Seychelles: How my trip reminded me of home — the Philippines

Given the opportunity to travel again after being locked up at home by the COVID-19 pandemic was such a breath of fresh air. And it certainly helped that my destination was no less a paradise for weary travellers like me looking for a much-needed respite: Seychelles, the famed archipelago in the Indian Ocean.

As the Emirates flight took off for the four-hour journey from Dubai to Mahe, the main island of Seychelles, I could not help but think of the beautiful white sand beaches and picturesque nature scenes — coconut trees, fresh fruits, a peaceful life. And Seychelles indeed did not disappoint.

From the moment we landed, it was clear what we could look forward to: a simple, uncomplicated life and an adventure full of nature’s bounty. Growing up in the island of Cebu, Philippines, my visit to Seychelles only made me miss island life even more.

During the trip, we visited three of the famous islands in Seychelles — Mahe, La Digue and Praslin. My personal favourite is La Digue, located some 43km from the main island of Mahe and 6.5km from Praslin.

La Digue

The fourth-largest island in Seychelles, La Digue is a granite island that receives its visitors mainly by a ferry boat at a quaint jetty in the village of La Passe.

As we arrived at the ferry pier, we were greeted by locals singing distinctive Seychelles music, but there was one thing I immediately noticed on the island, something most city dwellers like me would find unusual: there were very few vehicles in the streets. Instead, the majority of people — citizens and tourists alike — travel using bicycles or they simply just walk. Yes, the primary means of transportation is the bicycle, which is something of a pleasant surprise for me. In fact, it was one of the things I liked most about the island. You rarely see people using cars or other vehicles in the island. And getting on a bike was easy with rental facilities located near the ferry pier.

A visit to the island, however, wouldn’t be complete if you don’t get a chance to see and take a snap of one of its most famous beaches — Anse la Source d’Argent. Locals call the place the “postcard” of Seychelles as it is said to be the most-photographed beach in Seychelles. The beach has also been used as the backdrop for numerous advertising campaigns for brands like Bounty Chocolate.

To truly have an authentic La Digue experience, a visit to L’Union Estate is a must. Thousands of tourists flock L’Union Estate every year to see and experience the big and towering granite rock formations, one of the most-photographed formations on Earth. Apart from the big granite rock formations, La Digue’s L’union estate park is also one of the popular tourist attractions. It comprises Aldabra giant tortoises pen, copra (dried coconut kernels) factory, vanilla plantation and the cemetery of the first settlers of La Digue Island. The giant land tortoise is endemic to the islands of the Aldabra Atoll in the Seychelles. It is one of the largest tortoises in the world.

Praslin island

While it is a famous destination for beach lovers and honeymooners, the 115-island archipelago in the Indian Ocean is also a haven for nature lovers and adventure seekers. With its natural charm and having plenty of activities to choose from, every island we visited certainly had something special to offer along with its own hidden gems.

So when we moved to Praslin island, it indeed felt like a new adventure. Praslin is the second-largest island of Seychelles, lying northeast of the main island of Mahe. It is accessible by domestic flights 15 minutes from the main island. It was named Isle de Palmes by explorer Lazare Picault in 1744. During that time, it was used as a hideaway by pirates and Arab merchants. In 1768 it was renamed Praslin in honour of French diplomat Cesar Gabriel de Choiseul, duc de Praslin.

It was easy to understand why the island was used as a hideaway by pirates: it features a lush forest. While the two other islands we visited distinctively offered the island living experience most people have come to associate with Seychelles, Praslin features its own distinctive vibe mainly as a nature park. One of the best places to visit is Vallee de Mai Nature Reserve, which was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983, recognising the outstanding value of its forest. The nature reserve consists of a well-preserved palm forest, flagship species made up of the island endemic coco de mer, as well as five other endemic palms.

It is said that the landscape here can feel very much pre-historic, and it does feel like that when you get to see some of the indigenous plants and wildlife that’s like no other you’ve seen before. One that really caught my attention was the coco de mer, a monocot tree in the Arecaceae (palm) family that has the largest seeds (double nut seed/double-lobed coconut) of any plant in the world. And unlike the coconut palm, the coco de mer palm has separate male and female trees. It is the female tree that produces the fabled fan-shaped seeds, which is also the world’s heaviest, weighing in at between 15kg and 30kg. For centuries it was thought to come from a tree beneath the ocean.

Mahe

The main island of Seychelles, Mahe, is home to the archipelago’s capital, Victoria, where you can visit many of the country’s historical and landmark sites. At the centre of Victoria is the Victoria Clocktower. Some people call it the small version of Big Ben. Built in England, the clock tower arrived on the island in nine cases and it took nine days to put it in place. It was unveiled on April 1, 1903. The simple structure is steeped in history and many tourists make it a point to drop by for a few snapshots.

Hinduism is actually Seychelles’ second-largest religion after Christianity, so an important stopover for practitioners is the Arulmigu Navasakti Vinayagar Temple, the first and the only Hindu temple in Seychelles. With Ganesha as the presiding deity, the temple easily stands out as one of most beautiful historical structures in the city.

One of the must-go beaches here is the Beau Vallon Beach. It is the island’s most famous and popular beach — for both tourists and locals — and one of the longest beaches in Seychelles, perfect for a lazy stroll to unwind as you enjoy the view of beautiful scenery and different water sports activities, which was what my fellow travellers did while we were there. There are also plenty of souvenir items sold in the area.

Food

The food in Seychelles was equally amazing. Naturally, it features a wide array of seafood, and one of the local delicacies you should try is the octopus curry, a beloved dish that strongly reflects the fusion of cultures that exists in the archipelago. The octopus curry (Kari Zourit) is considered as Seychelles’ “national food”. The Seychelles Creole dish is available anywhere — be it in luxury hotels or restaurants.

There’s also plenty of fruits and vegetables, with the Sir Selwyn Selwyn-Clarke Market the best place to check out the island’s fresh produce. Plus, you can also find gift and souvenir shops there.

If you are looking for shops to buy souvenir items, visit the souvenir kiosk fiennes esplanade. It is just a short walking distance from the Sir Selwyn Selwyn-Clarke Market. One of the most famous souvenir items to buy is the coconut oil.

Legendary hospitality

Looking for a place where you can unwind, relax and be in touch with nature? Then Seychelles is a must on your bucket list. But looking back on that trip, I realise that all the beautiful places we visited and all the great food we feasted on we’re really just one part of what makes Seychelles a must-visit destination. What really tied it together as a wonderful vacation experience was the hospitality of the people. Seychelles does not only offer beautiful places, it also boasts friendly and warm people who will truly make you feel at home in these islands.

UAE travellers can plan their travel from a range of holiday packages, with Emirates Holidays offering a three-night stay with curated experiences starting from Dh4,699 per person. Flights from Dubai take around four hours, with both locations having the same time zone.

Coconut leaf hats

Since coconut is a big industry in the islands, among the locals’ many handicrafts are items made of handmade-coconut leaf like hats, vegetable tray and even brooms.

Mango House Seychelles

Having a great place to stay will make your holiday in Seychelles even more memorable. One of the unique places to go is the Mango House Seychelles, which recently opened this year. The place offers a homey feel – staying away from the mould of traditional luxury hotels. It was once the grand family home of Italian fashion photographer Gian Paolo Barbieri.

Health regulations

Seychelles is proud to be a disease-free environment: there is no risk of contracting malaria or yellow fever. UAE travellers to Seychelles are required proof of a negative COVID-19 test, conducted within 72 hours of the date of travel.

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