By Denise Johnstone
With breath-taking sunsets, powder-white beaches, the Seychelles are a tropical paradise like no other. And not just because of the endemic coco-de-mer palm whose startling resemblance to the female form has many believing it to be the biblical forbidden fruit. The main islands of this tiny Indian Ocean archipelago are the only mid-oceanic granite islands in the world.
This has given them a unique and stunningly beautiful landscape of steep lush-green hills and huge, majestic boulders.
The Seychelles are famed for their laid-back atmosphere and one of the islands even boasts that visitors go there to do absolutely nothing! However, there is plenty to keep nature enthusiasts busy.
The 92 islands are home to giant tortoises, a host of endemic birds and dozens of endemic, tropical plants. As for the turquoise-blue waters encircling the islands, they are a haven for diving, snorkeling and deep-sea fishing.
WHEN TO GO
The best time of year to visit is May or September and October. June to August may be a little cooler, but seas can get extremely rough around this time of year so it is not the ideal season for water sports activities. November to January is the rainy season. March and April are the hottest months and visitors used to cooler, drier climates may find the heat and humidity a little unbearable.
GETTING THERE AND AROUND
Visitors can fly to the Seychelles from major airports in the UK, France, Switzerland, Italy, Germany, South Africa, Kenya and Singapore. There are no direct air links from the American continent. Though some US-based cruise lines do make a port visit.
The international airport in Seychelles is located on the main island, Mahe. Arriving visitors can easily get a tour bus or taxi to take them to their hotels. There are daily flights to Praslin and the islands of Bird, Fregate and Denis islands.
It is possible to buy boat tickets for the three main islands, Mahe, Praslin and La Digue from the inter-island jetties on each of them. Excursions to other islands are generally arranged through tour operators or hotels.
Renting a car is the easiest and most convenient means of traveling around the two largest islands, Mahe and Praslin. Alternatively, you could travel by taxi. Many drivers are more than willing to act as tour guides. The public bus service is fairly reliable and cheap. However, buses only run during the day and in some instances you may need to change buses to reach your final destination.
There are few cars on La Digue and the best means of getting around there is by renting a bicycle. The ox-carts on La Digue are more of a novelty than a real form of transportation. Other islands are too small for any transport other than foot!
BEST MAJOR ATTRACTION
To savor the full experience of the Seychelles, island-hopping is a must. An ideal itinerary would encompass the breath-taking views on Mahe, a visit to the primordial palm forest on Praslin, the old world charm of La Digue, the wonder of the underwater world of the Sainte Anne marine park, the tranquility of Fregate and Denis and Bird and the unique endemic flora and fauna of islands such as Curieuse and Cousin.
But above all, it is the islands’ beaches that are the main attraction. The fine white coral beaches of the Seychelles are the most beautiful in the world, and yet are rarely crowded. The two most outstanding are Anse Lazio on Praslin island and Anse Source d’Argent of La Digue.
BEST UNUSUAL ATTRACTION
Vallee de Mai, Praslin Island
The giant nut of the coco-de-mer, an endemic palm tree that only grows on the Seychelles islands of Praslin and Curieuse, bears such an uncanny resemblance to the human female pelvis that many have claimed it to be the forbidden fruit! The nut, affectionately nicknamed “the love nut,” can weigh up to 40 pounds and is listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the largest seed in the world.
- The Vallee de Mai, a forest of coco-de-mers on Praslin, is an UNESCO World Heritage site. For an admission fee of 25 rupees (about US$5), you can visit the remarkable forest with a tour guide, or just follow the well-marked routes by yourself. The Vallee de Mai is also home to the elusive black parrot, an endangered endemic bird.
BEST ACTIVITY AND TOUR
- La Digue Island
Journeying to La Digue has been described as traveling back in time! There are many shops and houses built in the 19th century and few cars. Most islanders get around by bicycle. These are readily available for rent or you could enjoy the experience of riding in an ox-cart!For a small fee you can visit L’Union Estate where you can watch the work at a traditional copra kiln or visit the 19th century colonial house where British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his family stayed during their holidays to Seychelles.Nearby is the reserve of the endangered Paradise Flycatcher bird. Also on the island is the splendid Anse Source d’Argent beach, reputed to be the most photographed beach in the world!
Many local tour agents offer tours to La Digue or you can catch boats leaving daily from Mahe or Praslin.
- Mason’s Travel
PO Box 459, Victoria, Mahe, Seychelles
Fax: +248-22-52 73 or +248-32-41-73
- Travel Services (Seychelles) (TSS)
Travel Services (Seychelles), Victoria, Mahe, Seychelles
- Sainte Anne Marine National Park
Glass-bottom boats or semi- offer excursions through the natural aquarium of the Sainte Anne Marine national park, just a few minutes away from the harbor of the capital Victoria. The park boasts a rich variety of fish, coral and other marine life. After feeding fish, you can picnic one of the tiny islands in the park.The restaurant on Round Island is famed for its tuna steaks; Moyenne Island for its pirate graves; and Sainte Anne for its beautiful beaches. All major tour operators in Seychelles offer daily excursions to the marine park.
Long-regarded as a honeymoon destination, the Seychelles is also great destination for weddings themselves, and a growing number of couples are combining the ceremony and honeymoon in one trip! Couples can have a civil wedding in Seychelles if they have been in the country for at least one day and all necessary documents have been received by the registrar 11 days prior to the wedding day. Definitely an alternative! Wedding arrangements can be made through tour operators.
BEST LOCAL HAUNT
There are few nightclubs in Seychelles, but most hotels and casinos have bars. The most popular of these is the Pool Bar at the Coral Strand Hotel on Beau Vallon in the north of Mahe. The atmosphere there is casual and relaxed and is a great spot to watch the sunset! During the week, the place to be is the town’s favorite watering-hole, the Pirate Arms.
If amenities are what you want, the best place to stay would be one of the larger hotels. The best of these is the Plantation Club in the south of the main island Mahe, the Berjaya Beau Vallon Bay and the Coral Strand, both in Beau Vallon in the north, and the Lemuria Resort on Praslin.
If you are looking for a more local flavor, try some of the smaller hotels and guesthouses. Many of these offer a more personalized and friendly service than that of the larger hotels. The best of these are the Paradise Sun on Mahe, L’Archipel, La Reserve and Le Duc de Praslin on Praslin and the resort on Denis Island.
There are a number of restaurants on Mahe and Praslin offering international and local cuisine. The best of these is La Scala at Bel Ombre which offers Italian and Creole dishes. Reservations are highly recommended. The best places to sample the spicy local cuisine are the Allamanda Hotel or Chez Baptista in the south of Mahe, Marie-Antoinette in Victoria and the Round Island restaurant in the Sainte Anne Marine Park. The tuna steaks there are legendary! On Praslin, try the Capri Restaurant at the Marechiaro Hotel or the Les Rochers Restaurant.
For those wanting to go out in the evenings, the best place to be is Beau Vallon. There are several good restaurants in the vicinity and most of the hotels feature local bands playing both local and international music. There is also a casino at the Berjaya Beau Vallon Bay Hotel. However, it should be remembered that the Seychelles are not the place for sophisticated nightlife.
The three-week long Subios Underwater Festival is held each November on Mahe and Praslin. The festival includes special diving trips, some to remote and rarely visited sites, an underwater video and photography competition and talks by guest-speakers, many of whom are internationally renowned for their work in underwater conservation, film-making and photography.
The Seychelles are not a shopper’s paradise. Prices tend to be high and a chronic foreign exchange shortage means that even basic goods may be in short supply. Be careful what you buy from curio sellers. Some sell imported goods as local souvenirs! However, there are a few items that are uniquely Seychellois.
The ultimate souvenir from Seychelles is a coco-de-mer, but these are endangered and taking them out of the country is technically illegal. A better choice would be to sort through the selection of artwork, model sailing ships, T-shirts and the like. The best place for genuine local souvenirs is Wild Ginger at Beau Vallon, the Codevar Building in the town Victoria or the Craft Village at Anse Aux Pins in the south.
VISAS AND DOCUMENTS
Visitors to Seychelles must have a passport valid for at least 6 months beyond the end of travel. Visas are not required. However, travelers must have a return air ticket, pre-booked accommodations and sufficient money for their stay.
HEALTH AND SAFETY
Some large hotels have a resident nurse. There are also a number of public and private clinics on the islands of Mahe, Praslin and La Digue which are easily accessible. However, health care for visitors is expensive. In addition, the range of drugs available can be limited.
Visitors on specific prescribed drugs should take an ample supply with them. Although smaller islands do not have medical facilities, hotels can provide basic first-aid and helicopter evacuation is available in more serious cases.
Violent crime against tourists is rare. However, petty theft is common. It is highly advisable that visitors do not take valuables to a beach, even if it looks deserted, or leave them in unlocked cars.
MONEY AND COMMUNICATIONS
The local currency is the Seychelles rupee. A chronic foreign exchange shortage in Seychelles has given rise to a thriving blackmarket! Blackmarket rates can be as much as double official bank rates, but changing money on the blackmarket is illegal.
Visitors should make sure they keep all bank receipts to change their rupees back into hard currency. Visa, Mastercard and Access are accepted by most tourist establishments and shops in Victoria. Fewer places accept American Express.
There are a number of banks and Bureau de Change on Mahe, Praslin and La Digue. They usually close on Saturday afternoons and Sundays, but an increasing number of ATMs are available and bank kiosks at the airport are open whenever there’s a flight in!
The Seychelles has an excellent telecommunications service. Visitors can make international calls directly from most hotels or from the Cable and Wireless offices in the capital, Victoria. Larger hotels also offer fax and Internet facilities and there is an Internet café in Victoria.
The best of all the web sites for would-be visitors
Website of the London-based Seychelles Tourism Office