If you're planning a paradise island holiday then you've probably got palm-fringed beaches and warm turquoise water in mind. You'll want beachfront accommodation, delicious seafood and opportunities to both relax and explore.
Good news: the Indian Ocean islands of Mauritius and the Seychelles have all the makings of a classic tropical island vacation but each is quite different from the other. Mauritius is a single island, ringed by reefs and beaches; the Seychelles Archipelago comprises 115 islands - some large and developed, others tiny and deserted. Many are marine reserves and several are privately owned.
Naturally, both destinations specialise in African beach holidays but which is best for you? Well, we've made choosing Mauritius or the Seychelles a little simpler: it depends on who you are...
THE SOLITARY TYPE
With fewer visitors spread out over many islands, it's the Seychelles that offers more exclusivity and privacy. A hotel with more than 25 beds is described as 'large' in the Seychelles and the archipelago is justly famous for its deserted beaches and private islands - fewer than 200 000 people visit a year.
Mauritius attracts four times the number of annual visitors. There is exclusive accommodation of course but Mauritius is mostly about got-it-all resorts, exotic live entertainment, 18-hole golf courses and water sports. If you want to escape for some 'me-time', head for the Seychelles.
THE ENERGETIC TYPE
If you want to jet-ski after breakfast, windsurf before lunch and have water skiing booked for the afternoon, then Mauritius is the place to go - just about every hotel and resort is packed with activities. Non-motorised water sports and snorkelling equipment are normally free; you'll need to pay for water skiing, scuba diving, parasailing and jet skiing. Additionally, many resorts have tennis courts, gyms and golf courses, and you can even hire a 4x4 and explore Mauritius on your own.
This isn't to say there's nothing to do in the Seychelles. Although all motorised sports are banned in Seychelles for conservation reasons, this means the diving and snorkelling is fantastic. The Inner Islands rest on an easy-to-access shallow plateau and the pristine Outer Islands offer experienced divers barely explored reefs. The Seychelles is also home to world class big-game and salt-water fly-fishing plus activities like windsurfing and sailing.
Whether you're on honeymoon or celebrating a special anniversary, passion in paradise is what these islands do best: expect ocean-edge dinners, sensual accommodation, pampering spas and personalised service in either the Seychelles or Mauritius.
However, there's no mistaking the greater privacy and exclusivity of the Seychelles as well as its superior natural beauty. Its beaches often make it into top beaches of the world surveys while guests on one of the archipelago's private islands enjoy an azure corner of the Indian Ocean all to themselves.
The Seychelles is all about highly personalized service - think a low-key private butler anticipating your every need - while Mauritius has a fantastic hospitality ethos that includes big smiles and highly trained staff.
THE NATURE LOVER
Long associated with the fate of the extinct dodo bird, Mauritius has had great success with modern conservation efforts but they have not pursued eco-tourism as consistently as the Seychelles has.
With a long tradition of conservation behind it, the Seychelles is home to several marine parks as well as forest and mountain reserves. Swim with the plankton-eating whale shark - the world's largest fish - in the protected waters of the Seychelles; visit Cousine Island, its entire 27 hectares a designated bird and turtle nature reserve; and head for far flung Aldabra Island where a 150 000-strong colony of giant tortoises can be found.
This is not to say that Mauritius is concrete jungle: there are mountains, forests, waterfalls and the famed Seven Coloured Earth Dunes - where the sand is multi-hued - to explore.
Mauritius is the perfect family beach holiday destination. Sunny, safe, smooth-running and with an apparently never-ending list of activities, it really does caters for every member of the family. Moreover, most of its hotels and resorts offer professional kids' clubs to take care of and entertain children of all ages so parents can have a holiday, too. It's also a short-haul from South Africa, with regular flights from the Kruger National Park, Johannesburg, Cape Town and tropical Durban.
When going to the Seychelles, it's usually best to leave the children behind. With a few exceptions, there are no kids' clubs to keep them entertained and the emphasis is on a refined tranquillity - no water skiing, no tube rides and no jet-skis. And when it comes to families with toddlers and babies, there's no debate when it comes to Mauritius vs the Seychelles - head for the former.
Mauritius has always been known for its world-class hotels and the island is home to several astonishingly decadent resorts and Michelen-starred chefs but the Seychelles has caught up and, in many ways, overshot Mauritius in terms of exclusive luxury accommodation.
Resorts in the Seychelles tend to be smaller and the lodgings more luxurious. Private islands such as Denis and North Island are completely exclusive to their guests while sole-use beachfront villas across the archipelago offer the ultimate in private living. Beautiful North Island is where Prince William and Kate Middleton chose to spend their honeymoon. For a perfect island retreat stay at the Hilton Seychelles.