The Seychelles are a group of 115 islands, only a few inhabited, in the Indian Ocean that lie off the coast of East Africa, northeast of Madagascar.
The Seychelles were disputed between France and Great Britain during the age of colonialism, with Britain ending up in control in 1814 after the Napoleonic Wars. The islands achieved independence in 1976, however free elections did not occur until 1993. The politics of this island group remain in something of a state of flux, although this should not bother the tourist seeking a relaxing beach vacation.
The Outer Seychelles are corralline and mostly uninhabited. Visitors are rare, and will find themselves traveling either by private yacht or between remote airstrips on small local planes.
The vast majority of the Seychelles' population lives on these granite islands, home to the bulk of the country's resorts.
No visa is required for all nationalities, though all foreigners must have passport valid for at least 6 months, and must have proof of accommodation bookings before arrival. An initial entry permit is granted for 1 month but can be extended for a maximum of 3 months at a time up to a maximum of 1 year in total. See the official travel web-site for more details.
The only international gateway to the Seychelles is Seychelles International Airport (SEZ) near Victoria. Air Seychelles flies to London, Paris, Johannesburg, Rome, Milan, Frankfurt, Mauritius, Chennai and Singapore via Boeing 767 aircraft. International service is also available from Nairobi (Kenya Airways ), Dubai (Emirates ) and Doha (Qatar Airways ), and regular charter services from Frankfurt (Condor ) and Amsterdam (Martinair ).
The strict controls imposed on cruising yachts in the early 1990s have been gradually lifted and rules and regulations are no longer so complicated. However, some restrictions remain in force, mostly for the sake of environmental protection as most of the islands are surrounded by coral reefs near the surface.
Air Seychelles operates multiple daily flights between Mahe and Praslin. Over two dozen flights vary in frequency from 15 minute to 2 hour intervals, depending on time of day.
Air Seychelles also operates once daily or several times per week between Mahe and the islands of Bird, Denis, Fregate, Desroches and Alphonse. Assumption Island and Coetivy can be reached by air charter.
Helicopter Seychelles provides shuttles between the main islands Mahe, Praslin and La Digue as well as charter flights to/from most of the inner and outer islands. Helicopter Seychelles is the only scenic flight operator in the Seychelles. Depending on the timeframe, these scenic flights cover the main islands of Mahé, Praslin, La Digue and the surrounding smaller islands of Cousine, Félicité, Grande Seour, Curieuse and Cousin.
Cat Cocos is a high speed catamaran operating twice or thrice daily roundtrips between Mahe and Praslin. The sailing normally takes one hour. Non residents should budget around 90 Euros per person (price at Sept 2010) for a same day return ticket from Mahe to Praslin. Tickets can be purchased from the Cat Cocos office, opposite the pier, on the same day before travel, subject to availability.
Five or 6 roundtrips daily are made by schooner ferry between Praslin and La Digue. The crossing is 30 minutes and the schedule is timed to interconnect with Cat Cocos. Non residents should budget around 10 Euros per person (price at Sept 2010) for a same day return ticket from Praslin to La Digue.
It is also possible to take small boats from Mahe direct to La Digue, although departures can be unreliable, there is limited wet weather cover and the journey takes about 3 hours (but that's cheaper than an Indian Ocean Island cruise!)
Driving in Seychelles in on the left side of the road. The roads on Mahe are low-traffic, mountaineous, narrow roads, so caution is generally advised.
Having a car is really a good idea and makes life much more simple. For as little as 100 rupees worth of gas you can see the entire island of Mahe in a couple of hours, including stops at beaches and whatever else catches your eye. There is free parking in 'downtown' Victoria on Mahe, and if you go with a B&B or self-catering option for accommodations its by far the easiest way to pick up groceries. A car will also allow you access to the stores where locals do their regular shopping, and the prices are more reasonable as compared to the small convenience stores along the beaches.
There is no substitute for running your vacation on your own schedule.
You can only rent on Mahé and Praslin. You can find a small car (eg: Hyundai Atos) for around 35-45 Euros per day, but keep in mind that renters must be at least 21 years old, have a valid driver's license, and have at least three years of driving experience. There are several car hire counters outside the arrivals hall at Mahe international airport, which provide a convenient way to compare prices from different hire companies. Prices can be negociated, with the better rate available for rental periods of 3 consecutive days or more. The 'excess' payable by the customer in the event of a claim, ranges from 300 to 1000 Euros depending on the company, so choose carefully and ask the right questions.
Taxis are also popular means of transportation for both short trips and day rental and can be obtained almost anywhere. Taxi prices for non-residents (approx. 20 rupees/1.3Euros per km at Sept 2010) on a relatively long trip, can easily exceed the cost of hiring a small car for a day.
Seychelles Public Transport Corporation (SPTC) runs daily bus services on the islands of Praslin and Mahe from morning to evening on nearly every available road on the island. The bus usually passes by every 15 minutes.
Although the bus will get you there, the schedules aren't tight and the drivers are a bit bold on the very narrow roads if you're a nervous passenger.
Languages spoken in the Seychelles are Seychellois Creole, English and French. With the smallest ability in French you'll be able to get around just fine, and a little effort, even a couple of basic polite words, will go a long way to get a smile from the very friendly and helpful locals.
Visit the beaches. Many of the beaches are untouched by man's influence and are refreshingly uncrowded. They offer clear blue skies and a tranquility you will rarely find. A hike along the coastline from Beau Vallon to Anse Major will take about 1.5-2 hours and your reward will be a small deserted beach that's fit for a king. The scenery along the hike is breath-taking. Not all beaches are suitable for swimming depending on the time of year, due to the seasonal winds. Do not ignore warning signs indicating that a beach is hazardous for swimming, no matter how appealing the waters may look.
Vallee de Mai is a national park and world heritage site, home to amazing flora and fauna, including the world's largest seed: the coco de mer. Entrance fee: Free for residents, 315 rupees (~20Euros) for foreigners (Sept 2010).
Aldabra Atoll: The world's largest coral atoll that stretches about 22 miles east to west and encloses a huge tidal lagoon. Aldabra is the original home of the giant land tortoise and tiger sharks and manta rays can also often be seen here.
Watersports: The warm Indian Ocean waters make Seychelles the perfect place for the water enthusiasts. Explore on the board of a yacht, power boat, catamaran or sailboat. Windsurfing is also popular and the best time for this activity is usually around May and October, at the start and end of the trade winds.
Scuba diving, snorkeling, and fishing are also extremely popular and can be done almost anywhere in Seychelles. Baie Ternay is superb and easily acccessible by glass bottom boat tour from Beau Vallon beach - leave yourself an empty day and walk the beach for a 'last minute' booking - great deals can be bartered.
Land Sports: Golf, tennis, squash, badminton, horseback riding, biking and hiking are some of the recreational activities available on the Seychelles Islands. Bike rentals and walking tours are great ways to sightsee and since distances are relatively short and the scenery is beautiful, walking is probably the best way to see the islands. Bird watching is also popular and the islands are home to many of the worlds most treasured and rare species of animals. The best place to do so is Cousin Island which although only 1 km (0.6 miles) in diameter, is home to more than 300,000 birds.
Nightlife: Do not miss most popular Nightclub "Lovenut" in the center of Victoria, 100meters walk from central Taxi station.
Seychelles also has numerous markets, art galleries and shops, colonial Creole-style plantation houses, and the main island of Mahé has six museums, a botanical garden, and several national monuments. The market downtown Victoria has a good selection of local produce, and spices for sale that are all grown locally and 100% authentic.
The islands' currency is the Seychelles rupee (SCR). ATM machines usually have the best conversion rates, however, airports and banks also conveniently exchange money.
Trading in foreign currency, long illegal, was legalized in November 2008, and the currency freely floated. This has also wiped out the previously wide-spread black market, which offered up to twice the official rate. The Euro buys around 15-16 Rupees on Oct. 2010.
The best place for shopping is Victoria, the capital, and more specifically the market at the city center, Seychelles Buy and Sell . There are also a few outlets on the island, Praslin, but few shopping areas on the other islands. Larger hotels have boutiques but shopping in Seychelles is not one of the major attractions.
While visiting, be sure to buy the classic and traditional Seychelles souvenir, the coco-de-mer, or the 'nut of the sea,' a nut from trees native to the islands in the Seychelles - but this requires an export licence. Other locally made souvenirs, although not as unique, can be purchased like sea shell and pearl jewelery, textiles, and straw hats, in addition to needlework & crochet, paintings by local artists, and woodwork.
Most service providers already include a service charge of 5% - 10%. Tipping is not obligatory in the Seychelles, however, any extra change is greatly appreciated.
Seychellois cuisine has been greatly influenced by the islands' rich cultures. Creole cooking, varied seafood dishes, coconuts and curries are the most popular. The main product of the country, fish, is cooked in a variety of ways. Especially the red snapper is very tasty and well known to visitors.
Cheapest food: Collect coconuts on the beach and learn how to open their terrible cover (not the shell, that's easy; they have a thick cover of natural fibres; to open it: hit the coconut very strongly many times on the edges, sooner or later the fibres break up).
Seychelles offers a fantastic nightlife scene that caters to tourists. The active nightlife is mostly located around the larger hotels and in addition to theatres, cinemas and discos, there are numerous fun and trendy restaurants.
If you enjoy a good beer you must try the local Seybrew beer, it tastes similar to a light Bavarian style beer and is a must to get you through those balmy days. You can save yourself a packet buying the beer from stores on the side of the road like the locals do rather than from hotels. A dark Takamaka Rum on the beach under the stars is the best way to end a day on the Seychelles.
The Seychelles are not tolerant of backpackers turning up at the airport without accommodation booked. In such a situation, you will likely be taken to a counter where you will have to book & pay for accomodation for the duration of your trip before being allowed through immigration. Visitors need to provide details of their accomodation on their landing card (Hotel Name, address, phone number), and additionally, being questioned by the immigration officer about their accomodation details ("Is your booking at hotel <x> confirmed?" etc..)
Most accommodations are relatively expensive and some islands have only one hotel. In fact, some of the islands aren't even permanently inhabited and accommodation can be found on fewer than 10. Your best bet for a budget bed is renting an apartment or bungalow, which are available at better rates. Also keep in mind that hotel prices greatly increase and accommodation can be hard to find during the peak seasons from December to January and July to August. Holidays such as Easter can also get very busy.
Most resorts can be found on the main islands of Mahe and Praslin. A few (very) high end ones, like the North Island, have their own private islands.
The University of the Seychelles has a medical degree for Americans.
Public education has been free and mandatory for a ten years period of primary schooling, for children ages six to 16 since 1980. Primary education is followed by five years of secondary education. Seychelles does not provide education at university level, but there is a teacher training college and a polytechnic institute, and as mentioned above, the University of Seychelles - American Institute of Medicine does exist. Because of the absence of higher education facilities, many students study abroad, mostly in the United Kingdom.
Working and doing business in the Seychelles can be difficult due to the the humidity and heat. Forget about wearing a suit or anything resembling one; rather, opt for a light cotton shirt and pants. The atmosphere in the Seychelles is relaxed and it can take a lot of effort to achieve very little.
Tourism is one of the most important sectors of the economy. In fact, about 15 percent of the work force is directly employed in tourism, and employment in banking, transportation, construction, and other activities is closely tied to the tourist industry.
Contrary to previous reports of a low crime rate the Seychelles is now suffering from a crystal methamphetemine epidemic leading to a high risk of robbery. All visitors should take extreme care. The police are ineffective and the court system suffers from corruption. The country does have the 2nd highest number of rapes per capita in the world (to put this in perspective, however: Australia is no. 3 and Canada no. 5 in this statistic). Try to avoid any dark bylanes, and be careful not to leave your bag unattended on sparsely occupied beaches; most locals are poor and would love to get their hands on a wad of dollars or euros. Swimming alone on isolated beaches is not advisable. If sailing don't bring valuables or if you do become adept at finding great hiding places.
There is some sketchy activity along a shady secondary road behind Beau Vallon beach (left hand turn from the Boathouse restaurant), however the locals mostly seem content to admire their flashy cars, and mostly ignore passers-by. There are newly instituted tourist police stationed at every beach on Mahe and are easily recognizable by their blue or white golf shirts, with a tourist police badge sewn on. Very friendly, more than willing to help and keep a good eye, even though you may not see them. They are honest and freely offer advice. Potential thieves are obvious (mostly due to lurking and just don't fit in with the local locals) and tend to hide just off the beach or across the narrow streets near more out of the way beaches. Jail terms are stiff and are strictly enforced since the island makes lots of money from tourism.
Chikungunya virus is a disease spread by mosquitos, and causes flu-like symptoms. It is increasing in concern and although it is rare to die from it, the joint pain it causes can last for months. Insect repellent can help deter mosquitos but not much else can be done as a precaution. The disease is native to East Africa and occasionally is introduced and quickly eradicated.
Tap water is safe to drink in most areas of the Seychelles, but water quality is variable in undeveloped areas. It is recommended to drink bottled water only and to avoid bodies of fresh water like lakes, rivers, ponds, etc.
The environment is a treasured aspect of Seychelles and there are more than 1,000 recorded species of fish around the islands and Aldabra, just one of the islands, is home to the largest population of giant tortoises in the world.