If you thought Africa was only good for safaris, think again. From sublime private islands in the Indian Ocean to adrenaline-fuelled cage diving with great white sharks off the coast of South Africa, the shores that rim this vast continent offer some incredible experiences. Here's our guide on where to go and what to do.
South Africa is a great choice for surfing and the host of several annual surfing competitions. Perhaps the most famous of these is the Billabong Pro ASP World Tour on Supertubes Beach in Jeffrey's Bay, held each July. This Eastern Cape beach is known as one of the best surfing destinations in the world.
Closer to Cape Town, there is Dungeons in Hout Bay, where the massive waves create epic conditions; as a result, it's only suitable for experienced surfers.
Outside South Africa, Mauritius has a famous wave called 'One Eye', due to the small hole that reveals itself on the craggy rock face when surfers ride the wave. Shanti Maurice can sort out all the appropriate arrangements for surfing this epic spot.
WINDSURFING AND KITESURFING
Head to Mauritius to catch the ocean winds, which blow 300 days a year. Le Morne is the main spot for windsurfing and kitesurfing, an area that includes spots such as One Eye (see above) and the Lagoon. Learners should visit The Bay, also in Le Morne, where the water is calmer.
Of course, you can happily sunbathe at most beaches, but some are just perfect for an uninterrupted Vitamin D binge.
One such place is Mnemba Island, just off Zanzibar. Not only can you unwind on one of the most unspoiled beaches in eastern Africa, but you can also go diving, snorkel from the beach, spot cute turtle hatchlings, and swim with whale sharks between July and October.
SNORKELING AND DIVING
Sodwana Bay is one of the best diving spots in the world. On South Africa's Elephant Coast, Sodwana Bay dive sites have coral reefs, caves, walls and pinnacles, all of which make for excellent diving. The walls create whirlpools that sweep up dazzling fish, such as yellow, blue-banded and dory snappers, soldier fish and potato bass. Base yourself in Thonga Beach Lodge while you explore this protected stretch of coastline.
Just forty minutes off Mozambique's Tofo Beach, Manta Reef hosts dozens of - you guessed it - manta rays. These tranquil creatures can reach up to six metres across and are quite an incredible sight. They visit the reef to be 'cleaned' by the tiny fish that eat the parasites off their wings. Whale sharks are also spotted here (see the Whale Shark section below).
En route to the Cathedral, a world-famous dive site, located just off Flic-en-Flac on the west coast of the Island of Mauritius, divers are often joined by playful dolphins. A crevice of ten metres leads down into this cave, home to angelfish, sergeant majors, sweet lips and lionfish; once in the Cathedral, the rays of sparkling white light shining through the entrance create a magical scene.
Desroches, in the Seychelles (see Best for Families, also), is fabulous for big game fishing and fly fishing; when we visited, the obsessive enthusiasm of the onsite fishing expert was infectious! Catches include dog tooth and yellowfin tuna, sailfish, wahoo, permit and giant travelly.
For deep sea fishing, Mnemba Private Island (Zanzibar) is a brilliant base. You can expect bites from barracuda, king fish, mackerel and marlin.
To see these massive mammals up close, you should head down to the Whale Coast of South Africa. Between July and November, there are humpback whales, southern right whales, Bryde's whales (seen year round), and the occasional orca. Although there are plenty of whale-watching boat trips, you can spot them from dry land, too - welcome news for those susceptible to seasickness.
GREAT WHITE SHARK CAGE DIVING
Off the coast of Cape Town, False Bay is the most famous place in the world for watching the incredible great white sharks. As well as seeing them breach - an awe-inspiring sight - you can get down to their level and meet these massive sharks nose to nose - albeit separated by strong metal bars.
Swimming with whale sharks is an amazing experience and there are plenty of places you can find the world's biggest fish. You don't need to be a certified diver either, as snorkelling is the best way to see the sharks, given that they tend to swim close to the surface.
Just thirty minutes off Beau Vallon in the Seychelles, Shark Bank hosts dozens of whale sharks between August and November (October is peak season).
Mozambique's Tofo Beach is also very popular for whale shark sightings; for the chance to swim amongst fifty or so of these gentle giants, head here between October and March.
To throw a dash of culture into your beach vacation, visit the beautiful Bwejuu - Paje beach (where you can stay in the sleek Baraza resort) on Zanzibar, from which you can visit Stone Town. Here there are crumbling Omani forts and eight-foot-high Zanzibarian doors to admire for half a day or so - that's if you can tear yourself away from the sun-lounger.
Coral Lodge in Mozambique is a fabulous base from which you can visit the Ilha de Moￃﾧambique, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, fortified city, and old Portuguese trading post.
It's fair to say that there is no shortage of honeymoon-suitable beaches around Africa, particularly in Mauritius, the Seychelles, Mozambique and Zanzibar.
For glamour, you'll want to fly out to the Seychelles. Some top beach properties include Raffles, Maia and the Four Seasons, from which you can take advantage of the pristine beaches of these Indian Ocean islands.
For a more rustic type of charm, Quilalea, in Mozambique, is a gorgeous private island with a really chilled, barefoot-luxury feel to it. This is one of the most untouched islands in the country. There are great diving opportunities accessible right from the beach and whale sharks are present in the surrounding waters during part of the year. Take a sunset dhow ride with glasses of champagne to set the mood.
Although most travel articles tend to focus on North Island in the Seychelles (famed for hosting Kate and Wills' royal honeymoon), this is just one - very high-end - option for privacy and romance.
Another top recommendation is Fregate Island. If you're a nature-lover, this UNESCO World Heritage Site (with just a single hotel on its shores and home to giant tortoises, hawksbill turtles and the Seychelles magpie robin, plus over a hundred other bird species) will be extremely hard to beat.
Desroches Private Island in the Seychelles is a superb beach spot for a luxurious family holiday. Desroches Private Island Hotel offers loads of activities for families, including water sports and island-hopping trips.