Matemwe Lodge dhow excursions. Image supplied.
Matemwe Lodge dhow excursions. Image supplied.
  • Several island destinations are now open to leisure travel and within easy reach of South Africa.
  • They offer everything from palm-lined beaches to volcanic features and incredible marine life.
  • Some still have availability - and deals - for travel this year or early next.
  • Many are a direct flight away from Johannesburg, and most only require a negative PCR test before departure.
  • Here are several island holidays worth considering - and what Covid-19 considerations are currently in place.
  • For more stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

Nothing says escape from reality, or Covid-19, quite like an island holiday. After nearly two years of being difficult to reach or closed to tourism altogether, several islands within reach of South Africa are reopening to tourists - and some still have availability at reasonable rates for December and January. 

South Africa is ideally positioned to take advantage of several famous Indian Ocean destinations, but some lesser-visited Atlantic alternatives also offer incredible island escapes.

If you're looking for an island holiday with easy flights from South Africa and Covid-19 conditions at time of publication that aren't entirely onerous, here are eight options to consider.

Mauritius

 Lux Belle Mare. Image supplied
Lux Belle Mare. Image supplied

Mauritius, one of the more popular and accessible island destinations for South Africans, reopened fully for leisure travel in October. The island is known for its idyllic beaches, reefs, and all-inclusive resorts, with packages that pair nicely with family holidays and honeymoons.

Covid restrictions:

There are no travel restrictions for vaccinated travellers who have a pre-departure PCR test and one on day five of their stay. Unvaccinated visitors, however, must remain in resort bubbles for 14 days.

Getting there:

There are daily flights between South Africa and Mauritius. Air Mauritius, British Airways, Safair, and South African Airways all regularly fly from Johannesburg.

Where to stay:

There is no shortage of resorts in Mauritius that cater to all requirements - from peaceful honeymoon escapes to those offering family-friendly facilities. Among the highest-rated online are those run by Lux resorts, which has four resorts there.

São Tomé and Príncipe

HBD
HBD Bom Bom Lodge. Image supplied.

São Tomé and Príncipe is Africa's second smallest nation. The islands were created by volcanic activity, and biodiverse rainforest covers nearly a third of its land, leading many to call it one of the Earth's greenest islands. It's a largely unspoilt and undiscovered gem from a South African perspective, apart from one notable giant - tech billionaire Mark Shuttleworth has invested millions of dollars in the country, and his operation is currently the biggest employer there.

Covid restrictions:

Travellers must present a negative pre-departure Covid-19 PCR test not older than 72 hours.

Getting there:

There are no direct routes between South Africa and São Tomé & Príncipe, but the journey typically takes between five and eight hours, including a short layover. Typical connections are via Accra (using SAA and TAP Portugal) or Luanda (using Airlink or CemAir, and TAAG Angola Airlines).

Where to stay: 

Mark Shuttleworth's Here Be Dragons (HBD) properties are among the most luxurious on the islands. Although currently closed for renovations, Trip Advisor rates Bom Bom the best value luxury beach resort there.

Seychelles

Seychelles. Image: Tommaso Nervegna / Unsplash.
Seychelles. Image: Tommaso Nervegna / Unsplash.

Seychelles comprises 115 islands and is home to coral reefs teeming with marine life. Dense forests bleed onto unspoiled white-sand beaches, and nature reserves are home to unique bird and animal life. It's a destination that's developed a reputation for its all-inclusive luxury resorts that come at a premium, but leave travellers who can afford them leave near universally singing their praises.

Covid restrictions:

Travellers must present a negative pre-departure PCR test on arrival no older than 72 hours. All visitors must also purchase travel health insurance that covers potential Covid-19 related costs.

Getting there:

There are regular direct flights between Johannesburg and Mahé on Air Seychelles.

Where to stay:

There's no shortage of luxury resorts to pick from in Seychelles, so final decisions will likely be down to budget and personal preference. If it's a family holiday, consider Constance LemuriNorth Island is prized for its exclusivity and has a nearly flawless online rating.

Zanzibar

Matemwe Lodge. Image supplied.
Matemwe Lodge. Image supplied.

Zanzibar is one of the most popular and accessible island destinations for South Africans - in the heyday of low-cost carriers, several local operators flew direct to Stone Town. Although getting there is slightly more challenging than it once was, it's still an idyllic escape and often at better value than other Indian Ocean island destinations. Crystal clear waters, spectacular marine life, and pristine beaches tick all the cliched island bucket list boxes, and it's a destination rounded off with fascinating culture and architecture in capital city Stone Town.

Covid restrictions:

Travellers must present a negative pre-departure PCR test on arrival no older than 96 hours.

Getting there:

Historically several local low-cost carriers flew direct from Johannesburg to Stone Town. Until these return, the easiest and cheapest flights between South Africa and Zanzibar are now typically on Ethiopian or Kenya Airways, which route via those countries.

Where to stay:

Matemwe is one of the island's original lodges and is ideally located on the pristine east coast - famous for its beaches, scuba diving, and stunning sunrises and sunsets. Travellers on Trip Advisor also rate Tulia Zanzibar as one of the island's best, particularly for a romantic escape.

Reunion Island

Reunion. Marie Rouilly / Unsplash.
Reunion. Marie Rouilly / Unsplash.

Reunion Island is a minute speck of land east of Madagascar. It's popular among nature lovers and adventure seekers who explore its rugged volcanic lands and unspoiled scenery. For years it's been a secret held closely by the French, whose government still maintains control over it. But an increasing number of South Africans and other international travellers are venturing there for its ease of access and unique natural attractions.

Covid restrictions:

Travellers must present a negative pre-departure PCR test on arrival no older than 72 hours and are requested to self-isolate for seven days on arrival.

Getting there:

There are regular direct flights between Johannesburg and Reunion on Air Austral.

Where to stay:

Reunion has accommodation options across the budget spectrum and in various locations. Travellers online have ranked Diana Dea Lodge and La Tamaréo de La Nouvelle as favourites. Cana Suc is a great value option that still has solid online reviews.

Madagascar

Madagascar. Ako Randrianarivelo / Unsplash.
Madagascar. Ako Randrianarivelo / Unsplash.

Madagascar is a vast stretch of land off the east coast of Africa. It's the fourth largest island in the world, and despite its proximity to South Africa, it remains a unique destination in terms of culture, scenery, and wildlife. Travelling to and around Madagascar is typically not as straightforward or luxurious as many idyllic resort-dotted islands, but those who venture there are richly rewarded.

Covid restrictions:

Travellers must have a pre-departure negative Covid-19 PCR test not older than 72 hours and quarantine at an approved hotel for one night until a second coronavirus test returns a negative result.

Getting there:

Flights to Madagascar have begun to reopen, but there are still limited options coming online.

Where to stay:

If you're looking for a beach resort in Nose Be, Andilana Beach Resort is among the highest rated of its type online. Anjiamarango Beach Resort on the northwestern tip of Perfume Island has good online ratings for its value offerings.

Mozambique

andBeyond Benguerra Island. Image supplied.
andBeyond Benguerra Island. Image supplied.

Mozambique has some of the world's most idyllic tropical archipelagos, many of which are in easy reach of South Africa. Vilanculos, Benguerra, Quirimbas, Medjumbe, and Bazaruto are among the most celebrated, and each offers unique variations on the theme of idyllic tropical island escapes.

Covid restrictions:

Travellers must have a pre-departure negative Covid-19 PCR test not older than 72 hours, and may be subject to a Covid-19 PCR test upon arrival.

Getting there:

Residents living in Johannesburg may opt to drive to Mozambique, particularly if visiting islands in the country's south. There are regular flights to the capital Maputo and other cities in Mozambique, with easy island connections from there.

Where to stay:

There are lodges across Mozambique's archipelago that range from good value to luxury. &Beyond's offerings in Bazaruto and Quirimbas are among the most sought-after and exclusive.

Maldives

Maldives. Image: Mike Swigunski / Unsplash.
Maldives. Image: Mike Swigunski / Unsplash.

The Maldives sits atop most island-getaway bucket lists, and for good reason. More than 1,000 islands make up the Indian Ocean country, many of which are home to just one or two high-end resorts. It's a destination famous for its beaches, stilted lodges, and water sports but is equally celebrated by those partial to drinking lavish cocktails over lapping waters.

Covid restrictions:

Travellers must have a pre-departure negative Covid-19 PCR test not older than 72 hours. Travellers who have had an approved World Health Organisation vaccination at least two weeks prior do not need to quarantine. Unvaccinated adults may be accommodated at "tourist guesthouses" on islands that meet specific criteria.

Getting there:

Several airlines fly between Johannesburg and the Maldives, with at least one stop. The cheapest and most convenient options tend to be with Singapore Airlines, Emirates, or Qatar Airways.

Where to stay:

Picking a place to stay in the Maldives will likely relate closely to the kind of trip you want. Although cheap accommodation is an oxymoron in the Maldives, Finolhu does offer good all-inclusive value. Six Senses Laamu and Baros have among the highest online ratings for resorts in the archipelago.

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