The idyllic Indian Ocean has long been synonymous with romance, but it’s not just the honeymoon market that falls head over heels in love with this captivating part of the world.
For centuries, the Indian Ocean has been a region of fascination for seafaring explorers, no doubt captivated by the warm, turquoise waters, heady scents and exotic islands they encountered while making their way along the Spice Route.
Today’s cruisers travel this stretch of sea in far greater luxury and style than voyagers of old, but the Indian Ocean’s ports of call still continue to enchant, with picture-perfect white beaches, palm trees dotted along shorelines, enticing coral atolls and exotic flora and fauna.
Some cruise itineraries only skim the surface of what the Indian Ocean region has to offer, giving passengers a small taster, while others get right into the heart of the destination. Many cruises stop at Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka, off the south west coast of India. For some, Colombo will be the embarkation point, making it possible to add a post- or pre-cruise stay to explore a bit more of the country.
An important trading post for centuries, Colombo has a fascinating history that charts Arab, Dutch and Portuguese occupations. Most tours take in the Pettah Market area, where you will find the historic candy-striped Jami-ul Alfar Mosque and the Khan Clock Tower, a popular local landmark.
This is the area where traders sell gold and jewellery.
A longer stay could include a visit to the town of Hambantota, formerly known as Magama Kingdom, or Galle, home to an impressive 17th-century Dutch fort.
Mauritius, meanwhile, has given traditional get away-from-it-all Indian Ocean destinations such as the Maldives and Seychelles a run for their money in recent years, thanks to its mountain ranges, fi ne beaches, stunning coral reefs and picturesque villages. It’s also becoming a popular Indian Ocean cruise port of call.
A force of nature
The capital, Port Louis, is diverse and multicultural, with Hindu, Islamic, Christian, Chinese and Creole districts, markets and boutiques. For nature lovers, the Natural History Museum houses the only known skeleton of the extinct dodo in the world.
Those lucky enough to call at Madagascar will be treated to an enticing blend of African and Indonesian infl uences, traditional villages, tropical rainforests and natural wonders. A visit to its main attraction, Nosy Be island could include a tour of a rum distillery or a wander through the rainforest to spot ring-tailed lemur and other wildlife.
East of Madagascar and south of Mauritius is Reunion Island, a French territory. Passengers on ships stopping at Reunion’s capital, St Denis, can explore its botanical garden, Jardin de l’Etat, view paintings by Picasso and Gauguin at its modern art museum, and wander inside the Notre Dame-inspired Saint-Denis Cathedral.
North-east of Madagascar are the 115 islands that make up the Seychelles archipelago. The ‘inner islands’ of Mahé, Praslin and La Digue are the most visited, with Mahé most likely to be on a cruise itinerary. The island has the Seychelles’ capital and port, Victoria; some ships overnight here, en route to or from South Africa.
Don’t confuse the Seychelles’ capital with the similar sounding Malé, the bustling capital of the Maldives. Here, passengers can explore the shops of Majeedhee Magu, the main road on the island, and visit the17th-century Hukuru Mosque.
Smaller ships, such as Silversea’s Silver Discoverer, can visit some of the smaller Maldives ports, including Hanifaru Bay and Olhugiri in the Baa Atoll Biosphere Reserve.
The reserve comprises 75 islands, 13 of which are inhabited by a population of approximately 12,000 people, as well as an abundance of wildlife such as frigate birds and turtles.
Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines has a 14-night Islands of the Indian Ocean voyage on Boudicca, departing Sri Lanka’s capital, Colombo, on 18 October 2018 and heading south-west to explore the Maldives and Seychelles, before disembarking at Port Louis in Mauritius. Among many highlights is a Silhouette Island sunset cruise. Cruise-only prices start at £1,799pp. fredolsencruises.com
THE SPICE IS RIGHT
An overnight on-board stay in Colombo and a voyage across the Indian Ocean are included in Viking Cruises’ 36-day Voyage of Marco Polo itinerary from Athens to Bangkok. The trip crosses the Suez Canal and traces the great Spice Routes on board the elegant Viking Spirit. Prices start from £11,235pp, including air fares and excursions, in August 2018. vikingcruises.co.uk
MAKE A DATE
Ideal for clients who are reluctant to fly, P&O Cruises’ 99-night round-trip Western Circumnavigation from Southampton calls at 32 ports, including Colombo in Sri Lanka, where there is a choice of full- and half-day excursions. The cruise, on board Arcadia, starts at £9,999pp, departing 9 January 2018 and crossing the International Date Line on 14 February. pocruises.com
Madagascar, Reunion Island and Mauritius are among highlights of a 15-day Jewels of the Indian Ocean voyage with Crystal Cruises from Cape Town. Crystal Symphony calls at Maputo in Mozambique; Taolanaro, Madagascar; Reunion Island; and Mauritius, where the ship ports overnight. From £4,561pp cruise only, departing 7 January, 2018. crystalcruises.co.uk
Silversea offers an 11-day Maldives to Colombo cruise on Silver Discoverer, embarking Male on 24 January, 2018, taking in the Baa Atoll Biosphere Reserve and sailing on to Vangaaru and Uligamu, some of the northernmost islands. Then it’s on to India, followed by Sri Lanka, for Galle and Colombo. Prices start at £6,840, cruise only, in an Explorer Suite. silverseacruises.co.uk
Is this the dream itinerary? Seabourn has a 55-night Africa and Indian Ocean Isles voyage on 23 January, 2018, departing Rio de Janeiro, visiting Namibia and South Africa before calling at Madagascar, Reunion, Mauritius, the Maldives and Sri Lanka. The ship sails on to Thailand and Malaysia before reaching Singapore, where guests depart. Prices start from £17,999pp. seabourn.com
TRAVEL IN STYLE
Combining a highly saleable itinerary with great value, Cunard’s iconic Queen Mary 2 has a 33-day cruise from Southampton to Fremantle, leaving on 10 January, 2018. It takes in the Indian Ocean destinations of Reunion and Mauritius, as well as Namibia and South Africa, before sailing to Perth. Balcony staterooms start from £4,749pp, cruise only. cunard.co.uk
The new Cruise and Maritime Voyages ship, Columbus, sails the Indian Ocean on the final leg of its 2018 round-the-world cruise. Guests can book certain sectors, which are currently eligible for a buy-one-get-one-free offer plus £300 flight credit. A 14-night cruise from Singapore to Dubai, calling at Colombo on 31 March 2018, costs £1,989pp, cruise only. cruiseandmaritime.com