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Explore the Indian Ocean’s Natural and Cultural Wonders
The Indian Ocean fits an intoxicating range of experiences and cultures into a relatively small geographic area. On this 11-day expedition cruise, you’ll begin in Mauritius, a once-French, then-British island that is now also home to African, Chinese, and Indian communities. And you’ll end in Zanzibar, the famous spice island and hub for Arab traders off the coast of Tanzania. 

Along the way you’ll visit some of the Indian Ocean’s most far-flung places, like the Cargados Bank, which counts 40 pristine islands but only 63 inhabitants, and where Silversea has exclusive visiting rights. Once-in-a-lifetime moments also include encountering lemurs on Madagascar and the world’s largest population of giant tortoises in the Seychelles. 

You’ll not only travel to little known and little visited islands, but you’ll also do so in style—aboard the 120-passenger Silver Discoverer, one of the most elegant expedition ships. It features two restaurants, a lounge, a pool deck, ocean views from every spacious suite (some with private teak verandas), and a shallow draft that allows the ship to get close to shore.
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    Day 1
    Port Louis
    The capital of Mauritius was founded by the French in 1735 and traces of its French heritage remain—including the Place d’Armes and Government House—alongside modern-day skyscrapers. Indeed, it’s a cosmopolitan, and multicultural, city with African, Chinese, European, and Indian communities. Go for a stroll and get your big-city fix here before your 4 p.m. departure aboard Silver Discoverer.

    After a mandatory safety drill, you’ll meet the expedition team, including naturalists, historians, and other lecturers. Then take some time to familiarize yourself with the ship before cocktails, dinner with open seating at The Restaurant, and opportunities to meet your fellow travelers.
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    Days 2 and 3
    Cargados Bank
    You’re about to join the ranks of the few lucky and intrepid travelers to visit the Cargados Bank (also known as Saint Brandon), a wonderland of some 40 islands and miles of coral reefs. Roughly 270 miles to the northeast of Mauritius, this archipelago runs for 30 miles from Coco Island in the south up to Île Raphael. Beneath the surface, the area includes 120 square miles of protected coral reefs. In the sea, you’ll come across green turtles, rays, sharks, parrotfish, barracuda, and other tropical fish; in the air, roseate terns, frigate birds, and masked boobies reign. Your expedition leaders will plan the specifics of your two-day visit taking into account weather conditions and prime opportunities to see wildlife.
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    Days 4 and 5
    Sail to Madagascar
    The next two days give you time to bask in life aboard Silver Discoverer. You likely will want to take advantage of the lecture series covering the natural and human histories of the Indian Ocean. The expedition team is comprised of experts from a variety of backgrounds and their entertaining presentations, rich with images and videos gathered over the length of their long careers, typically spark thoughtful discussions. There are also less cerebral activities to choose from: wine tastings, spa treatments, or borrowing a DVD from the library to watch in your suite.
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    Day 6
    If you wake up early, you’ll be treated to the sight of Madagascar gradually appearing over the horizon and then the majestic Bay of Diego come into view. Your first stop on the fourth-largest island in the world is Antsiranana, located in the far north of Madagascar. This large deep-water harbor was first visited by a European in 1543, the Portuguese explorer Diogo Soares (the bay was long known as and is still sometimes referred to by the Spanish version of his name: Diego Suarez). It wasn’t until the 19th century that the French began to develop the port as a coaling station, and a number of period buildings can still be seen in the city’s historic heart.

    After disembarking, you’ll head to the Montagne d’Ambre (Amber Mountain) where an isolated patch of forest rises above the dry plain. The park is known for its waterfalls, crater lakes, and wildlife, including the Montagne d’Ambre chameleon, the world’s smallest, which measures just over an inch in length when it is fully grown. Afterwards, you’ll continue to the Domaine de Fontenay, a century-old manor house with a private nature reserve whose attractions include 15 waterfalls, five species of lemurs, leaf-tailed geckos, and ring-tailed mongoose.
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    Day 7
    Nosy Be and Nosy Komba
    The island of Nosy Be, just off of the northwest coast of Madagascar, is the country’s most popular destination, thanks to its miles of beaches fringed with palm trees. Don’t fear, however, that it is overrun with tourists: Only the truly adventurous make it to this remote Eden.

    After you disembark, you’ll make a beeline for Lokobe Strict Reserve, the home of the endangered black lemur. The males are black, as the name suggests, but females can be distinguished by their rich red-brown hue. Gray-backed sportive and mouse lemurs also live here, as do a number of endemic birds including the Madagascar pygmy kingfisher and the Madagascar long-eared owl. After a hike, you’ll visit a ylang-ylang distillery where you’ll learn about the process of extracting oils from these flowers for use in perfume. The island of Nosy Be is sometimes described as the “perfumed island” not only because of the many ylang-ylang flowers but also the orchids, vanilla, cinnamon, and other fragrant plants that flourish here.

    In the afternoon, Silver Discoverer will set out for the island of Nosy Komba, between Nosy Be and the mainland of Madagascar. Here you can explore the dense tropical forest teeming with chameleons, lizards, and 19 species of birds endemic to the islands. Or opt to snorkel and swim in the crystal clear waters, perhaps with dolphins, rays, or turtles for company.
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    Day 8
    Sail to Seychelles
    You’ll be traveling across the Indian Ocean to the Seychelles, an archipelago of 115 islands off the east coast of Africa and north of Madagascar. So it’s another day to take advantage of the onboard amenities—perhaps curled up with a good book on a chaise on deck or enjoying a long al fresco lunch with new friends. Late in the day you’ll arrive at Assumption Island for a short service stop.
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    Days 9 and 10
    Aldabra, the world’s second-largest atoll, is one of the world’s most isolated island groups. Its enormous lagoon measures some 76 square miles and is remarkably shallow, nearly two-thirds of it dry at low tide. Four larger islands and 40 smaller ones ring the lagoon. As with other geographically isolated islands, the distance of Aldabra from the mainland has resulted in animals that have developed unique adaptations to their environment. The British naturalist David Attenborough described the atoll as “one of the wonders of the world.”

    Silversea believes that this wonder requires more than a day to explore. Over the next two they will plan an itinerary based on weather conditions that will take in some of its most beautiful islands with wildlife sightings guaranteed. Frigate birds and boobies soar overhead and tropical fish flit through the coral gardens where you may snorkel. If conditions allow, you’ll visit the research station on Picard Island where you’ll get to see the giant tortoises that can reach almost 800 pounds when fully grown. While desperate sailors long hunted the tortoise for food, they have been protected since 1891—resulting in the world’s largest giant tortoise population, with around 100,000 animals living on the islands.
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    Day 11
    At Sea
    After your time in Aldabra, it’s on to the fabled port of Zanzibar off Tanzania. This day will be an ideal one to ask expedition team members any questions that have come up during your journey, or get their help identifying the particular frigate bird you have captured on your camera. Whether you choose to rise at dawn to watch the sunrise over the Indian Ocean or sleep in and enjoy a late breakfast, spend your time in the fitness center or sipping a cocktail, is up to you.
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    You will disembark Silver Discoverer after breakfast, but you may want to extend your stay to explore this fabled spice island with its pristine rain forests, beautiful beaches, and historic multicultural sites. The Tanzanian archipelago of Zanzibar consists of its main island (Unguja), with the city of Zanzibar and Stone Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site; a second major island; and a number of smaller islets. The islands first appear in ancient Greek and Roman texts and have since been visited—and coveted—by Arab, Portuguese, and Swahili traders.