The Seychelles are composed of 115, mostly uninhabited islands, which are either coralline, granitic or simply expansive sand banks, but common to all are picture perfect beaches, photos of which grace travel brochures throughout the world.
With so many islands to choose from, the best way in which to visit the Seychelles is do a bit of island hopping, which is what I did on my recent trip.
Irrespective of their final destination, all visitors will begin and end their trip on Mahe, a beautiful and lush island dominated by the rain forested slopes of Le Morne Seychellois National Park, and the largest of the archipelago.
Mahe offers the most diverse stay of all the islands. The capital Victoria, one of the world’s smallest capital cities and home to almost a third of the entire Seychellois population is a bustling and vibrant town, but half a day will suffice to visit the markets, admire the variety of architectural influences and perhaps do some curio shopping. Elsewhere, well marked trails in the north of the island and within Morne Seychellois National Park offer challenging hiking with the reward of amazing views over the ocean.
However, it is the beaches that pull people to the Seychelles and Mahe is not lacking in those. Dotted around the island are over 60 beaches of varying size and appeal. Some are just small coves only accessed via pathways through dense forest whilst others, particularly on the south east coast, have very shallow waters. To the west, and overlooked by the elegant Banyan Tree resort, is Anse Intendance; a kilometre of golden sands, hemmed in at either end by giant granite boulders. It is not for the faint hearted however with a steep drop off, year round big waves and strong currents. The south easterly trade winds make the waters here particularly unsuitable for swimming from June until September, but this is when the surfers love to visit.
The gentle incline into calm waters makes Beau Vallon, on the northwest coast, particularly popular with families and it is the only place in the Seychelles where motorized water sports can take place. With lots of hotels, bars and eateries, Beau Vallon has quite a lively and fun atmosphere. My personal favorite on Mahe is tucked away in a protective cove in the Port Launay Marine Reserve. This beautiful little tree fringed beach is perfect for swimming and non-motorized water sports and right on your doorstep when staying at the Constance Ephelia.
Although it does have its charm and stunning beaches, Mahe is often overlooked in favour of Praslin and it is easy to see why. It became obvious to me, not long after I stepped from the short flight from Mahe, that Praslin has a very different feel; a slower pace of life and a distinct island vibe. Even the most developed area on the island, Cote d’Or Beach, has a decidedly sleepy air to it. There are several larger hotels, including the sophisticated L’Archipel and more family orientated Paradise Sun, dotted along the 2.5 kms of golden sands curving along the bay of Anse Volbert, but they are generally set back from the beach and fronted by palm trees allowing the beach to seemingly remain empty.
Picture perfect beaches aside, Praslin is home to the Seychelles’ only 18 hole golf course, located at the Constance Lemuria Hotel plus a UNESCO World Heritage Site at the Vallée de Mai. Located in the interior of the island, the Vallee de Mai is a dense palm forest, parts of which are preserved in an almost original state, and most famous for the Coco de Mer Palms, the seed of which is the largest produced by any plant in the world.
Praslin is also an excellent jumping off point for day trips to other islands such as Cousine and Curieuse. The most frequently visited however is La Digue, accessed by a quick catamaran sailing from the port at Sainte Anne. When I first visited La Digue, some seventeen years ago, there were no vehicles on the island; transfers to the handful of hotels were done by ox and cart and a tractor was used to transport the luggage. Today, there are definitely more vehicles on the island and the ox and carts have been replaced by golf buggies. I was relieved however to see that the preferred method of transport for tourists, be they day trippers or those staying on the island, remains the bicycle.
As you stop off the ferry and walk along the jetty, there are hundreds of bikes to be rented, offering the freedom to explore the island at your own speed.
Ironically, for an island with such sublime beaches, La Digue does not offer the best swimming. The west coast beaches close to the main village of La Passe and at La Reunion and even at the stunning Anse Source d’Argent, without doubt the most photographed beach in the Seychelles, have very shallow waters. A brisk ride over the hill to the south coast is rewarded with the expansive and wild beaches of Anse Cocos and Petite and Grande Anse. Here the waves break relentlessly on the sands and a strong undercurrent can make swimming inadvisable.
La Digue does get busy with day visitors but as the last boat set off for Praslin and I watched the sun begin to set from the beachfront pool at La Domaine de l’Orangeraie, a palpable sense of calm and peace descended on the island. For those magical minutes alone I think it is worth spending at least a night or two on the island.
The idea of staying on a remote private island appeals to many people who yearn to get away from it all and I was lucky enough to visit two contrasting island on the northern reaches of the Seychelles archipelago; Denis Island and Bird Island.
Common to both islands is the absence of televisions, radios and phone signal allowing for an almost complete digital detox (Wifi was available in just one area at each lodge). There is a blessed freedom to being on these islands with the ability to explore at will on foot or by bicycle in the case of Denis and to swim or snorkel in the crystal clear waters.
Denis tries to be as self-sufficient as possible and there are daily visits to the vegetable gardens and farmyard where they rear their own cows and chicken and the catch from deep sea fishing excursions will often end up on the table! In spite of being so remote Denis retains a sophisticated ambiance and has very comfortable villa style accommodation. For me however, it is the space and freedom of movement on the island that lends it so well to a varied clientele be they families, groups, solo travellers or honeymooners!
By contrast Bird Island is a more natural destination offering a simpler level of accommodation. As the name would suggest it is a haven for birds! Throughout the year there is a resident population of around twenty species including Frigatebirds, Fairy Terns, White-tailed Tropicbirds and Curlew Sandpipers to name but a few. From October through to March these numbers are swelled by migrants and some vagrants.
However it is the Sooty Tern colony that brings many people to the island. When the owners bought the island back in the late 1960’s they cleared an area on the northern side of the island to provide vital nesting sites for the Sooty Terns. At the time there was an estimated 15,000 pairs of Sooty Terns but today the estimates are closer to 1.5 million. The skies were alive during my stay with thousands of these birds hovering over the island in preparation for their breeding season. It is said that 90% of all eggs are laid within a ten day period in June with hatching taking place some thirty days later and fledging commencing a further sixty days later.
Whether you are a bird enthusiast or not, the breeding colony of Sooty Terns is quite a spectacle.
Flight options into the Seychelles have never been so varied. Emirates, South African Airways, Qatar, Etihad, Ethiopian and Kenya Airways all have regular schedules into Mahe allowing for a combinations with East or Southern Africa. Furthermore British Airways have recently re-introduced a direct London-Seychelles service and will be operating twice weekly flights from next March onwards.
They Seychelles is without doubt blessed with some of the most beautiful beaches in the world but what struck me most was the diversity. Whether you want an action packed stay enjoying plenty of water sports, spend your days basking on a sun lounger with a book and a cocktail or dream of being Robinson Crusoe on a remote island, there is an island just right for you!
Mary stayed at Constance Ephelia Resort, Carana Beach Hotel, Hilton Labriz Silhouette, Denis Island Lodge, Bird Island Lodge, Le Duc De Praslin, Constance Lemuria, Indian Ocean Lodge and Le Domaine de L’Orangeraie.
Mary site inspected the Eden Bleu Hotel, The H Resort, The Savoy Resort and Spa, Kempinski Seychelles Resort, Four Seasons, Banyan Tree and Hilton Northolme Hotel and Spa on Mahe, the Coco de Mer, L’Archipel, Paradise Sun, Le Domaine de la Reserve, Raffles Praslin, Cote d’Or Footprints and the Heliconia and finally, the Cabane Des Anges, Maison Charme De L’Ile, and Le Repaire Boutique Hotel on La Digue.