Frances explores Kenya and Seychelles

In early March, before Covid really became apparent, I was lucky enough to spend a truly memorable week in Kenya on safari with my family. Despite the unusually high rainfall early this year, which resulted in longer than normal grass and slightly more challenging game viewing, we had a super week. It was such a pleasure to enjoy the first-time excitement of a safari all over again with my own family and show them everything I love about travelling to Africa. Over the week we had particularly good lion sightings, spending one afternoon with a male lion roaring across the Mara plains at sunset, giving us all goosebumps. Other special moments included meeting some very relaxed hyaena pups chewing at our vehicle’s wheels, bumping into a couple of cheetah brothers on the drive to the airstrip and my mother declaring that the whistling acacia tree was her favourite and that her only wish for the week was to get a picture of her standing next to one (an easy request to meet!). We stayed at Kicheche Laikipia and Kicheche Valley Camp and were so well looked after all week. We were lucky enough to have the whole of Kicheche Laikipia camp to ourselves (one of the benefits of travelling in early March, a relatively off-peak time) for the first three days. We really settled in and it soon felt like a home away from home. We grew incredibly fond of all the staff in both camps, with a few tears shed on departure at the airstrips.

We ended our trip with an afternoon in Nairobi at the Sheldrick elephant orphanage. As a self-confessed elephant fanatic, I had always wanted to go. If you choose to foster an orphaned elephant, you can visit after the public opening hours and watch as they return to the stables for the evening. The young elephants race noisily home, eager for their 5pm milk. You then get to spend an hour with them, meeting the keepers and getting close enough to the young elephants that you can see every eyelash and wrinkle as they are busy guzzling their evening milk. You could see the different personalities: some were cheeky, some were quiet, some were very young and still hadn’t quite mastered use of their trunk yet and some were older and clearly the “leaders” of the herd. It was a special experience to end the trip.

After our week all together, my family flew home and I spent an overnight in Nairobi and took the 3-hour Kenya Airways flight to the Seychelles, in the middle of the Indian Ocean. The flight to the Seychelles is an extra effort in comparison to flying to the Kenyan Coast or Zanzibar after an East African safari, but it certainly makes up for it with wow factor. The airport is located quite literally next to the ocean, and you’re greeted with equatorial heat and tumbling forest-covered mountains towering above the arrivals terminal as you step off the plane. There are 115 islands in total, only three of which are permanently inhabited by the Seychellois population: Mahe, Praslin and La Digue. There are a number of outer islands, home to some incredible remote island lodges which make for fantastic escapist exclusive destinations. The inner islands are granitic and the white sandy beaches are flanked with impressive large boulders. The outer islands are coral islands and have a different feel to them, without the mountainous landscapes and granite boulders.

I spent the majority of my time split between Mahe, Praslin and La Digue, with one night spent on Desroches island, a coral island about 35 minutes’ flight southwest from Mahe. The Four Seasons opened a resort there two years ago, and they have managed to combine ultimate luxury, with beautiful villas, incredible food, and genuine, friendly, slick and sophisticated service with a Robinson Crusoe-style island escape. Every villa has their own private plunge pool, ocean views (some with direct beach access) and comes with bicycles so you can cycle around the 15km of sandy pathways on the island. It was a delight waking up at sunrise and cycling round the peaceful island before breakfast, totally alone, coming across nothing but deserted beaches, the odd tortoise and swaying palm trees. The food was incredible – it’s quite astounding what they manage to produce, with the finesse of a central London fine dining restaurant, on a remote island in the middle of the ocean.

La Digue island (the smallest of the three inhabited islands) was absolutely charming. It has just about managed to hold on to its magic and stave off mass tourism – though more and more hotels are popping up. The main mode of transport on the island used to be solely bicycle or oxcart but you’ll now find golf carts and even the odd car, but the island has managed to maintain its laidback vibe, with the majority of locals and tourists cycling around. The island is home to some of the most picturesque beaches in the Seychelles. Accessed by a cycle through the forest or a golf cart transfer, Grand Anse beach is truly a spectacular beach with stunning turquoise waves, long white sands and the backdrop of granite boulders and lush vegetation – picture perfect! There is one big 4/4.5 star hotel on the island, and several smaller boutique guesthouses that are very comfortable and welcoming. The island is small and growing increasingly popular, and accommodation is limited so it’s worth booking ahead if you want to stay on La Digue.

Alternatively, La Digue is accessed by boat from Praslin (just a 20-minute ferry) so you can easily visit for a day from Praslin if you don’t have time to overnight on La Digue. Praslin has more infrastructure than La Digue, gives you access to more day trips and in general has a bit more going on. It’s a lovely island to spend time on, away from the busier Mahe island, but still having the option to choose from a wide variety of accommodation options. From the five-star opulent suites of Raffles, the friendly Paradise Sun suitable for families and honeymooners, to the peaceful and elegant L’Archipel boutique hotel – there is an option for everyone.

On one of my days I enjoyed an “Island Hop” catamaran cruise which was a brilliant way to see more of the Seychelles in a relatively short period. The cruises are done as part of a small group, so it is not exactly exclusive, but you can just relax on the boat, and enjoy the day with everything taken care of. We stopped at Cousin Island, a nature reserve home to some of the Seychelles rarest birds including white terns, white-tailed tropicbirds and Lesser and Brown Noddies (all of which avoid the inhabited islands of the Seychelles where rats can be found). There were a number of boats that arrived at Cousin altogether, so the guiding was done in large groups (I feel we are spoilt on safari being guided in such small groups so anything else pales in comparison!), but the trip is worth it to see the birdlife. We then stopped at Curieuse Island National Marine Park where we had the chance to meet the giant tortoises gently grazing next to the beach and to explore the beach, nature trails, snorkel and relax. We ended the day at Isle St Pierre (less of an island, more a collection of rocks!) where we could jump into the water and snorkel for the afternoon. The catamaran cruise is not a private and exclusive affair, but it’s a wonderful way to see a glimpse of the diverse life that the Seychelles has to offer.

I ended my stay at Constance Ephelia on Mahe Island. It’s an extensive hotel with multiple restaurants, two beaches, a kids club, a large spa, golf cart shuttles to get you around and accommodation ranging from junior suites to spectacular hillside villas. What it lacks in intimacy, it makes up for in superb service, and a superb location. One of the best things is the access to snorkelling in the Port Launay Marine Park directly from the beach. It is a firm favourite of ours on Mahe Island, and works well as a standalone one stop in the Seychelles, or as part of a multi-island itinerary.

The Seychelles is a gorgeous and exotic beach location with more wow factor than Zanzibar or Mauritius. The remote location means it has a feeling of exclusivity to it and the luxury hotels and remote islands such as Desroches are incredible if you’re looking for the ultimate way to end a safari. The three main islands have so much to offer and explore – the longer you spend in the Seychelles, the better. If you are the type of traveller who doesn’t like to sit still for long and lying on the same beach for a week leaves you feeling jaded, exploring the Seychelles islands could be the perfect antidote. Alternatively, if you do want to just “fly and flop”, the beautiful beaches are quite simply a stunning place to do this!