An Indian Ocean cruise takes passengers to unique and exotic locales, often weaving together multiple countries in one cruise (something that would be tricky to arrange independently). Follow the Spice Route through islands lush with forests of towering palm trees, stunning beaches with crystal-clear waters and picture-perfect waterfalls.
Travel from the modern malls and high-rises of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates to the souks and impressive mosques of Muscat, Oman, from the hustle and bustle of Mumbai (formerly Bombay) in India to the Buddhist temples of Colombo, Sri Lanka, and the unspoiled beaches of Phuket in Thailand. Or, cruise down the west coast of Africa to see the Big Five on safari. Indian Ocean itineraries vary in length and route, but choose wisely and you'll make a big dent in your bucket list.
Cultural attractions top the list; you can visit Buddhist, Jain and Hindu temples; Muslim mosques; even India's oldest synagogue and first church. Indian cooking classes are a great way to get a taste of the local culture, as are tours to bazaars, markets, souks and shopping malls. (Plus, you can pick up souvenirs.)
Many Indian Ocean destinations are renowned for their beaches, both in India and in the islands. Active travelers will enjoy snorkeling, diving, kayaking, fishing and windsurfing. If your cruise includes stops in the Middle East, desert safaris might be on offer.
The best time to cruise the Indian Ocean is November to March. Partly, that's due to weather with heat, humidity and rain increasing as you progress toward summer, but also ships don't stay in this region year-round.
In India and Sri Lanka, key ports are Mumbai, Goa, Mangalore, Cochin, Male and Colombo.
On island cruises, ports include Praslin and Mahe in the Seychelles, Saint-Denis on Reunion, Port Louis on Mauritius, and Nosy Be and Tamatave on Madagascar.
Salalah, Muscat, Sir Bani Yas (a private island), Muscat and Dubai are some of the Middle Eastern ports commonly found on longer Indian Ocean cruises.
If your India Ocean cruise extends into Southeast Asia, you might find yourself in Phuket, Thailand; Langkawi, Malaysia; Yangon, Myanmar/Burma; or Singapore. If it heads down the western coast of Africa, you could visit Mombasa, Kenya; Zanzibar, Tanzania; Maputo, Mozambique; or Durban, Richards Bay, Port Elizabeth or Cape Town in South Africa.
Many Indian Ocean sailings begin in Mumbai or Dubai. Some that head west along the ocean's northern coastline start in Singapore, while others headed east through the Suez Canal into the Indian Ocean start in Mediterranean ports in Europe.
Cruises that focus exclusively on the archipelagos off the coast of Africa -- the Seychelles, Mauritius, Madagascar and Reunion Island -- depart from numerous ports including Mahe, Port Louis and Saint-Denis.
The Indian Ocean is vast, so cruises usually focus on a certain area. Some focus on the exotic islands off the west coast of Africa, including the Seychelles, Mauritius, Madagascar and Reunion Island. Certain lines might combine island visits with a cruise down the west coast of Africa -- stopping in Kenya, Tanzania and South Africa -- for a longer sailing.
Some focus just on India and Sri Lanka. Longer cruises to those South Asian destinations might sail from Singapore and stop in Thailand on the way, or start in Dubai and visit other Arabian ports before crossing to India.
If you really want a cross-cultural vacation, choose an Indian Ocean cruise that starts in Europe, visiting ports along the Mediterranean before crossing the Suez Canal and calling in Middle East and Indian ports.
Here are our best tips for finding a cheap cruise or cruise deal to the Indian Ocean. If you book a “guaranteed cabin” (they select for you), a cabin on a lower deck or sail on an older ship from a brand you like, then you can get the best price for a specific cruise to the Indian Ocean. Last minute cruises deals to the Indian Ocean appear as you get closer to the sail date, usually 1-2 weeks in advance. Taking a cruise to the Indian Ocean in the shoulder season (before or after the peak season) can also be a great way to find a cruise deal.