My chef friend had been very clear right from the first day I mentioned my travel plans. He had worked in the Seychelles, and said that visiting just one island would be like going for a 5-course meal and only eating the amuse-bouches.
A foodie to the core, that comparison drove the point home to me, so I persuaded my travel companion that island hopping was the only way to go on our African island adventure.
French and English heritage
Nearly all international travellers to the Seychelles arrive at the country’s only international airport near Victoria on the island of Mahe. Victoria itself is easily explored in a day, so that’s exactly what we did. Throughout the town, British colonial heritage is visible, from the clock tower modelled after the one in Vauxhall London, also known as Little Ben, to the Courthouse and the Victoria Botanical Gardens which, despite the tropical fauna, display a fair degree of traditional British gardening culture.
We had rented a holiday villa in the Beau Vallon area of Mahe with stunning views over the Indian Ocean. The villa’s location is without a doubt one of the most spectacular I have encountered and the first couple of days in the Seychelles definitely gave us a taste of what was waiting out there in the blue distance.
The archipelago is made up of 115 islands in total, most of which are uninhabited and only accessible by private charter vessel. The Inner Islands, consisting of Mahe, Praslin, La Digue, Silhouette Island and Inner Coralines, are where the majority of the Seychelles’ population lives and where most of the country’s tourism industry is centred.
As the islands’ names suggest, they have seen a long tradition of outside influence, with both France and England claiming ownership during colonial times. When they finally gained independence in 1976, the Seychelles retained three official languages: English, French and Seychellois Creole, the latter also based on the French language.
Since Mahe is the point of entry for most people, it is full of businesses catering to those who want to explore other parts of the country. Depending on your budget and desire for adventure there are various ways to go about it; you can choose to book one of the many planned trips or take matters in to your own hands and see where the wind takes you.
In terms of transportation, island-hopping comes in many shapes and forms; from regular ferry services and domestic flights direct to the most popular destinations of Praslin and La Digue, to privately chartered helicopters and catamarans that can take you off the beaten track to the more remote outer islands. If money is not an issue then visitors are spoilt for choice.
We shopped around in Victoria for the best itinerary and mode of transportation, then ended up with a trip on a beautiful sailing catamaran taking us from Mahe to the many smaller uninhabited islands in the inner parts of the Seychelles. What made us decide on the trip was the fact that we got a combination of the typical resort experience – perfected in the Seychelles, but a bit monotone if you’re staying or a longer period of time – and the tranquility of spending nights at sea.
The next morning we were collected from our villa and taken to the boat which exceeded all our expectations in terms of luxury and comfort. A combined sailing and motorboat, the captain, Fred, ensured us no islands were inaccessible to his vessel, even in calm weather. He showed us around and introduced us to the rest of the crew, which consisted of a charming cook named Grace and a boat boy who could say hello in 15 different languages.
The first day we spent sailing around the Mahe and the many smaller islands surrounding it, each one more stunning than the next. Some of the beaches we stopped at were home to impressive resorts, while others were completely deserted, perfect for copying the remote paradise beach photos that had drawn us to the Seychelles in the first place.
The catamaran had both snorkelling and diving gear aboard, which we could use whenever we wanted, and the snorkelling off Petite Anse Beach was particularly impressive with some of the most intact and pristine coral reefs I have ever seen. The sheer variety of fish and corals was overwhelming.
The next day we sailed towards Praslin, home to the world famous Anse Lazio beach, first made famous by Lonely Planet, and since by many other travel publications. Then came the Vallée de Mai Nature Reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage site, known globally for its well preserved palm forest and endemic palm species. Hiking in the park is definitely one of the ‘must-dos’ while on Praslin. In fact, we marked it down as one of the highlights of the entire trip.
We ended the voyage on La Digue Island, which is just a small hop to the east of Praslin. There we had the chance to try the Seychelles’ famous Creole cuisine, which was a welcome change from cook Grace’s generally tasty, but at times dubious creations.
We left with our stomachs and hearts overflowing with the islands unique spirit and beauty, and vowed to return and explore even more of what is often rightly called ‘another world’.
Some links as Tips
The diversity on offer in the Seychelles can best be enjoyed with some advanced planning and insights. The links below offer a few glimpses of the treasures waiting to be explored and enjoyed.
- The Seychelles Tourism Board is the official destination website for travellers looking for detailed information on travelling and holidaying in the Seychelles. www.seychelles.travel/en/home/index.php
- Silhouette Cruises is one of the most popular cruises in the Seychelles and the company offers a wide range of itineraries to cater to individual travel needs. www.seychelles-cruises.com
- Due to its location in the middle of the Indian Ocean, the waters around the Seychelles feature some of the world’s most intact coral reefs and an abundance of colourful fish. Many operators offer bespoke diving trips. www.bigbluedivers.net
- The Seychelles Island Foundation manages and protects the World Heritage sites of Aldabra and Vallée de Mai Nature Reserve. For updated information, go to www.sif.sc