Find Paradise Down South; the Indian Ocean Offers Unspoilt Islands, Endless Beaches - and the Wonders of India and South Africa
ZANZIBAR, Madagascar, Reunion, Mauritius, the Seychelles:their very names conjure up images of talcum-soft beaches, shaded by palms and caressed by spice-scented trade winds.
So it's little wonder that growing numbers of British travellers are heading off to explore the lovely islands of the Indian Ocean and - since this vast ocean also laps the coastlines of India and South Africa - making breathtaking safaris, the fabulous scenery of South Africa's world-famous Garden Route and the rich and colourful panoply of India all part of the mix.
There's only one snag: the Indian Ocean is vast and, with 115 islands in the Seychelles archipelago alone, it takes a long time for travellers to visit even the main sights, let alone explore the entire region.
Unless, of course, they travel by ship. Indian Ocean cruises not only show travellers the rich variety of this wonderful area; they also make getting around as much fun as getting ashore, allowing plenty of time for rest, relaxation and the enjoyment of good food, fine wine and excellent company along the way.
There are many different cruise itineraries to choose from, depending on which particular islands or destinations you most want to visit. Many world cruises, for example, include a two- or three-week sailing from the Far East (usually Singapore) through the Indian Ocean to Mumbai, Cochin and/or Cape Town.
Cruises around the region also feature on spring and autumn repositioning voyages, when ships transfer between Europe and Australasia or the Far East.
There are also year-round or seasonal Indian Ocean sailings operating regularly out of Mombasa in Kenya (making beach-safari-cruise combinations possible), and small ship cruises around the Seychelles and Mauritius, operating from local ports.
And an increasing number of cruise lines now offer sailings out of India, which can be combined with land tours of the fabulous 'Golden Triangle', including Delhi, Jaipur and the magnificent Taj Mahal.
Even without a bolt-on land tour, India is a fascinating place from which to cruise. Marvellous Mumbai is a vibrant mix of ancient and modern, with treasures to be found in old markets like Chor Bazaar and Jyotiba (once called Crawford's), which has a frieze above its entrance designed by Rudyard Kipling's father.
Cochin is famous for its beautiful harbour, Chinese fishing nets, and Portuguese colonial heritage, while Chennai was Britain's first major settlement in India.
The Indian Ocean's African ports of call have a very different appeal, combining fabulous beaches and eyecatching scenery with a chance to view the most fascinating wildlife in the world and to spot the 'Big Five' - lions, leopards, rhinos, buffalo and elephants. …