By Tracie May-Wagner with select contributions by Carlos Marcondes

Photo: Courtesy of Gerard Larose [STB]

Located in the Indian Ocean, 932 miles of the East Coast of Africa, the Archipelago country of Seychelles is a globally revered travel vacation destination, known for its bath water warm turquoise blue sea, powder white sand beaches mottled with giant natural granite boulders and stunning dense green jungle mountain tops. Consisting of 115 idyllic islands, it is a unique region where you can relax on the sand, under the shade of the overhanging branches of a Takamaka tree, while sipping water from a freshly prepared coconut and lay next to a 100 plus year old giant Aldabra land tortoise, the country’s indigenous mascot.  Once thought to be the exact location of the mythical Garden of Eden, Seychelles is a truly wondrous place, evoking a profound sense of spiritual calm and serenity.  This past May, I was invited by the Seychelles Tourism Board (STB) to fly to their magnificent country and experience the many wonders it has to offer.  And so, here are my top ten must have experiences when travelling to Seychelles.

1- Scuba dive with Blue Sea Divers in Beau Vallon on Mahé

Photo: Courtesy of STB

Seychelles is known as one of the most prolific countries on planet earth to scuba dive.  Home to a wide variety of exotic marine life species like Giant Moray Eels, Scorpion Fish, Eagle Rays, Reef Shark, Lionfish, Batfish, Frogfiish and the magnificent green sea turtle, and with several well encrusted wrecks and coral reefs to explore, diving is not to be missed when visiting Seychelles.  Located on Labrin Market Road, just off the beach in Beau Vallon, Mahé lies the Blue Sea Divers Dive Shop.  Whether you are an expert diver or a first time novice, their expert team of multi-lingual Dive Instructors, Dive Masters and Boat Captains will guide you through an underwater journey and experience of a lifetime. 

For the seasoned diver, the price for a single tank dive is approximately $60, depending on the current exchange rate, and a two tank dive is $105.  This rate includes weights, belts and tanks, round trip transportation to the boat and a short range boat trip to dive sites. Full equipment rental, including scuba suit, mask, etc. is an additional $12.

For the novice, an intro one tank dive is $110 and includes all equipment rentals, an introduction to diving course with a dive instructor to teach the fundamental skills necessary to breathe and communicate underwater, and a certificate of course completion. A two tank intro dive, with the same above benefits, will cost $170.  They also offer dive safari packages, and special promotions throughout the year.

Visit them on the web at Blue Sea Divers or on IG: @blueseadivers_seychelles  P: (+248) 252 60 52.   E: contact@blueseadivers.com

Lionfish.  Photo: Courtesy of Tony Baskeyfield [STB]

2- Visit the Vallee-de-Mai on Praslin.

Coco-de-Mer.  Photo: Author’s Own

Praslin is the second largest island in Seychelles and home to the legendary Vallee-de-Mai Nature Preserve, so magnificent that it was once believed to be the original site of the Garden of Eden.  One of Seychelles’ two UNESCO World Heritage Sites  this ancient forest is home to the wondrous Coco-de-Mer palm tree, which produces the world’s largest and heaviest nut, the Coco-de-Mer. It also houses several species of birds, plants and reptiles, many of which are solely indigenous to Seychelles including the endemic Seychelles Bulbul Pigeon, Seychelles Warbler and the endangered Black Parrot. Although the dried and hollowed out Coco-de-Mer is available for keep sake purchase at a few local gift shop locations throughout the island, it is deemed highly illegal to poach the nuts while visiting the park as the more than 1,400 Coco-de-Mer Palm Trees were placed under the strictest conservationist protection by the Seychelles Government.  Praslin Island is accessible from Mahé Island via the Cat Cocos Ferry, and free guided tours of the park are available from 9am to 2pm daily. Park admission is 320 Seychellois Rupees or $23 USD.  WEBSITE   

Photo: Courtesy of Gerard Larose [STB]

3-  Hike to the View Point in Fond Ferdinand Nature Reserve in Praslin.

Author After Her Climb to the View Point at Fond Ferdinand.  Photo: Author’s Own

Opened in 2013, the Fond Ferdinand Nature Reserve is not as well-known as the Valle-de-Mai, but is more than six times its size and a truly picturesque park to visit while in Praslin.  Arrive early as you will want to catch a guided tour, which is included in the park’s entrance fee, put on some sturdy sneakers or hiking shoes, fill up your canteen with water from the natural spring at the base of the trail, and get ready to climb up more than 700 carved stone steps, snaking through the mountain, leading to the breathtaking view point at the top.  From this vantage point, you can absorb an incredible view of Praslin itself, as well as the other inner islands of the Seychelles. In one direction you can see Curieuse, Sister Island, Coco Island, Round Island, Felicité, and La Digue, while in the other direction you can spot Frégate, Mahé, and Silhouette. I warn you, this hike is definitely not for the faint of heart, as it is rigorous, to say the very least, but the sense of accomplishment you will feel once you finally reach the top makes the effort utterly worth it.  The price of admission is 100 Rupees or $7.50 and includes the guided tour.  WEBSITE

The Carved Stone Step Trail in Fond Ferdinand Nature Reserve.  Photo: Author’s Own

4- Take a guided SUV tour in and around Victoria, Seychelles’ Capital city

Private Tour Guide- Gilly Mein.  Photo: Author’s Own

Gilly Mein has spent his entire life living and working in Seychelles, and to say that he is a living and breathing Encyclopedia Seychelloisis is a humble understatement.  The wealth and depth of his knowledge of the country’s history, culture and sites is profound, and I was beyond lucky and honored to be granted Gilly as my personal driver and tour guide to take me through the sites in and around Victoria. 

He first took me to Victoria Market, a popular marketplace consisting of fish mongers, fruit, vegetable and spice stands.  Originally built in 1840, and then renovated in 1999, it’s a great place to purchase locally grown and harvested Vanilla, as well as some tourist souvenirs to bring back stateside. Fair warning, if you have a strong sense of smell, you may wish to bring a bandanna to cover your nose as the wafting scent of fish is quite pungent.

Next, we visited the Seychelles National Botanical Gardens, stretching along 5 acres of Mont Fleuri, on the southern outskirts of Victoria.  The National Botanical Gardens offer visitors an up-close look at local flora and fauna. In addition to the towering palm, spice and fruit trees, as well as the fragrant orchid blooms in the orchid house, you will most likely experience a giant tortoise or three as well as some fruit bats, sleeping soundly, peppered in the trees..

Gilly then drove me to a stunningly beautiful lookout point with views of Victoria Harbor and the man made Eden Island.  Eden Island, our next destination, is home to Eden Plaza, a shopping locale offering more than 50 retail boutiques, bars, restaurants, cafes and business services, located on a marina docked with dozens upon dozens of multi-million dollar yachts.

As it is quite hot and humid in Seychelles, being driven to these destinations is that much better when in a chilly air-conditioned luxury SUV, and his price of $250 for a full 8 hour day excursion really cannot be beat.  Gilley Mein can be reached via WhatsApp at +248 2816760 or by email at roymein@gmail.com.

A Fish Monger in Victoria Market.  Photo: Author’s Own

5- Have dinner and drinks at La Bazar Labrin on Beau Vallon Beach, Mahé

Seafood Grilling on Banana Leaves.  Photo: Author’s Own

Every Wednesday evening, just before Sunset, the sandy beachside strip of Labrin Market Road in Beau Vallon transforms into a favored Seychelloisis pop up street market, offering dining, live music and dancing with the locals, all with the mouthwatering smell of freshly prepared Creole cuisine in the air.  Local fishermen unload their late afternoon catch, you walk from stall to stall and choose your fancy from their daily offerings- freshly prepared octopus coconut curry, grilled parrot fish or red snapper, fried sweet plantains, red lentils slow cooked with garlic, onion and ginger and a healthy portion of rice and beans, all cooked to perfection.  Before your meal, be sure and stop by Boat House, at the top of Labrin Market Road, and order a Boat House Rum Punch from Kevin, made with Takamaka Dark and Coconut Rums, Fresh Passion Fruit Juice and Grenadine. So yummy!

Kevin in Front of Boathouse.  Photo: Author’s Own

6- Visit the Takamaka Rum Distillery in Mahé 

Photo: Courtesy of Takamaka Rum

Like Bacardi Rum of Puerto Rico or Myers’s Rum of Jamaica, Takamaka Rum is the signature liquor brand of the Seychelles.  No matter what bar you go to on any of the islands, you will undoubtedly find Takamaka Rum offered on each and every menu.  Founded in 2002 by brothers Richard and Bernard D’offay, the Takamaka Rum distillery is now located at the meticulously restored, historic landmark- La Plaine St. Andre, a beautiful 227 year old Seychelles Heritage Foundation plantation estate.  For approximately $11.50 per ticket, you can take a guided tour of the property, through their beautifully manicured garden of fruit trees, medicinal plants and herbs while absorbing the property’s rich history. You’ll meet Taka and Maka, the estate’s resident giant land tortoises, and if you see a fallen breadfruit on the path, throw it into their pen as it’s their favorite snack.  You will learn the step by step rum production process from cane crushing and fermentation to distillation and aging, and once the tour is complete, you are invited for a rum tasting where you can choose which of the six types of bottled rum you wish to bring home as a souvenir.  WEBSITE

Photo: Courtesy of Takamaka Rum

7- Visit L’Union Estate on La Digue and spend time with giant land tortoises

Photo: Author’s Own

One of my favorite excursions in the Seychelles was my visit to the exquisitely beautiful grounds at L’Union Estate on La Digue.  L’Union Estate was a colonial coconut and vanilla plantation, and vanilla is still cultivated on the grounds to this day, sold in souvenir shops and hotel gift shops throughout the islands.  Have a walk through their 18th century cemetery- you feel like a character in an Anne Rice vampire novel, take a photo of the huge ox sleeping peacefully in the shade of the copra mill and make lots of time to visit the pen of giant Aldabra Tortoises where you may feed and pet them at your leisure.  I personally bonded with an incredible 110 year old tortoise, feeding him grass and stroking his head and neck. When I was about to leave for Anse Source D’Argent, one of the most photographed beaches in the world, my new found friend had other plans for me, and like Steven Spielberg’s ET, he stretched his neck so that he could rest his chin on the pen’s edge as to tell me he was not ready for me to leave, demanding more love.  It was such a magical moment that I actually welled up with tears. Once we finally arrived at the powder fine sand, I put on my snorkel mask and floated in the ocean, watching the colorful and bountiful marine life dance beneath me.

The park has an entrance fee of SCR 100, about $7.25 USD, and is worth spending at least a half day, if not more, both within the Estate grounds and on the magnificent Anse Source D’Argent beach.

The Graves at L’Union Estate.  Photo: Author’s Own

8- Take a guided golf cart tour of La Digue with Marlon

Photo: Courtesy of Marlon

I was lucky enough to get paired Marlon, my tour guide for my day on the beautiful island of La Digue, the third most populated island of the Seychelles.  Once I disembarked the ferry from Praslin, Marlon greeted me on the dock, and proceeded to take me on the most incredible private tour of the island imaginable, driven in his 8 passenger electric golf cart.  Very few Seychellois on the island own cars, so their main means of transportation is electric golf cart, scooter or bicycle, which is easily rented just off the marina docks. As he resides on La Digue, Marlon knows the hidden path through the jungle to every secret beach on the island, his friends own the best places to grab a beer or island fruit rum cocktail and he can even arrange a private afternoon BBQ for you and your guests, grilling the local catches of the day from the fisherman he has on speed dial.  Ask him to take you to American owned Bikini Bottom Bar on Anse Severe Beach for a fresh fruit smoothie and a hang with either Mango or Papaya, their resident giant tortoises. 

I was only on La Digue for one day, but had I known in advance how truly incredible the island is, I would have absolutely altered my schedule.  I cannot wait to go back, and when I do, Marlon will definitely be my point person to create my itinerary and make my vacation completely unforgettable.  Marlon can be reached via WhatsApp at +248 2 599 393 or on Instagram at @dalas2842. Pricing will depend on the type of itinerary you wish to have, but his going rate is $225 for an 8 hour day, including golf cart and it is BEYOND worth it!! 

Author at Bikini Bottom Bar with Papaya. Photo: Author’s Own

9- Visit the private island of La Felicite and stay at Six Senses Zil Pasyon

By Carlos Marcondes

Photo: Courtesy of Six Senses

If nature has a remedy for feeling blue, the private island of La Felicite, (the Island of Happiness) is among its very best recipes. Even more so, if your travels allow you to stay at the Six Senses Zil Pasyon, the ultra-exclusive resort consisting of 30 private villas and 4 residences, all with private infinity pools and architecture inspired by shapes, materials and textures that harmonize with the geography of the island.  Although just an hour long journey by speedboat from the island of Mahé, the majority of the resort’s A-list guests, like Donatella Versace, prefer to disembark onto this small island of Eden from their private helicopters.

Opened just three years ago, Zil Pasyon is considered one of the Indian Ocean’s most exclusive and highly coveted resorts. Their modern villas have been meticulously designed to ensure total privacy, built in between immense granite formations which create natural separation and allow for the perfect marriage of man made architecture and the unique geology of the region.  Committed to conservation and sustainability, they have implemented a system of reverse osmosis water purification, eliminating the use of plastic bottles. They supply their restaurants with organically grown produce, harvested daily from their lush gardens and they have engineered a coral reef restoration program in order to repopulate the island’s surrounding underwater habitat.  Accommodations are both charming and spacious, equipped with intelligent lighting systems and air-conditioning. The spacious and elegantly furnished private bathrooms are well stocked with delicious organic creams, hand soaps, shampoos and conditioners, produced exclusively for the property. Be sure and experience a signature treatment at their wellness spa, take a leisurely walk on their pristine beach, put on your snorkel mask and have a swim as you will most likely encounter a magnificent sea turtle. 

Depending on the time of year, an 1880 sq. ft. one Bedroom Villa is offered at the average daily rate of $2,000.  WEBSITE

Photo: Courtesy of Six Senses

10- Stay at the Four Seasons Resort in Mahé

By Carlos Marcondes

Photo: Courtesy of the Four Seasons

Just ask any islander which is the most acclaimed hotel on the main island of the archipelago and the answer is quick and straightforward- the Four Seasons. Looking over the bay and surrounding mountains, it breathes exclusivity. There is truly nothing like it. Opened exactly a decade ago, the Four Seasons creates conviction that the property reigns sovereign over this paradisaical corner of Mahé. 

Although I arrived to the property in the evening, I was struck by the hilltop accommodations, camouflaged by tropical vegetation creating a ‘half moon’ of 67 villas and 27 homes. But it is at dawn that your eyes truly blink with surprise and awe. The bay of Petit Anse, with its sea of mesmerizing turquoise blue water, is something never before seen and generates sighs amidst even the most seasoned of travelers. 

As you submerge in your villa’s private infinity pool, you truly succumb to heaven. Yet at some point, one “must” abandon the pampering of one’s accommodation, mine a 2,000 sq. ft. villa, and ask for the golf car to set out on an enjoyable adventure and experience the drama and views of sea, sand, mountains and sky: Destination – Petit Anse, the resort’s white sandy beach.  It is compulsory to experience a guided snorkel with their team of biologists from the local foundation responsible for the area’s coastal coral preservation. “We have a well balanced ecosystem and a wide concentration of endemic species in the region. This is something we celebrate. ” explains Jordan the marine biologist, as he takes me to one of the best snorkel dives I’ve ever experienced in my life.

The food at The Four Seasons is simply flawless. If you value creativity, Japanese Koi is an excellent option, as their use of fresh local fish on their menu is truly inspired. Like the spa at Six Senses, the treatments offered at Four Seasons Spa are simply incredible.  Named Hilltop, the spa shares one of the most scenic views on the property’s 170 acres. After your massage, designed specifically for your needs, sip a relaxing tea from the roof top and take in the majestic view of Petit Anse.  Absorb this moment and appreciate your lightness of body as the Four Seasons experience on Mahé will undoubtedly stay with you forever.  WEBSITE

Photo: Courtesy of Four Seasons