The Indian Ocean island nation of the Seychelles isn’t likely to be your first thought when planning a budget holiday but with beaches as photogenic as they come, it’s been on my wish list for a very long time.
With resort prices coming in at around £1500 for a week-long break, and some of the most luxurious offerings well over that for just a single night, you could be forgiven for giving up and going elsewhere. Don’t. Although it’s never going to be what you’d call a cheap holiday, here’s how to make those beautiful beaches a more affordable reality.
Choose your flights carefully
I flew indirect via Colombo, Sri Lanka, and with the use of a few Nectar points, snagged a fare of under £500. Other routes to explore include Ethiopian Airlines via Addis Ababa and Kenya Airways via Nairobi. Emirates and Etihad also serve The Seychelles.
Travel in the shoulder seasons
Peak time means peak prices. Off season brings the rain and there’s nothing worse than a beach destination in wet weather. I travelled in March. It was hot and humid but the sun was shining. April’s also good as is our autumn. Avoid Easter and Christmas when prices soar.
Unpackage your accommodation
The all-inclusive resorts offer a lot, but you pay handsomely for the privilege. Instead, choose a home stay or a self-catering option. On Mahe, I needed an overnight stopover before catching a ferry to the islands and came across Chez Lorna, just north of the capital in De Quincey Village. The owner was exceptionally welcoming and my en-suite air conditioned room with shared balcony cost me just £30 for the night.
On La Digue, I upped the budget a bit and spent about £80 a night on a cottage at Cabanes des Anges in within an easy stroll of the jetty in La Passe. For that I had air conditioning, my own kitchen, living room with satellite TV – and the place also had a pool. Considering my accommodation slept two, that’s extraordinary value at £40pppn. Best of all, the island’s main supermarket, Gregoires, was just a minute’s walk away making self-catering an attractive option.
If you’re looking for a traditional hotel set up, then Palm Beach at Grande Anse on Praslin might fit the bill – right on the beach with a decent pool and sea views from superior rooms. The price was about £80 per night for a double room.
Eating out isn’t cheap in The Seychelles but it is possible to save money by eating where the locals go or by self-catering. There are plenty of pizzerias if you’re looking to eat out but have a tight budget. On La Digue, most places charge extra for WiFi but Fish Trap by the jetty offers a free connection to its customers. You can eat for about £10-12 but save money on surfing while you check your emails. It also has a beachfront seating area and the sunset cocktails are worth pushing the boat out.
Use local transport
Getting between the islands is cheapest on the ferries. Expect to pay about £30-35 depending on the exchange rate for an economy seat; the journey takes about an hour making it a convenient choice. The fifteen minute hop between Praslin and La Digue is cheaper.
On Mahe and Praslin, the buses are easy to use and cost a flat fare of 5 rupees (about 25p) however far you go. You’ll need small change as notes greater than 25 rupees aren’t accepted. Choose accommodation on the bus route and there’s no need to hire a car to get around. The two options listed above are close to the bus stop. Note that you’ll need to hire a taxi if you have luggage, though, as the buses won’t let you on.
The best bargain in the country
On La Digue, it’s easy (and free of course) to get around on foot, but you can also find bicycle hire for around 100 rupees a day (about £5) which makes it straightforward to explore the rest of the island. I hired mine through the Cabanes des Anges reception desk but there are plenty of operators in La Passe.
So there you have it: proof that paradise doesn’t have to be prohibitively expensive.
The biggest threat to my safety in La Digue, without a doubt, was that posed by novice cyclists. Despite never having ridden on two wheels before, or at the very least since childhood, these tourists didn’t hesitate to rent bikes. After all, cycling was the only practical way to get about on this almost car-less island. The ox carts of yesteryear had pretty much been replaced by open-sided trucks, the hotel golf buggies seemed to vanish when the inter-island ferry sailed and hot footing it on two legs took on a whole new meaning in the sweltering temperatures and almost unbearable humidity.
So bike it was. Continental Europeans, of whom there were plenty, veered to the right as was their custom, but the Seychellois follow British convention and there was much gesticulation, albeit of a tropically languid kind, to force them to ride on the left. Weaving erratically across the street, they cut up pedestrians and wobbled perilously close to roadside ditches causing the South Asian migrant workers to rattle their tiffin boxes in protest. A Gallic shrug indicated that they didn’t really care.
The local youth weren’t much better when it came to road sense. By day they rode three abreast to the pumping sounds of the beat boxes on their shoulders and by night they rode hell for leather with no lights. More than once I had to swerve onto the sandy verge to avert an accident.
And then there was the animal traffic. A few stray dogs roamed the island, passing their time comatose under a shady tree until a cyclist took their fancy and a chase ensued. Soon, though, they’d tire. The threat was worst in the early morning before it got too hot. I learnt the hard way, ambushed on my way to the Union Estate copra plantation with a dog snapping at each ankle and lucky to escape with my trouser legs intact. Fortunately a lump of seaweed on the nearby beach provided a welcome diversion. They were soon flinging it around and pouncing on it, good practice for their regular habit of crab chasing.
A giant tortoise taking an amble along the road up at Anse Banane was less aggressive, though the crowd of tourists who had stopped to take his picture were making a pretty effective road block. Eventually they, and their target, had moved on. The tortoise, predictably, hadn’t got very far. The effort of chomping on some couch grass had proved too much and it had fallen still alongside someone’s rear tyre. Fortunately mine was parked in the next rack; when I retraced my steps an hour later the creature still hadn’t moved, though to be fair neither had the bike’s owner. It was all too easy for one fresh juice to turn into two or more.
Despite these hazards, and aside from getting to grips with derailing gears – my fault for back pedalling – cycling around La Digue’s coast road was a pleasure. Locals shouted words of encouragement on the inclines. As I freewheeled on the downhill stretches, I felt the breeze snatch my wet fringe from my forehead. It was worth every last drop of sweat expelled on the way up. More than once I’d lost momentum distracted by the many scenic bays that dotted the coast. It was exhilarating, and if I’m honest, not that challenging to anyone with reasonable physical fitness. Not for the first time I cursed my preference for spending my evenings snacking in front of the TV rather than heading out to the gym.
But the burn that nagged at my thighs was worth it. Huge chunks of granite, sculpted by persistent waves, trapped the ivory sand in gentle crescents. Coconut palms arched over takamaka and casuarina trees providing a little shade for those tempted to rest. The warm clear water looked inviting, but dangerous rips gave it a potentially murderous beauty. An engaging German tourist stressing about a shark attack was quickly shut down by the fruit seller. That incident had been two years ago and in any case, on Praslin, she said. Not here. Nothing like that would happen here.
But which beach to choose? That was easy. To figure out which was the best, all you had to do was look for the one with the greatest number of bicycles propped by the roadside.