Hidden Islands of Africa: 6 Secret Spots for Epic Getaways


When you think of an African island vacation, big names like the Seychelles, Mauritius and Madagascar often come to mind. Chances are, you have not yet heard about these hidden islands of Africa.

These are paradisaic getaways tucked away in the heart of the Indian and Atlantic Oceans. They are yet to get on the tourist radar and therefore promise relative seclusion.

At least one of them comes with a single key for the only residence on the island. Another has tens of thousands more birds than humans. While most of them boast sparkling white sands, another has both golden and black sands.

No matter what you have in mind for your island vacation, there is an island here to make your dreams come true. Read on to discover your ultimate beach holiday destination in Africa.


Pemba Island, Tanzania

Part of the allure of Pemba Island is the fact that it is still vastly undiscovered. That and the fact that it is one of the best diving destinations on the continent. It has beautiful, unspoiled beaches with no resorts or hotels to obstruct your view of the gorgeous landscape. Thick vegetation defines the interior, starting with mangrove forests close to the shore. Further inland you find clove plantations as well as cinnamon, nutmeg and plenty of other spice trees.

As part of the Indian Ocean’s Zanzibar Archipelago, Pemba boasts a rich Swahili heritage. This comes to the fore in the spicy cuisine, Makonde wood carvings and soulful Taarab music on the island. There are a number of ancient Swahili ruins to explore if you would like a glimpse into history. These include Mkama Ndume and Ndagoni Ruins among others.

Nature lovers will appreciate the opportunity to spot the Pemba flying fox. This is a fruit bat native to the island, currently listed as vulnerable due to unsustainable hunting and habitat destruction. See them at the Ngezi Forest Reserve, one of the best hiking spots on the isle.

Santiago Island, Cape Verde

Located on the Atlantic Ocean, Santiago Island is the largest on the Cape Verde Archipelago. It is a natural work of contrasts; from golden sandy beaches in Tarrafal to black sandy shorelines in volcanic Sao Francisco; from fertile farmlands to barren, rocky terrain devoid of vegetation. The diversity is mind-numbing. Take a hiking adventure to discover the natural wonders of this hidden gem.

UNESCO World Heritage Site Cidade Velha offers a peek into the past. The 500-years old city was among the first outposts for European colonialists. It was also an important center for slave trade. Santiago is also famous for its vibrant cultural scene with traces from Africa, Brazil and Portugal. Enjoy the best of this in its unique music and art, delicious food and story-telling.

Mercury Island, Namibia


This is one of the best kept secrets among the hidden islands of Africa. Most likely, this has to do with its small size and population. There are only two permanent residents (both researchers) on this three-hectare island. Along the coast of Namibia, it is one of only two important breeding sites for sea birds.

There are approximately 5,000 cormorants and 1,200 gannets here. It is also a great place to see one of the rare creatures of Africa, the African penguin, whose population tops 12,000. 80% of the worldwide population of the bank cormorant and 25% of the crowned cormorant breed here and on the nearby Ichaboe Island. In total, Mercury supports close to 15,000 seabirds. Other than Ichaboe, other important islands in Namibia for bird breeding are Halifax and Possession.

There are seven cave entrances around the isle, all of which meet below the center of the island in one large cave. On windy days when the waves crash against the belly of this cave, they make the entire island vibrate. In addition to the tens of thousands of seabirds that cover every inch of ground here, you can also watch a number of whale species in migration.

Thanda Island, Tanzania

Set in the warm waters of the Indian Ocean, Thanda is one of the most luxurious hidden islands of Africa. It is a private island with silky white beaches and turquoise waters. Colorful coral reefs surround it on all sides and tropical forest trees dance to the rhythm of its cool breeze. The eight-hectare island is totally uninhabited and when you come on vacation, you and your family will be the only guests.

In addition to the privacy it offers, the getaway is ideal for adventure lovers. You can enjoy plenty of water activities from snorkeling and scuba diving to yachting and deep-sea fishing. The eco-friendly island collaborates with Tanzania Marine Parks and Reserves. One of the programs they partner on is marine turtle conservation for the five species native to the area. They also work together on coral restoration and the conservation of the whale shark, one of the friendliest marine creatures.

Anjouan, Comoros Islands

Some explorers refer to it as the ‘Perfume Isle’ and ‘Spice Island’ while others claim they could smell it before they saw it clearly. True to the description, Anjouan is a fragrant island home to a variety of herbs, spices and essential oils. Close to two-thirds of the global supply of ylang ylang, an essential oil used in perfumes, comes from this island. It has vast supplies of cardamom, cinnamon, ginger and all things spicy.

Once you get past the scents and spices, you will notice the extraordinary beauty of this tropical paradise. The beaches here are picture-perfect and there is an astounding diversity of marine life. Rugged volcanic peaks and lush forests complete the striking appearance. Moya Forest is one of the most outstanding of these. It has spectacular hiking trails, great viewpoints and rare plants and birds. Nature fans will love Sulu waterfall, one of very few waterfalls worldwide that plunges right into the sea.

Anjouan is also one of the best hidden islands of Africa for history lovers. 17th century architecture dominates the capital with twisting alleys and ancient houses. Tour the Old Friday Mosque to take a peek into its Muslim heritage. Complete your historic adventure with a trip to the old Mutsamudu citadel ruins. Here you will get a taste of the cultural and architectural heritage of the island’s old Islamic Sultans.

When you are done, take a relaxing dip in the warm waters of the Indian Ocean on Moya or Al Amal beaches.

Bissagos Islands, Guinea Bissau (also Bijagos)

One of the least visited and most hidden islands of Africa are in the Bissagos Archipelago on the Atlantic Ocean. They are a collection of 88 islands – the most numerous among coastal archipelagos on the continent. Diversity is the order of the day here for marine creatures, land animals and birds.

Popular migrant birds like pelicans and flamingos consider this one of their most important habitats. One of the world’s most endangered marine species, the manatee, also lives here. This rare sea cow species enjoys the abundant seagrass and shallow waters of the lagoons. You can see some of the largest manatee colonies in the world on these islands. Other remarkable creatures include saltwater hippos, dolphins, various shark species and guitarfish. This destination is also the most significant green sea turtle breeding ground on the Atlantic. It is no surprise that this is a UNESCO biosphere reserve.

One of the most intriguing things about the islanders is that their culture remains relatively untouched by western influences. The region had limited contact with colonialists and therefore, traditions and animistic faiths are the rule rather than the exception. Notably, their sacred view of the environment has helped preserve the biodiversity that makes this one of the best island destinations in Africa.

Connecting to Nature on the Secret Islands of Africa


If you are searching for a different kind of coastal adventure, these hidden islands of Africa have it all. Whether you are a culture lover or an ardent foodie, a hiking enthusiast or a diving fan, there is an island just for you. All of these off-the-radar locations promise a once-in-a-lifetime experience away from the crowds. So, the next time you hear the sea calling, head out to any of these locations and connect to nature as never before.

Here are some hidden African beach destinations to explore for epic coastal adventures. If you would rather respond to the call of the lake for your island vacation, consider these secret lake islands of Africa.

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