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The beautiful Seychelles archipelago in the heart of the Indian Ocean is often touted as one of the most romantic destinations in the world. The Seychelles casts a spell over travellers, with crystalline turquoise waters, pristine coral reefs and powdery beaches that encircle vast granite pinnacles and verdant rainforest.
The islands are stretched across nearly one million square kilometres of ocean off the coast of East Africa. Only a few of the 115 islands are inhabited, with most of the local population (known as Seychellois) gathered on the main island, Mahé, around the capital city of Victoria.
The Seychellois population comprises an eclectic mix of the descendants of freed African slaves, Arab, Indian and Chinese traders, British and French settlers and Creole seafarers. The multi-party democratic republic was once a thriving pirate's haven, but today it serves as a refuge for sun seekers, honeymooners and nature lovers who congregate in the top quality hotels and resorts on the shores of the main islands.
Whether travellers come to soak up the equatorial sun on silver sands, dive among more than 800 species of fish in the island waters, marvel at flocks of colourful birds flitting between rare jungle trees, or to cement their marriage vows, they will find the Seychelles archipelago undeniably paradisiacal.
Although primarily enjoyed as an uber lavish destination, there is an increasing drive to develop the budget tourism options on the islands, opening the doors of paradise to travellers who may previously only have dreamt of a holiday on these exotic shores.
Almost half of the total land area of the Seychelles is protected and most of its islands are designated marine sanctuaries, which goes some way to explaining why the archipelago is so pristine and well preserved. Naturally, the Seychelles is a dream destination for aquatic pursuits such as diving, snorkelling, sailing and fishing, but visitors will also find that the virgin jungles and granite peaks provide a playground for hikers, bird watchers and rock climbers.
The islands of Mahé, Praslin and La Digue are the most developed for tourists, with many luxury hotels, some cultural attractions, and myriad activities on offer. Here, travellers will find stunning beaches, the Morne Seychellois National Park and the UNESCO-listed Vallee de Mai.
Keen fishermen should head to Desroches Island, Alphonse Island and Farquhar Atoll, while surfers will love Anse Intendance. Some of the best islands for birders include the aptly named Bird Island, the Aride Island Nature Reserve and Cousin Island. Nature lovers will also relish the wildlife on Curieuse Island, Silhouette Island and the UNESCO-listed Aldabra Atoll, to name just a few.
Billed as the smallest capital city in the world, Victoria may also be considered one of the most charming and is easily explored on foot. The best place to soak up the friendly atmosphere is at the busy daily market (closed on Sundays), where local crafts are sold alongside fresh fish, fruit and vegetables.The city's French and British colonial history is still palpable, reflected in historical buildings such as the courthouse and main post office. Among the colourful houses, visitors can also spot a cathedral and the Victoria clock tower (a replica of the clock was first erected at Vauxhall Bridge in London in 1892). The quaint city is also home to many artists, and works by talented locals are popular buys at local galleries.
The largest national park in the Seychelles, Morne Seychellois National Park takes up almost 20 percent of the area of Mahé. The park is made up of a number of habitats and ecosystems ranging from coastal mangrove forests to misty mountain peaks. Morne Seychellois contains no settlements, although visitors may stumble across the ruins of old cinnamon distilleries. Dominating the landscape is Morne Seychellois, the highest peak on the island, at 2,970 feet (905m). The national park has a network of 12 well-marked hiking trails covering just over nine miles (15km), traversing some truly beautiful landscapes. Visitors can find maps and other information in Victoria.
Travellers can step back into the days of the buccaneers at the Seychelles National Museum of History, which features excellent displays of historic artefacts relating to the cultural and natural history of the islands. Exhibits take visitors on a journey through three centuries of Seychelles history, and include a range of interesting displays that cover Creole culture, music, clothing, fishing and architecture. Though small, the museum holds fascinating items such as the Portuguese Nautical Atlas of the Indian Ocean in 1519 and the world's smallest statue of Queen Victoria.
The century-old, six hectare Botanical Gardens at the south end of Victoria provide a cool, green oasis in the city, and are planted with a wide variety of indigenous and exotic trees, including the Seychelles islands' unique 'coco de mer' palms. For those staying on the island of Mahe and not travelling much further afield, the botanical garden may present the only opportunity to see this highly unusual plant, which is found nowhere else in the world. The orchid garden is also particularly lovely. Visitors can stop at the restaurant situated in the gardens for a bite to eat after a day of admiring the blooms.
Nature lovers will relish a guided tour from Victoria harbour to the magnificent St Anne National Marine Park, which covers six islands off the coast of Mahé. The islands included in the park are Ste Anne, Ile Moyenne, Ile Ronde, Ile Longue, Ile Cachee and Ile aux Cerfs. The park encompasses one of the most important nesting sites for hawksbill turtles, and beneath its clear waters the glory of the coral reefs awaits snorkellers and divers. Glass-bottomed boat trips and sunset cruises are also available, and the national park is a beautiful and popular spot for wedding photos. All Marine National Parks in Seychelles are open daily, including public holidays.
With crystal clear waters and wonderful underwater reefs, wrecks, boulders and sea life, it is no surprise that one of the main activities in the Seychelles is exploring its underwater world. The islands have a selection of dive sites ranging from those suitable for snorkellers and novice divers, to those preferred by experienced scuba enthusiasts. Highlights include the wreck of the Royal Navy tanker Ennerdale, the grey reef sharks off Marianne Island and the spectacular coral life around The Sisters, Trompeuse and the Outer Islands.
There are dive operators on most of the islands, although many divers believe that the best way to explore the islands is aboard a charter boat. Diving is possible throughout the year, but the best times are March to May and September to November, when the prevailing winds are at their mildest and visibility is at its best. Visibility is generally more than 100 feet (30m), and water temperatures are often as high as 80°F (29°C) â€' idyllic diving conditions. Divers can expect to see whale sharks, granite formations, soft and hard corals, turtles and giant stingrays, to name just a few highlights. Diving or learning to dive is the perfect holiday activity in the gorgeous Seychelles.
The mile-long beach that encircles beautiful Beau Vallon Bay on the northern coast of Mahé Island is the most popular beach resort area in the Seychelles, boasting several hotels, a casino and a selection of scuba-diving and water-sport centres. Beau Vallon, known for its clear waters and enviable visibility, also has a number of dive sites within the bay, including wrecks and several coral reefs.
The Marine Park of Baie Ternay is easily accessible from Beau Vallon, and the bay is home to several major hotels, including some of the island's oldest and most famous: Le Meridien Fisherman's Cove, the Berjaya Beau Vallon and the Coral Strand.
Seychelles is constantly hot and humid, with an average annual temperature of 84°F (29°C), and a similar average sea temperature, which seldom drops below 81°F (27°C). The heat is usually pleasantly tempered by sea breezes. The islands lie outside of the hurricane belt, so storms are rare, but tropical rains fall during January and February. It is easy to escape the showers, though, because it can be sunny on one side of an island while it rains on the other.
The Seychelles is a glorious holiday destination at any time of year, but the best time to visit depends on the desired activities. For instance, it is slightly windier between May and September, making this the ideal time to visit for those wanting to sail or enjoy other wind-based sports; whereas the best time of year for scuba diving and snorkelling is April and May or October and November, when the visibility is at its best.
The Seychelles currency is the Rupee (SCR), divided into 100 cents. Visitors can now pay in SCR and are no longer obligated to pay for all services in major foreign currency notes, but are entitled to use their preferred major foreign currency as well (Euros are the most widely used), or to pay by credit card. Credit cards are widely welcomed throughout the Seychelles. Money can be exchanged at banks and the airport on Mahé, or at hotels. ATMs are available at major banks in Victoria and Praslin.
Creole, English and French are all spoken in the Seychelles.
Electrical current is 220-240 volts, 50Hz. Plugs are of the British type, with three flat pins.
US nationals: United States citizens require a passport valid for at least the length of their stay and will be issued with a visitor's permit on arrival, valid for three months. A visa is required.
UK nationals: British citizens need a passport valid for the duration of their stay, and will be issued with a visitor's permit on arrival, valid for three months. A visa is required.
CA nationals: Canadians require a passport valid for at least the length of their stay and will be issued with a visitor's permit on arrival, valid for three months. A visa is required.
AU nationals: Australians need a passport valid for the length of their stay and will be issued with a visitor's permit on arrival, valid for three months. A visa is required.
ZA nationals: South Africans must have a passport valid for the duration of their stay and will be issued with a visitor's permit on arrival, valid for three months. A visa is required.
IR nationals: Irish citizens require a passport valid for the length of their stay and will be issued with a visitor's permit on arrival, valid for three months. A visa is required.
NZ nationals: New Zealand citizens require a passport valid for the length of their stay and will be issued with a visitor's permit on arrival, valid for three months. A visa is required.
No foreigners require a visa to enter Seychelles. A visitor's permit, valid for a maximum of three month, is issued on arrival and may be extended on application for up to three months. All visitors do, however, require a passport valid for the duration of their visit, a return or onward ticket, sufficient funds to cover their stay (a minimum of USD 150 per day), and proof of accommodation. Extensions are possible if applied for at least a week before expiry of visitor's permit. It is highly recommended that passports have at least six months' validity remaining after the intended date of departure from the travel destination. Immigration officials often apply different rules to those stated by travel agents and official sources.
Health regulations in the Seychelles require that travellers from areas infected by yellow fever have a vaccination certificate. Immunisation against hepatitis A, hepatitis B and typhoid are recommended. Visitors are advised to bring their own medication to avert the risk of travellers' diarrhoea, as well as sun block and insect repellent, as local supplies can be erratic and costly. During the rainy season in particular, visitors should take precautions against mosquito bites due to the risk of dengue fever and the chikungunya virus (although these diseases are rare in Seychelles). Tap water meets WHO standards, but most visitors prefer to drink bottled water, which is widely available. Medical facilities on the more remote islands are limited or non-existent, but visitors will find a government hospital and several private clinics in Victoria. Medical insurance with full evacuation cover is necessary.
Tipping generally isn't practiced and is never expected in the Seychelles, though top-end hotels or restaurants will sometimes add a service charge of 10 to 15 percent to the bill.
Safety is not generally an issue in the Seychelles; violent crime is unlikely and most visits are trouble free. There have been some incidents of theft and assault, but these are targeted mainly at residents. Visitors should be vigilant, particularly after dark in Victoria and in isolated areas, and should avoid taking valuables to the beach, where petty thieves might pilfer them. Women should avoid walking alone on isolated beaches.
Nudism is unacceptable, and topless bathing is not tolerated on many, but not all, beaches. Punishments for drug offences can be severe.
In the Seychelles, business is conducted relatively informally. Men and women are not required to wear formal suits, although a smart appearance is advised. Business is usually conducted in English or French. Business hours are generally 8am to 4pm Monday to Friday.
The international dialling code for Seychelles is +248. The outgoing code is 00 followed by the relevant country code (e.g. 0044 for the United Kingdom). Visitors can purchase local SIM cards for their mobile phones and many midrange and all top-end hotels offer wifi, as do some cafes and restaurants. Connections remain fairly slow by Western standards.
Travellers to the Seychelles over 18 years do not have to pay duty on 200 cigarettes, or 250g of tobacco; two litres of spirits and two litres of wine; 200ml of perfume or eau de toilette. Prohibited items include drugs, narcotics, firearms, spear-fishing equipment, and camouflage clothing. It is forbidden to export unprocessed coco de mer, shells, fish and live tortoises. A permit is required for processed coco de mer.
Seychelles Tourist Office, Mahé: www.seychelles.travel/en/
Seychelles Embassy, New York, United States: +1 212 972 1785.
Seychelles High Commission in London, United Kingdom: +44 20 7245 0680.
Seychelles Consulate, Montreal, Canada: +1 514 284 9329
Consulate General of the Republic of Seychelles, Melbourne, Australia: +61 (3) 9796 9412.
Seychelles Consulate, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 12 348 0270.
Consulate of the Republic of Seychelles, Dublin, Ireland: +353 87 66 22 675
United States Consulate, Port Louis, Mauritius (also responsible for Seychelles): +230 202 4400.
British High Commission, Victoria: +248 428 3666.
Canadian High Commission, Port Louis, Mauritius (also responsible for Seychelles): +230 202 0160.
Australian High Commission, Port Louis, Mauritius (also responsible for Seychelles): +230 202 0160.
South African Commission, Port Louis, Mauritius (also responsible for Seychelles): +230 212 6925.
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