The Indian Ocean’s island states and archipelagos are a wonderland of delicate natural wonders waiting to be discovered by families.
The fresh giant of the southern hemisphere, that’s the Indian Ocean. Earth’s youngest it sweeps around the shores of almost every exotic country from The Maldives to Madagascar. A constant presence along the coast of West Africa, it’s the source of archetypal paradise beaches, world’s best diving, unimaginably spectacular coral reefs and the type of family holidays that defy cliché when described as, ‘once in a lifetime’.
Edged by almost 200km of white sand beaches and protected by the world’s third largest coral reef, Mauritius is one of the most extraordinary islands in the Indian Ocean and the competition for that prize is strong. Seen from above, it’s all dense, jungle lushness framed by a patchwork of brilliant blue waters, glittering lagoons and sweeping sandbars. Another winter holiday favourite, Mauritian temperatures seldom sink below 25˚. Spring here is autumn in the UK and, if you can live without absolute snorkelling clarity, July and August are the cheapest months to travel. The country’s north west is more touristy than the south, but you’re never short of traditional Creole charm anywhere and when you head into the interior it’s so peaceful you wouldn’t be surprised to spot a Dodo. Sadly, the most famous Mauritian native has been extinct since the 17th century, but it’s hard to be too disappointed in a country which counts flying foxes as residents, has permanent dolphin pods and migrating whales off the coast and offers protected nesting sites for both Hawksbill and Green sea turtles.Take me to Mauritius
South of India and almost right on the equator, The Maldives is the archipelago of coral atolls synonymous with paradise beaches, overwater bungalows and barefoot holidays on the upper edge of expensive. A rarefied atmosphere’s inevitable when only 200 of the country’s 1000 islands are inhabited and then almost exclusively by the world’s most luxurious and select resorts. White sands, secluded villas and candlelit dinners for two at the water’s edge are still part of The Maldives’ promise on several atolls. But romantics are mingling more and more with families these days and several of the most exciting resorts have an outstanding range of kids’ activities, teen water sports, all-inclusive packages and larger beach villas. A tropical climate with temperatures of between 28 and 32˚ year round makes the country a given for winter sun. Although if you don’t mind the odd rainy afternoon (everything still looks stunning), UK summertime is off-season here and prices are considerably lower than in December, January and February.Take me to the Maldives
The Seychelles archipelago is another unspoiled Indian Ocean country with incredible wildlife and natural phenomena, some of the world’s loveliest beaches and a charming, gentle atmosphere for family holidays. The three main islands, Mahé, Praslin and La Digue are most densely populated and, even then, they’re far from busy – only 25,000 people live in the capital, Victoria. Island hopping, eco-adventures, sailing and almost endless sunshine and temperatures of 27˚ are why most people choose to holiday here. If complete escapism is a little too quiet for kids, factor that into your choice of island: Mahé is largest, liveliest and home to several international luxury resorts; Praslin is only 10km long and 4km wide but has UNESCO World Heritage Vallée de Mai at its heart; and tiny La Digue is the island for cycling around and playing on the beach. Whichever one you choose, all three main islands are connected by ferry and sailing between them is an adventure in itself.Take me to the Seychelles
Floating off the west coast of Africa, Madagascar is the world’s fourth largest island and one of its most bio-diverse environments. Over 90% of Madagascan wildlife species are indigenous, it’s the only natural habitat of Lemurs and the country’s geography ranges from rainforest and tropical jungle to pampas and an enormous Indian Ocean coastline. Over the past 20 years, ecotourism has become one of Madagascar’s most important industries and travelling round national parks is the best way to holiday here with kids. Many excellent UK operators offer multi-centre tours, integrating cultural activities and outstanding accommodation, even in remote areas. That said, Madagascar is a naturally challenging country and exploring it at its most rewarding is definitely better suited for holidays with older kids and teenagers.Take me to Madagascar
Tucked off the west coast of Mauritius, Reunion is one of the Indian Ocean’s best kept secrets. It’s a bio-diversity hotspot, green and mountainous, trimmed with stunning beaches and significantly quieter and less expensive than its better known neighbours. This is a hugely popular holiday island for French families in summer and winter. But that doesn’t make Reunion busy, it just means the choice of accommodation is excellent whether you want a five-star beach hotel or a family-run bed and breakfast in the lively capital, Saint-Denis.La Réunion