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10 African islands for every type of traveler
Surfer? Try Sal. Honeymooner? Head for Mumbo. The continent with it all gets even better around its edge
Escapees in search of an island may be tempted to head for old favorites such as Southeast Asia or the Caribbean.
But don't overlook Africa.
This huge landmass is splattered with sand-fringed isles, from country-sized behemoths to single-shack atolls.
1. For wildlife enthusiasts: Madagascar
Eighty percent of the animals on this island are found nowhere else on earth.
There are more than 70 species of lemur, from the ring-tailed lemur to the black-and-white Indri lemur.
It looks like a child in a panda suit, and wails like a siren.
Then there’s the fossa, one of eight species of carnivores on Madagascar, which can climb forwards down vertical tree trunks, and the aye-aye -- a creature so ridiculous European taxidermists thought it was a joke when they saw the first specimen. It has the ears of a bat, the tail of a fox and the teeth of a rat.
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2. For photographers: Zanzibar, Tanzania
Many people travel to laid-back Zanzibar to lounge about under palm trees or to blink in awe through goggles at the coral reefs. But it’s most irresistible call goes out to photographers.
Historic Stone Town is an intricate weave of narrow roads and alleys, ornate balconies, tumbling plants and Arabic-style houses.
The lively markets and street stalls are a treat too, and you’ll not be short of inspiration along Kenyatta Road and Gizenga Street.
Some of the world's most beautiful beach shots can be captured on the east coast of the island.
3. For divers: Bazaruto archipelago, Mozambique
Seafood lovers can feast on plates of prawns, but it’s divers who will feel most at home on the Bazaruto Archipelago, off southern Mozambique.
Most of Bazaruto is a national park and its coral reefs are pristine.
The warm Indian Ocean brings whale sharks, manta rays, dolphins, turtles, mackerel, clown fish, Moorish idols, angel, parrot and butterfly fish to the area.
There’s even a chance to see the elusive, almost surreal dugong. Bazaruto is close to the popular holiday spot of Vilanculos.
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4. For bird lovers: Bird Island, Seychelles
The noise on Bird Island will almost certainly keep you awake, but don't blame disco-dancing night owls. It’s the sea birds. Thousands of them.
From April to October every year more than a million terns, mostly sooty terns, nest on the flat, sandy coral land that is one of Seychelles’ most northern islands.
Noddy terns, tropic birds, white terns and greater crested terns are all unfazed by human contact, many times allowing visitors to kneel next to them and capture their feathery details with a point-and-shoot camera.
Bird Island is also an important nesting site for turtles, and the snorkeling and sea kayaking is good too.
5. For botanists: São Tomé, São Tomé and Príncipe
Tucked under the bulge of Africa just 290 kilometers west of Gabon is the tiny island nation of São Tomé and Príncipe, where life unfolds at a delightfully mellow pace.
These islands are a haven for plant enthusiasts: about 28 percent of the country is forest, of which 44 percent is primary rain forest. They’re also home to more than 150 types of tree ferns and at least 129 orchid species.
There are more than 130 species of plants and 28 species of birds that you won’t find anywhere else.
It's also worth trying some of the local chocolate -- at the start of the 20th century, São Tomé was one of the largest producers of cocoa in the world.
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6. For culture vultures: Lamu, Kenya
The old town of Lamu Island is said to be the oldest and the best preserved Swahili settlement in East Africa, where the Muslim call to prayer wafts through narrow winding alleys, past elaborate merchant houses and donkey carts and around an old port town almost as it did back in the eighth century.
Some 260 kilometers north of Mombasa, the UNESCO World Heritage Site can be divided into two sections, north and south.
Shela in the north is a quiet seaside village and the old town of Lamu is in the south -- visitors can get between the two with a 45-minute walk or a boat ride.
7. For surfers: Sal, Cape Verde
The Cape Verdes, 570 kilometers off Senegal on the west coast of Africa, are a great destination for water-sport enthusiasts, particularly during the trade winds season in winter.
Sal is the most touristy of Cape Verde’s 10 islands, but Santa Maria bay is the best place on Sal to wax up –--there are no rocks, there’s a long run and it's a great beach for beginners and seasoned pros.
There are a few surf schools and places to rent boards and windsurfers too.
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8. For safari lovers: Chief’s Island, Botswana
One of the largest of Okavango Delta’s islands (it’s nearly 1,000 square kilometers), the fertile plains of Chief’s Island offers phenomenal game viewing opportunities.
Large herds of elephant, zebra, wildebeest, red lechwe and impala congregate here, and crocodiles and hippos wallow in the water of the delta.
The land is higher than the rest of the delta and doesn’t flood, so when the waters start to rise, Chief’s Island, once the hunting ground of Chief Moremi but now a protected area, becomes a haven for wildlife.
9. For history buffs: Île de Gorée, Senegal
Just 900 meters long and 350 meters wide, Île de Gorée, two kilometers east of the main harbor of Dakar, has become a well-known destination for people interested in the history of the slave trade.
While it’s unlikely that many slaves were processed or transported from this pretty, bougainvillea-clad island, it's on Île de Gorée that you’ll find the House of Slaves, a museum dedicated to the Atlantic slave trade.
Built by the Dutch in 1776, the small building used to hold up to 200 slaves for three months before they were shipped off to the Americas.
10. For honeymooners: Mumbo Island, Malawi
It’s hard to beat Mumbo Island for romance.
The tiny island (just one kilometer in diameter) has never been populated, and Mumbo Island Camp can accommodate only 14 guests in its very private tents, which you reach by crossing a wooden bridge from Mumbo’s main beach.
Visitors can spend the days swimming in Lake Malawi’s crystal waters, exploring hidden coves by kayak, diving or snorkeling around the massive boulders that surround the island, hiking relaxing on the beach or snoozing in the hammocks on your tent’s balcony.
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