Seychelles – Balancing Tourism with Conservation

Seychelles – Balancing Tourism with Conservation
Mahe Anse Major Trail View

Part 1 – Travel Essentials

Mahe Anse Major Trail View

Overview

Seychelles is a long way from New York City, so I never thought much about traveling there. However, I was arranging a trip to several countries in East Africa for August 2017, looked at the map and noticed Seychelles was not a far flight from Kenya. I reasoned that a country with world famous beaches in a tropical setting would be a good place to chill out after weeks of exhausting travel.

What my wife, Khadija, and I found was a country of over a hundred islands in the Indian Ocean with extensive biodiversity, a government dedicated to conservation and friendly people from a panoply of ethnicities. For the physically active, there are numerous water sports activities (snorkeling, diving, ocean swimming, fishing, etc.) and terrific hiking trails. It is a highly attractive locale for nature photographers. For those who want to kick back, there are luxurious resorts and empty beaches. It is no wonder that tourism keeps increasing each year, mainly from Western Europe, the Gulf States, Russia, and India.

Geography

The Seychelles islands are scattered in the Indian Ocean over 150,000 square miles. It is about 1,000 miles east of Africa and 1,100 miles northeast from Madagascar. Total land area is only 455 square miles, about the size of Los Angeles. Only about 10% of the land is used for agriculture.

There are two types of islands. The main group are granite islands with high hills, large boulders and mountains; 99% of the population and most of the tourism. The others are flat, unpopulated coral atolls and reefs in the southwest part of the country. The largest and most populated island is Mahe with 90% of the population, the capital city of Victoria and Mount Seychelles (almost 3,000 feet above sea level). The other two main islands are Praslin, with the famous Anse Lazio beach, and La Digue with stretches of interesting large boulders. A trip to Seychelles should include visits to all three.

Climate

Even though the Seychelles are only 300 miles south of the equator, the temperature is moderate and generally constant because of trade winds. Average coastal temperature is around 80°F with lower temperatures in the higher altitudes. The coasts have a fair amount of rain (around 90 inches / year) and the highlands have significantly more (around 140 inches / year). May through October is slightly drier.

Demographics

There is no recorded history that the Seychelles were inhabited before the Sixteenth Century, though some seafarers certainly stopped there before. It was first sighted by an European, Vasco Da Gama, in 1502. The earliest recorded landing was in 1609 by a crew of the British East India Company. The French started controlling the islands and named it after Jean Moreau de Sechelles, Louis XV’s Minister of Finance. The British assumed full governing for the islands in 1810 under the Treaty of Paris. Seychelles became a crown colony in 1903 and an independent republic in 1976.

Seychelles’ population is composed of the descendants of French, British, Africans, Asian Indian, Chinese, and Arabs. The current population is around 90,000 with an additional 2,000 expatriates. About a quarter of the workforce are foreign guest workers, many from the Indian subcontinent, Madagascar and the Philippines.

Seychellois Creole, a mix of French with words and syntax of African and Asian languages, is the most widely spoken language and now taught in schools. English and French are also commonly used. English remains the language of government and commerce. Literacy is about 90% and gradually increasing.

Roman Catholic is the main denomination for almost 80% of the population. Other Christians are about 15%, Hindu about 2% and Muslim about 1%. With so many faiths, there are many buildings of worship. An eye-catching building is the Hindu temple. It was built in 1992 and named after Lord Vinayagar, god of safety and prosperity. The exterior is jam-packed with statuettes.

Victoria Hindu Temple

Currency

During our stay, the Seychelles Rupee equaled around US$0.075, meaning that US$1 equaled a little over 13 SCRS. For the rest of the post, $ refers to US dollar.

The Seychelles are not a budget destination. Despite not taking any day tours and cooking half of our meals while in Praslin, we spent about $2,700 over eight days; excluding the flights from Nairobi. We did not realize we had spent so much until we added it up later and were taken by surprise.

Visa Requirements

There is no visa requirement, so upon entry you must purchase a visitor’s permit by showing a passport valid until leaving the country, confirming accommodations with contact information and providing a ticket leaving the country. You also need funds sufficient for your stay. We were not asked to prove our financial wherewithal.

The visitor’s permit is initially valid for the period of up to one month. It can be extended for periods of up to three months from the date of issue up to a maximum of twelve months. The visitor’s permit is free for the first three months after which there is a fee of SCR5,000 for extension covering each full or partial period of three months.

Credit Cards

Credit cards are widely accepted.

Time Zone

The Seychelles are GMT +4.  This means it is either eight or nine hours from New York’s Eastern Standard Time.

Air Travel

We flew round-trip from Nairobi on Air Kenya for $538 / person. On Etihad Airlines and Emirates, you may be able to find a flight, with one or two stops for as low as $1,000.

Americans do not travel much to the Seychelles, because the flight is relatively expensive (compared to flying to the Caribbean) and long (around twenty-four hours with stops). They usually visit only when nearby in East Africa or the Gulf States.

Transportation

Local transportation options on the islands are bike (for safety, only on La Digue where there are few cars), bus (very cheap, slow and opportunities to chat with locals), taxi or car rental. You should negotiate the price of taxis, so ask around to determine the local rate.

Driving a car can be very challenging, especially at night. The roads are hilly, curvy and narrow with gullies on the side. Signage could be better and lighting is poor at night. Cars drive on the left-hand side and most are stick-shifts. The local divers know the roads and drive much faster than someone new to them. Combine all these factors and the price of a car rental (we paid Euro 50/day, about $60), and it might be wiser to just use taxis.

We rented cars on both Praslin and Mahe. We found the car useful on Praslin, where there is less traffic. In retrospect, we would not have rented on Mahe, because we stayed in one section and there is a lot of traffic and many switchbacks when crossing mountains.

Many people fly between islands, except when they use a ferry if the islands are nearby (e.g. Praslin and La Digue). We spent $113 / person for a roundtrip ticket (fifteen minutes one way) from Mahe to Praslin. A ferry for the same trip is about half the cost and takes about one hour one way.

Lodging

The Seychelles islands are expensive and lodging is a major component. In Praslin, we stayed in an apartment of the Residence Praslinoise which had a bedroom, bath and kitchen. It was clean, a few minutes-drive from the airport and was walking distance to grocery stores. There was a decent beach nearby, but it was full of seaweed when we were there. We cooked half of our meals here. The TV had only three channels and they were all sports. I watched more cricket in one while here than I have all the other times in my life combined and still can’t figure out the rules. We paid $460 for four days ($115/day).

On Mahe, we had decided to splurge because it was the end of a long, demanding trip. We stayed at the Le Meridien Fisherman’s Cove. It is upscale resort with gardens, two restaurants, mile and half-beach and several water sport options (for a fee). Some families like it because it is a self-contained location for children. Almost everything is expensive, such as a light lunch costing at least $30 and a massage for around $100. The one good deal we got was a yoga class from a local instructor for $14/person. The room we had was designed weirdly with a shower in the middle (the wooden slats over the drain were wet for hours) and a bathroom with a window (apparently so you can look outside, but others can look at you).

Even using some Starwood Points, we paid $280/night for 3 nights. Looking back now, we would’ve chosen something different since we aren’t beach people and didn’t get our money’s worth.

Cuisine

Reflecting the population, food is diverse and interesting. Not surprisingly for an archipelago, fish is the most common dish. Reflecting the Indian influence, coriander and tamarind are often used. The food also often has ginger and lemongrass.

La Scala, in Mahe, was the best restaurant we ate in. It serves Italian dishes and the fish is caught during the day, if in season. It is owned and run by an Italian couple (I think) who have owned it for decades. We both had wonderful seafood dishes and with drinks and tips, we paid $89.

Internet and Phone

A traveler can buy a SIM card from either of the two mobile phone companies: Airtel and Cable & Wireless. They work best in Victoria and decently in many parts of Mahe and Praslin.

Most hotels and guest houses have WiFi. For us, the service worked most of the time in the places we stayed.

Safety

The islands are generally safe, although like everywhere, extra caution is warranted at night, in deserted areas and for single women. You must be careful with your possessions. We know a case where a man put his wallet in his clothes while swimming on a Praslin beach. When he returned, he found his cash was stolen. It is best to not to display your cash or leave your car unlocked with valuables.

Travel Guide

I normally buy travel guides, as I find them extremely helpful and I’m constantly scribble notes in them. I did not buy one in this case, but should have. Bradt, Fodors and Lonely Planet have editions for the Seychelles.

Part 2 – Traveling Through Seychelles

Overview

Seychelles has a plethora of activities and places to visit. However, they are scattered over several islands which require significant time to go to. The country is also, as I have mentioned, expensive. Our plan was to recharge our batteries in the Seychelles and just take leisurely walks and visits to interesting places. We should have better understood the country and carefully designed our itinerary. The benefits would have been cheaper travel and better value for our money.

To properly visit the Seychelles, travelers should have a lot of energy to take advantage of their unique offerings. We spent a couple of days not doing much, as we were resting at the end of a long trip. We should have pushed ourselves to take better advantage of the country.

Despite this lamentation, I don’t want to give the wrong impression. We thoroughly enjoyed the physical beauty of the land and the warm interaction with locals. The following are the highlights.

Praslin Island

Praslin is the second biggest island in the Seychelles, but is tiny at fifteen square miles. You can easily drive from any part of the island to another in forty-five minutes, though the main road is “U” shape and not a loop. The permanent population is less than 8,000. It’s a good place to access neighboring islands, including La Digue, with great beaches and rock scenery, Cousine, with dedicated conservation in preserving bird colonies and forestation, Curieuse, with free roaming giant tortoises, and St Pierre, with renowned scuba diving.

Vallée de Mai Nature Reserve is an UNESCO World Heritage Site and is a natural palm forest preserved in almost its original state. Khadija found many things which reminded her of the Amazon.

Here you find the “coco de mer”, which only grows in the Seychelles and is the nation’s national symbol. It grows on a palm tree and is the largest seed on earth, often weighing more than fifty pounds.

Contributing to its fame, a mature coco de mer resembles a woman’s pelvis. This image is from https://gardenofeaden.blogspot.co.uk/2013/09/the-coco-de-mer-lodoicea-maldivica.html

Anse Lazio (Anse is French for cove) is often rated one of the top ten beaches in the world. It is a crescent shaped beach between two mountain peaks with white powdery sand and large granite boulders. Next to a fenced enclosure on the edge of the beach is a pen of the Seychelles giant turtles.

Pralin Anse Lazio

Pointe Ste. Marie is not mentioned much in travel literature. It is a rock formation jutting into the ocean within the property of the Castello Beach Hotel (which has a beautiful golf course). It has a simple two and half-foot statue of the Virgin Mary standing on a concrete base.

t has understated charm and great views of Anse Kerlan on one side…

…and a scenic rocky cove on the other.

 

Here is a map of Praslin highlighting where we went.

Mahe Island

Mahe is the largest island in the Seychelles (60 square miles) and has 90% of the population. Driving around the island takes between two and three hours, depending on your pace. It is mountainous and has all the hallmarks of the Seychelles: pristine, beaches, lush jungles, rare vegetation, exotic hiking trails, luxury resorts and many water and land recreation opportunities. The best strategy may be to concentrate in one section to minimize travel time.

The capital is Victoria, which is worth at least a few hours visit. About a third of the population lives here. While small, it is bustling during the day. It has colonial buildings, well-kept gardens, a colorful food market, souvenir shops and several buildings of worship.

The center of town is a silver, cast iron, miniature Big Ben clock tower (aka Little Ben).

It was manufactured in 1892 in England and restored in 1981 under the sponsorship of the French company, Elf Aquitaine. The clock has a two-line poem celebrating Anglo-French friendship:

“My hands you may retard or may advance

my heart beats true for England as for France.”

The couplet refers to the clock that is permanently on Daylight Saving Time, thus being correct for France during the winter months and for the UK during the summer.

The central market is named after Sir Percy Selwyn Selwyn-Clarke (yes, the same name is repeated), Governor of Seychelles from 1947 to 1951. Best time to go is early morning and particularly on Saturday. While compact, it has a wide assortment of tropical fruits, vegetables and a wide variety of seafood.

Anse Major Trail is a two-hour, one-way, coastal hike in the northwest part of Mahe. The views of the ocean, mountains, and giant boulders are amazing. It terminates at the beach of the same name.

To reach there, you must walk on a narrow road past La Scala Restaurant about a mile to the trailhead. Rain is common, so be prepared. You should start before noon to ensure you have enough time to hike there and back and spend time on the beach. If you do not feel like schlepping back, there is sometimes a water taxi there for the return leg.

Here is a map of Mahe showing places we traveled to.

Final Thoughts

I was impressed that a country where a majority of its income comes from tourism, has tempered development with conservation.

Visitors should have ample energy to take advantage of the land and water recreation, as well as the incredible flora and fauna and friendly locals. Because it is expensive and time consuming to move around, especially from island to island, a great deal of planning is highly suggested. I hope I will be able to return one day and immerse myself into more of the wonders of the Seychelles.

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Ed Hotchkiss
Ed Hotchkiss

My goal is to travel to all the countries of the world. I count 197 countries, starting with the United Nations list of 193 and adding Taiwan, Vatican, Kosovo and Palestine. For the rest of my life, I want to see and experience as much of the world as possible, while documenting it in photographs and observations.

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My goal is to travel to all the countries of the world. I count 197 countries, starting with the United Nations list of 193 and adding Taiwan, Vatican, Kosovo and Palestine. For the rest of my life, I want to see and experience as much of the world as possible, while documenting it in photographs and observations.

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