Flac
Zanzibar has two wet seasons and are best avoided, a brief wet spell around November (the Short Rains) and a more persistent rainy season in April and May (The Long Rains). Outside of these periods are the dry seasons (June to October and December to March) and is the recommended time to visit.
Zanzibar has a tropical climate so there is always the chance of intense afternoon rains, but these are always short-lived.
The Christmas holidays are the height of the peak season, but July and August provide great weather and is not so busy. Zanzibar has a large Muslim population and during the fasting period of Ramadan many of the islands restaurants and shops shut down.
Mauritius offers almost perfect weather for nine months of the year from April through to the end of December. At the tail end of the hot and humid southern hemisphere summer, is an unpredictable rainy season with constant rains from mid-January until the end of March.
The winter months of Mauritius (June to September) offer slightly less humid weather and is the best season to visit. During July and August, a powerful seasonal wind blows in from the Indian Ocean, and the eastern coastline is exposed to these strong winds. At this time of year, plan your holiday around the more sheltered western or northern coastlines.
Insight: Both Mauritius and Zanzibar are great destinations during the summer period (July/August) when the whole of Europe is overcrowded with school holidays and the Caribbean is just starting its hurricane season.
Surrounding Zanzibar are some of the finest beaches in the world, with pristine white sands and turquoise seas. The best beaches are to the far north (Nungwi), to the east (Kiwengwa) or the south-east (Kizimkazi). The sea waters are always clean, (as there are strong oceanic currents), and pleasantly warm year round only varying between 25C in August to 29C in January.
The unique aspect to Zanzibar’s beaches are the extreme tidal variation, where at low tide the sea almost vanishes and it is a long walk to the sea edge. This effect is most notable on the shallow incline beaches on the eastern side.
You will not be disappointed with Zanzibar’s beaches.
Mauritius has a coastline which extends for over 183km and more than 70% it is formed of white coral sand beaches.
With an island as diverse and varied as Mauritius there is every style of beach possible. There is the picturesque cove Beach at the centre of Grand Baie, the tranquil setting of Balaclava or the 4km long beach at Flic en Flac. The one trait which is true of all of Mauritius beaches are the calm sea waters, which are protected from the waves and currents of the Indian Ocean by the coral reef which encircles the island.
Along with being calm, the sea waters are invitingly warm year-round at 24-28C. The only consideration is that the lagoon waters between the beaches and coral reef are scattered with fragmented corals and it is advisable to bring some water shoes.
As noted in the weather section, the eastern coastline is exposed to a strong breeze during July and August.
Zanzibar is both ecologically and culturally diverse, and the extensive selection of tours and activities reflect this.
Some of the best snorkelling is around Mnemba island, while there are dolphin watching tours deep sea fishing trips when heading further out into the India Ocean. Zanzibar was once completely covered in dense forests and Jozani Forest is a great region to view the natural environment along with the inquisitive red colobus monkeys. On the more fertile lands are farms growing exotic species and there are informative tours of these plantations.
For more relaxing excursions there are Dhow boats which gently ply the coastal waters or offer sunset tour.
Insight: The only consideration with any day trips around Zanzibar is the potted and dusty road network which can make the best of traveller feel car sick….
Mauritius is served by a modern international airport which is on the southern side of island. Transfers take around 90 minutes to the northern resort towns
Zanzibar international airport is an embarrassment of an airport, which is old, disorganised and poor (we are taking about Portaloo for toilets). Luckily it is close to Stone Town.
The roads in central Zanzibar are rough and little more than a mud track, expect a bumpy and long transfer.
Zanzibar is safe but must use common sense when outside of hotel or resorts. There is a huge wealth disparity between tourists and locals.
Mauritius is a very safe holiday destination, and is a comparatively wealthy country. The ideal destination for families or more mature visitors.