10 Things To Remember When Travelling To The Seychelles

Imagine clear blue seas, white sandy beaches, palm trees heavy with coconuts, local markets, friendly people and all the sea food you could eat. Sound like paradise right? The Seychelles was even more beautiful than I pictured it and there was so much more to this little cluster of islands than I expected. I was invited along by a family friend for a birthday trip and I happily signed up without really knowing what to expect so I thought I would pass on a few tips to help anyone about to travel to the Seychelles prepare for their trip.

Here are 10 tips for what you should remember when travelling to the Seychelles so you know just what to expect for yourself.

1 – Bring Your Snorkel!

Seriously. I’ve never been anywhere where the snorkelling was so consistently good. Jump on the new full-face snorkel craze and find out just how much to see right off the beach. We spotted cuttlefish, starfish, a couple of stingrays, a multitude of colourful parrotfish and so much more! The beaches may be the main thing to do on the Seychelles but there is a good reason for that. Usually you’ll have your 3 standard types of beaches everywhere you go; the tourist beach that is fairly good but is the easiest and most popular to get to, the stony beach often still in a fairly good location but not as comfortable to sit and relax on and the perfect out of the way beach, the one that has fine sand and calm seas but is usually more of a trek to get to. Not so in the Seychelles. Every beach is a number three beach! Some had rougher seas and some you couldn’t swim on at all but all had lovely stretches of sand, turquoise ocean and absolutely every one had amazing snorkelling.

 

2 – Dive a Little Deeper

If you’re not satisfied with merely floating around on the surface there are a good few dive centres as well. We went with Kempinski Dive Centre but there was also Blue Sea Divers and several other centre at the main hotels. It is an easy place to dive if you are a beginner as many of the reefs are quite shallow. We were lucky enough to see a turtle but there are also black tipped and white tipped reef sharks and you might be lucky enough to see whale sharks! Apparently the peak time to see them is October but when we went early in the month there hadn’t been any sightings yet. These gentle giants are less scary than they sound (don’t worry, they eat plankton not divers) but their sheer size makes them a sight to see in the wild.

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3 – Watch Out For Bats!

They may have a bad reputation for turning into blood sucking monsters but imagine floating in the sea at dusk, the sky a swirl of purple and indigo as black silhouettes glide overhead. During the day you can hear them chattering in the trees or finding a comfortable place to snooze upside-down. The Seychellois

apparently love bats almost as much as I do… just not quite in the same way… Fruit bat is apparently a very tasty dish on the Seychelles. I didn’t see it on any menus when eating out but we stayed for one night in Victoria and the owner of our apartment was stringing up nets in the nearby tree to catch the poor unsuspecting creatures. I’m not sure if he caught any but the BBQ was definitely sizzling and ready to go when we left to find a more conventional dinner.

 

4 – Beware of the Roads!

If you’ve gone careening down the Bolivian Death Road then you might feel right at home swerving and bouncing along the narrow roads of the Seychelles, otherwise you might want to be wary. Travelling with Irish friends one pointed out that the roads were no narrower than those in Ireland but the difference here is that if you pull over you won’t be crammed into a bush you’ll be tumbling down the rocky drops or deep trenches that line the roads! Buses frequently speed around the island but otherwise if you want to get around hiring a car is your best option – just be careful and watch for the dongas!

 

5 – It’s Not Cheap

Unless you stay somewhere like the stunning Four Seasons Hotel on Mahe island, travelling the Seychelles won’t break the bank but it’s certainly not the place to go if you are a budget traveller. We kept costs down by staying in a self-catering villa and cooking for ourselves but eating out could quickly rack up your costs. A simple curry dish you might expect to pay between £8-£10 for in the UK could be anywhere between £10-15 on the island. Even buying food from the shops will depend on availability as one day that delicious mango juice you bought for breakfast will be on the shelves and the next time not. The main place your spending money will be disappearing fast though is activities. We spent €150 per person for a trip to the neighbouring islands of Le Dique and Praslin. It was nice to explore different islands and have a break from chilling on beaches (I know, such a hard life) but it was not worth the money. However if you want to do it there is not many other options. Even getting the public ferry over will set you back for between €45-60.

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6 – Seychelles Accept Euros

It’s a small point to make but always a handy thing to know. Seychelles have their own currency of Seychelle Rupees but you won’t be able to get hold of these in the UK. There are banks (even Barclays), ATMS and money exchange in Victoria town so it will be easy to get currency once you arrive but if you want a little cash to start you off then Euro is widely accepted and sometimes even preferred over Seychelle Rupee.

 

7 – Head to Beau Vallon Beach for Watersports

If sunbathing and reading on the beach isn’t enough for you there are plenty of watersports available too. We tried paddle boarding at the Four Seasons hotel, most of which will offer kayaking and paddle boarding but if you’re looking for a bit more head to Beau Vallon Beach on Mahe island. The prices are reasonable (for the Seychelles) and they offer wakeboarding too! Surfing is available as well but the Seychelles isn’t known for its waves so your surf costs may include a ride to a different beach.

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8- Try Fresh Fish at the Markets

Near Beau Vallon Beach you’ll find the market. There are some souvineers but the main thing to go for is the food, the best of which being grilled fresh fish. Now I’m not a fish person (other than when I’m in the water myself) but this BBQ snack was delicious! If you’re not feeling fish then there are lots of fruit markets too where I had some tiny juicy mangos and mini sweet bananas. If it’s coconut your craving you’ll be sorted too, we spent half our holiday trying to figure out how to break into the tough husks before the cleaner at our villa showed us how to prize it open with the end of a pick axe before splitting the shell with the back of a cleaver. Don’t worry, the markets sell them ready cracked though!

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9- Say Hello to the Local Giants

I thought I would be lucky to see one or two giant tortoises but turns out they are more common than I thought. There are plenty of places to see these lazy creatures stretching their necks and limbs out in the sun. We found some down at the Four Seasons resort on Mahe where they do feedings at 4pm you can join in with, at the botanical gardens in Victoria you can also get involved with a feeding and on La Digue there was a collection of tortoises whose age ranged between 25 to over 100 years old! Though I didn’t go myself I’ve heard there is an island called Curieuse where they roam totally free!

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10 – A Final Word of Warning!

You won’t want to leave.

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Why I Love This Photo

At first glance all you can see in this photo is an orangutan trapped behind bars looking miserable. His hands grasp the bars and his face, so human in its expressions, tells of an animal who is fed up and depressed. These things are true to a certain degree but although a picture speaks a thousand words, they might not be the words you were first expecting. 
This is George, a rescued orangutan at Matang Wildlife Centre in Kuching, Borneo and he is sulking because his neighbour, Peter, has received an enrichment toy and is happily peeling apart a coconut with his teeth as if it were a banana while George goes without. He will get his turn but he doesn’t know that yet; the point is that when it comes to wildlife conservation there is more to the picture than meets the eye.

I spent two weeks on a volunteering tour with The Great Projects that began with a short stay at Matang. Straight away it was a real eye opener. One of the permanent volunteers working there told us frankly that what we would see at the centre we woudn’t be happy with and neither were they. The fact is the place is underfunded, understaffed and overcrowded. Animals are in enclosures too small for them or share them with too many other animals but the fact is, these animals are still in much better conditions than they were when they were rescued. On our first day we were taken on a tour around the centre and saw a crane who was tied to the same spot on someone’s front lawn as an ornament. Many other animals, from clouded leopards to song birds, were kept as exotic trophy animals, abused and mistreated by owners who didn’t know how to look after them and didn’t care.

This poor guy was tied in one spot on someone front lawn as nothing more than a live ornament

Orangutans are no exception either. They are tied to porches, kept in tiny cages with little food and made to dress up and take photos with tourists or perform in shows. Yet many at Matang will never be released into the wild again, either because of the red tape the government puts up when finding a suitable place to release them, or because there is little suitable habitat left or even because they have become too damaged, too habituated to humans to ever survive in the wild again. As saddened as we were to see that such incredible creatures kept in such small encloures, we knew that they were better off at Matang than anywhere else.
We were there to help though and eager to know how to do that. To begin with we felt like we were getting an easy ride on the volunteering front. We got to relax on the beach, drink too much rice whiskey with locals in their bamboo longhouse and raft down the river on their bamboo rafts, yet what we were doing all the time was gathering an awareness about the situation in Borneo. 
From the beginning we knew that there would be no touching or holding of the orangutans even though several centres in Borneo still offer this but it was only after we arrived at Matang that it was fully explained why this doesn’t happen. For starters a staggering amount of baby orangutans will die from exposure to human diseases. It might seem cute to have those long arms wrapped around your neck but while you are back home showing off your pictures to friends and family that baby could be dying from a disease you inadvertently gave to them. Apes and humans have a lot in common and unfortunatly that includes some of the same health risks. Sometimes it is impossible to release an orangutan (the same applies to many other animals too) into the wild because they have become too habituated to humans, relying on them for food meaning they can’t take care of themselves in the wild. With this in mind you’ve got to remember that the aim for these babies is to release them into the wild and the less human contact they have the better.

Aman wants us to get his best side of him in his leaf hat

It has definitely made me question every animal experience I have had; even my recent experience swimming with whale sharks in Oslob, Philippines. Online there are people clammering to find oppportunities to do volunteer projects that will allow them to hold orangutans and the majority of these people are clearly animal lovers and only wanting to do the best or a species they feel passionate about, but the best thing you can do if this is true is to educate yourself. Question whether what you are doing is actually what is best for the animal rather than what is best for your instagram account. I would recommend swimming with whale sharks because being so close to these huge gentle creatures was incredible but would I recommend swimming with them in Oslob? No. Half an hour in water crowded with other tourists where the whale sharks are encouraged to stay in the area rather than follow their natural migration patterns was not worth it. There are tours where you spend half a day tracking down whale sharks in the wild and swimming besides them for as long as they will allow. To me, that sounds like a much more authentic experience and I wish I had done it on this trip but unfortunatly I fell into the trap of doing what was easiest for me not what benefitted the whale sharks the most.

 The same desire for an authentic experience applies to my time with The Great Projects. At the end of the two weeks we spent several days in Batang Ai national park, a place where orangutans still roam free. It is rare to get the opportunity to see them though and permanant volunteers told us they had either never seen one in the wild or it had taken months or years to get the chance. We kept our expectations low and reminded ourselves that we would certainly see evidence of them, that seeing their nests and food they had eaten would be enough, just to know that they are out there, enjoying their freedom. On the first day we saw these signs and our guide, Alvin, told us there was likely a mother and a baby in the area but she was obviously being cautious and staying out of sight. The second day we began our trek, enjoying clambering over tree roots and through dense foliage, keeping our eyes peeled for movement but not expecting much. We stopped to take a break and Alex, a woman on the tour, noticed the distinctive swaying of an orangutan swinging from tree to tree, rather than branch to branch like other monkeys. We all gathered around and then we saw her silhouette amongst the branches, pulling leaves down to eat, seemingly unaware of us looking on.

Then she moved. We followed her up and down through the jungle and finally perched on a hill to watch her. We could only catch glimpses of her through the trees but there was one magical moment when she looked directly at us, her baby close to her side. A wild animal watching us, watching them. 

You might not be able to see the orangutan in this picture but its perfect just the way it is as its the moment we first saw mother and baby in the wild

This is why you should volunteer, to capture these rare moments and know that the process is slow and hard but worth it for every animal that makes it back or remains in the wild. It is why I love this photo; it is a reminder that wildlife conservation isn’t how it should be but that there is still hope. There are people at Matang (the “hippies” as Alvin would call them) who are working tirelessly, giving up months and years of their lives to work for free because they believe in the cause. They are up against a lot, from the government to oil palm industries, the exotic pet trade to killings for nonsense medicinal remedies, habitat destruction and more. The list goes on. But they won’t give up and neither should you.

Alvin giving us one of his informative lectures on wildlife conservation

Supporting causes, especially small locally run ones like The Great Projects offer, is a very real way you can help. Taking the information they give you and using it to educate others is important too. We should all be asking questions about animal encounters, even if they are difficult questions to ask. We should all begin to trust our gut instinct when we feel that something is wrong. Don’t think about how many likes your photo will get on facebook, think about what that animal has been through to get there beside you. Think about George and how he might be happily tearing into his enrichment toy, living a much better life at Matang than he was before, but also how he shouldn’t be there in the first place. It might be too late for George, but I love this photo because maybe, with people like the volunteers I met on my Great Projects tour, it might not be too late for others.

It’s ok George, you’ll get your coconut soon!