Surely you have a bucket list, even if you don’t call it that. Things you mean to do and places you want to visit before your passport here on planet earth expires. So, what’s the name of the island paradise on your list? If it isn’t the Seychelles Islands, it ought to be.
I have a very exacting set of requirements before I’ll call a place “paradise.” The sky must be impossibly blue, bright and soft at the same time. The sea temperature has to hit that Goldilocks spot between cold and hot. The sand must be feather soft and the water must be clear as glass. Behind the beach, cooling palms should bend over the verge, promising shady respite from the sun. Finally, verdant mountains should rise behind it all making a luscious backdrop that climbs to puffy clouds in cerulean skies. All that is the minimum requirement for an island to be worthy of the name, Paradise. Or as I now call it, the Seychelles Islands.
The Seychelles are part of an archipelago of 115 islands in the impossibly jewel-like waters of the Indian Ocean. The largest island, Mahe, is where most of the country’s 90,000 people live. That’s right, only 90,000. It’s a tiny country with the world’s smallest capital city, Victoria. The size could be one of the reasons the place is so harmonious. The government is able to take care of its people and keep good stewardship of the land.
Thirty years ago, the isands put pretty strict environmental management regulations in place that are now the foundation of every undertaking on the islands. I don’t think it was ideological policy making for show either.
The Seychellois seem to be on board with it judging from the absence of casual trash in town or on the beaches. Add the truly spectacular decision that no building — with a few exceptions in places like the outskirts of the capital — could be taller than the palm trees in the area. That’s right. No high rise oceanfront hotels or gleaming towers of finance. From the water, the impression is of giant green turtle shells floating on the pale blue water.
Speaking of turtles, can we just talk for a minute about the giant land tortoises native to the Seycheles? The rare Aldabra tortoises have so much curiosity and personality that they made me laugh with delight and forget completly that I had somewhere else to be. Many of the hotels with large, lush grounds work with the Seychelles nature conservancy to set aside areas for these rare lovelies. (Yes, lovely. Once you meet them you’ll agree with me.)
The Aldabra Atoll, where those tortoises come from and get their name, is one of two UNESCO world heritage sites in the Seychelles. An atoll is an island of raised coral, and Aldabra is one of the largest in the world as well as being home to the largest giant tortoise population in the world. It is so remote that it has remained pretty much untouched by humans throughout history and today has all kinds of restrictions for visiting. Still, if you have the desire and the wherewithall, a combination of flight and charter can get you there.
The other UNESCO sight in the Seychelles is the Vallee de Mai on Praslin island. This forest valley is pretty much the same as it was back in prehistoric times. Its unique, endemic palms include the coco de mer. This tree produces giant, suggestively shaped coconut, the largest seed in the plant kingdom and can be found on all sorts of tourism trinkets. Unless you’re staying on Praslin, you’ll need to arrange transportation to visit the Vallee.
Your best bet in general for going places is to arrange your trips and excursions before flying to the islands. Driving the hairpin mountain roads isn’t for anyone inexperienced at driving on the left side. Nor is this a place to wing it on arrival either or you could be stranded even at the airport. You should arrange transfers and excursions beforehand with one of the tourism companies like Mason Travel. My experience with Mason Travel was that everything went promptly and smoothly. I was free to soak in the sun and sweet sky.
My hotel, the Savoy Seychelles Resort & Spa, was on Beau Vallon beach, one of the best and most popular beaches of Mahe, the main island. The Savoy has a large, lagoon-like pool that makes it popular with groups wanting a place where they can hang out together.
A shaded path accompanies the long, white arc of sand there, with hotels, eateries, and water sports rentals discreetly tucked in. For all its popularity, I was practically the only one out on Beau Vallon for my morning swim, and the beach is never really crowded by US standards. A bonus for staying there is the night market on certain days of the week with food vendors and pop up shops.
Being less crowded reflects the reality that the Seychelles are more exclusive than many other island destinations. Limited size, limited development, a remote location, sustainability protocols, and a small poplulation make it more expensive than beaches on the mainland or even the other nearby island nations of Mauritius and the Maldives.
Accommodations range from small and self-catered (as in no restaurant) up through five-star resorts to the ne plus ultra exclusiveness and luxury of the North Island where people like Prince Harry and Meghan Markle go for their honeymoon. There are only 11 villas on the entire privately owned island which you get to from the main island by helicopter.
There has to be a catch, you’re thinking. Well, in a way. The Seychelles Islands are nearly 1000 miles into the Indian Ocean off the east coast of Kenya. That’s far from Los Angeles. Twelve time zones far, which puts the Seychelles exactly halfway around the world. The Ethiopian Airlines flight out of LAX takes 18 ½ hours to get to their hub in Addis Ababa, and then it’s still another 3-4 hours to Victoria. You have either be willing to settle into the travel zone with pillows, foot slings, books on tape, and any upgrades you can tap or you break it up with a stopover in Europe.
Still, to get the kind of escape that the Seychelles Islands offer, you have to go pretty far off the easy and beaten path knowing that at the end of the purgatory of airplanes and airport lounges, you’ll find yourself in paradise.
If the Seychelles Islands are not on your bucket list, they should be. And if they are, don’t wait for someday. Go now.
For more information on the Seychelles Islands, you can to to the Tourism Board website or follow them at #SeychellesIslands
to contact Mason Travel for help with transportation and excursions in the Seychelles, contact them through the Mason Travel website.
all photos by Susan diRende
more photos on Instagram @susandirende