The Seychelles are the stuff of legends. Centuries ago, French pirates stashed stolen treasures on these turquoise shores in the Indian Ocean, and today people are still searching for the buccaneers’ golden chests. But I’m not one of them. I’m spending one week in the Seychelles to explore the islands’ other treasures. And there are many.
My trip to the Seychelles starts on the island of Mahe. It’s the largest of the 115-strong archipelago, and home to the capital, Victoria.
A guest of the Seychelles Tourism Board, I’m staying at the Hilltop Boutique Hotel just outside the city center. It’s a great introduction to the country’s smaller properties that offer affordable luxury in a country seen by many travelers as prohibitively expensive.
Just as Hilltop—which has spacious rooms and a good sister restaurant called Marie Antoinette—is a great introduction to the non-five-star resorts in the country, Mahe is a great introduction to the Seychelles.
Victoria is pint-size as capitals go, but has a lively food market with fresh fish, bright mangoes, and redolent cinnamon bark, as well as a colorful Hindu temple and several churches.
Gift shops abound, and there’s even a miniature Big Ben in the city’s main roundabout.
There’s plenty of culture here, too. The annual Creole Festival is in full swing during my time on Mahe, and the streets fill with dancing, music, and local food.
All of the buildings along the main road are decked in colorful streamers, and there is a celebratory feeling in the air.
In a quieter corner of the island, an artist named Michael Adams welcomes me into his studio and gallery. Set back among the trees and vines, it’s a wonderful world of color and shapes, drawings and oil paintings. I visit him thanks to the generosity of Arthur Lo Pinto from Creole Travel Services, who volunteers to take me around the island one Sunday.
Back outside, Mahe’s beaches are stunning, from the lively shores of Beau Vallon in the north to the white sand and turquoise waters of Intendance Beach in the south. Between them are green mountains with sheer granite cliffs and some of the most beautiful rock formations I’ve ever seen.
Oh, and everyone on the island seems to keep giant tortoises as pets. As one does.
After exploring Mahe, I take the Cat Cocos ferry to Praslin, where life is slower and more laid back. My home for the two nights on Praslin is the Les Villas d’Or Hotel. It’s right on a stunning tropical beach, and my newly refurbished bungalow has everything I need to live like a local on the waterfront.
While on Praslin, I tour the famous Vallee de Mai Nature Reserve, a densely forested area home to the endemic Coco de Mer. The coconut not only contains the world’s largest seed, but also looks rather like…well…you know…
Make-you-blush coconut appreciated, I spend the rest of my time on Praslin enjoying the other natural wonders.
One day I go on a snorkeling tour with Creole Travel Services. The boat, christened Oplezir, takes me to three islands: Sister Island, Felicite Island, and Coco Island. We snorkel at each, eating lunch in between. The water is clear, and I see great tropical fish and a few turtles despite the fact that most of the coral has died off due to rising sea temperatures.
Back on Praslin, I dine at restaurants like La Pirogue, which serves a great local octopus curry, and Bonbon Plume, a beachfront restaurant on the famous Anse Lazio. The seafood in the Seychelles is fresh and plentiful, and most of my meals revolve around grilled fish, chicken or octopus curry, and spicy mango salads. The only downside is that the service isn’t always what it should be.
The third and final destination during my week in the Seychelles is the island of La Digue.
As soon as the Cat Rose ferry pulls in from Praslin, I know that the tourism board has saved the best for last on my itinerary.
La Digue is a special place, an island with no cars and no hurry to change that—or anything else. Bike and ox cart are the main modes of transport here, and everything moves at island speed.
A golf cart transfers me from the ferry to my hotel, the Casa de Leela. It’s inland from the beach and across the street from a nature reserve. The room is large and the staff welcoming, and I even have my own bike for the duration of my stay.
I hop on, eager to explore La Digue. What I find is that the beaches here are even more picture-perfect than those on Mahe and Praslin. How that’s possible, I don’t know.
Over by Anse Source d’Argent the stunning curved boulders provide a dramatic backdrop against the powdery sand and aquamarine sea. And by the harbor, the sunsets are spectacular. It’s paradise, and I can’t believe I can’t stay forever.
But when I go, I take with me the knowledge that while the Seychelles are the stuff of legend, those seeking buried treasure don’t realize that the real riches are sitting all around them.