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Girl About Travel’s guide to holidays in the Indian Ocean

Planning a holiday to the Indian Ocean? Here's all you need to know for holidays in the Maldives, Sri Lanka and the rest of the Indian Ocean

February 24, 2023


Girl About Travel’s guide to holidays in the Indian Ocean

Holidays in the Indian Ocean are holidays of dreams. A region of the world filled with exotic islands, its headline appeal is all sparkling sandy beaches, clear waters full of sea life and tropical palm-fringed sunsets.

Full of bucket list destinations but also with more to it than immediately meets the eye, we’re turning our attention to the Indian Ocean. Holidays to the region don’t tend to be taken on a whim, and require research and planning – so how better to spend your time browsing than by exploring these dazzling islands?

holidays in the Indian Ocean

About holidays in the Indian Ocean

Let’s start with the basics for Holidays in the Indian Ocean. The Indian Ocean is the world’s third largest ocean, and borders Asia, Africa, Australia and Antarctica. It’s home to some of the most beautiful islands in the world – Sri Lanka, the Maldives, the Seychelles, Mauritius, Madagascar and Réunion; all islands or archipelagos that offer the classic dreamy white sands and deep blue sea landscapes, but also have lush interiors and compelling local cultures, which we’ll get into the details of later.

These are the sorts of destinations that require forward planning and budgeting. It can be expensive to travel to these islands (but oh so worth it) so if you’re going to do it, it’s worth doing right – and that means researching, planning and speaking to the experts (ask us! Via our IG - GirlAbout.Travel) for anything related to holidays in the Indian Ocean.

The islands are between four and five and a half hours ahead of GMT. Direct flights are available – at least for some of the year – to all except Réunion and Madagascar, and average flight times are approximately 11 to 12 hours (19 hours for Réunion; 14 hours for Madagascar). English and French are widely spoken across the islands for Holidays in the Indian Ocean.

Despite first impressions, this region offers so much more than ‘just’ honeymoon resorts and luxury hotels. With the right insight, it’s an incredible place to take kids to of all ages, and offers lots of adventure and one-of-a-kind experiences. Increasingly as well some hotels – particularly in the Maldives – are ideal for a girls trip. The Standard, for example, is party central and set up for a glam good time, as are the Sun Siyam resorts.

We’re focusing first on Sri Lanka and the Maldives, but this will grow over time to include more of the region.

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What's Sri Lanka like for a holiday in the Indian Ocean?

Just off the east coast of India, Sri Lanka has one of the world’s most diverse landscapes, making it incredibly scenic. Topping out at 2,500m, it has everything from wild jungles, rainforests and plains to mountains, beaches and savannahs.

With a history dating back over 3,000 years, it has an enticing culture of temples, festivals and food that mixes spices and curries with vegetables and meats.

The capital, Colombo, is the melting pot you’d expect, and certainly worth exploring for a day or two before heading out to the rest of the country.

With so much on offer and so much to choose from the best advice is to team up with a local travel agent who can provide a guide, for as little or as much of your stay as you wish, perhaps combining a stay at the beach with some time travelling around.

Major attractions on Sri Lanka include:
- The Yala National Park, a vast wildlife reserve in the southeast where you’ll most likely see elephants and leopards, as well as crocodiles, and macaque and langur monkeys.
- Galle, a UNESCO World Heritage Site coastal city on the southwestern tip. An exotic old trading port full of Dutch colonial history, it’s a warren of atmospheric streets and sumptuous seafood.
- Sinharaja, another UNESCO World Heritage Site, is Sri Lanka’s prime area of tropical rainforest. Just as you would expect a jungle to look, it’s dense with foliage, huge trees and animals and insects.
- Kandy, Sri Lanka’s second city and often referred to as its culture capital, is in the middle of the island’s mountainous heart, and surrounded by tea plantations, misty hills and Buddhist temples.

The coastline of Sri Lanka offers as much variety as its interior, and the pear-shaped island’s east, south and west coasts each come into their own, depending on the time of year.

The west is the most developed with the liveliest atmosphere, especially around Negombo just to the north of the international airport. Expect long stretches of golden sands, but they’re largely unprotected by reefs so the sea can be unsafe for swimming (but great for surfing).

Along the south, between Galle and Yala, the coast has more of a traditional feel with hidden coves and untouched sandy bays backed by palm trees and wildlife-packed lagoons.

The east coast has some of the most family-friendly beaches and a real up-and-coming atmosphere, as well as small fishing villages and a growing number of low-key resort hotels. Here you’ll find the dinky village of Passikudah, which sits on a stunning bay of white sand and shallow reef-protected waters – that perfect Indian Ocean cliché.

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What are the Maldives like for holidays in the Indian Ocean?

The Maldives need little introduction – those picture-perfect white-sand islands gently lapped by turquoise waters, with private bungalows jutting out into the sea, are the dream destination for honeymooners, luxury lovers and anyone wanting proper sun, sea and sand holidays in the Indian Ocean

The Maldives is made up of a staggering 1,192 islands that stretch over 871km in the middle of the Indian Ocean, close to the equator, and grouped into a double chain of 26 atolls. But of those islands, only 200 are inhabited – some with all-inclusive resorts of course, but others with Maldivians, and some are used for agriculture or industry.

Holidaymakers arrive at Malé airport and transfer by speedboat (or seaplane) to their chosen island and resort – arriving by boat always adds a sense of adventure to things. Once checked in, it’s all about making the most of the incredible surroundings, lapping up the luxury and making your way through the cocktail list.

But the Maldives isn’t just about the sun loungers. With all that water around, it’s also an incredible destination for diving – either snorkelling or scuba. Home to about five per cent of the planet’s reefs, the hard and soft corals shelter thousands of species of fish, and the rich nutrients that flow with the currents attract turtles, manta rays and whale sharks.

Just under half a million people live in the Maldives. A third of these live in the capital Malé, an island filled with narrow streets and high rises, local markets and a bustling waterfront, the complete opposite to the calm resorts found out in the atolls, but well worth spending a few hours exploring if you can.

The alternative Maldives
While the Maldives is utter bliss for honeymooners, it’s also growing in popularity as a family destination – all those honeymooners who came and loved it are now returning with their kids. The watersports and beaches are crying out to be played on, and resorts are starting to offer fun and educational activities to learn about the incredible marine life. Kurumba is a great option for families – it’s just 10 minutes from the airport and has a children’s club for four to 13-year-olds.

We work with Ruth at Secret Paradise, who runs one of the leading tour companies in the Maldives (see the link the Handy Links). She will happily share her knowledge about the alternatives to all-inclusive resorts – increasingly, guest houses on smaller islands are opening up to visitors, and allow for a more immersive holiday among the local community.
Having a week in a guest house followed by a week at a resort in proving popular.

Ruth has been running Secret Paradise for nearly 10 years. Originally from the Midlands, she now lives in Malé and spends as much of her time as possible diving. Wouldn’t you if you lived there too?

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February 24, 2023