What is it that one looks for from a private island retreat? Is it exclusivity? Remoteness? Luxury accommodation? Perhaps the sheer scale of activity for the more adventurous and active family? Something for all the family, or the opposite; a romantic offering for couples only? It could of course be some or all of these factors but today one can with great certainty add safety to this list.
There are so many options, should one be seeking a private island escape in Africa or the Indian Ocean. Consistent among all the islands is their beauty, their location or something unique that sets them apart from the norm, and finally, something we all need in our busy lives – somewhere special to relax , unwind, enjoy and appreciate life.
Particularly in these days of social distancing and travel restrictions, taking a holiday on a luxury private island is one of the best and safest ways to travel. You could even travel by private jet should you wish and hire the entire resort in any location so that you really do have the entire island to yourself, not seeing another traveller from the moment you leave your door to the moment you return home!
Below are my top picks (in no particular order) for exclusive private island holidays in Africa and the Indian Ocean. I’m certain that there is something here for all tastes.
Another breath-taking private island gem in Tanzania is the glorious Thanda Island. Thanda is one of the world’s most exclusive paradise island getaways; the entire island is for exclusive use only. What better way to combine a family safari in East Africa with a beach escape than to fly across to your own private island. One takes either a 45-minute helicopter flight from Dar es Salaam or a short 10-minute flight from Mafia Island.
Thanda Island and the reefs close by are a diver’s paradise and the beach has soft white sand and gorgeous shells everywhere. The marine reserve houses the gentlest giant of the ocean, the whale shark, which can be seen amidst sea turtles. If you are lucky with your timing, you may see the turtles nesting or hatching on the beach of Thanda.
At Thanda Island one can rest, rejuvenate, enjoy adventure sports and explore one’s pristine private playground, in a discreet, sumptuous retreat. The architecture reflects the owners; Swedish-cross-Cape-Cod with a South African designer flare.
The turquoise-blue waters of the ocean tempt one in to swim, but there is also a swimming pool and lots of different sitting areas, sun loungers by the pool and outdoor and indoor dining areas in which to relax should you prefer.
The luxury continues with an expansive living area featuring an indoor aquarium, Steinway grand piano, wine collection, cigar humidor and wrap-around dining area with a 180-degree-view of the ocean. For meal times one can dine al fresco at the BBQ, cocktail bar and pizza oven whilst your personal chef creates that special celebration dinner for all the family.
The villa ideally houses 10 people, with four en-suite bedrooms (all joined together, with two bedrooms inter-linking) and one master bedroom with a dressing room, outdoor bath and panoramic windows all around. They also have air-conditioning, fans and Wi-Fi of course.
In Tanzania, a personal favourite is Mnemba Island, the ultimate Robinson Crusoe experience (plus a lot of luxury!). Mnemba is located off the top of Unguja Island, the main spice island of Zanzibar. Whilst the scents of cardamom and cinnamon spice plantations fill the air en route, the experience at Mnemba is a piece of paradise. You will not want to leave!
Accessible only by boat, the Mnemba atoll is small and exclusive. Take your shoes off on arrival and plan not to wear them again until you leave! It is that kind of place with comfortable, woven rooms where the breeze filters through open windows, tiny crabs scuttle by, sea birds soar overhead and the palm trees swish and swirl above.
These are all plenty enough reason to visit, but what makes this the most sought-after haven (there is most often a waitlist to get a room here) is the food and the diving opportunities. Spectacular coral reefs and pristine white beaches provide a myriad of things to do. For those wanting action, one can enjoy snorkelling, windsurfing, kayaking, scuba diving and deep sea fishing. This place is hard to beat, an absolute barefoot luxury!
North Island is the ultimate Indian Ocean paradise in the Seychelles. Lying 30 kilometres off Mahe, this is the definitive island utopia where one can spend balmy days on ‘Shangri-la’. Luminous white beaches, private villas spaced far enough apart to provide privacy, this is a tropical coconut palm-filled island where superlatives abound.
North Island epitomises the freedom that complete privacy allows. Scuba diving is included as well as many activities including sea kayaking, paddle boarding and even some massages - words are not enough to describe how perfect North Island is!
Another fabulous contender for the Seychelles is Cousine Island. In a nutshell, this is heaven on earth. The granite island is small, only 25ha and is a private island with just a handful of French colonial villas within which to stay.
Not only is exclusivity paramount here, it is also a paradise for birdlife with some pretty special birds too; white-tailed tropicbirds, Audubon’s and wedge-tailed shearwaters, blue pigeons, the Seychelles sunbird, the pure white and delicate fairy terns with a black eye, and the endangered magpie robin. The Seychelles fody is endangered with only 2300 individuals across six islands remaining in the world.
The diving is sublime, with its precipitous drop-offs from the surrounding coral reef and enormous schools of brightly-coloured fish.
I once talked to a friend after their return from 10 days on the island, who, when asked for his feedback, said “all I am going to say is, when I win the lottery I am going to buy an island, this island, and live there forever”. This sums it up perfectly!
The remote Outer Islands of the Seychelles have granted stewardship to an organisation that have embarked upon an incredibly exciting and holistic conservation effort. As a guest of one of their exclusive lodges, you can get involved in a hands-on way and personally contribute as part of your extraordinary holiday.
You can also take part in all the activities you would expect from an luxury holiday on a private island including water sports, boat explorations, scuba diving (they have some of the most pristine corals in the Seychelles) and wildlife watching including the largest population of giant tortoises, nesting grounds for turtles, over 180 bird species, and a variety of marine mammals.
My favourite lodge is Cosmoledo Eco Camp which has been constructed on Wizard Island, part of the remote and secluded Cosmoledo Atoll. Designed with sustainability in mind, you can immerse yourself in nature whilst staying in one of only eight quirky eco-cabins, which are beautifully repurposed shipping containers, nestling on the white sands with an ocean view.
Each is beautifully appointed with an en suite bathroom and private outdoor shower at the back, and bi-folding glass doors leading out to your deck at the front which is shaded by stretched canvas. From these you can enjoy the serenity of the unspoiled surroundings and embark upon various water-based actvities.
Right in the heart of the gorgeous Indian Ocean lies the Maldives. Four Seasons Kuda Huraa lies just 30 minutes by speedboat from Male Airport and it is a picture of Maldivian perfection.
This Four Seasons property fulfils the high standards expected and offers impeccable service, facilities and cuisine. Brilliant for both families and couples, there is a range of beautiful accommodation options from beach pavilions with pools to the classic water bungalows, which is an icon of the Maldives.
There is so much to do here with swimming and snorkelling, a boat trip where dolphins may join you and a Spa (one can even take a whole spa program here), as well as restaurants and watersports plenty. One can learn about their turtle and coral conservation programs and also do some stand-up paddleboard yoga! Or simply just put that sun lotion and hat on and enjoy the sunshine. This truly is heaven, you may just not want to leave….ever.
Nosy Ankao lies off the north eastern tip of Madagascar and on this private island lies Time + Tide Miavana. It is luxury and exclusivity personified, only accessible by helicopter from Diego Suarez. It has its own private archipelago and diverse marine and land wildlife.
Time + Tide Miavana has the luxury of space, (lots of it!), enormous villas with clean lines and uncluttered furnishings, a marvellous nature library and enough to do to keep one occupied (or not, case be!). Apart from the sumptuous living space, there is a lot more to this island, as the owner has made large strides to translocate crowned lemurs back to their island and restore their habitat.
Apart from the fact that mainland Madagascar is so diverse offering unique wildlife and vegetation of its own, combining a stay on Miavana after your Madagascar safari is simply the cherry on the top!
On the other side of Madagascar lies Nosy Komba, another tropical paradise and a volcanic island with palm trees, frangipane and chameleons in every size and colour, as well as lemurs. Tsara Komba is a perfect place to stay after a sojourn around Madagascar.
A place to relax, indulge in gorgeous ‘slow-food’ cuisine, lie on idyllic golden sandy beaches and dip into the blue sea for snorkelling. Or take a walk through flowers and trees to small villages on the island, surrounded by birdsong on your way.
When you feel like a bit of culture, the local life is interesting too. Visit Tam-Tam, a village known for its outrigger canoes, or do a spot of shopping for handmade table cloths and lace in Ampangorina. Tsara Komba is a lot of what Madagascar is known for, on its own little mini-island.
There is another Madagascar island in the Mitijso Archipelago called Tsarabanjina. I spent a few days here on this most idyllic island, far away from anywhere else. Located about 40 miles north from the island of Nosy Be off the north-western coast of Madagascar, Tsarabanjina is a beautiful islet, and is pretty much about as remote as you can get in terms of island experiences in Madagascar.
The Tsarabanjina Lodge is the only accommodation on the island. There are three exquisite beaches here and the 25 bungalows are split between the ‘North’ and ‘South’ Beaches.
What makes Tsarabanjina stand out is its peacefulness. It is a lovely, remote hideaway, yet there are many activities that one can get involved in such as snorkelling trips, scuba diving, sports fishing, escorted walks up the mountain, visits to other islands or you can simply relax.
Other activities available are hobie cat sailing, kayaking, volleyball and petanque or aqua gym in the sea (in the mornings). Tsarabanjina has a simple setting, there are no crowds and it is an ideal place to unwind.
My final luxury private island is actually the tiny islet of Bom Bom, just off of the north coast of Príncipe Island. Bom Bom is reached by a tiny footbridge from Príncipe and has only 20 bungalows which all belong to the Resort. This is the most exclusive hotel on these islands and the best place to consider when planning a trip to the beautiful São Tomé and Príncipe!
Bom Bom has a privileged location between two beautiful, uninhabited beaches surrounded by lush rainforest covered hills which are joined to the mainland by a wooden walkway. The bungalows are authentic “island-style”, constructed from wood with simple décor and neutral light colours of greys, whites, taupe and brown.
The food is excellent, local, simple and tropical and they concentrate on fish dishes whilst wines come from South Africa and Portugal. As with all exotic islands there are exotic fruits everywhere on the island and there is always an abundance of bananas, passion fruits, pineapples and coconut. The islands are also known for their cocoa plantations. Indeed some of the very finest chocolate in the world comes from these islands!
These tropical islands have lush gardens filled with hibiscus shrubs whilst the background is the dense, equatorial rainforest filled with birdsong. The birdlife is spectacular, with two different endemic species of kingfishers, sun birds, parrots (a vast array including the African grey), egrets, herons and hawks, to name but a few.
One can also go deep sea fishing here; sport fishing is available and marlin is the most popular fish to catch on the fly (marlin season is July, August and September). There is also barracuda and bill fish (between May-October). Whale watching is at its best between July and September while the turtle preservation projects are best visited between December and March.
It is so important that we travel sustainably and responsibly and as such, I always encourage travellers to take part in 'giving back' as a part of their travel. I always recommend destinations and accommodation that make a positive impact on their surroundings and the precious habitats in which they live.
Not only can you travel knowing that you have helped to conserve the wonders that you have seen for future generations, but you can also have an elevated experience yourself. As a part of your journey, why not integrate some conservation and philanthropic activities so that you can get involved, lend your skills and, of course, learn so much yourself at the same time. Experiences that you might consider include:
There are so many stunningly beautiful islands out there to choose from which made it very hard to narrow this list down to only 10 inspirations. If you are seeking a private island escape and didn’t see something here that is 100% what you are wishing for, I would be happy discuss this further and suggest an extraordinary bespoke-designed holiday which suits your tastes exactly. Equally, keeping on the socially-distanced holidays theme, there are a fantastic range of private villas, private luxury camps and private sailing holidays available in Africa.
Or if you would just like to dream for now, you can do so at our video library.
This blog was originally posted in September 2020 then updated, extended and republished on 10th March 2021
Images and video used by kind courtesy of:
Thanda Private Island, Time + Tide Miavana, Tsara Komba, Chassaing, Tsarabanjina, Azura Quilalea, HBD Principe, Cousine Island, &Beyond Mnemba Island, North Island, Blue Safaris Seychelles.