A hobie cat in Mauritius Vs. a traditional dhow in Zanzibar
This is a regular question on the minds of South African travellers seeking an Indian Ocean Island beach escape. The choice often comes down to these 2 popular options, and the short answer to the question is “it depends”. It’s all down to your preferences, so we’ve broken it down for you to help you better decide.
Mauritius: If you’re in Joburg, there are daily direct flights on SAA and Air Mauritius and flights once a week on a Saturday on BA Comair. Flights take 4 hours and aside from the BA Comair option, are at convenient times for connecting flights from other cities in South Africa. At certain times of the year there are twice weekly direct flights from Cape Town on Air Mauritius (around 5 hours) as well as from Durban (around 4 hours).
Zanzibar: If you’re in Joburg there are twice weekly direct flights with Mango, they leave at the crack of dawn on Tuesdays and Saturdays so travellers from other parts of the country have to fly in the day before and overnight in Joburg on the way to Zanzibar. They’re usually a great deal cheaper than the Mauritius flights though and take around 5 hours.
The winner: Mauritius for convenience all round, Zanzibar for price, but really only if you live in Joburg.
Mauritius has been visa-free for South Africans since as long as I can remember.
Tanzania, the country which Zanzibar is part of, in 2013 switched from a paid visa on arrival for South Africans to a visa-free setup making it easier than ever to visit the Spice Island.
The winner: It’s a draw
Zanzibar has a range of accommodation styles, while not as many hotels as Mauritius it does have everything from all-inclusive 5 star resorts to rustic bungalows without electricity or hot water on a secluded beach. The vast majority though will have a decent swimming pool, bar, restaurant, regular beds as well as hot and cold running water – so don’t think of it like camping on the beach.
Mauritius on the other hand has been in the tourism game for a long time and features resorts more in the mid-range and upwards. Consequently, you’ll regularly get a very Western standard experience in Mauritius compared to a mix of this and basic local-style lodgings in Zanzibar. It also has a much larger variety of 2, 3, 4 and 5 star hotels and resorts in addition to self-catering villas and bungalows and grocery shopping is a lot easier if you’re on that sort of meal plan.
The winner: For most it will be Mauritius in this category.
Zanzibar is definitely more focussed on rustic relaxation than Mauritius, though you’ll see a few unique activities here. You can take tours of the spice orchards, something very unique to this part of the world, equally so is a trip into Stone Town, the ancient heart of Zanzibar which stands frozen in time. You can also take a swim with dolphins or take a trip on a traditional dhow. Zanzibar has some unique wildlife like the Red Colobus Monkey which trumps Mauritius’ extinct dodo IMHO. Aside from these there’s the usual kite-surfing, diving, snorkelling and so on too.
Mauritius on the other hand is super organised and if water sports are your thing, this is the place to be. You’ll also find the usual windsurfing, diving and snorkelling but you’ll also find quirky additions like glass-bottom boat rides, undersea walks, aquagym, waterpolo as well as more in the way of kayaking and paddleboating. At many hotels you’ll find high tech gyms, yoga classes and even mountain-biking trips. You’ll also find a lot of familiar sites in town like South African coffee shops and restaurants. In summary, the activities in Mauritius are much more organised and closer to what you would find back home.
The winner: In sheer volume of activities, Mauritius wins hands down, in terms of a uniquely African experience, Zanzibar takes first place.
Mauritius is the one to start with here. There are a number of reasons this is a good choice for kids. Unlike Zanzibar, there’s no need for them to have yellow fever injections before visiting or to take malaria prophylaxis. The flights, especially for non-Joburgers are a lot easier than those to Zanzibar, requiring no changes or overnight stopovers. Mauritius is also exceptional for kids with many hotels boasting great kids facilities and some even offering nanny services. Hotels with kids facilities have kids clubs, pools and activities for them to take part in as well.
Zanzibar? You could say it has an old fashioned approach to parenting: your kids are yours to take care of, for the most part. Even some of the most family-oriented resorts will not have kids facilities. So if you were hoping to get a break from little Jimmy and Susie, this is not for you.
The winner: Mauritius, hands down.
Zanzibar‘s small airport handles only a few flights from places like Joburg, Nairobi, Dar Es Salaam and Addis Ababa and a couple of seasonal flights from Europe. Its resorts lie on the rustic end of the luxury scale (though there are a few on the high end). It’s often plagued by power cuts several months in length (though hotels have their own generators). Let me be clear though, none of this detracts from the atmosphere or experience, but it does mean that on the whole it’s seen as less attractive to the majority of the European play-it-über-safe package holiday-makers. This means that its prices are on the lower end with 7 night packages at budget resorts from around R8,000 – R9,000 per person sharing inclusive of flights from Joburg. Mid-range resorts will be around R10,000 – R12,000 for the same sort of package.
Mauritius is a different animal altogether, perfecting the art of the half-board and all-inclusive package holiday and slick and modern resorts. It also has many regular direct long haul flights on it’s own national airline from cities all over South Africa, Australia, and Asia. Then there are other airlines with direct flights to the likes of Dubai, Paris and Frankfurt too. In summary, it attracts a large number of international tourists, and the prices reflect the demand. A 7 day budget resort package including flights will cost from around R11,000 – R12,000 per person sharing with a mid-range package from around R13,000 – R14,000 upwards.
The winner: Zanzibar.
Again, it really depends on what you want and if you can do both in your lifetime, then do it! In Mauritius be prepared for luxury, a wide range of activities and much more of a resort atmosphere. In Zanzibar, expect a more rustic, laid back experience. Both are awesome, but for different reasons.
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