With his menacing spear pointed right at me, the tall Maasai warrior slowly stalked closer. About two feet away, he froze; his rugged, red ochre-covered face and piercing glare filled my viewfinder. As I peeked out from behind my camera, his clenched jaw quickly relaxed into a wide grin with gleaming teeth.
Surprisingly, my Maasai interaction didn’t happen in some remote Kenyan village but at Carnival International de Victoria in the Seychelles. Each April, traditionally dressed revelers from around the globe descend on the Seychelles to strut their stuff on the streets of Victoria, the capital. This year’s three-day extravaganza featured more than 1,500 participants from 27 countries and included tumbling Chinese acrobats, scantily clad Brazilian samba girls, Himalayan musicians, Maasai tribesmen, Indonesian dancers and even a few high-stepping cowboy cheerleaders from the United States.
“It’s called Carnival International, which means the world is coming together,” says Alain St. Ainge, the country’s minister of tourism and culture. “Even the United Nations, when they meet, you find politics overtakes the important things of listening to each other. In the Seychelles, people come here and forget their politics, forget religion, forget the color of skin.”
Like ivory-fringed emeralds scattered across a turquoise cloth, the Seychelles brings new meaning to the words “unique” and “paradise.” Scattered across 155,000 square miles of Indian Ocean a few degrees south of the equator, Africa’s smallest nation lies strategically between Africa and Asia and truly lives up to its unique international “crossroads” reputation by attracting visitors and residents from every corner of the globe. Unlike its more Indo-cultured neighbors Mauritius and Madagascar, the Seychelles tilts more to an African heritage.
Of course, Carnival is only one of the country’s many distractions, and with 115 islands to choose from, you’re bound to find one that fits your definition of paradise. Of the 42 permanently inhabited islands, Mahé, Praslin, La Digue, Cousine, Frégate and North Island attract the most visitors. It goes without saying, they’re each unique. As such, the Seychelles remains a favorite decompression destination for the rich, the famous and royalty. Prince William and Kate Middleton, now the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, honeymooned here in 2011.
Home to 90 percent of the country’s population, rugged, granite-topped Mahé is blanketed in tropical rainforest and fringed with postcard bays and white-sand beaches. As the most developed of the islands, it operates as the major port of entry and transit point for travelers heading to the other islands.
The country’s unique melting-pot culture is most apparent in its capital, Victoria — especially in the local market, where you’ll find a wide variety of food, produce, textiles and crafts from across Africa, Asia and other Indian Ocean nations. A throwback from its British Colonial days, a scaled-down 1903 replica of London’s famous Houses of Parliament clock tower stands as a focal point of the city.
Outside of town, luxury resorts hug most of the island’s top beaches. For a more intimate setting, try Anse Soleil beach on the southwest coast. It boasts only a small beach bar and attracts those wanting to escape more popular beaches.
Although its beautiful coastline and beaches beckon, Mahé’s splendid Morne Seychellois National Park offers a look at the island’s interior. The park contains four vegetation zones stretching from coastal mangrove forests to the peak of Morne Seychellois (the island’s highest point at 2,970 feet). Created in 1979, the park’s 12 miles of walking trails provide access to historic sites, grand vistas and unique flora and fauna.
From Mahé many visitors hop on the one-hour ferry or a 20-minute flight to Praslin, the nation’s second-largest island. Besides an abundance of stylish upscale resorts, gin-clear waters and Anse Lazio (the magnificent strand of white sand Giorgio Armani rates the world’s best beach), Praslin also contains two UNESCO World Heritage sites. The Aldabra Atoll is the world’s largest raised coral atoll and home to a large population of indigenous giant tortoises. The second UNESCO site, the lush Vallée de Mai Nature Reserve, features 6,000 native coco de mer palm trees. Averaging almost 40 pounds, the tree’s coco de mer nut is the world’s largest.
Like a tropical paradise magazine ad, laid-back La Digue, a 30-minute ferry ride from Praslin, bewitches visitors with seductive ribbons of soft white sand fringed by lush tropical jungle and jade-green waters. At Anse Source d’Argent, probably the country’s most photographed beach (a favorite in most travel brochures), towering weathered granite boulders scatter across classic white sands. However, the more secluded sensuous arcs of Grand Anse and Petite Anse on the island’s southeast coast remain favorite sandy spots with fashion photographers and their bikini-clad beauties.
La Digue’s main forms of transportation are bicycles and ox-carts, making it a retreat suited more to nature lovers than jet-setters. Its many secluded bays provide the perfect stranded-in-paradise backdrop for those seeking privacy, while the Veuve Nature Reserve in the island’s interior hosts the rare endemic black paradise flycatcher (only about 100 remain). Along the southwest coast, you can explore the old L’Union Estate plantation and copra-processing factory (now an open-air museum). A few dozen 100-year-old giant tortoises also reside at the estate.
As a multi-island destination, the Seychelles offers a wide variety of unique amenities and experiences that appeal to even the most discerning traveler. And as Alain St. Ainge says, the country’s distinctiveness continues to evolve: “We welcome visitors. When they come to the Seychelles, they impart aspects of their own cultures, which in turn add to our cultural mélange and uniqueness.”
Seychelles Info to Go
Seychelles International Airport is on Mahé, about seven miles southeast of Victoria. Buses run every 20–30 minutes from the terminal to the main bus station in Victoria (about 60 minutes). Bus fare to most resorts runs about $1–2. An airport taxi to Victoria, your resort or the ferry terminal costs $7–10. Many resorts offer airport transfers for guests. In 2012, the national carrier, Air Seychelles, reduced its long-haul flights after making a codeshare arrangement with Etihad Airways. Although most international passengers now arrive via Abu Dhabi or Dubai, Air Seychelles still flies to many international gateways such as Geneva (GVA), Berlin (TXL), Bangkok (BKK) and Cape Town (CPT). The adjoining domestic terminal offers plane and heli-flights to neighboring islands.
Where to Stay in the Seychelles
Le Domaine de L’Orangeraie Nestled on a small point between beautiful ribbons of sand, this Zen-inspired property of 55 luxurious villas and a spa exudes peace and harmony. Anse Sévère, La Digue $$$$
Four Seasons Resort Seychelles The 67 stilted, tree house-style villas with spacious balconies hug the forested hillside overlooking the arc of Petite Anse beach and the azure Indian Ocean. Petite Anse, Baie Lazare, Mahé $$$$
Raffles Praslin Seychelles Tucked into the forested hillside above pristine Anse Takamaka beach, the spacious 86 villas and spa bring new meaning to the phrase “barefoot luxury.” Anse Takamaka, Praslin $$$$
Restaurants in the Seychelles
Café Des Arts Situated right on the beach, this stylish Praslin restaurant houses an art gallery and serves up refined, flavorful Seychellois delicacies such as red snapper fillet in passion fruit sauce. Anse Volbert, Praslin $$$
Chez Batista This thatched-roof eatery on the southwest coast of Mahé features a sand floor, fantastic ocean views and the best seafood on the island. The eclectic Sunday lunch buffet is a must. Anse Takamaka, Mahé $$$
Lanbousir The intimate, open-air, sand-floored culinary oasis serves an array of local Creole delicacies, like curried fish with coconut sauce and spicy mango salad. L’Union Estate, La Digue $$
Read more about the coco de mer palm trees.
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