Wow, what a wonderful decision you have to make!
These are by far the best two islands in the India ocean, boasting beautiful beaches, diverse cultures and a wide variety of activities and sights.
Zanzibar and Mauritius may both be paradise islands in a similar geographic location, but they are widely different and will appeal to completely different styles of tourists.
Zanzibar being closer to Africa (and being part of Tanzania) provides the rich heritage of Africa, and a holiday full of adventure and excitement. Mauritius is a lush volcanic island, which has closer ties to Indian culture and is the most progressive country of the Indian Ocean region.
This article has been written to compare the two islands and help you decide which is there better for your holiday.
Before you even consider which island is better for you, always check that the seasonal weather is suitable.
Zanzibar has two wet seasons, a brief one in November and a more intense rainy season in April and May, and these wet seasons are best avoided. Mauritius has little seasonal variation with no real wet season. Both islands have tropical climates which means there is always a chance of sudden intense rain showers, no matter the season.
The main tourist season for both islands is during the winter months (December to January) and the Christmas season. This is also some of the wettest weather of the year for both islands, but rain showers are short and refreshing.
Advice: Always check the weather for any tropical holiday, as hurricanes can hit the Caribbean during the summer, and monsoon rains flood Asia and India in Oct/Nov; while sneaky holiday companies sell reduced holidays in these seasons…..
The main difference between the two islands for visitors is the standard of the infrastructure. Mauritius has decent roads, western feeling shops, a modern airport and a level of safety which is comparable of any American or European country. Zanzibar has a much more hap-hazardous approach, there are dirt tracks, frequent power outages, and a relaxed attitude to everything.
One of the easiest ways to sum up the differences between the Zanzibar and Mauritius is to look at the GDP capital (average a person earns in a year); Zanzibar is $656 and Mauritius is $11,280. Mauritius will be your safe and secure paradise holiday destination, while Zanzibar offers a developing world experience and adventure.
A worldly traveller may consider Mauritius a little sterile, with an atmosphere not too dissimilar from home, but this may be ideal if you are a more mature visitor or travelling with your family.
The big plus for Zanzibar is that a holiday can be easily combined with a safari in neighbouring Tanzania. Frequently a two-week holiday is divided between a Serengeti and then fly from Arusha to Zanzibar (90 minutes) for a relaxing beach holiday. The wildlife of Mauritius cannot compete with this split beach/safari holiday.
Zanzibar is one of the most accessible places to experience Africa, from the welcoming people and colourful cultures, through to the modern challenges that the continent experiences. Zanzibar is a great destination if you are wanting something very different for your holiday.
Surrounding the island are some of the finest beaches in the world, with pristine white sands and turquoise seas. The best beaches are to the far north (Nungwi), to the east (Kiwengwa) or the south-east (Kizimkazi).
Unlike many other paradise islands there is actually a lot to do once (or if!) you get bored of spending time on the beaches. There are day trips to Stone Town, Prison Island, the Jozani Forest nature reserve, plus multiple snorkelling or diving trips. Zanzibar is much better for diving than Mauritius. Zanzibar is popular with foreign visitors, but somehow the island never feels overrun with tourists.
As a holiday destination, we love being based in Nungwi, as it has a laid-back atmosphere and stunning beaches, the only downside is the tortuous drive to the airport and Stone Town.
Mauritius is the paradise island where you would take your parents or children, or if you seek a truly hassle-free holiday. There is considerably less risk from food illness, petty crime, or annoying tourist exploitation (such as overcharging or endless haggling). In our opinion, it is one of the safest (based on illness, crime and hassle) destinations in the Africa, India, South East Asia region.
Another of Mauritius strong points is that it has year-round good weather. There are slight differences between winter and summer, but there are no extreme wet seasons, and the island is rarely hit by typhoons.
Mauritius is a volcanic island and the southern side is lined by giant volcanoes and jagged mountains covered in thick forests. For natural scenery, Mauritius is much more stunning.
The beaches of Mauritius are as beautiful as Zanzibar, but do not fully encircle the island and tend to be on the more sheltered sections of the coastline. The majority of the beaches and popular tourist areas are to the north of the island (Trou aux Biches and Grand Baie), or around Flic en Flac (on the western side).
As with Zanzibar, there is a lot to do beyond the beaches. There are day trips to the Black River Gorges National Park, Port Louis and multiple snorkelling excursions and boat tours.
When we visit Mauritius we prefer to be based in Flic en Flac, which has a great beach, close to the mountains and has an enjoyable atmosphere.
Related articles: Guide to Flic en Flac