The Seychelles' 115 paradisiacal islands are home to some of the world's finest, most stunning beaches, many offering unparalleled seclusion. Some of the islands' best include Anse Lazio and Volbert on Praslin; scenic Anse Cocos, private Anse Marron and Anse Source d'Argent on La Digue; and Anse Takamaka on Mahe Island.
Many of the archipelago's islands are populated by giant Aldabra tortoises, and bird species number 250, 12 of those being unique to the islands. Mahe Island's Port Launay Marine National Park is the place to head for whale shark sightings, and Praslin Island is home to the country's national bird - the Seychelles black parrot. Cousine Island is where visitors are encouraged to take part in wildlife conservation projects (and spot free-roaming giant tortoises and rare bird species along the way). A mere 3km away from there is Fregate Island, known especially for its chelonian inhabitants.
The Seychelles' unique marine biodiversity and appealing crystal-clear waters create the perfect conditions for underwater discovery. For snorkelling, head to one of the best sites of the Indian Ocean - Sainte Anne Marine National Park - or take advantage of the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to swim alongside whale sharks on Mahe. Diving is another way to get close and personal with reef inhabitants (humphead parrotfish, octopus, various types of sharks - including hammerhead, if you're in luck). Seychelles Underwater Centre
Mahe Island's spectacular national park is one of the archipelago's unmissable attractions. Hike up Morne Blanc, the highest peak in all of the Seychelles, along the Morne Blanc Hiking Trail (which cuts through lush mangrove forest), and be duly rewarded by the spectacular views unfolding from the observation deck at the top.
The UNESCO-listed Vallée de Mai Nature Reserve is another one of the Seychelles' must-dos. Take a guided tour through the primeval forest (free tours are given at 9am and 2pm daily) and see endemic trees, the curious fruit of coco de mer palm (the trees only grow in two places in the world, and nuts grow up to 42 kilos heavy), and a plethora of rare bird species.
The now privately-owned Bird Island is the archipelago's northernmost, tellingly named after its incredible population of birds. The Bird Island Lodge provides eco-friendly accommodation and delicious meals, and further pursuits include snorkelling, dolphin-watching, and meeting the island's largest inhabitant - the 300kg tortoise Esmeralda.
The volcanic island of Silhouette is significantly younger than its nearby siblings, formed by a volcanic eruption 63 million years ago (compare to Mahe Island's venerable age of 650 million years). It is home to the archipelago's arguably most affordable luxury resort, Hilton Seychelles Labriz Resort & Spa. The island's reef is one of the best in the archipelago, with nature trails and diverse flora and fauna adding to the appeal.
Perched on a scenic mountainside along the way to Morne Seychellois National Park is the Seychelles' own Tea Factory, which offers short tours taking visitors through all steps of the tea-making process. Try the islands' signature SeyTé tea, comprising flavours of vanilla, orange, mint, lemon and cinnamon. Other teas and herbal drinks are available for sampling and purchase.
Organised tours take visitors to the Giant Tortoise Farm on Curieuse Island (tours depart from Praslin and other islands). Upon seeing the Aldabra, visitors are free to explore the island further, and get the chance to see coco de mer palm trees, indigenous black parrot, the breeding ground for green sea turtles, and even more varied flora and fauna.
The set menu offered at Marie-Antoinette has barely change since the 1970s, and consists of a variety of traditional Seychellois Creole dishes, which gives patrons a chance to sample several at once. The restaurant is set inside a former colonial mansion, which forges a distinctive ambience of olde.
Del Place is easily the best restaurant on Mahe Island's west coast: the cooking is excellent, centred around fresh seafood and Creole flavours, the views are unbeatable (thanks to the restaurant's scenic waterfront setting), and the atmosphere tropical yet refined.
Indisputably one of the archipelago's finest restaurants, La Grande Maison is run by a talented Belgian chef who often greets patrons in person. Specials change daily, but traditional Creole dishes remain on the menu permanently. Live music plays on Wednesday and Saturday evenings, and seating is available in the garden patio.
This North Coast restaurant's main draw is the varied dinner buffet, held daily from 7.30 to 9.30pm. Dishes served are primarily Creole specialities, with seafood (tuna steaks on grill), meat, and vegetarian dishes represented, along with a traditional salad buffet selection.
Perhaps Praslin's finest restaurant, Cafe des Arts (at Le Duc de Praslin Hotel) offers beachfront seating and serves a wide variety of Creole dishes, with a heavy emphasis on seafood (the menu even includes sushi and sashimi). During the daytime, it operates as a beach bar.
For those who still aren't converts, Praslin Island's Les Lauriers whips up an excellent Creole buffet, one that has repeatedly convinced even the most discerning diners. The meal starts at the abundant salad bar, only to be followed by grilled meats and fish.
La Digue's Domaine de L'Orangeraie resort contains the island's most refined restaurant - Le Combava. This one is the place to go if you intend to splurge, for opportunities are ample - Le Combava lists lobster, giant prawns, and fine wines on its menu - among other dishes, all exquisitely presented.
It's a treat to be entrapped by this cool waterside eatery serving Creole specialities, bucketloads of seafood and international classics, such as burgers and pasta. The Fish Trap also serves excellent cocktails (try the local rum based ones). There is a separate children's menu.
The curious jungle cafe is stylised with pirate-themed decor and paraphernalia, seating offered in the cavernous inside space or the outdoor terrace. Meats and seafood are brought to and grilled directly at patrons' tables. There is an adjacent art studio run by the cafe owner's husband.
This genuine waterside eatery serves what is, many would argue, some of the best value Italian eats on the island. It is normally very busy, but service is fast and the atmosphere pleasantly animated. Most patrons go for one of the pizzas paired with an ice-cold beer.
The breezy restaurant with a patio covered by a palm-thatched roof serves quality Creole, French and Italian cooking. Pizzas are by far the most affordable choice (a moderately hungry party of two could share a single one), but the menu extends to include pricier meat and seafood.
One of La Digue's best casual restaurants hides in a secluded location on Anse Banane, in a place that's nearly impossible to accidentally stumble upon. Try the seafood offerings of octopus salad and grilled tuna while taking in direct sea views, and follow-up with a freshly squeezed juice or smoothie.
The honest eatery on La Digue's beautiful Grand Anse must certainly be any visitor's lunch spot of choice: the daily lunch buffet offering is generous, and includes a continuous barbecue (the grilling starts at 12.30, arrive early). The dining area is set directly by the water.
The unbeatable panoramic views make this La Digue establishment one of the top contenders to the title of the archipelago's finest. Specially organised transfers bring diners part of the way to the establishment; the hike all the way up is just as steep as the prices, but surely worth the investment.
This waterside club is one of the archipelago's most popular. Many choose to come and while away a few hours before an early morning flight (the club is located right next to the Seychelles' only international airport). Music played ranges from global charts to local hits. Dress sharp.
Although not unique to the Seychelles, Trader Vic's is a worthwhile location for an evening out on Mahe. Service is impeccable, dishes served - varied and scrumptious, and live music plays most nights. The cocktails are an attraction in and of themselves. Seating available on the outdoor terrace.
The archipelago's largest and, perhaps, only market is a happening place that brings local vendors together Monday through Saturday (Saturday also happens to be the day when the market is at it's liveliest). Those who arrive in the morning can see curious marine creatures fished out from local waters; produce, souvenirs, and handicrafts are sold all through the day.
The Seychelles talent George Camille creates beautiful paintings that capture the vibrancy and vivid spirit of island life. His work has received international acclaim, some of it showcased in large European capitals. The artisan boutique stocks paintings, postcards, T-shirts, and more, all featuring the artist's work.
With outlets on Mahe (Camion Hall & Eden Island), Praslin (Grand Anse & Vallee de Mai) and La Digue (La Passe), Kreolor is one of the archipelago's best stores to purchase exquisite, unique jewellery and accessories. All pieces are made with natural materials and precious metals, and many draw design inspiration from coco de mer.
Praslin's Black Pearl boutique sells exclusive jewellery made with authentic Seychellois pearls harvested in local waters, designed by world-renowned Australian jeweller Linneys. Designs are unique, which makes this a great place to find one-of-kind pieces.
This shopping centre right across from the busy Victoria Market makes for a good stop to pick up souvenirs (oils, carvings, handicrafts, jewellery, etc.) produced locally in the Seychelles. Camion Hall also contains one of the boutiques of reputable jeweller Kreolor.
The archipelago's most well-known artist calls the Seychelles home since 1972 (although his work has been exhibited worldwide), and continues to create vivid watercolours exploring the theme of island living to-date. Call before your visit to confirm the studio is open.
The Seychelles generally boast good weather all through the year, December through April being the hottest, while January and February often see brief tropical rainfall. April-May and October-November are when the Seychellois waters are at their clearest, making for some incredible underwater visibility and thus excellent diving.
The Seychelles International Airport, a few kilometres away from Mahe Island's Victoria, is the country's only international airport, and main point of entry for the overwhelming majority of visitors. Taxis and rental cars are available for hire at the airport. There is a public bus stop just outside the airport; at the time of writing, the Seychelles public busses are not equipped with luggage storage compartments, which means no passengers travelling with luggage are admitted on board.
The larger islands of Mahe and Praslin both have rather well-developed bus networks. A print-out containing all information about schedules and routes can be picked up at the main station in Victoria (and at tourist offices in Praslin). Bus destinations are usually displayed on the front window, fares are fixed regardless of travel distance and are paid to the driver upon boarding. To reach some destinations, a change at the capital's main station may be needed. Ferry service connects the principal islands of Mahe, Praslin and La Digue. Privately arranged boat tours are necessary to reach other islands. On La Digue, cycling is the primary means of transportation, and bikes are widely available. Air Seychelles operates 15-minute flights between Mahe and Praslin, and flies to other islands of the archipelago (some routes on request). Two charter companies (helicopter Zil Air and Islands Development Company (IDC)) also arrange transfers and excursions.