Idyllic Indian Ocean Islands for a Winter Break

Angela Wood

Senior Contributor

These Indian Ocean islands are perhaps best known for their luxurious 5-star escapes. However, step outside and they also offer beautiful natural landscapes, hiking trails with waterfalls, delicious fusion street food and even underwater submarine excursions!


The Seychelles archipelago has 115 islands in total, but only a few are inhabited full-time. These islands are home to tropical forests, giant tortoises, outstanding dive sites and some of the most photographed beaches in the world!

If you plan to stay on La Digue during your winter break, Anse Source d’Argent could be the first port of call on your itinerary. The picture-perfect location has graced the covers of numerous travel publications thanks to soft white sands, aquamarine lagoons and unusual boulder formations. During a day trip, you may encounter an Aldabra tortoise or two. These gentle giants are endemic to islands of the Indian Ocean and can live to be 200 years old!

Outdoor adventurers may enjoy hiking four kilometres to the highest peak on La Digue, Nid D’Aigle. The summit offers incredible views of neighbouring Praslin, Félicité and Marianne islands. Set off early morning to avoid the heat, take a picnic and don’t forget your camera.

On Praslin, meander through the magical forest trails of Vallée de Mai – one of the smallest UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Described as a veritable ‘Garden of Eden’ by those who visit, lush tropical landscapes are peppered with Coco de Mer palm trees, vanilla orchids and natural cascades. If you’re lucky, you may catch a glimpse of the endangered Black Parrot, the resplendent national bird of the Seychelles.

Dive enthusiasts may consider staying on Félicité or Desroches islands. The ‘Secret Passage’ dive site off the coast of Desroches is brimming with underwater caverns, colourful reefs, lobster and barracuda, while Marianne Island near Félicité is great for beginners, with plenty of rocky subterranean landscapes and diverse species to discover including grey and whale sharks.

The Maldives

A popular destination for couples and honeymooners, the Maldives epitomise 5-star luxury with pristine white sands, first-class dining and crystalline waters punctuated with overwater villas and bungalows.

It’s possible to stay for a week or longer in the Maldives without even leaving your resort. You can take an evening astronomical cruise, visit the Maldives’ only underwater spa or enjoy dinner on a private island by candlelight, having your very own ‘castaway’ experience.

However, if you do fancy indulging in an activity which is a little more daring, perhaps diving with manta rays will appeal. Between the months of December and April, you can see them on the western edges of the atolls feeding and visiting the ‘cleaning stations’. Watch in awe as these majestic creatures get their very own exfoliation treatment from cleaner wrasse while hovering and flapping their angelic wings gracefully in the water.

Visitors interested in delving deeper into Maldivian culture can charter a speed boat or seaplane to the capital Malé for the day or visit the local island of Thoddoo. The latter is peppered with plantations growing watermelons and papaya for the islands. Hire a bike to explore, and while there, sample the fresh fruit and street food, including Mas riha – an authentic Maldivian spiced fish curry served with flatbread.


Mauritius is one of the most interesting and diverse Indian Ocean islands to discover. With a rich cultural heritage, delicious food, friendly people and abundant adventures, it caters to almost every type of traveller.

You can learn a little about the country at L’Aventure du Sucre – a former sugar cane factory in Pamplemousses. The museum showcases the evolution of the island and its trading history throughout the centuries. Afterwards, take a short walk to Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam (SSR) Botanical Gardens. The stunning 18th-century gardens contain over 500 plant species and ponds filled with Victoria amazonica – giant water lilies.

The seas around Flic en Flac are perfect for diving and nature lovers can venture further south to explore 60 kilometres of hiking trails at Black River Gorges National Park. The area is home to several endangered bird species including the echo parakeet and Mauritius kestrel.

Foodies will enjoy spending a day in Port Louis. It was listed as one of the ’23 Best Street Food Cities’ by CNN Travel, and with stalls serving a culinary fusion of Indian, African, Chinese and European food, there are dishes catering to most palates. Don’t leave without trying Dholl Puri – a delicious flatbread filled with spices and yellow split peas or Mauritian boulettes - similar to Chinese dumplings, stuffed with meat, fish or vegetables.

After your food-tasting extravaganza, venture north to Trou-aux-Biches for a unique underwater adventure. Blue Safari offers submarine excursions and also has sub-scooters for hire which can be driven by yourself. From here, you can begin your own Jules Verne adventure under the sea, discovering ancient shipwrecks, coral reefs and a plethora of marine species.

Réunion Island

Réunion Island is an artistic canvas of colour, with Martian landscapes, dense green forests, waterfalls and sandy beaches that melt into azure waters. It’s an appealing winter break destination for explorers who like to immerse themselves fully into nature and local culture.

The French-speaking island is famous for its active volcano, Piton de la Fournaise. On any given day it can be seen from afar, but up close it’s even more impressive. Drive to the nearby viewpoint of Pas de Bellecombe, arriving early to see the simmering giant before tourists arrive.

If you enjoy hiking or mountain biking, Reunion has several ‘cirques’ to navigate, each with breathtaking scenic views around every turn. Cirque de Mafate is the most popular route. Only accessible on foot, this trail leads you past farm meadows, through hillside villages and along mountain ridges towards Piton des Neiges. Stop at a local village on the way for refreshments or pick up items for a picnic to enjoy with a view. Take an organised tour, and if you’re too tired to hike back, you can jump on a helicopter!

This island boasts beautiful waterfalls too, with pools perfect for refreshing wild swimming. Grand Galet waterfall in the south of the island is the perfect place to cool off after an activity-filled day, and it provides superb photo opportunities for your Instagram stories!

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