Which is the best holiday island, Mauritius or Zanzibar? This is a regular question on the minds of South African travellers seeking a beach escape on a tropical Indian Ocean island. But they’re both so different. So the short answer to the question is: it depends.
It’s all down to your preferences, so we’ve broken it down to help make the decision a little easier.
Mauritius: If you’re in Johannesburg, there are daily direct flights to Mauritius on several airlines including Air Mauritius, FlySafair and SAA. Direct flights are also available from Cape Town on Tuesdays and Sundays. You will have to connect via Johannesburg if you are travelling from Durban. Direct flights are about 4 hours.
Zanzibar: There are direct flights to Zanzibar from Johannesburg with FlySafair on Tuesdays and Saturdays. You will have to connect via Johannesburg if you live in Cape Town or Durban. Direct flights are about 4 hours.
*Note: flight schedules can vary throughout the year due to seasonality.
The winner: Zanzibar by a small margin, as flights from Johannesburg are slightly cheaper (you can score roughly R1,000 per person if you compare FlySafair). However, if you have to fly from Cape Town or Durban, it might work out the same.
The visa situation
Mauritius: The island has been visa-free for South Africans since before the Dodo disappeared.
Zanzibar: The islands and the Tanzanian motherland are visa-free for South Africans.
The winner: It’s a draw. Both are visa-free for 90 days.
The vaccination situation
Apart from the usual routine and recommended vaccinations, you will not need any jabs to go to Mauritius or Zanzibar.
The winner: Another draw!
Mauritius has been in the tourism game for a long time, so boutique spa hotels and exclusive luxury resorts all offering a very Western experience are the norm. But, although most of the accommodation in Mauritius leans toward the higher end, it also has a great collection of self-catering villas and bungalows for smaller budgets and a more easygoing island experience.
Zanzibar accommodation is a mix of old-world Arabic decadence and stylish island luxury. You will be able to find beach lodges, wellness retreats, 5-star resorts, humble chalets, independent hotels, and even a floating houseboat bed and breakfast. And although the service isn’t always on par with Westernised luxury resorts, the accommodation offers history and the kind of charm you won’t find anywhere else.
The winner: Mauritius if you want luxury, Zanzibar if you want personality.
Mauritius beaches are famously beautiful and have a great holiday vibe. You can expect yachts and paddleboarders floating by, families hanging out under palm trees, and people strolling along enjoying the warmth of paradise. It is also a popular honeymoon spot, so expect starry-eyed lovers enjoying candle-lit dinners to add an extra touch of paradise atmosphere.
Zanzibar beaches are just as lovely, but you are more likely to find white-sailed dhows perched on the shores and local fishermen bringing in their catch. Beaches are generally quite packed with crowds and local hawkers selling crafts and coconuts. Of course, there are also many beaches where the sand is disturbed only by the tide and fringe of tropical trees if you’re willing to cough up a few extra Rands. The surrounding islands, Pemba and Mafia, are even better for a private escape and living out your castaway dream.
The winner: Mauritius if you want tranquillity, Zanzibar if you enjoy the hustle and bustle.
The food and drink
Mauritius is a multicultural island that has been influenced by the flavours of Asia, Europe, and Africa. You will be able to try unique dishes such as palm tree hearts and chilli salt fruit, but also familiar dishes such as curry and dim sum. It is also famous for its Creole cuisine and street food scene, so the dining options are plentiful. Who doesn’t want to be able to taste the world in one holiday?
Zanzibar prides itself on its fresh seafood and exotic spices. Although Zanzibar is definitely a paradise for seafood lovers, the distinct Indian and African influences will satisfy spice lovers. But there are also local dishes such as Zanzibar pizza and urojo which are unlike anything you have ever tried before, and a great experience if you are feeling a little adventurous with your dinner plans.
The winner: Mauritius if you’re looking for a wide variety, Zanzibar if you’re after seafood.
Mauritius is super organised and definitely the place to be if you love water sports or are interested in trying them out for the first time. You will find the usual windsurfing, scuba diving, paddle boating, kayaking, and snorkelling, but also unusual additions such as glass-bottom boat rides, undersea walks, aquagym, and water polo. On land, you can fill your days with golf, biking trips, yoga classes, and shopping. And Mauritius also has several bars and clubs if you enjoy drinks and dancing after dinner.
Zanzibar is definitely more focused on rustic relaxation than Mauritius, though you will find a few amazing activities. You can take tours of the spice orchards, something very unique to this part of the world. Equally so is a trip to Stone Town, the ancient heart of Zanzibar which stands frozen in time. Aside from these, there’s the usual kite surfing, scuba diving, and snorkelling.
Tip. If you have time and want to make the most out of your trip to East Africa, pair a vacation to Zanzibar with a trip to the mainland. The Serengeti and Kilimanjaro are well worth the extra effort.
The winner: Mauritius wins hands down for the sheer diversity and volume of activities, but Zanzibar is a good call if you’re just planning on lazing around and relaxing.
Mauritius is a great holiday destination if you are travelling with kids. Many hotels in Mauritius have great kids’ facilities and offer babysitting services. Most resorts have dedicated kids’ clubs, pools, and age-appropriate activities to keep them entertained.
Zanzibar is more suitable if you are travelling alone, with friends, or just with your partner. There are not as many family-friendly resorts, though of course, you will find certain stays that are equipped to look after kids. There are not as many activities that are suited for youngsters, though some kiddos might be happy to tag along on history tours or play on the beach while the parents do their water activities.
The winner: Mauritius.
Also read: Tips for Flying With Children
Mauritius attracts a large number of international tourists, so often the prices reflect the demand. There is an abundance of luxurious, all-inclusive 5* holiday packages available (more so than low-budget stays and backpackers) and flight prices can ramp up, especially in peak season. Travelling to Mauritius can be expensive, but it is definitely possible to experience a dreamy honeymoon or tropical escape if you plan it right.
Zanzibar is considerably less developed so finding cheap flights, accommodation, and cost-effective Zanzibar holiday packages is much easier. Flights can often be found for about R7,500 pp return from Joburg and packages including accommodation, flights and meals for about R25,000 pps. However, Zanzibar is by no means a rundown island destination – it also has a number of exclusive beach resorts and hotels that will offer an exclusive private island experience and charge you accordingly.
The winner: Zanzibar, but you might be able to find less luxurious stays for the same price in Mauritius.
Sign up for our newsletter and stay in the loop about the latest flight specials and holiday deals!
The verdict: Again, it really depends on what you want and expect.
Mauritius is sugar and spice and everything nice. There are fewer opportunities for exploring beyond the island, but Mauritius is the place that conjures up dreams of searching for waterfalls, drinking cocktails, and golden afternoons frolicking on the beach. And it does for a reason. It is a heavenly place with an abundance of activities and world-class resorts that make it a popular destination among people wanting an effortless holiday of relaxation and luxury.
Zanzibar may be less developed and a bit rough around the edges, but it is loved for its culture, interesting experiences, and ornate architecture. It is widely popular with people wanting a more rugged and authentic experience. Zanzibar also gives you the option of exploring the other two main islands that make up the archipelago and the mainland. A trip to Zanzibar will make for unforgettable throwback stories.
Both are awesome, but for different reasons. So if you can do both in your lifetime, even better!