My visit to Seychelles was not a touristy one. I was Advisor to the Ministry of Women’s Affairs on a UNDP assignment, and travelled to the island to visit Micro-Finance projects. Reading reports and meeting stakeholders took most of my time. But did I mention that I had previously visited the island with a filming crew? as an acting Director, and my mission was to bag raw footage for a corporate film for the the Ministry of Industry and Commerce. The crew members were my long time friends in the Advertsing industry where I started my career.
For both missions, I have to admit that as a Mauritian, I wanted to see for myself how do the beaches cut in beauty as compared to those of my island.
You know you have arrived by the strong glare you get as soon as you set foot out of the plane. On a clear day, you can see at least four shades of blue in the water, and when you walk closer on the soft white sand, you can see the base of the sea. The blues of the Indian Ocean can cure any other kind of blues, I tell you. When I faced the granite boulders on Praslin and La Digue beaches, probably the most photographed ones in the world, I knew that Mauritius hit a minus point there! The tantalising hues of the sky and the ocean with its powder white impeccable beaches, crashing waves, fringed by supermodel tall palms and Takamaka trees, the beach is a crescent shaped moon of paradise … just deliver!
However, I felt my head melting under the fierce sun as I sweated under the heavy humidity, hmm… not as cool as Mauritius.
At first glance, Seychelles can seem like a sibbling of Mauritius, but there’s so much that sets them apart. Seychelles feels a bit more rustic, a bit more adventurous, with so many islands to hop to, the forests and birds in its interiors, the dramatic hilly backdrops, and the contagious susagade lifestyle of the locals. It reminded me a bit of Sri Lanka, Goa and Rodrigues. Not much available if yo are a creature loving your comforts, but in the big hotels. The rest of the island has not witnessened much or urbanisation, nor industrialisation.
When the British gained control of the islands during the Napoleonic Wars, they allowed the French upper class to retain their land. Both the French and British settlers used enslaved Africans, and although the British prohibited slavery in 1835, African workers continued to come. Thus the Gran blan (“big whites”) of French origin dominated economic and political life. The Indians, like a similar minority of Chinese, were confined to a merchant class.
President Albert René ousted James Mancham with a coup d’etat in 1977 discouraged over-dependence on tourism and declared that he wanted “to keep the Seychelles for the Seychellois”, in fact he wanted the island to himself. Control the people and allow no foreigners he did not like. During his tenure, he was accused of involvement in criminal activity, among which money laundering and murder. The island knew mercenaries coups, and other political turmoils that kept the island closed from the rest of the world for lack of security.
Good news is that with passing years and new policies under different political powers, the island grew in popularity when it opened its first world class hotel. Environmental legislation is very strict, and every tourism project must undergo an environmental review and a lengthy process of consultations with the public and conservationists.
Education was given priority after tourism. Literacy rate for school-age children rose to more than 90% by the late 1980s. Many older Seychellois had not been taught to read or write in their childhood; adult education classes helped raise adult literacy from 60% to a claimed 100% in 2014. Due to its British history, despite being a despot in late days, English was much encouraged among the Seychelles Creole and French. Here, should I add that the 3 Patois Creoles of the Mascarene islands are quite very different from each other. The Patois Seychellois is very singy songy and charming. People are polite and very friendly.
If you’re planning a paradise island holiday then you’ve probably got palm-fringed beaches and warm turquoise water in mind. You’ll want beachfront accommodation, delicious seafood and opportunities to both relax and explore.With fewer visitors spread out over many islands, it’s the Seychelles that offers more exclusivity and privacy. A hotel with more than 25 beds is described as ‘large’ in the Seychelles and the archipelago is justly famous for its deserted beaches. Mauritius is a single island, ringed by reefs and beaches; the Seychelles Archipelago comprises 115 islands – some large and developed, others tiny and deserted. Many are marine reserves and several are privately owned. Mauritius attracts four times the number of annual visitors. There is exclusive world class 5-star hotels of course but Mauritius is mostly about got-it-all resorts, exotic live entertainment, superb food, safety, 18-hole golf courses and water sports.
This isn’t to say there’s nothing to do in the Seychelles. Although all motorised sports are banned in Seychelles for so called onservation reasons, this means the diving and snorkelling is fantastic.The Seychelles is also home to world class big-game and salt-water fly-fishing …. isn’t that against conservation rule, in any way? … there are activities like windsurfing and sailing. The Inner Islands rest on an easy-to-access shallow plateau and the pristine Outer Islands offer experienced divers barely explored reefs.
However, there’s no mistaking the greater privacy and exclusivity of the Seychelles as well as its different natural beauty. Its beaches often also make it into top beaches of the world surveys like Mauritius, but as a guest on one of the archipelago’s private islands , you can enjoy an azure corner of the Indian Ocean all to yourself. I have heard accounts of people who boast about having an island in the Seychelles, but from close quarters as an islander and knowing some of the ins and outs, we have not heard about sale of islands except to a couple of billionaires and royalty. Unlike the island of Moyenne which was sold to an ordinary Brit for £8000, but that was very long ago. The island policy abides by state land under strict conservancy laws.
The Seychelles is all about highly personalised service due to its tiny tourist population and number of hotels – think a low-key private butler anticipating your every need – while Mauritius has a fantastic hospitality ethos that includes big smiles and highly trained staff. With a long tradition of conservation behind it, the Seychelles is home to several marine parks as well as forest and mountain reserves. Swim with the plankton-eating whale shark – the world’s largest fish – in the protected waters of the Seychelles; visit Cousine Island, its entire 27 hectares a designated bird and turtle nature reserve; and head for far flung Aldabra Island where a 150 000-strong colony of giant tortoises can be found.
Mauritius has always been known for its world-class hotels and the island is home to several astonishingly decadent resorts and Michelin-starred chefs but the Seychelles has caught up with Mauritius in terms of exclusive luxury accommodation.
Resorts in the Seychelles tend to be smaller and the lodgings more luxurious. Private islands such as Denis and North island are completely exclusive to their guests while sole-use beachfront villas across the archipelago offer the ultimate in private living. Beautiful North Island is where Prince William and Kate Middleton chose to spent their honeymoon.
Does it not say enough? royalty, honeymoon luxury … I believe given the opportunity, you should sample both islands !