Seychelles-putting new meaning into my mission to #travelwithpurpose. Have a scroll and be inspired to visit.
In this post: Victoria / Mahe, Praslin, Curieuse, Cousin, La Digue, environmental overview: a 5-10 minute read
As sailing regions and eco destinations go, the Seychelles delivers spectacularly on every level. The island kingdom, contoured by glistening white beaches and cerulean waters, is an apex travel experience and nothing short of paradisiac perfection.
It was the late novelist and travel writer Lawrence Durrell who once commented, “There are people who find islands somehow irresistible. The mere knowledge that they are on an island, a little world surrounded by the sea, fills them with an indescribable intoxication.” He was on point. Tropical island getaways are the thing of dreams and for a myriad reasons, Seychelles is coveted as one of the most desirable of them all.
Vasco Da Gama is credited with the first sighting of the Seychelles in 1503. The territory remained uninhabited for centuries though until the French laid claim to it in 1772 and, in 1810, transferred possession to the British. Independence from the Crown was only gained in 1976. Today the Seychelles republic is the smallest in Africa yet has fewer than 100,000 inhabitants and an exclusive economic zone the size of Germany, France and the UK combined.
Glittering in the West Indian ocean are the 115 islands, raised atolls and islets that make up the Seychelles archipelago. 43 granitic Inner Islands are clustered around the principal islands of Mahé, Praslin and La Digue, and further south and closer to Madagascar are the five groups of lower-lying Outer coralline Islands.
MAHé is the Seychelles’ trade hub, its largest island and home to 90% of the population. It’s also the starting point for most tourists flying in for their dream vacay. The capital Victoria is a microcosm of the ethnic diversity and inclusivity that defines the republic. Named after Queen Victoria, the colourful pint-sized city is backdropped by the Morne Seychellois mountain, its slopes draped in a sprawling rainforest and nature park crisscrossed by incredible hiking trails. Travellers often overlook Victoria in their haste to cast off to the islands and resorts, missing much of what it has to offer. It’s a classic primer to Creole life, opening a window into Seychellois society and a multi-cultural heritage peppered with French, British and East African ancestry.
Down town Victoria’s main attractions are in close proximity to one another and can be toured in a morning. Take in the Navasakthi Vinayagar Hindu Temple, the Old Town, Market Street with its hole-in-the-wall bakeries, shops and cafes, the Natural History Museum and the Sir Selwyn Selwyn-Clarke Market.
Don’t miss Jivan’s Imports in Albert Street (above), a family-owned business established in 1925 by the legendary Kantial Jivan Shah, regarded as Seychelles’ conservation pioneer.
Victoria Clocktower (below), aka Lorloz, has stood as the towns most prominent feature since 1903.
Further up the hill, La Misère viewpoint throws a panoramic perspective over the bay towards Ile au Cerf, Sainte Anne Marine National Park and Eden Island.
With 65 beaches on Mahé alone including Beau Vallon and L’Anse des Anglais are in abundance, options are just as gorgeous as those beckoning from across the water.
One of the most glorious ways to explore Seychelles is under sail.
I was joined on this trip by Liezel van der Westhuizen and her fiance Mike Fannin. We chartered a skippered 44’ catamaran (above) which by design is optimised for smooth sailing and benefits from a shallow draft that enabled us to drop anchor very close to shore in idyllic conditions. Inside, the salon-come- galley is enclosed with large windows creating a light and airy feel, and four full-height cabins are positioned port and starboard for maximum privacy. Life on board is laidback and the travel pace is unhurried. Days that dawned to dazzling coastal views morphed between eating, reading, catnapping, swimming and island hopping, and ended on the bow sipping rum cocktails and ogling bewitching sunsets, the silence interrupted only by the soft sounds of wavelets lapping against the boat. Welcome to nautical nirvana.
Most of the time the sail distances between islands was short, the longest being from Mahé to Praslin, about four hours under full sail across the open water, spinnaker billowing above and dolphins bow riding alongside. It’s such a thrill! At the helm was Mervyn Cafrine, a sailor with twenty years of experience who doubled as our travel concierge.
He was in step with my passion for nature and Liezel’s love of aqua sports like kayaking, stand up paddling, diving and snorkelling (we hired all that equipment at the SUNSAIL boat base), and curated an on point itinerary. Cafrine was also quite the fisherman and many evenings saw us feasting on freshly caught red snapper and barracuda, cooked in his grandmother’s ginger, garlic, onion and chilli sauce, a traditional Creole speciality.
PRASLIN is Seychelles’ second biggest island with 7000 inhabitants. Known for its luxuriant vegetation it’s also the island where you’ll find Anse Lazio and Anse Georgette, two beaches that regularly crack the Top Ten Beaches in the World list. Anse Volbert is the main tourist beach which, in typical fashion, is surprisingly uncrowded, something we noticed wherever we went.
One of the main attractions on Praslin is the Vallée De Mai, a primeval palm forest embedded within the Praslin National Park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Seychellois writer Glynn Burridge once described it as a ‘cathedral of nature’, a perfect description because it possesses a stillness that makes you feel as if you’re in your own private idaho.
The reserve is a sanctuary for the endangered Black Parrot and is one of only two places in the world- the other being nearby Curieuse – where the Coco De Mer palm grows (below). It’s seed, resembling a woman’s pelvic area, is the largest known to man and can weigh in at 25 kilograms.
Twenty minutes north- east of Praslin lies Curieuse, a biosphere reserve that has seen its fair share of drama. In 1771, in an abhorrent act of eco hooliganism, French settlers razed it to the ground to make way for Coco De Mer palm groves. For more than a hundred years thereafter, Curieuse was used as a leper colony and the old Doctor’s House, built in 1873 by Dr. William MacGregor is now a National Museum that doubles as an Education and Information Centre. 300 Aldabra tortoises roam freely and there is a nursery that breeds and nurtures juveniles until they are 5 years old, ensuring the longevity of this prehistoric species. Visitors can feed the tortoises with leaves provided by their minders who keep a constant eye on their precious geriatric charges, some as old as 160. Curieuse is also a crucial breeding ground for hawksbill and green sea turtles.
Just beyond the main tortoise feeding area off Baie Laraie is a walking path, part of which is on an elevated boardwalk that leads through eight different varieties of mangrove forests. The trail, about 4 kilometres long, is flanked by towering granite rocks, lofty palms and umbrella shaped takamaka trees, and the climb, mostly in full sun and high humidity, can be tough for some so keep well hydrated. 45 minutes later you’re wallowing in the cool teal waters of Anse José and all is forgiven.
COUSIN ISLAND, two kilometres from Praslin, is an award-winning Special Island Reserve with a remarkable eco-tourism story.
When Birdlife International (BLI) purchased it in 1968, it had been laid waste, again for coconut palms. Fifty years later, the restored vegetation is thriving and is a refuge for several rare and endemic species, some of which, like the Seychelles Warbler, have come back from the brink of extinction. Cousin also holds the title as world’s first carbon neutral nature reserve. Over tourism here is an issue and only a certain number of visitors are allowed ashore each year. The island is a breeding site for a variety of terns and other seabirds and an important rookery for Hawksbill turtles.
Those planning to go are collected from their boats in rubber ducks and steered at speed through the choppy surf and deposited high up on the beach. After the dramatic arrival, guides then lead small groups through the forest on a thirty minute tour. The creatures on Cousin have no fear of humans and it’s not uncommon for White-tailed Tropicbirds to fly extremely low and close to people as they make their way to their nests in the hollows of tree trunks on the ground. It’s a place that belongs to birds and where humans are welcome. Curieuse is swampy in parts which means there are swarms of mosquitoes, so make sure every inch of your skin is covered by an eco- friendly repellent and appropriate clothing.
LA DIGUE, just behind Silhoeutte, is known as the cycling island. Visitors who aren’t arriving by helicopter disembark in the picturesque harbour and walk straight into the picturesque village of La Passe.
It’s a bustling, laidback community with a tourist office, restaurants, beachfront bars, a pharmacy, bottle stores and shops stocking all the essentials. L’ Anse Source D’Argent is on this island, part of the L’Union Estate National Park and voted more than once as the most beautiful beach in the world. At Grand Anse, Petite Anse and Anse Coco on the eastern side, the sea is wilder and can be dangerous between April and October when there is a very strong undercurrent.
Touring in one of the lumo vintage style cabs (below) is fun but the best way to explore La Digue is by bicycle.
Kitted out with plastic paniers, bikes are available for hire near the jetty and although mostly creaky, rusty old things (test your brakes before you pedal away), they do the job.
There are a few gentle hills to negotiate along the well-established coastal road that runs from La Passe towards Anse Fourmis.
If the going gets tough, stop for a drink at Bikini Bottom Bar or visit the Georges Camille art gallery. The rock pools on this route are crystal clear (above), translucent ice blue contrasting with weirdly shaped caramel coloured boulders that look like dinosaur bones. Twitchers will be glad to know that the endangered Black Paradise Flycatcher is found on this island and can be easily spotted in the taller trees.
Seychelles is the jewel of the Indian Ocean, hypnotically beautiful, eco savvy and culturally diverse. As tropical islands go, it just doesn’t get better than that.
Globally, the effects of climate change are being seen and felt at every turn and eco awareness is at an optimum. Seychelles, with half its landmass set aside as national parks and reserves, is well known for its exemplary environmental protection stance and its conservation efforts date back to the 60’s, long before sustainability and responsible tourism was a thing. The republics eco commitment spanning several decades has resulted in an archipelago that is holding its own as one of the most unspoilt destinations on the planet, above and below water. Nature Seychelles is one of the guardians of its natural assets and is headed up by the Founder, Dr. Nirmal Shah. It is the leading environmental organisation in the Western Indian Ocean and the largest and oldest environment NGO in the Seychelles, involved in species relocation and reintroduction, relationship building with local communities and other neighbouring nations, eco education in schools, biodiversity research, coral reef regeneration, marine turtle conservation (an 8 fold increase in nesting turtles has been noted), restoration of island ecosystems and the rehabilitation of native coastal habitats, to name but a few. Seychelles banned the use of plastic bags in 2015 and overall, the country is an inspirational example of what can be achieved when an entire country endorses eco policy, to the benefit of people, fauna and flora.
What to take: lightweight clothes (natural fabrics), eco sunblock, hand fan, slip slops, closed shoes for walking
Tips: cash for gratuities and marine park fees
Getting there: Air Seychelles from Johannesburg
Catamaran charter: Sunsail
Stay: Hilton Seychelles Labriz Hotel & Spa on Silhoeutte Island
Currency: 1 Seychelles Rupee = 1,03 ZAR
Best time to visit: anytime (May is especially beautiful)
Seychelles tourism info: www.seychelles.travel