Updated on 28 June 2018
This is a regular question on the minds of South African travellers seeking a beach escape on one of the Indian Ocean islands. The choice often comes down to these 2 popular options, but Zanzibar holidays are not the same as Mauritius holidays, 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 Air Mauritius and SAA, and every Saturday on BA Comair. Direct flights are also available from Durban and connecting flights to Mauritius depart daily from Cape Town. Direct flights are about 4 hours and connecting flights are about 7 hours.
Zanzibar: If you’re travelling from Johannesburg, there are direct flights to Zanzibar on Mango several times a week (usually Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday). Connecting flights to Zanzibar depart *daily from Cape Town and Durban. Direct flights are about 4 hours and connecting flights are about 10 hours.
*Note: flight schedules can vary throughout the year due to seasonality.
The winner: Mauritius for convenience all round, but Zanzibar for the price if you live in Johannesburg.
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
Mauritius: Apart from the usual routine and recommended vaccinations, you will not need any jabs to go to Mauritius.
Zanzibar: A yellow fever certificate is required and the islands are at risk for mosquito-borne diseases such as malaria.
The winner: Mauritius.
Mauritius accommodation has been in the tourism game for a long time, so boutique spa hotels and exclusive luxury resorts all offering a very western standard 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 that cater toward smaller budgets and a more easygoing island experience.
Zanzibar accommodation is a mix of olde 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 destinations, the places and staff offer 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 honeymooners trying out parasailing and candles add a nice touch of romance to the 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. Of course, there also many beaches where the sand is disturbed only by the tide and fringe of tropical trees. The surrounding islands, Pemba and Mafia, are even better for a private escape and living out your castaway dream.
The winner: It’s a draw. Mauritius is known around for its beaches, but many travellers have also gushed about how Zanzibar’s beaches are the best they have ever seen. You will have to decide for yourself.
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 because of the diversity, but seafood lovers will enjoy Zanzibar more.
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. Zanzibar also has some unique wildlife like the Red Colobus Monkey which trumps Mauritius’ extinct dodo IMHO. 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: In sheer volume of activities, Mauritius wins hands down; in terms of rare experiences, Zanzibar takes first place.
Mauritius is a great holiday destination if you are travelling with kids. Apart from them not needing a yellow fever injection or malaria pills, the flight time is a lot shorter and direct flights from certain cities are available. Many hotels in Mauritius also have great kids’ facilities and offer nanny services. Hotels with facilities for children have kids’ clubs, pools, and activities to keep them entertained.
Zanzibar is more suitable if you are travelling alone, with friends, or just with your partner. Along with vaccinations, the flights are longer, which could be quite a distressing experience with unhappy kids in tow. There are also a few family-friendly resorts, but many of them are not equipped to look after kids. It does, however, have great wildlife encounters that kids would love.
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. But with tons of amazing half-board and all-inclusive Mauritius holiday packages available and flights leaving regularly from most cities in South Africa, it is easier than ever to experience the ultimate island getaway for a whole lot less. 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 all-inclusive Zanzibar holiday packages is much easier. Flights can often be found for about R4,999 and packages for two people for about R25,000. The general cost of living is also considerably cheaper. 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.
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The verdict: Again, it really depends on what you want.
Mauritius is sugar and spice and everything nice. It has a more touristy feel and 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 amongst 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. Zanzibar has a magic about it that is hard to explain but becomes unforgettable throwback stories and inspires fantasies of romance and adventure.
Both are awesome, but for different reasons. So if you can do both in your lifetime, do it!
Find your Mango flight to Zanzibar with Travelstart!
Featured image courtesy of @benedetta.lecci via Instagram