When it comes to tropical Indian Ocean paradises, you can’t get much better than Mauritius or Zanzibar. However due to their remote nature, visiting either is costly and the airplane journey long. So making the choice between Zanzibar or Mauritius for your dream getaway is vitally important.
However other than their remoteness, these islands are quite different. Having spent time in both, we compare them below, showing you what to expect in each, and some of the best places to check out.
Mauritius or Zanzibar: Which is the better destination?
Both of these destinations are great for beach lovers, with gorgeous stretches of sand and warm water perfect for swimming. We’ve found that the scenery in Mauritius is more dramatic, lush and beautiful, but when it comes to which country has the best beaches, Zanzibar probably just shades it over Mauritius. The sea in Zanzibar is slightly warmer too.
However if you’re looking for a holiday with many excursion possibilities, then Mauritius may be the better choice. This country is very tourist driven, and so there tends to be many things to do – such as visiting rum distilleries or going on catamaran tours.
Furthermore, as a volcanic island, Mauritius has dramatic mountains and forests. That opens up the opportunity for hiking and jungle trekking. In fact the highest peak in Mauritius is 828 meters – the highest in Zanzibar is 195 meters!
However a vacation to Zanzibar does give you the chance to go on a once-in-a-lifetime safari in nearby mainland Tanzania. In general, Zanzibar is also a slightly cheaper destination, in terms of food and accommodation, than Mauritius.
In terms of safety, Mauritius tends to be a safer destination than Zanzibar. Although crime against tourists is still very rare in Zanzibar.
Below we look at some of our favorite places in both destinations, before comparing the culture and hotel service in each. Spoiler alert – they’re very different!
Mauritius or Zanzibar: Stunning Indian Ocean paradises
Mauritius is home to dozens of spectacular beaches, all with their own quirks. You can find a huge stretch of beach at Flic en Flac, which is perfect for dipping your toes in the water as you walk the coastline. With bars and food stalls lining the beach, this is a fun and lively place to visit, especially at the weekend.
One of the best swimming beaches can be found at Pereybere. The fine white sand here continues into the sea for dozens of meters, making it the perfect place to swim without fear of stepping on rocks or sharp coral. Grab a coconut from one of the friendly sellers at the beach edge, and settle down for the day. However this is probably the most popular swimming beach in Mauritius – and is one of the smallest too – so it can get very busy.
Just off the west coast is the beautiful little Ile aux Cerf. This island can be reached by boat from the little fishing village of Trou d’Eau Deuce, and is also a great swimming spot that is quieter than popular and easy to reach Pereybere.
Mauritius also happens to have some of the best snorkeling spots in the Indian Ocean. Ile aux Cerf is a fantastic snorkeling spot, as is Blue Bay in the south of Mauritius where you can see countless colorful fish living among the coral. Locals often bring bread to feed the fish when snorkeling – try it out and you will be surrounded by fish within minutes! A great underwater camera – such as this one – is a must.
This island is far more than just sun, sea, and sand though. The dramatic Le Morne mountain is a national heritage site and climbing it will bring spectacular panoramic views of the island and ocean.
Black River Gorges National Park is a huge expense of jungle-covered interior with spectacular waterfalls, hiking trails, and friendly monkeys. The village of Chamarel is nestled beside it at high altitude, and the drive from here down towards Black River will expose you to some of the island’s best views.
If you’re looking for a beach destination, Zanzibar won’t disappoint. This coral reef ringed island has gorgeous stretches of white sandy beaches, and one of our favorites is Kendwa Beach. This dreamy slice of Zanzibar has the softest sand as well as warm water for swimming. Outlined by gently swaying palm trees, it’s a true tropical paradise.
Up and down Zanzibar you will find beaches which are perfect for enjoying a beer at the water’s edge, but the coastline here is also great for snorkeling. It’s easy to snorkel off the coast throughout the main island, but our favorite spot is definitely Mnemba Island. Two miles off Zanzibar’s north-east coast, this protected marine area is teeming with life. The crystal clear water makes it exceptionally easy to spot colorful reef fish like Blue Tangs and Clown fish!
Inland, Zanzibar is an exciting and interesting place. This island doesn’t revolve around tourists – like Mauritius does – and therefore has different things going on other than tourism. One of those is spice farming. Nutmeg, cinnamon (which is a real ‘superfood’),, and many other spices are grown throughout, and it’s a real pleasure on the senses as you explore. Tangawizi Spice Farm, a few kilometers from the capital is a must visit. Here you can take a tour of the farm, taste the local spices and fruits, and get a sense of working life on this paradise island.
The beautiful Changu Island is also worth visiting. Also known as ‘Prison Island’, this little place has a dark past as it was used as a prison for rebellious slaves in the 19th century. A small boat can take you there from Stone Town (30-50 USD return), whilst the entrance fee to the island costs under 5 USD. A visit will not only give you an insight into Zanzibar’s dark history, but will also give you an opportunity to meet the giant tortoises who have now taken up residence on the island!
Mauritius or Zanzibar: Experience paradise and island life
Both Zanzibar and Mauritius offer that laid back island life holidaymakers are seeking. Plus, with English widely spoken in each, they are easy places to navigate for most tourists. The people in both are exceptionally friendly, and well used to tourists too.
In terms of service, hotels in Mauritius provide excellent service that tends to be better than what you would get in Zanzibar. Mauritius is also the more developed island, although Zanzibar’s ‘rustic’ vibe is certainly part of its charm, as is it’s less commercialized feel compared to Mauritius.
It’s also worth remembering that Zanzibar is a majority Muslim island. While drinking alcohol and wearing beach attire are acceptable in resorts and on beaches, it’s best to dress more conservatively when exploring urban centers.
Mauritius is a multi-ethnic, multi-religious country which makes it a unique and interesting nation to explore.
There’s a strong Indian influence here due to many Mauritians being descendants of indentured Indian workers brought here by the British in the 19th century. Indentured work was a form of forced work which was increasingly used after the abolition of slavery in the colonies.
Over half a million indentured workers passed through Mauritius’ capital of Port Louis, and the immigration depot where they were brought, Aapravasi Ghat, now serves as a museum and is worth visiting.
The UNESCO World Heritage site, Le Morne, should also be visited to understand Mauritius’ turbulent history. The mountain was used as hiding place for slaves that managed to escape.
Out of that history came Sega – the rhythmic dance and music that’s heard on beaches up and down the island. It originated as the songs and dances of slaves, and is heritage as much as it is a form of dance.
For something a little different, head to the Botanical Gardens in Pamplemousses to walk in the shade among an incredible variety of colorful plants and exotic trees.
Mauritius also has a significant Chinese population, and subsequently, the capital of Port Louis has its own China Town. Situated in the city center, look out for the colorful murals and numerous Chinese restaurants to try out.
Zanzibar has been a major trade route for centuries, from the horrendous trade of humans during the times of slavery, through to the trade of spices that continues to this day. All of that has left its mark on this fascinating culture-rich island.
Much of that trade centered on Stone Town – the ancient part of Zanzibar City which is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The centuries old buildings and winding alleyways in Stone Town haven’t changed in hundreds of years, and a trip to the Old Fort – the oldest building in the city – transports you back in time. As will a trip to the Old Slave Market, which has been kept as a sobering reminder of Zanzibar’s past.
Stone Town’s most famous son may well be Freddie Mercury – front man of rock group Queen. For something a little more contemporary, a trip to the Freddie Mercury Museum is well worth a visit.
Zanzibar’s Arabic influence can be seen in the spice farms and shops throughout the country. Darajani Market is a bustling market where many of these spices end up, and is an exciting and sensory-filled day out.
To get a sense of daily life in Zanzibar, head to one of the smaller villages like Matemwe. Locals are mainly involved in agricultural activity and fishing, including seaweed farming.
A taste of the tropics
Both islands have delicious cuisine that will provide a unique treat for your tastebuds.
The Indian influence shines through in Mauritius where popular street food includes dholl puri, which is a wrap made from yellow split peas garnished with different curries or lentils.
Another popular street food worth trying – and a personal favorite of ours – is boulette. This is a dumpling usually filled with either chicken, lamb, fish, or Chayote (chouchou in Mauritius), served hot with soup and chili. It’s delicious.
Fried noodles, and fried rice are also popular here – a hat tip to the Chinese population in Mauritius.
To wash it all down, try the local beer of Mauritius, Phoenix. Of course rum is also very popular. Many different kinds are made on the island, but La Rhumerie de Chamarel has some of the best – they also do tours and tastings.
Zanzibar’s cuisine is a real mash-up of influences and styles, which makes it a foodie’s paradise.
For seafood lovers, one traditional dish to try out is Pepper Shark – which is shark cooked with a variety of locally-grown spices. Octopus is another popular seafood eaten here, and octopus boiled with coconut milk can be found on menus up and down the island.
A more modern invention is the Zanzibar Pizza. Which doesn’t really taste or look like a pizza! Diced onions, minced meat, cream cheese, mayonnaise and egg are all lumped together on a pizza-like base, and the sides are then folded in. It’s more like a savory crepe, and tastes better than it sounds.
Mauritius or Zanzibar: Which should you choose?
Both Mauritius and Zanzibar are fantastic beach destinations, with Zanzibar a bit more rustic compared to Mauritius which is better developed. However if you’re looking for a holiday which involves activities away from the beach, Mauritius has more excursions available.
That said, a trip to Zanzibar puts you just a short boat or plane ride away from an unforgettable safari experience in mainland Tanzania, which is a must-do if you have the time and money.
Recommended for your trip to Mauritius or Zanzibar
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