Aaah, the romantic notion of an island holiday marked by long, lazy days on a tropical beach with a never-ending flow of exotic cocktails and seafood platters that entice you. Don’t forget the sunset, simply the best you’ve ever seen — until the next evening.
South Africans are spoilt for choice, with a variety of tropical islands within relatively easy reach, and options catering for a range of budgets. If you put a few more ZAR away and co-opt some like-minded friends to share in your tropical frivolities, not to mention the costs, an adventure awaits when you up your island explorer game and embark on a sailing trip around the 115 islands that make up the Seychelles.
Well, at least as many as you can pilot your catamaran around in seven days.
The Island Nation of Seychelles
The archipelago lies just off East Africa. Mahé, the main island, houses the capital city of Victoria. It also serves as a hub for visiting the other islands and will be your first Seychellois contact as you encounter the turquoise waters of this island paradise. The Eden Island development on Mahé is where many charters are moored and nothing beats the feeling of your first walk along the gently swaying jetty, just moments before laying eyes on your home for the next seven days.
Here are five things every South African should be sure to do, when sailing around Seychelles.
1. Cycle on the bicycle island of La Digue
Step onto the jetty on La Digue Island and you will immediately understand why it is known as the bicycle island. They are everywhere and easy to rent.
Find a colour that speaks to your adventurous soul, adjust the saddle and you’re good to go. I spent a glorious Saturday morning taking in island life along the main road around La Digue.
Discover the brightly coloured façade and white trim of the Notre Dame de L’Assomption church, stop and say hi to one of the giant Aldabra tortoises on the island — they live beyond 100 years — and stock up with some fresh fruit at the local market. When you find yourself out of breath, courtesy of a few ups and downs along the road, pop in at Takamaka Rum Café for a drink and a dip in the ocean.
The terrain is easily navigable (even I could manage it) but don’t feed the giant tortoises, locals do a good job of looking after them.
2. Take a walk on Curieuse Island
This small 1.82 square kilometre granitic island, about 52km from Mahé, is a nature-lover’s paradise. In fact, much of Seychelles is exactly that but Curieuse lays claim to having the longest boardwalk in the Seychelles.
Until the mid-20th century the island was home to a quarantine station for lepers. Landing at Baie Lazare, follow the trail up the rocks and through the mangrove forest, parts of which include the boardwalk, for a gentle 45-minute walk across the island to Anse St José.
If you have a capable skipper, as we did, ask them to arrange a spot for you at the beach barbecue at the end of your walk. Lunch starts at 12:30 and you get to share Creole cuisine at a communal table and chat to fellow travellers.
3. Support sustainable tourism on Cousin Island
Extensive efforts by Nature Seychelles, dating back to the early 1970s, have transformed this former coconut plantation island into a carbon-neutral bird sanctuary. These efforts have been well rewarded with several bird species being brought back from imminent extinction, including the magpie robin.
Embark upon a guided tour through the tropical forest, which is home to a variety of birds, giant tortoises and lizards. They don’t see humans as a threat, thanks to the sanctuary status, which allows for close encounters. Be warned; it is a tropical forest so be sure to wear a long-sleeved shirt and long pants and stay away from black clothing. Mosquitoes abound in their thousands and love the colour black. Just ask the guy who wore his speedo on our tour.
4. Explore the capital city, Victoria
Victoria is a bustling city on the north-eastern side of Mahé. Originally settled in 1778 by the French, the city has many attractions worth a visit.
The Sir Selwyn Selwyn-Clarke Market dates back to 1840 and is best visited early in the morning to take advantage of the fresh fish and spices on offer. Keep an eye out for Little Big Ben in the centre of town, installed in 1903 to mark the death of Queen Victoria two years earlier.
Back on the Eden Island development, dance up a storm at the Boardwalk Bar and Grill. They have a DJ in the evenings and he is open to suggestions to tailor your evening entertainment.
5. Treat yourself to street food in Beau Vallon
Located on the north-western coast of Mahé, Beau Vallon is one of the most beautiful beaches on the island. Clear waters and coral reefs lure divers and snorkellers, while the street food vendors along the promenade draw in foodies.
Tap into the true essence of island life, and its slower pace, in this seaside town that has a variety of bars and restaurants.
The Seychelles is a year-round destination, with April being especially humid. Many carriers fly into Mahé — I flew in on Ethiopian Airlines after a brief stop-over in Addis Ababa. I was a guest of charter company Sunsail Holidays, spending my seven days on a four-cabin catamaran, which allowed for sufficient space on board (we were four adults) with great yacht manoeuvrability around the islands.
The skipper is included in the catamaran hire and I soon learnt that this role is essential to a successful trip not only in terms of technical knowledge, but also hospitality and insights into local spots and culture. Our skipper, Danielle Bamboche, was a star. She was able to secure fish from passing fishermen, find stores on remote islands and shared many Creole cooking secrets with us. Legend.
Get Island Hopping
An island-hopping holiday trumps the traditional model of being on one island for seven days. Book the cat, get to Mahé and start sailing from one gorgeous beach to another, interspersed with dramatic sunsets and sunrises that change like the eternal summer wind blowing on the Indian Ocean.