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13 Great Island Destinations in the Indian Ocean

Some of the islands in the Indian Ocean make great travel destinations. And we’re not talking about just the Maldives and Mauritius!

The Indian Ocean is dotted with numerous islands – small and large, inhabited and uninhabited. Spread out from the west coast of Australia to the east coast of Africa and the southern coasts of India and the Middle East, the island destinations in the Indian Ocean offer everything you could possibly be looking for in an island getaway, whether it’s dense tropical jungle, world-class beaches, spicy food or rare wildlife.

1. Maldives

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Image credits: Mac Qin

The Maldives is a unique country. Located southwest of India, it consists of 26 coral atolls and no less than 1,192 islands, a couple of hundred of which are inhabited, plus an additional 80 or so that are home to a resort. All the islands that make up the archipelago of the Maldives lie two metres or less above sea level. It’s a place that attracts wealthy luxury travellers, but, since the government allowed local people to open up accommodations, also budget travellers. The Maldives is home to some of the world’s best dive sites.

2. Seychelles

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Image credits: Jean-Marie Hullot

The archipelago that makes up the country of Seychelles has 115 islands off the east coast of Africa. This is the Indian Ocean destination that comes closest to the traditional image of a beach honeymoon—it’s filled with superb sandy beaches, palm trees and pretty towns. Although there are numerous resorts on the islands, it’s also possible to visit as an independent traveller. Particularly the three main islands cater toward budget travellers. Besides pristine beaches, Seychelles is also home to huge tortoises, enormous coconuts and large areas of rainforest that invite you to go hiking.

3. Andaman and Nicobar Islands, India

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Image credit: Andaman and Nicobar Tourism

The untamed Andaman and Nicobar Islands are the remotest territory of India. Located in the Bay of Bengal, they comprise almost 600 islands. The Nicobar Islands are basically unreachable for tourists, but most of the Andaman Islands do receive visitors. These old islands are still inhabited by ancient tribes and covered with historic sites. The main tourist activities on the islands are scuba diving and sunbathing on one of the many beaches.

4. Sri Lanka

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Sri Lanka is the most populous of all islands in the Indian Ocean, an ancient place formerly known as Ceylon that has a history that dates back more than 3,500 years. It lies southeast of the southern tip of the Indian subcontinent and is home to a downright spectacular coastline and an interior of colonial towns, national parks and temples. The best way to get around Sri Lanka is by railroad—the hill railways are an absolute highlight.

5. Réunion, France

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Image credits: Vicente Villamon

Technically an overseas territory of France, the small island of Réunion is located between Madagascar and Mauritius in the western Indian Ocean. This is a destination filled with jungles, impressive waterfalls, empty sand beaches and volcanoes; an island where you won’t be surprised to see a dinosaur walk by. While the coast is dotted with tourist resorts, the inland regions are where the action is. One of the greatest things you can do on Réunion is hiking—especially a hike up to the caldera of a volcano is amazing.

6. Madagascar

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The fourth largest island in the entire world, the country of Madagascar is one of the most unique. Because of its long isolation from Africa, Madagascar is home to a plethora of truly unique animals. For instance, 70% of all plants on the island aren’t found anywhere else on earth, and one in twenty of all living species in the world live in Madagascar and nowhere else. Needless to say that ecology and biodiversity are a major tourist attraction—most people visit the island to see chameleons and lemurs in their natural habitats. Facilities, however, are quite basic, which makes this island a destination for more adventurous travellers.

7. Mauritius

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Mauritius, an island located between the Seychelles, Madagascar and Réunion, is one of the most culturally diverse island destinations in the Indian Ocean. The island has been colonized by many different cultures, including the Dutch, Portuguese, Africans, French, Indian and Chinese. Traces of those cultures are still there, creating a fascinating mix of influences, which is, for example, shown in the island’s typical and exquisite cuisine.

8. Zanzibar

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Zanzibar is an island which name calls up images of explorers and spice traders. This historically significant island is a pretty much autonomous part of Tanzania off the African east coast and offers everything from beach getaways to cultural diversity and phenomenal food. It’s visited by both luxury travellers who stay in coastal resorts and cultural and historical travellers who want to learn more about the island’s fascinating past.

9. Socotra, Yemen

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Image credit: Rod Waddington

Fairly easy to be confused for an alien world, Socotra is part of an archipelago in the Indian ocean. This isolated island of Yemen boasts around 800 rare species of flora and fauna. A third of these species, such as the Dragon’s Blood trees and Socotra Starling, are exclusively native to this island and cannot be found anywhere else on this planet. With only a population of 50,000, this minimally inhabited island has not seen much human development, thus preserving much of its natural wealth. When exploring this semi-desert island, check out the limestone caves peppering the island, its grand lofty mountains and some shipwrecks as well!

10. Lakshadweep, India

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Image credit: Sankara Subramanian

A name that literally translates to a hundred thousand islands, Lakshadweep consists of 36 islands located off the coast of Kerala, India. But out of its 10 inhabited islands, only 5 are tourist-accessible, such as Agatti, Bangaram and Kadmat.  These tropical islands are the perfect locations for a fun, beach holiday as it is luxuriously surrounded by the brilliant blue of the Indian Ocean, decked with clusters of coconut trees and hidden lagoons. Apart from tourists basking in the sun, water sports make up the core of Lakshadweep tourism with its sailing sessions, kayaking and glass-bottom boat tours. As India’s only coral atoll, these islands attract crowds of domestic and international tourists for snorkelling and scuba diving to catch the grand view of the vibrant corals.

11. Comoros Island

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Image credit: David Stanley

This island nation off the coast of East Africa gained independence from the French in 1975. Named after the Arabic term for the moon, Qamar, are the Comoros Islands. Exuding tropical charm with temperatures ranging between 20 to 30 degrees, the beautiful nation consists of four main islands – Grand Comore, Moheli and Anjouan and Mayotte. Explore the mini towns speckled across the islands which reflect the architecture of the Middle East and Africa. Otherwise, occupy yourself with a trekking tour to the crater of the massive Karthala volcano in the Grand Comoros Island. Main activities around the islands also include hiking, cycling and water sports at sea!

12. Christmas Island, Australia

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Image credit: Christmas Island Tourism Association

A speck in the vastness of the Indian Ocean is Christmas Island, an Australian territory located off the southern coast of Indonesia. This stand-alone plateau is made up of mainly limestones and layers of volcanic rocks and is covered with thriving rainforests but there are a couple of settlements dotting the island.

Head to the island’s only port, Flying Fish Cove, to explore the many water activities available there! Since the island is encircled by coral reefs, snorkelling and diving are popular sports on the island. Apart from water sports, Christmas Island is also known to be home to a large variety of birds, thus making bird-watching a popular past-time on the island. But most importantly, if you’re dropping by Christmas Island between November and January, don’t miss out on watching the island’s iconic red crab migration!

13. Cocos (Keeling) Islands, Australia

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Image credit: Cocos (Keeling) Islands Tourism

Experience the colourful culture and history of the Cocos Malay people in the Cocos (Keeling) Islands. This remote Australian island is 2,750km north-west of Perth with a largely Muslim population. Hang around at the inhabited parts of the Cocos in West Island and Home Island to learn about the culture of the island’s people and explore the island on a bicycle. Take an adventurous day trip to Prison Island and Direction Island, to indulge in some water sports, fishing, surfing or bird-watching!

From islands along the coast of Africa in the west to Australian territories in the east, you don’t have to look further than this comprehensive list of exquisite tropical islands peppering the vast Indian Ocean for your next island destination!

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