Tack on a beach holiday to that safari for a truly memorable adventure.
Get out that sunscreen and start booking tickets—Africa’s diverse beaches are more than worthy of a visit. With over half of the continent coastally situated, beach opportunities abound. Spend time traversing the Swahili coast in Tanzania, before heading down to South Africa’s rugged garden route and Namibia’s stark Sandwich Harbor. West African beaches are equally spectacular, and just a quick plane flight away from the pristine Egyptian coast. Across the continent, regardless of location, powdery white sand, turquoise waters, secluded islands, plentiful scuba diving, rocky outcrops, and more make for truly unique getaways.
There’s nothing quite like the storied island of Zanzibar. Most visitors will begin their journey in Stone Town, Zanzibar’s Arabic-influenced port city, wandering through alleys in search of fresh seafood and vibrant local culture before hitting the beach. Though plenty of tourists flock to the island’s northern Nungwi beach, those in the know head to Jambiani—located approximately an hour from the center of Stone Town. Turquoise blue waters, traditional dhow boat rides, plenty of snorkeling opportunities, and a range of accommodation options make this beach one of the best on the Swahili coast.
INSIDER TIPDue to Jambiani’s tides, you won’t be able to swim all day every day. If that’s what you’re looking for, northern Nungwi is a great alternative.
Located on the Eastern side of Zanzibar, Pongwe’s bright blue water and endless stretches of sand are absolutely unbeatable. Like Jambiani, Pongwe is located approximately an hour away from Stone Town. This tropical paradise is a bit off the beaten path, with a few all-inclusive resorts claiming large swaths of the coastline. This is the place to come for silence, relaxation, and a little bit of luxury.
Mnemba Island offers the archipelago’s best scuba diving and snorkeling in addition to spectacular views. Crystal clear blue water, white sand beaches, and jumping dolphins truly take this island to the next level. Although only residents of the luxurious Mnemba Island Lodge can stay overnight, plenty of boat trips pass through the Mnemba Atoll daily. Take a classic Swahili dhow for a sunset cruise, and make sure to enjoy all the seafood on offer.
Diani Beach, located on Kenya’s Swahili Coast just a few miles from Mombasa, boasts over twelve miles of pristine sand beaches framed by picturesque palm trees. Known for lux hotels, plentiful skydiving, big game fishing, and a whole lot of parties, Diani Beach is currently one of Kenya’s hottest destinations. Due to its windy season, Diani is also home to some of the continent’s best kite surfing. Make sure to look up the weather before you book your ticket, and possibly plan some time to take advantage of a few kite surfing lessons.
INSIDER TIPThough there are plenty of excellent hotel options, if you’re with a big group, scour Airbnb for a few luxury guesthouses that offer up private pools, chefs, and more.
Only reachable by boat from the Kenyan coast, this entire town is a beach. Lamu, one of Kenya’s old Arabic fishing islands, looks just like the postcards—airy, tropical, and charmingly old fashioned. No cars are allowed on Lamu, and the laid-back atmosphere, especially compared to nearby Diani and Mombasa, is a welcome relief. This is the place to come with a few good books, a bit of sunscreen, an interest in relaxation.
INSIDER TIPManda Bay, a private island just a short boat ride off of Lamu, offers up some of the country’s best beaches in an exclusive resort setting.
This small private island is the place to be. As one of the Quirimbas Islands in Northern Mozambique, Medjumbe is only half a mile long. Characterized best by its azure blue water and endless white beaches, the exclusive Anantara Medjumbe Resort is the only hotel on the privately owned island. By all accounts, however, it’s worth it; from spectacular scuba diving in healthy coral reefs to the intimate and luxurious island setting, Medjumbe has a lot to offer a traveler that just wants to get away from it all.
INSIDER TIPIf you still want to get to the Quirimbas Islands but don’t want to pay an arm and a leg, check out Ibo and Vamizi, two of the other gorgeous islands in the archipelago.
Unlike the exclusive Medjumbe Island, nearby Wimbi Beach is for everyone. Just a few miles east of downtown Pemba, Wimbi offers lazy beach days at a stunning location for both luxury seekers and backpackers. Plenty of beach bars, restaurants, and budget guesthouses can also be found at Wimbi, making this beach just as scenic as it is accessible.
Anse Source D'Argent
Anse Source D’Argent, located on La Digue Island in ethereal Seychelles, continually makes the world’s best beach lists and it’s no wonder why—this place is magnificent. Jutting rock formations punctuate the crystal clear blue water, bright green palms sway in the light breeze, and soft white sand frames the scene. Perfect for swimming and snorkeling, it doesn’t get much better than Anse Source D’Argent. You might actually recognize this beach from a few famous movies—Crusoe and Castaway both filmed several scenes here.
INSIDER TIPThere is a 115 rupee (about $8 USD) per person entrance fee to the beach but trust us—it’s more than worth it.
Though one of the bigger islands off the coast of Madagascar, Nosy Be is still worth a visit. The island provides some of the best scuba diving around, offering seasonal opportunities to see whale sharks and humpback whales. If you’re keen for some inland activities, check out nearby waterfall hikes and running trails, as well as the playful black lemurs at Lokobe National Park.
INSIDER TIPThough still laid-back, Nosy Be can get pretty full (and expensive) during high season in the summer months. Make sure to book your accommodation and activities well in advance.
Ile aux Nattes
This small island off the southern end of Madagascar near Ile Sainte Marie is, in addition to being postcard-perfect, a haven for whale watching, fishing, snorkeling, and just general downtime. Known locally as Nosy Nato, the island is less visited than nearby Nosy Be, but it’s slowly becoming a countrywide hotspot. It’s still pretty difficult to get to, with canoes and other boats providing most of the island-to-island transit, but that just adds to the tropical mystique.
INSIDER TIPIf you’re willing to risk a downpour or two, visiting Ile aux Nattes on the shoulder or off-season might guarantee you a private beach.
Grand Baie Public Beach
With a calm blue lagoon and sandy shores, this beach has something to offer everyone—activities, food trucks, and culture abound. Though not as lush and private as some of the other mentions on this list, spending a day at the centrally located Grand Baie is a great way to see Mauritian culture in action. Save space for some of Grand Baie’s excellent food trucks, making sure to sample the fresh seafood, spicy fried snacks, and Indian-French fusion. Different activities—like sailing, scuba diving, and snorkeling—are also on offer and can be booked at the beach.
At Belle Mare, soft sand lines the turquoise blue coast for over six miles. Plenty of scuba diving, excellent restaurants, live music, and more make this beach, located less than an hour from the capital of Port Louis, worth the trip. Though there are plenty of exciting beach activities—from diving to sailing—spending time just lazing on the shore and soaking up the rays on Belle Mare is absolutely recommended.
Reunion Island, a small island located just off the coast of Southeast Africa near Mauritius, is famous for both its lush volcanic interior as well as its many miles of white sand beaches. Tremblet Beach, a black sand beach considered to be the youngest beach in the world, was created in 2007 after a volcanic eruption. It’s a great place to explore, hike, and just generally take in the island’s beauty.
INSIDER TIPFor a more traditional beach-going experience in Reunion, check out Hermitage Beach or Saint-Gilles-Les-Bains.
Though Malawi isn’t exactly coastal, you’ll feel like it is lazing on the beach at Mumbo Island on Lake Malawi. This island, exclusive to the residents of the Mumbo Island lodge and reachable only by boat Cape Maclear, is the perfect escape. The island revels in its eco-centric ethos, offering accommodation to only a few guests at a time. Massages in the middle of the forest, sunset kayaking trips, snorkeling adventures, and even a stand-up paddleboard lesson or two make for a perfect weekend.
INSIDER TIPBook in advance, as this small island fills up fast.
WHERE: South Africa
Located in Hout Bay and quieter than the beaches in Cape Town proper, Llandudno Beach is surrounded by large granite boulders and bright blue ocean waves. This is a surfer hot spot, though the water is infamously cold. Sunny days spent lazing on the shore, overlooking the mountains, make for one of the country’s best escapes.
INSIDER TIPMake sure to bring your own snacks as this beach is generally pretty quiet.
WHERE: South Africa
This place is internationally recognized for a reason. Framed by rocky cliffs and known for its bright blue water and powdery white sand, Clifton Beach in Cape Town is actually divided into four neighboring beaches: Clifton 1st, Clifton 2nd, Clifton 3rd, and Clifton 4th. Clifton 4th is the largest and most popular, often boasting a fashionable clientele. Clifton 1st is considered to be the quietest, Clifton 2nd the most sporty, and Clifton 3rd the most LGBTIA+ friendly. All of the Clifton beaches, however, offer the same great views right down to the city’s most colorful sunset.
INSIDER TIPThe different beaches are approximately a ten-minute walk downhill from the various parking lots, and not too wheelchair friendly. For a more accessible city option, check out Camps Bay beach.
WHERE: South Africa
Home to the spectacular Robberg Penninsula Nature Reserve, Plettenberg Bay is a must-visit town on the South African garden route. Nestled amongst grassy boulders and home to playful seals and seasonal whales, Robberg Beach stretches for several miles between Robberg Peninsula and Beacon Island. The beach is only a few minutes from the center of Plettenberg, but still feels delightfully isolated.
INSIDER TIPIf you’re in an active mood, make sure to hike the nearby Robberg Trail—a circular path will take you through miles of protected forests and in sight of the Tsitsikamma Mountains. At the trail’s halfway point, take a swimming break at the scenic beach.
Coffee Bay Beach
WHERE: South Africa
South Africa’s Wild Coast is a sight to behold and Coffee Bay, an internationally-recognized backpacker destination on the coast, is the place to be. Crashing waves, black cliffs, and an endless sandy beach stretches from the Nenga River Mouth all the way to the ocean, where holiday goers and locals surf, relax, and soak up this coastal gem.
Sandwich Harbour isn’t your classic beach. Dotted with lagoons and wetlands, and housed in the middle of a dessert that slips right out to the ocean, Sandwich Harbour is as stark as it is beautiful. Don’t come here expecting to tan the day away, but rather look for different adventures and sightseeing opportunities in order to truly watch the desert sand meet the wild sea.
INSIDER TIPWeather can be unpredictable in this area, so make sure to listen to your tour guides and come dressed in layers.
Known as the “Blue Pearl,” Saidia is a beach located quite close to the Algerian border in the Moroccan province of Berkane. As the chosen holiday spot of local Moroccans for the summer months, it can get quite crowded, but still manages to remains one of the most idyllic spots in the region. With golden sand and Mediterranean weather, Saidia is also host to plenty of seaside activities and excellent Moroccan cuisine.
INSIDER TIPIf you’re going in the summer and have a specific hotel in mind, make sure to book in advance to avoid disappointment.
Loango National Park
This isn’t exactly the place to bring an airport beach read and tanning oil. However, you won’t be disappointed as Loango National Park is even better—the national park is full of gorillas, elephants, leopards, dolphins, humpback whales, and even surfing hippos, taking your average beach vacation to the next level. Plus, there’s nothing quite like going on safari in the midst of a white sandy beach.
WHERE: Ivory Coast
Tucked away between San Pedro and Sassandra, the small town of Monogaga is an incredibly scenic and popular spot for surfing and swimming in the Ivory Coast. The Monogaga Beach is located right near town, featuring a shimmering blue sea, endless white sands, and tropical palm trees. In addition to the gorgeous views, the real star here is the fresh seafood. Local fishermen cook their catches right in stands right on the beach, serving up crab, lobster, and fish with sides of spicy fried plantains.
As the crown jewel of Egypt’s Mediterranean coast, Marsa Matruh’s white sand beaches and perfectly blue waters are rumored to have been visited by Queen Cleopatra herself. Nowadays, the aptly named Cleopatra Beach is a short drive northwest of the town of Marsa Matruh and is absolutely spectacular (though difficult to swim in because of the rocks). Within Marsa Matruh however, a white sandy expanse right in town is perfect for a beach holiday.
INSIDER TIPIf you’re looking for another gorgeous beach in the area, look no further than Agiba Beach. Located approximately fifteen miles west of Marsa Matruh, the turquoise water and beckoning cave structures make for an excellent adventure day.
Known for interesting rock formations and bright turquoise waters, Marsa Alam offers a plethora of activities for the active beachgoer. Home to some of the country’s best scuba diving, marine life in Marsa Alam is vibrant and plentiful. Sea turtles, dugongs, and plenty of colorful fish call this Red Sea-based resort townhome, though the white sand and blue skies alone could coax even the most reluctant beachgoer into a sun chair.
INSIDER TIPFor even more scuba diving in Egypt, look no further than Sharm El Sheikh. A town with similar offerings, scuba diving boats leave from the port almost daily.
River Number 2
WHERE: Sierra Leone
Located in a few hours from Freetown in Sierra Leone, River Number 2 is one of West Africa’s best beaches. In spite of this, and even with locals and tourists alike basking in the sun and fresh sea air, the beach is never too crowded. From the expansive stretch of sand to the relaxing breeze and forest backdrop, every moment spent in this beachside paradise is worth it. River Number 2 is still really low-key, with wonderful community-run guesthouses and restaurants.
INSIDER TIPThough not too far from Freetown, it can be pretty difficult to take public transportation all the way to the beach. Instead, hire a private taxi or moto-taxi.
Bom Bom Island
WHERE: Sao Tome and Principe
Located right off of Principe, Bom Bom Island is the perfect beach hideaway. Framed by rocky green outcrops and bright blue water, the island’s beaches are pristine and inviting. An eco-resort, bar, and restaurant are located on the island, as well as plenty of activities. From scuba diving to kayaking to bird watching, there’s plenty to occupy the intrepid traveler.
INSIDER TIPThere is no ATM on the island, so come with extra cash.
Located less than fifteen miles from the capital city of Accra, Kokrobite isn’t the place to come for a tropical getaway. Instead, beachgoers revel in the relaxed beach vibe, soaking up Ghanaian culture with excellent food, dynamic art, and buzzing nightlife. Plenty of guesthouses—suitable for all budgets—can be found at the beachfront, and a range of activities from traditional fishing to boat rides are available.
Santa Monica Beach
WHERE: Cape Verde
Cape Verde, an island nation made up of ten volcanic islands off the coast of Senegal, is still a hidden gem. Few tourists venture all the way there, though the colorful culture, fantastic food, and enchanting beaches are starting to change that. Though all the islands are worthy of a visit, make sure to check out Boa Vista, the island home to the stunning beach of Santa Monica. Boasting dramatic sunsets and several miles of soft white sand, as well as rocky beachside boulders and crisp azure waters, Santa Monica is sublime.
Bazaruto looks and feels like a quintessential tropical island. Located in Bazaruto National Park, Bazaruto Island’s classic beaches—full of swaying palm trees, vibrant marine life, fresh coconut water, and grilled fish right off the line—are heavenly. Take some time to go snorkeling or scuba diving in search of the elusive Dugong—they congregate around the island, and the population in Bazaruto is the largest in East Africa.