The breathtaking beaches of the Seychelles aren’t just for millionaires. Peter Moore reveals the ways you can have an affordable – and more authentic – holiday in this most glamorous of destinations...
Long the staple of glossy travel magazines, the stunning Seychelles islands have always been the poster child of luxury travel. Blessed with extraordinarily beautiful beaches and indulgent five star resorts, the common perception is that most of us would have to win the lottery to be able to enjoy its undeniable charms.
It’s certainly possible to spend lottery-winning amounts on a holiday to these Indian Ocean gems. All-inclusive stays at the finest resorts start at around £5,000 a week per person and head northwards to £25,000 and beyond.
The good news is that it is possible to enjoy a visit to the Seychelles without having to take out a second mortgage. There’s a surprisingly wide range of affordable accommodation available. And if you eat like the locals do, you can dine out at budget-friendly prices, too.
Best of all, the thing that make visiting the Seychelles so sensational – its gobsmackingly beautiful beaches – won’t cost you anything at all.
Travel anywhere in the Seychelles, and I mean anywhere, and you’ll see signs in front of houses offering ‘Self-Catered Accommodation’. Basically, they are the Seychellois version of Airbnb, where you get to rent a home away from home, just on a beautiful tropical island.
Prices start from as little as £40 a night. The quality of accommodation ranges, of course. You could get a cottage in the middle of nowhere, that’s quaint and authentic but a little rough around the edges. Or you could splash out a bit more for a new apartment, with all the mod cons, just across the road from a picture-postcard beach. The choice is yours. But the point is, you’ve got a lot of choice
The cottages are easy to book online. Accommodation sites like Airbnb, Booking.com, Homeway and Travel Republic all offer a wide selection of properties. And a search on Google will uncover plenty of places where you can book direct. Just follow the usual due diligence of checking reviews and so on.
When I was in the Seychelles I had a chat with George Camille, the Seychelles’ most famous artist, about the best ways for visitors to experience authentic Creole culture. In a flash he said, ‘Stay with a family on La Digue.’
La Digue is the smallest of the Seychelles’ most popular islands, and the one where you’ll find people living life pretty much as they always have. There are very few vehicles. Nearly everyone gets around on a bike. And the food here is predominately made from what can be caught or grown locally.
Once the day trippers have left, you’ll feel as though you’ve got the island to yourself, including Anse Source d’Argent, the Seychelles’ most famous beach.
By staying with a family you get a fast track introduction to the island lifestyle, including sharing meals that are delicious, fresh and authentic. To be honest, most of the self-catering cottages on La Digue operate this way. Just check that the one you are booking is family-run and offers the option of meals as well.
The kitchen facilities at your self catering cottage are the key to cutting your food bill in Seychelles. And best of all, you’re not cutting quality in the process.
You can get most of your basics from the nearest general store. Avoid anything that has to be imported. Anything that has to be shipped in comes with a price premium. Having said that, basic staples like rice is reasonably affordably at about 17 SCR for 500 grams.
For everything else, head to the markets. The Sir Selwyn Selwyn-Clarke Market in Victoria is the biggest and is bursting with fresh fish, fruit and vegetables, and the potent local chillies. You’ll find similar markets on Praslin and La Digue, as well as in smaller settlements dotted across the islands.
For a real bargain, buy your fish, fruit and veg from the guys on the road. These makeshift stalls, usually nothing more than a pallet on the ground, are used by the fishermen who caught the fish or the farmers who grew the fruit and veg. By setting up their stalls beside they road, they avoid the cost of setting up a stall at the markets, passing the savings on to you.
A large red snapper, big enough to feed a family of four and caught only hours before, will only set you back 100 SCR or so (approx. £6). Even less if you wait until the end of the day and the guy wants to move his stock. Many of the fisherman are happy to give you tips on the best way to cook it.
Takeaway is a popular option with the Seychellois, especially around lunchtime. You’ll spot takeaway shops, shacks and trucks dotted all over Mahé and the smaller islands. Even tiny La Digue has a few, including a tiny hole-in-the-wall establishment on the ‘main street’, just around the corner from the harbour.
Forget any preconceptions you may have about takeaways from back home. We’re not talking greasy kebab shops or fried chicken shacks. In the Seychelles, the staple of takeaways is the local curries, especially fish curries, made from the freshest of ingredients. More often than not, the quality is high. Jules Takeaway, on the East Coast Road in Victoria, for example, is rated the 11th best restaurant in the capital.
Everyone in the Seychelles has their favourite takeaway stand, so ask around for the best recommendations. Failing that, look for the ones with the biggest queues, a sure sign of quality and tastiness. The one for the takeaway at the Marine Chartered Association, down near the harbour in Victoria, is always long.
For a real treat, head to beautiful Beau Vallon on a Wednesday night. Street food hawkers take over the tree-lined path that runs along the back of the beach, offering all kinds of authentic Creole dishes for 30 to 60 SCR (£1.75 to £3.50) a go. Many of the dishes are prepared using family recipes, handed down through the generations.
Follow the lead of the locals, and enjoy your takeaway on the beach as the sun sets over Silhouette Island.
There isn’t really a bar culture in the Seychelles. Drinking at one of the resorts or any of the bistros in the capital, Victoria, is out of reach of most locals, and if you’re on a budget, it’s probably a bit pricey for you too. Even in the cheapest establishments a bottle of the local beer, SeyBrew, will set you back at least 60 SCR (£3.50).
Instead, do what the locals do and drop into your local Indian supermarket or bottle shack. They’re dotted across all the islands and sell a bottle of SeyBrew or the local Slow Turtle cider for 32 SCR (£1.90), including a 2 SCR refundable deposit for the bottle.
Pop them in the complimentary recyclable bag you got on your first visit, grab a couple of samosas (perfect drinking snacks) and head to the beach. On most evenings and weekends you won’t be alone. Expect to find locals doing the same thing, while playing dominoes on a board kept hidden amongst the palm trees, grooving to an impromptu set by a local DJ or simply wriggling their toes in the sand as they watch the sun set.
A lot of independent travellers to the Seychelles hire a car for the duration of their stay, but starting at £35 a day, plus petrol, it’s not cheap
Thankfully, there’s an extensive bus network on both Mahé and Praslin that reaches most parts of the islands. Run by Seychelles Public Transport Corporation (SPTC), the bright blue TATA buses are regular, if a bit rough and ready. But at a flat 7SCR for each journey (that’s a mere £0.40), they are an absolute bargain.
The main bus station in Victoria is on Palm Street. Destinations and times are posted and there’s an information booth, manned most of the time, where you can get directions. You can also get pamphlet of routes and timetables from tourist offices at the airport and across the islands. Or download a copy from the SPTC website.
If you ever get stuck, ask a local. They’ll happily point you to the nearest bus stop. Or if you’re already on the bus, let you know where to get off.
Another option to consider is hiring a bicycle, especially on La Digue where most other vehicles are banned. Cheap and environmentally friendly, they are also the quickest and easiest way to settle into the gentle pace of life in the Seychelles.
Let’s be honest. You come to the Seychelles and you’re going to spend most of your time on the beach. The good news is that they are uniformly beautiful, uncrowded and free. Bring a snorkel with you and there’s often a coral garden to explore too. Again, absolutely free.
More good news? Most of the self catering accommodation are clustered around the most famous and most stunning beaches on the islands.
Taking part in cultural activities during your holiday needn’t cost a fortune either. The Seychelles enjoy a busy calendar of festivals and celebrations, many of them offering free events.
In February, the islands celebrate Carnival with concerts, dances and a colourful float parade through the centre of Victoria. The Seychelles Arts Festival in May sees artists display their world across the islands, again accompanied by concerts and dances and the Ocean Festival in December features film screenings, photographic exhibitions and gala dinners with an eco-tourist focus.
The biggest celebration, however, is Festival Kreol, held every October. A celebration of the island’s’ unique creole culture, it boasts a packed calendar of events, most of them free. It features events held on smaller islands like Praslin and La Digue as well.
Speaking of Praslin and La Digue, they have their very own celebrations worth checking out as well. On August 15 every year, the islanders of La Digue celebrate Assumption Day. Houses are decorated, statues are spruced up and the island fills with music and fun. Very September, Praslin celebrates its annual Culinary & Arts Fiesta. Expect music, dancing and very tasty food.
More regularly, the new outdoor Acoustic Stage, set in a beautiful park down near the harbour in Victoria, showcases local musicians with impromptu concerts and acoustic sets.
Check with the Acoustic cafe, right next door for news on the next performance.
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