From the wind-tickled shores of the Seychelles to the haunting, seal-dappled coast of Namibia, the continent’s sandy fringe is varied and dramatic.
Here’s a small sample of Africa’s best beaches.
1. Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt
Sharm el-Sheikh has become Egypt’s resort capital for good reason: the warm, crystal waters and wide beaches are great for swimmers and sunbathers and it’s the gateway to some of the best diving in the world, along the reefs of the Red Sea.
Good to know: If you want a day on the beach but not in the sun, Sharm el Maya offers good shade.
2. Watamu, Kenya
The smooth white beach of Watamu, which slides gently into shallow, turquoise water, forms part of the Malindi Marine Reserve Park, a marine protected area. The snorkeling and diving around the offshore coral formations is said to be the best in East Africa.
Good to know: Watamu is an important breeding ground for green and hawksbill turtles.
3. Diani Beach, Kenya
The idyllic 20-kilometer stretch of palm-fringed beach is kept pristine and clear of seaweed by the coral reef just offshore. This coastal paradise has become one of Kenya’s most popular beaches.
Good to know: Want to learn to kitesurf? Lessons are available here.
4. Nungwi, Zanzibar, Tanzania
It’s tough to choose the best beaches on this laid-back island, but Nungwi, on the north of the Zanzibar, is one of them.
What was once a simple fishing village and dhow-building center has become a popular holiday destination, where palms casually amble onto a beach that dissolves gradually into shades of turquoise.
Good to know: At sunset, white-sailed dhows leave from the boat yard. Have your camera ready.
5. Chitimba, Malawi
There isn’t much to Chitimba besides a peaceful stretch of inland beach — the lake the beach borders is one of the biggest in Africa. Wrapped with densely vegetated hills and trees that filter down to the edge of the sand, it’s a quiet piece of freshwater paradise.
If you’re feeling energetic, Chitimba Camp’s guides can take you walking into the surrounding hills.
Good to know: Ichthyologists say there could be up to 1,000 species of fish in Lake Malawi.
6. Anse Soleil, Mahé, Seychelles
Jungle and boulders tumble down a hillside and into the small beach and bay of Anse Soleil in the southwest of Mahé. It’s peaceful, private and a very romantic beach from which to watch the sun set.
Good to know: The simple café on the beach serves some of the best seafood in the area.
7. Anse Source d’Argent, La Digue, Seychelles
It’s obvious why Anse Source d’Argent has been labeled the world’s most photographed beach. A walking trail, with jungle tumbling down a hill on one side, winds between massive granite boulders to reveal a sandy beach so perfectly white, and with water so exquisitely turquoise, it seems unreal.
Good to know: There are so many pretty beaches on La Digue, which is easily explored by bicycle. Hire one at the port for Rs 100 (US$7.80) for the day.
8. Belle Mare, Mauritius
The sunrise from the quiet beach of Belle Mare, on the east coast of Mauritius, is worth the bleary-eyed wake-up call. Although it’s known for its fine white sand, you’re likely to find a secluded space along this barely-developed stretch of beach.
The water is calm and shallow; just what you want for wallowing away lazy days.
Good to know: To turn the excitement levels up, Waterpark Leisure Village near Belle Mare offers giant chutes.
9. Ifaty, Madagascar
If you’ve always longed to relax on a white stretch of beach where shade is provided by lazy palm trees, not striped umbrellas, Ifaty, on the southwest coast of Madagascar, could be your answer.
This stretch of coastline, lined in parts by fishermen’s houses built mostly from natural materials, is flanked by coral reef, which you can explore with goggles and a snorkel or on the surface from a colorful dugout canoe.
Good to know: You could catch sight of whales if you visit in July or August.
10. Tofo Beach, Mozambique
A sandy eight-kilometer stretch of beach with gorgeous, clear water is what you can expect from Tofo in Mozambique.
It’s perfect for beach-lollers, sand-frolickers and further out to sea, divers and fishermen have good opportunities to express themselves too.
Good to know: If you’re keen on surfing or fly fishing, the quieter beach of Tofino is your best bet.
11. Bazaruto, Mozambique
For an idyllic tropical island beach, Bazaruto, the namesake of Bazaruto Archipelago, wins hands-down.
The island’s lazy sand beaches stretch forever into clear turquoise water, before dropping off into the Indian Ocean, and palm trees dangle over the beach creating perfect cocktail-sipping shade.
Good to know: Bazaruto Archipelago is renowned for its diving opportunities.
12. Uvongo, South Africa
Situated at the mouth of the Ivungu River mouth, Uvongo beach has a shallow lagoon, perfect for little ones to splash about in. Hire a pedallo and paddle to the base of the 23-meter-high waterfall that drops into the lagoon.
Good to know: At low tide, take a net and explore the rock pools at the south end of the beach.
13. Coffee Bay, Wild Coast, South Africa
Coffee Bay on South Africa’s Wild Coast is beautifully wild. With cliffs that plummet and green hills that roll into the turbulent waters of the Indian Ocean, this is one moody beach that will take your breath away.
Hole In The Wall (eight kilometers up the road from Coffee Bay) is a spectacular rock just out to sea at the mouth of the Mpako River.
Good to know: The best way to see this beautiful stretch of coastline is to walk it.
14. Camps Bay, South Africa
On a summer’s day, you’ll struggle to find a place to lay your towel among all the beautiful bodies lazing about on Camps Bay, probably Cape Town’s most popular beach.
The road next to the beach is lined with cafes and bars, themselves filled with young trendies — pack your best boardies or bikini. The Clifton beaches, next to Camps Bay, offer more privacy among the boulders.
Good to know: Get even further from the crowds at Blouberg beach, where you can capture spectacular sunsets and take postcard photos of Table Mountain across Table Bay.
15. Skeleton Coast, Namibia
There can be few beaches as hauntingly beautiful as Namibia’s Skeleton Coast.
This wide, wild, rugged stretch of beach between the Swakop and Kunene rivers is often shrouded with fog — the result of the cold air over the Atlantic meeting the warm air of the Namib Desert — and the beach has become a graveyard for ships that run aground in the shallow, rocky waters.
Good to know: Expect to see lots of seals and marine bird life near the wrecks.
16. Swakopmund, Namibia
What is a beach if it’s not a playground? Swakompund in Namibia has reinvented itself as an adventure center, with fishing, surfing, kayaking, quad biking and sand boarding.
Good to know: Swakopmund is often described as being more German than Germany — so eat at the Bavarian-style Swakopmund Brauhaus restaurant.
17. Loango National Park, Gabon
The beaches of Loango National Park in Gabon have become famous for their surfing hippos — but you can also see elephants, buffaloes, gorillas and leopards on the sand.
The uninhabited coastline of the park is more than 100 kilometers long, and offers good sightings of dolphins and humpback and killer whales.
Good to know: Your best chance of seeing the surfing hippos is January. From September to May you’re likely to see forest elephants and red forest buffaloes on the beach; October to February is turtle nesting season.
18. Beyin Beach, Ghana
What you’re likely to remember about the beautiful sandy arc of remote Beyin beach are the tall, soaring palms along its edge. It’s a classic African working beach, and you can expect to watch about 100 men pulling in enormous seine nets filled with fish.
Good to know: The stilted Nzulezo village can be reached by taking a dugout boat from the irrigation canal across the road from the beach.
19. Banana Beach, São Tomé and Príncipe
You’ll struggle to find a quieter, more perfect shoreline than Banana Beach on the tiny island of Príncipe, off Africa’s west coast.
It boasts clear, shallow waters, forest-fringed edges and, quite likely, not another tourist in sight. Hard to beat the completely laid-back atmosphere of the island, too.
Good to know: Some of the world’s best deep-sea fishing waters are off the coast of Príncipe.
20. River No. 2 Beach, Freetown, Sierra Leone
There’s a real sense of space and being in the middle of nowhere at River No. 2 Beach just outside Freetown in Sierra Leone, with its pure white sand and a backdrop of lush, vegetated mountains.
Good to know: If you can tear yourself away from the beach, hire a canoe from the local development association and paddle up the river to a waterfall.
21. Cap Skirring, Senegal
A wide bay with a flat beach fringed on one side by unspoilt dune vegetation and on the other, the corduroy waves of the Atlantic Ocean — Cap Skirring is one of the loveliest beaches of Casamance, which is in turn one of Senegal’s most beautiful regions.
There’s not been too much development in terms if tourism here, but a taxi ride to the white beach of Boucotte will get you even further from it all.
Good to know: Keen drummers can be entertained at the nearby villages of Kafountine and Abéné.
22. Chaves beach, Boa Vista, Cape Verde
At remote Chaves Beach on Boa Vista, a striking expanse of curvy, wind-carved sand dunes eventually run down into the Atlantic. With its open landscape and soft sand, this desert island is a sunbather’s paradise. Chaves beach is isolation at its most lovely.
Good to know: Love seafood? Ask one of the local fishermen to catch your favorite.
23. Essaouira, Morocco
The sprawling beach of Essaouira offers ample space for travelers wanting to soak up some sunshine in this very laid back Moroccan town — but it’s the wind and waves that attract high numbers of wind- and kite-surfers in summer, and surfers in winter.
Further around the bay away from the harbor is a castle that’s said to have been the inspiration for Jimi Hendrix’s “Castles Made of Sand.”
Good to know: Essaouira is beautiful at dusk. Walk to the harbor for great snapshots looking back towards the old town, along the city walls.
For more information see www.essaouira.nu
24. Dakhla, Morocco
The wind blows every day at Dakhla in the south of Morocco, making it perfect for kiteboarders. Flanked on one side by a huge, calm lagoon and good waves on the other, the beach is popular with beginners, novices and pro kiteboarders.
Good to know: The lagoon is calm and shallow, and good for snorkeling.
For more information see www.kitesurfbeaches.com
25. Sidi Bou Saïd, Tunisia
While you’ll be lured to the beach at Sidi Bou Saïd, it’s the town on the cliff above it that has become the real appeal of this Tunisian haven.
The narrow cobbled streets are lined only with white buildings with blue doors, windows, shutters and balconies, bougainvillea tumbling down and palm trees reaching up.
Good to know: If Sidi Bou Saïd beach is too crowded, head to La Marsa. Note that while Sidi Bou Saïd definitely rates as one of Africa’s best beaches, check travel advisories before traveling to Tunisia, where the political situation is fluid.