Accessible Seychelles

Date: 2015-08-23
Eid break anyone? One of the many benefits of living in the UAE is having frequent flights to pretty much anywhere you can think of. This means access to some of the most amazing places on our planet at any time of the year. The Seychelles is an archipelago of over 100 small islands in the middle of the Indian Ocean, spread out of thousands of square kilometres of open water. From the UAE, it can be reached in just over 4.5 hours and, unless you’re planning on visiting the outer islands, you can pretty much see everything in a short trip. This puts long-weekend escapes to the Seychelles well within the realms of possibility from here. 
 
The first thing you’ll notice when you land at Mahe’s international airport, minutes away from the capital Victoria, is that the Seychelles is truly stunning. You’ll know what to expect before you get there – blue skies, turquoise seas, white sandy beaches and black granitic rock – but it doesn’t quite prepare you for the real thing. The Seychelles does have its share of luxury resorts, which is one reason why it’s so popular with honeymooners, but there’s so much more to explore and experience.
 
Hiking and nature
For starters, the Seychelles is a great place for hiking with large areas of the islands designated as national parks. On the ground, wildlife can be difficult to spot, but it’s a fantastic place for bird watching so make sure you bring a set of binoculars. As far as tropical rainforest trails go, they’re relatively forgiving, but just leave your valuables at the hotel and not your common sense. Go in a group, ideally with a local guide, take plenty of water, wear decent footwear and cover up to avoid getting bitten, even if you use bug spray.
 
On Mahe, ask about Morne Blanc, Copolia, and Mare Aux Cochons. Anse Major from Bel Ombre on the northwest side of the island is the most accessible, a beautiful walk along the cliff tops to the hidden beach from which the trail takes its name. If you’re too tired to walk back after relaxing on the beach, you can take the water taxi if it’s there. The waterfall at Port Glaud, starting from the road by the church, is also worth a visit, but is very short. On Praslin, a short flight or boat trip from Mahe, the Vallee De Mai World Heritage Site, is an absolute must in order to see the Coco De Mer growing in the wild.
 
Golfing
If you like to ruin a perfectly good walk with some golf, there’s the chance to visit Constance Lemuria on Praslin which has a championship 18-hole course. For a more relaxed round, the Seychelles Golf Club on Mahe offers a varied nine-hole course. Be warned though, the fresh water crabs have a tendency to scuttle off with your wayward balls. Well, that was my excuse anyway!
 
Snorkelling or scuba diving
The Seychelles has dedicated large marine areas as national parks and these are the best spots for snorkelling. Accessible by boat only, Bay Ternay Marine Park has one of the biggest and best coral reefs in terms of aquatic life. Whether snorkelling or scuba diving you’ll get a great view of hundreds of species of tropical fish and, if you’re very lucky, a hawksbill or green turtle. Many local operators offer excursions to Bay Ternay from Beau Vallon and also to St Anne Marine Park from Victoria.
 
In terms of larger ocean-dwelling species, I was lucky enough to encounter numerous rays, dolphins, sharks and even a whale or two. However, if you’re thinking of visiting the Seychelles between August and November, that’s when the whale sharks are migrating past the islands. I only managed one very short snorkel with a five metre juvenile male before he got bored and headed back to the depths, but it was still pretty amazing to share the water with him.
 
For scuba divers, the Seychelles has some world-class sites that will suit everyone from the novice to the expert. They’re mainly reef or granitic sites and there are a few wrecks if rusty metal is your thing. March is the best month in terms of visibility and dive operators will vary the sites according to the general sea conditions and the time of year. It’s therefore worth enquiring in advance with the local operators about what’s available, bearing in mind this may still change on the day.
 
The distances by boat to the dive sites are generally quite short, and even the longer range sites are only around 30-40 minutes away. My personal recommendations are Shark Bank (deep dive), Conception South, L’Ilot, Dragon’s Teeth and Brissaire Rocks. You can do PADI courses in the Seychelles or take a refresher course if you’re been out of the water for a while.
 
Ultimate escape
While the islands in St Anne Marine Park, Silhouette, Praslin and La Digue are just a short transfer from Mahe and can be done in a day, if you really want to get further away from it all, Bird Island and Denis Island are worth considering for a couple of nights and are still only an hour away by plane. You can walk or cycle around both these islands, so you will really feel the Robinson Crusoe cliché when you’re there, albeit with some five-star luxury accommodation and cuisine. One of the main attractions has to be the lack of mobile and internet coverage. There is wi-fi, if you’re very desperate, but there’s a lot to be said for properly disconnecting for a few days, and reconnecting with other parts of your life like your family and the natural environment.
 
The Seychelles doesn’t come cheap, particularly when you’re eating and drinking out. However, if you weigh this up against everything you can do, in such a relatively short space of time plus the price of a short flight, it’s definitely worth the spending the dirhams. 
 
Simon’s top 10:
 
·       Enjoy food and drinks at sunset on Beau Vallon beach
·       Game fish off Bird Island
·       Snorkel off Denis Island
·       Sip ‘seybrew mojitos’ at La Plaine St Andre any time Collective Soul are playing
·       Visit Ile Moyenne, in St Anne Marine Park, to see the giant tortoises
·       Head to Curieuse, from Praslin, to walk through the mangroves and watch the baby lemon sharks
·       Eat fresh, local sashimi wherever it’s available
·       Dress up for Seychelles Carnival, this annual event next takes place in February 2016
·       Watch a green turtle lay her eggs – you just have to be in the right place at the right time
·       Take a Microlight flight and search for whale sharks when the season is on 
 
For more details about travelling to the Seychelles from the UAE, you could also buy a copy of Explorer's Short Breaks book or pick up an Ultimate Escapes guide from askexplorer.com/shop.

By Simon Mycock


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