Africa’s 10 most incredible beaches
Our ultimate guide to the continent’s littoral gems
From world-class luxury hideouts to isolated stretches of pristine nature reserve, Africa’s seemingly endless coastline can lay claim to some of the most gorgeous beaches you’ll encounter anywhere on Earth.
Although named for the rugged hunks of half-billion-year-old rock that protect this bijou stretch of coastline from the swell – making it lovely for a paddle – Boulders Beach’s main draw is definitely its penguins. At some point in the early 80s a small colony of African penguins set up home here around the suburb of Simon’s Town. Today, thanks to savvy conservation efforts, there’s over 2,000 of the dapper little fish fanciers waddling about. Pay a very reasonable R65 for a scooch along the new boardwalk and learn the penguins’ story at the visitors centre, where it’s all laid out in black and white.
Watamu Beach would be spectacular enough in its own right, thanks to its idyllic soft sand, coconut palms and crystal-clear waters rendered serene and still by the nearby barrier reef. But the real gems are the beloved local turtle population. Since 1997 locals have taken the protection and nurturing of these shelled beauties seriously, patrolling the beaches nightly to ward off poachers, and nursing those who’ve been unlucky enough to be ensured by fishing lines. The result is a placid pollution of hawksbill, green and olive ridley turtles who now breed here in their thousands. Flipping awesome.
Broad expanses of pale dunes under reliably balmy skies – there’s plenty to gorge your senses on at Michanwi Pingwe beach. Its undisputed claim to fame, however, is the cheerfully bonkers Italian-inspired restaurant set on a rock just a little way out into the azure Indian Ocean. ‘The Rock’ only has a dozen or so tables, and depending on the tide situation you’ll either stroll out, or take a very short boat ride. Utilising its local bounty of octopus, lobster and calamari, the unique eatery donates funds to the Kichanga Foundation, which teaches locals and how to swim, and spearheads sustainability initiatives. In short, it rocks.
Exclusivity is the order of the day at this dreamy private island 3km off the coast of Unguja, Zanzibar. Just a kilometre and a half around, it’s home to a dozen barefoot luxury ‘bandas’ – thatched houses, essentially – each with a veranda that opens directly onto a beach. Privacy is assured thanks to Mnemba Island’s fragrant casuarina pine forest, populated by shy sun antelope and dainty Ader’s duiker, with turtles nesting on the beach around February. Ringed by coral reefs, and policed by tranquil humpbacks, whale sharks and dolphins, it’s a nature-lovers paradise. Which brilliantly just so happens to come with a private chef.
If peace and quiet and wildlife are all you crave, you can’t go wrong with this far-out stretch on the far western coast of Guinea Bissau. Dozens of eye-catching bird species, from the iridescent long-tailed Abyssinian roller to the campy spike-haired black-crowned crane, provide a lilting soundtrack to some of Africa’s most reliably jaw-dropping sunsets. Cows, pigs and monkeys share the beach with you, while nearby eateries are all about fresh-caught oysters and whatever the fishing dab hands on the colourful boats have managed to dredge up that day. A serene slice of the good life.
If the name sounds creepy and off-putting, well, fair enough. This undeveloped 500km stretch of the Namibian coastline where the desert meets the Atlantic swell is famous for its inhospitable conditions, and the carcasses of countless ships, aircrafts, whales and other hapless creatures strewn across the desert make for a dramatic, if haunting, spectacle. The northern half is so bleak it’s fenced off, so you need to apply for a permit. Totally worth it, to be honest, if you feel like your holiday snaps could use a certain post-apocalyptic – but undeniably-beautiful – je ne sais quoi.
You’d be forgiven for drawing a blank if asked to point to the Comoros Islands on a globe. Which is just fine by the folks there. This Indian Ocean archipelago between Madagascar and Mozambique is just as pretty as the likes of Mauritius or the Seychelles, but way less developed. Case in point, Nioumachoua Beach on Mohéli, the smallest of the Comoros islands, sandwiched between lush rainforest and a coral rich sea, with charismatic megafauna all around you from civets – leopard-like cats – to turtles to giant Livingston Bats and humpback whales. In a word – unspoiled.
Small wonder Anse Source d’Argent is consistently voted the most beautiful beach on Earth. Even the rocks are sexy, somehow – sinuous heaps of muscular granite punctuating talcum-fine sand, under psychedelically green palm trees. The water is warm and shallow, animated here and there with colourful darting fish, silky rays and mellow cruising turtles. Alas this is no hidden gem, so head there early – proper early – to avoid the daily spellbound throng. But absolutely come, without fail, and pay your respects at least once in your life.
You could circumnavigate all of this basically-too-good-to-be-true island, barefoot, in two hours, never leaving the beach. Accessible only by canoe from the southernmost tip of nearby Sainte-Marie Island – itself a satellite of Madagascar – Île Aux Nattes is the powdery, turquoise sunshiney paradise of your dreams. There’s just a couple of landmarks – the White House in the middle, with its panoramic terrace overlooking the island over a beer, and the thoroughly chillaxed reggae-themed Lucky Dube Pizza Bar down on the beach. There’s also a lighthouse, and a massive lagoon. And zero cars. And zero worries.
This wild and beautiful peninsular is referred to by locals as ‘the land nearest nowhere’. Why? It’s the town on earth closest to zero degrees in latitude, longitude and altitude. During the bumpy hour-or-so long drive from Agona you’ll pass plenty of makeshift towns involved in the rubber trade, and on arrival poke about in a ruined lighthouse built by the Brits in the 19th century. When you’re done taking it easy on the idyllic palm-fringed sand, there’s plenty of enticing trails through farms and pockets of forest, with every chance of encountering some exotic bird life or a troop of curious monkeys. There’s nowhere quite like it.