Of all the destinations I never expected to visit, Seychelles was close to the top of that list. And yet somehow I found myself standing at the side of the road on the island of Praslin, in the pouring rain, looking at the smashed front end of my rental car and wondering what would be more expensive: repairing the car or buying lunch. What had I got myself into?
Last year I was somewhere in the world (I have no idea where) when an old friend called me up and said, “Hey Carly, I’m heading to South Africa in December. Want to join me?” I was already roughly planning to be in India in October and November, and I had no onward travel plans, so it seemed like an interesting opportunity to go somewhere I wouldn’t have otherwise chosen for my solo adventures. I agreed to meet him in early December and promptly filed “figuring out how to get to South Africa from India” on my “things to do later” list.
Little did I know how disastrously expensive this decision would be. Here’s the story of my $2000 mistake, told in chronological order from the moment I typed, “See you in Durban!”, along with my hard-earned advice about budget(ish) travel in the Seychelles.
Planning a Budget Trip to the Seychelles
October rolled around. I was in India, eating fifty-cent street samosas and taking Uber from city to city for less than I would pay for a taxi from a nightclub in my hometown, and I still had that whole “get to South Africa” thing on my to-do list, so I hopped on my hostel internet and started looking for flights. By far, the cheapest flights from India to the Seychelles were those operated by Air Seychelles, flying out of Mumbia and into Johannesburg, with a brief stopover in Mahe (the main island in the archipelago). As with other remote island destinations (think Iceland) it was possible to book a multi-day stopover for the same price as a direct ticket, so I thought, “What the heck, let’s spend a few days in the Seychelles!” I booked my flights, but once again I put off any further planning.
Skip ahead to November and I realized I’d better start making my plans for the Seychelles. I start by planning my route: I decide to spend one night on the main island of Mahe before taking the ferry over to Praslin for three nights, then returning to Mahe for one more night before my outbound flight. I figured that if I wanted to pop over to the third island, La Digue, I could make it a day trip from Praslin.
I start by booking the boat tickets, as I don’t want to get locked into accommodation on an island that I can’t reach! Everyone recommends Cat Cocos, so I book my return tickets from Mahe to Praslin and back. I opt for the “Island Hopper Upper Deck” ticket (more on that later) which costs about $50 USD in each direction. Ouch.
Next, I set out to book my budget-friendly backpacker accommodation. I check HostelWorld to see if any of the islands’ hostels have private rooms, and this is what I find:
There are no hostels on Mahe, Praslin or La Digue.
Okay, no big deal. I’ve been staying in lots of hotels on this trip, and I’ve got room in my budget for hotels. So I head over to my preferred hotel website – Booking.com – and I start looking for affordable hotels on Mahe and Praslin. Can you guess what I found?
There are almost no budget hotels on Mahe, Praslin or La Digue… and any affordable hotel rooms were already booked up for my quickly-approaching stay.
Things were not looking good.
Airbnb in the Seychelles: “Laws? What Laws?”
I’ve never been a big fan of Airbnb but it was the third place I looked for budget accommodation in the Seychelles. I didn’t find anything appealing for my second through fifth nights, but I did find an interesting shared accommodation option midway between the airport and the ferry terminal that would be perfect for my first night on Mahe. It had good reviews and the host was responsive to my messages, so I booked a bare-bones single room in her shared apartment for $45 USD.
Everything seemed to be okay until about three days before I was scheduled to depart from Mumbai. Out of the blue, I received a message from my Airbnb host saying that I had to lie to immigration about where I would be staying. She gave me the name of a real hotel on La Digue, and told me to tell immigration I was staying there.
I’m pretty sure that lying to immigration is a felony.
I immediately contacted Airbnb and said that I wasn’t comfortable staying in shared accommodation with someone who wanted me to lie to immigration authorities. If this host is encouraging me to break the law, they are probably also evading taxes on their rental income… and who knows what other crimes they might commit?
Bizarrely, Airbnb sided with the host and encouraged me to lie to the federal immigration authorities in the Seychelles. Screenshots of the host’s message, and Airbnb Support’s response, are below:
You’d think that Airbnb telling me, in writing, to break the law would be enough to have the reservation cancelled through a simple “Can I speak to your manager?”
Unfortunately it wasn’t. My case was escalated to a supervisor who gave the host the option of cancelling my reservation without penalty! Fortunately the host agreed and Airbnb processed the refund, but it is certainly scary to know that there are illegal Airbnbs in the Seychelles and that hosts on the island are encouraging guests to break the law by committing immigration fraud.
For people who think that I’m exaggerating, upon arrival at the Mahe Airport I had to pass through immigration, who required the names and addresses of my accommodation for every night of my stay. They cross-referenced the reservations against my return ticket and they confirmed that the name of every property I’d booked was on their list of approved tourist accommodation. If any of my accommodation had been found to be unapproved, I would have been required to book an expensive last-minute room right there at the immigration counter in the airport!
Budget Accommodation in the Seychelles
Fortunately, thanks to Booking.com I was able to find three lovely vacation rentals between Mahe and Praslin. I really can’t recommend any of these three properties enough: each one is within comfortable walking distance of a beautiful beach, they are all immaculately clean and the hospitality shown by the owners of each rental was unparalleled almost anywhere else in the world, at any price point. If you’re going to the Seychelles, you will have a great time between any of these three properties. (And they’re all registered with the immigration authorities so you won’t have any hassles in the airport!)
Exotic Guest House, Praslin
I spent three nights at the Exotic Guesthouse on Praslin and was so glad that I chose this as my home base! Exotic Guesthouse is set on a hillside overlooking Anse Volbert, one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Unexpectedly, my self-contained apartment here was carved right into the hill and decorated with futuristic features like sloping walls and metallic chairs. The view from the window by my bed was spectacular, and the owners were so helpful with everything from car rentals to airport transfers.
Chez Coco, Mahe
If I was going back to the Seychelles, I would spend at least three nights here! Chez Coco is a gorgeous new vacation rental that is decorated to perfection and equipped with everything you could possibly need for the perfect stay (there were even complimentary vanilla tea bags, so I got to sample the local specialty!). If tea isn’t for you, this place is right beside Mahe’s premier rum distillery, so you can visit for a tour, taste test and cocktail of the day. The beach is directly across the street, with turquoise waters that stretch as far as the eye can see. The owners were so kind, and when they found out I was a vegetarian they arranged complimentary transportation to a restaurant further down the island that had better meatless options than the nearby restaurants.
La Maison Hibiscus, Mahe
After my Airbnb disaster, I found a last-minute cancellation at Maison Hibiscus, a three-unit vacation rental on Mahe, near Beau Vallon beach. Beau Vallon is most popular beach on Mahe, and Maison Hibiscus is about a ten or fifteen-minute walk (maximum – there might be a shortcut?) away. There are lots of shops and restaurants nearby, and the owners can help with transportation connections to the airport and ferry terminal.
Again, I would not hesitate to recommend any of these three Seychelles vacation rentals to any traveler. They are among the most affordable accommodation options in the country, but they are all exceptionally clean, comfortable, convenient and friendly. Just book them… don’t wait until these small properties are sold out!
Public Transportation in the Seychelles
One of the main factors in choosing my hotels in the Seychelles was their proximity to public transportation, as I didn’t plan to rent a car while I was there. In total, I ended up taking the bus exactly zero times. Let me explain.
In the Seychelles, there is a rule stating public buses don’t carry luggage. Since I was traveling for almost a full year, and was on my way from India to South Africa, I had a full-sized travel backpack and a day pack with me. There was no way any bus was going to let me board… even if they were empty.
When I realized I wouldn’t be able to take the bus from the airport to my accommodation on Mahe I started talking to the taxi drivers at the airport. They all seemed like very nice, reasonable people, and I didn’t think that I was being ripped off more than any other traveler, but I was offered a rate of €70 to get from the airport to Beau Vallon, which is less than fifteen kilometers and should only take about twenty minutes. I think I only had €100 cash total (again, I was coming from India, and before that I’d been in Uzbekistan!) and the idea of parting with 70% of that for a twenty-minute taxi ride was a bit frustrating, but I didn’t have any other options. The driver actually took pity on me and only charged me €50 in the end, which apparently is the minimum going rate for any airport transfers (other than to the center of Victoria, the main town, which is a bit cheaper).
After that experience I started organizing all of my transfers (to and from the ferry terminal and the airport) directly with my accommodation, who often offered rates about 30-50% cheaper than regular taxis. I probably still ending spending at least €150 more on transfers, but I literally had no other option.
As I mentioned at the beginning of my post, it rained all day, every day for the entire time I was in the Seychelles. It seemed pointless to wait an hour at the bus stop to catch one of the infrequent public buses to a beach that wouldn’t have been much different than the ones close to my accommodation, so I didn’t bother traveling by bus.
Renting a Car in the Seychelles
I had never rented a car before, and at the time I was in the Seychelles I hadn’t driven any kind of vehicle for more than five months, so I decided to get back in the swing of things by hiring a car on my last full day in Praslin. The rain made another day at the beach quite unappealing, and honestly, driving was just something to do.
Rental car rates were surprisingly reasonable, and I was able to pay €50 cash to hire a car for twenty-four hours, with pick-up and drop-off at my accommodation. The driveway at Exotic Guesthouse is the steepest road I’ve ever driven on in my life, and the fifty-meter hill down to the main road (shown above) is the second-steepest stretch of road I’ve ever driven on, with the added bonus of being really twisty. So, getting in and out of the guesthouse was challenging, but once I was on the main road I was feeling pretty good.
That feeling was short-lived as I realized that I’d never driven on the left before, and having been out of practice for almost half a year, I really didn’t have a great sense of my vehicle’s position on the road. There was also virtually no traffic on the road, so I couldn’t line up my car with the vehicle in front of me. I hobbled and wobbled and putted down the road at a speed that was probably not much faster than walking. Within about two kilometers the quality of the road dramatically deteriorated, with single-lane sections, deep ditches down either side and debris all over the road. As I inched around another curve in the road I heard it…
I drove ahead about two hundred meters until I reached a wide, straight stretch of road. I got out and inspected the front and side of the car, but at first I couldn’t see any damage. An employee of a local resort took note of my confusion and came over to check things out. He immediately realized what had happened: I had scraped my tire against a low retaining wall, scratching the tire and bending the hubcap. He said that it looked like it would be okay to continue driving, so I thanked him and drove a few more kilometers down the road to the next beach… where I was so overwhelmed with guilt and worry about the repair cost that I left after two minutes and drove back to the car rental place.
Amazingly, the car rental shop didn’t care at all about the damage I’d done. They laughed at me for bringing the car back, told me they’d charge €50 to repair it, and sent me back on the road to continue exploring the island!
I spent the day making a full loop of the island, stopping along the way at completely-isolated beaches that often only had space for one car to park. I waded out into the warm water, but the rain kept me from swimming and, honestly, the water was often quite rough. I also crossed through the middle of the island, up a mountainous pass, through the jungle, inching my way up the hill and half-inching my way down the slippery road on the other side.
I returned the car around 5:00 pm, after a full day of driving, and true to the rental car company’s word, they just asked for €50 cash to cover the damage I’d caused to the front tire and hubcap.
Ferries in the Seychelles
I had pre-purchased my Cat Cocos tickets before arriving on Mahe. When I bought my tickets in November, 2019, I had to print my own confirmations and arrive at the dock sixty minutes before departure. I checked the website today (July 2020) and while I can’t tell whether or not confirmations still need to be printed, I see that their Terms & Conditions now say that you only need to be at the dock thirty minutes early.
On the advice of many internet strangers I booked a seat on the “Island Hopper Upper Deck”, which is supposed to be a semi-private, open-air, covered deck on the second floor of the catamaran. On the outward journey they did not enforce ticketing in this area so it was completely packed with everyone who had purchased a regular fare plus everyone who had bought a more-expensive Island Hopper ticket, but on the way back they rigidly enforced ticketing and there were only about fifteen people allowed on this deck. You really want to be here, and it’s worth paying extra to guarantee your spot, as the ride between Mahe and Praslin is rough – even on a calm day – and if you’re trapped inside in the hot, humid general seating area then you’re way more likely to get sick. Even people on the Island Hopper deck were regularly vomiting over the side of the boat. I am not prone to seasickness at all, but even I was feeling a little bit queasy for the hour-long trip in each direction.
Cat Cocos also offers onward service from Praslin to La Digue, which only takes fifteen minutes. I didn’t bother going to La Digue as I didn’t feel the need to see another rainy island.
If you are prone to seasickness or if you’re short on time, you can also fly from Mahe to Praslin with Air Seychelles sometimes for less than the price of taking the ferry. Looking at August 2020, I see return flights for as little as $45 USD (half the price of the Cat Cocos catamaran!).
Cat Cocos photo via David Stanley under a Creative Commons license.
Things to Do in the Seychelles
So you might be wondering what I actually did for five days. Believe me, it’s nine months later and I’m wondering the same thing. It feels like I was in some kind of time-money vortex where I was just sitting there as all my money disappeared into thin air right before my eyes.
Beaches of the Seychelles
The Seychelles typically experience almost two hundred rainy days every year. Contrary to one popular “travel influencer” whose sponsored posts claim that the weather in the Seychelles is great year-round, you’re more likely to experience rainy days than sunny days when you visit. I was there in November, which is often considered to be one of the best months of the year, weather-wise, and it still rained all day, every day, for my entire trip.
Above, I’ve shared a 100% unretouched, unedited photo of one of the beaches I stopped at when I was driving around Praslin. Of course it’s naturally beautiful, but it’s not great for swimming, snorkeling or even suntanning (the water was rough and the tide often covered the entire sandy area).
If you’re lucky and you have good weather, you might get beaches like this one, from a free stock photo I found. The white sand is nice for suntanning (bring a book, as cellular data on the island is more expensive than crashing your rental car!) and the water is warm enough for swimming and floating. I don’t know which island this photo was taken on, but I saw lots of similar beaches on Praslin and Mahe.
Scuba Diving in the Seychelles
I forgot to mention that I caught a pretty bad cold in Mumbai. Before I left India I had booked a day of scuba diving on Praslin, but when I landed on Mahe I knew that there would be no way I could safely equalize my ears on a scuba dive, so I cancelled my booking right away. Fortunately the dive shop I’d chosen, Octopus Diver, was 100% understanding and didn’t charge me for the missed dives. I don’t think I would have enjoyed diving on such miserable days anyways, but I was once again disappointed to miss the chance to dive with whale sharks (shown above, they migrate through the Indian Ocean from September to January) and other tropical fish.
Vallée de Mai Nature Reserve
On my drive across the island of Praslin I passed through the Vallée de Mai Nature Reserve, Praslin’s national park area. Admission is 350 Seychelles rupees, or about $20 USD, which gives you access to a few kilometers of walking trails and information about the flora and fauna in the park. This is where most of the islands vulva-shaped cocos de mer grow, and it’s also home to a few different animals including the local black parrot. What you won’t find here are the famous Seychelles tortoises, as they almost all leave more than 1,000 miles away on the Aldabra Atoll. I won’t lie – I didn’t feel like paying $20 to walk five kilometers through the rainforest in the pouring rain… but I did use the free, clean public toilets here.
Careful – As of July 2020, the park’s official website has been hacked and is redirecting to a spam website.
The Takamaka Rum Distillery
I’m not a big drinker (I keep saying that, then I keep writing posts like my worldwide day drinking guide…) but I do like to drink rum when I’m in the tropics. Obviously, I was really excited to discover that Chez Coco was right beside Mahe’s top rum distillery, Takamaka Rum, but when I wandered over around 3:45 pm I discovered that they close at 4:00, and they don’t have much interest in helping people in their final minutes. It was a bit of a shock to go from the warm hospitality I’d experienced almost everywhere else to the attitude of the staff here, who wouldn’t even sell me rum, much less let me taste any. Maybe they’ve warmed up since I was there, in which case make your plans via their website rather than visiting spontaneously.
Food in the Seychelles
I’m not a geographer, but when I look at a map of the world, it appears that the closest big city to the Seychelles is Nairobi, Kenya, which is about 2,100 kilometers away. Aside from the local fresh fruit and seafood, food has to travel a long way to reach the Seychelles, and you feel that in both the quality and the price of what is available.
Generally, I never recommend that travelers bring their own food with them. The Seychelles is the one area where I would say it can’t hurt to pack a few non-perishable extras, like a jar of peanut butter, a jar of pesto and a few protein bars. Since most people stay in vacation rentals with kitchens, having a few flavorful ingredients on hand can help turn boring, shelf-stable imports into tastier, more satisfying meals.
Please keep in mind that I am a vegetarian. I have traveled to more than sixty countries as a vegetarian (read all my vegetarian travel tips!) and I would rank the Seychelles as one of the most difficult places in the world to eat well as a vegetarian. If you eat meat, and especially if you eat fish, your restaurant dining options will be a lot broader than what I had to choose from.
Supermarkets and Mini-Markets
There are supermarkets and mini-markets on Praslin and Mahe, including options within easy walking distance of all three accommodation options I noted above. However, they were some of the worst grocery stores I’ve been to anywhere in the world: tiny, dark, damp shops with narrow aisles that have been disorderly stocked with shelf-stable products like Spam (so much Spam), mayonnaise, sugary cookies and canned vegetables. I didn’t visit the biggest supermarket on Mahe (STC Hypermarket) so I can’t speak to it, but I visited the second-best grocery store (according to Google) and honestly thought it was awful. Depending on your tolerance for preserved and packaged foods, your success in these shops is going to be hit-or-miss.
Kafe Kreole – Mahe
This was the restaurant recommended by the owners of Chez Coco, and I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the food available here. I believe I had a homemade vegetarian pasta dish that was actually quite good, plus homemade tiramisu and one of their tropical rum-based cocktails. I think my pasta was about $25 USD, with my cocktail and dessert both running around $10 or $15. It’s a nice atmosphere and it appeared the staff had good relationships with repeat visitors who owned nearby vacation properties. That being said, there was also a feeling of very casual wealth here, and as a solo backpacker I felt a bit out of place (even if I was dressed nicely and could easily afford my meal).
Baobab Pizzeria – Mahe
I had an early dinner here on my first night on Mahe, as it was an easy walk from Maison Hibiscus. I find this so odd… it has great reviews on Google (500+ reviews with an average of four stars) but honestly, this was some of the worst pizza I’ve ever had. Quality-wise, it was on par with the Domino’s pizza I had delivered to my seat on an Indian train, but flavor-wise the vegetarian options were uninspired. On top of that, the whole atmosphere was sweaty, damp, stagnant and dirty. I’ve eaten at lots of beach-front restaurants and this was one of the grimiest, which is disappointing when you’re paying $10 USD for a four-slice personal pizza.
Cafe des Arts – Praslin
I was prepared to shell out $44 CAD for the only vegetarian dish at this upscale cafe on Praslin – rice with a lentil curry – but the servers here were intent on ignoring me for a full ten minutes until I finally left. They weren’t busy (there was only one occupied table!) but either they don’t cater to single diners or they don’t cater to single women or they’re just assholes. I tried to connect with them on social media to follow up and they ignored me there too.
Gelateria de Luca – Praslin
I actually ate at this Italian restaurant twice, because it was close to Exotic Guesthouse and it was affordable. One night I had a pizza, and then I returned for an order of bruschetta and a meal-sized salad. The Italian food is significantly better than at Baobob, even though prices are quite similar. Also, they have lots of ice cream!
“Take-Away Praslin Baie Sainte-Anne”
I’m just copying the name from Google because I’m not sure if this place really has a name. Beside Gelateria de Luca (in the direction of the main road) there is a supermarket, and in the evening a food truck sets up in front of the supermarket, serving “cheap” (for the island) curries. I’m a vegetarian, so I ordered the vegetable curry and it was fine for a food truck curry. From what I’ve read online, opinions on the meat and fish curries are mixed. What a great time to be a vegetarian!
Le Cafe De Celiska
On the far southern tip of the island, Le Cafe de Celiska is probably the nicest place I ate on Praslin. They made me an off-menu vegetable curry, which I enjoyed with a glass of lemonade. Even though it was bit rainy I still enjoyed eating on the terrace, right across from the beach, and unlike some other restaurants on the island it was spotlessly clean and the servers were kind and just pleasant to interact with. Also, they had free WiFi! If you don’t have a rental car there is a bus stop right across the street.
Fruit & Fish Vendors
At busy locations close to homes and vacation rentals, locals will set up tables selling local fruits and fish. I obviously can’t speak to the fish, but I did spent $17 Canadian dollars on fruit from these guys, and most of it was inedible. The bananas were fine, but the mangoes never ripened (they went straight from under-ripe to rotten) and the passionfruit was too sour to be enjoyed. I’m not sure what the reddish fruit on the table was but the guys threw in a few for free, and they also weren’t sweet enough to be enjoyable. Stick to the bananas!
By the time I left the Seychelles I had spent almost $2000 Canadian dollars and hadn’t done much more than wander around in the rain, read books in bed, crash a rental car and eat crappy food. That didn’t include the cost of my airfare, which was $670 Canadian (from Mumbai to Durban, with the stopover in Mahe and a change of plans in Johannesburg).
Would I recommend that you visit the Seychelles?
That’s a tough one. I saw a lot of honeymooners during my trip, and I felt awful for people who had splurged on resorts and other luxury travel experiences, only to spend their entire trip looking out the window at the rain. According to most of the locals I spoke to, the weather I experienced was normal and expected, year-round. They noted that climate change seemed to be impacting the country, with many people perceiving there had been more stormy, rainy days in recent years than there were ten or twenty years earlier.
Weather aside, I also felt like I really strong positive or negative feelings about almost everything in the Seychelles, whereas I’m often more measured in other destinations. I was so impressed by the hospitality at the three places I stayed… and so shocked by the rudeness of the staff at some restaurants and the rum distillery. The vegetarian food was usually notably awful, while the beaches were overwhelmingly beautiful. It was just up and down and up and down from one minute to the next.
If you’re in India or South Africa (or maybe France?) and can book a last-minute trip to the Seychelles based on a forecast showing lots of sunshine and little rain in the near future, it’s a beautiful destination for people who can afford it. If you like suntanning, eating seafood and floating around in shallow water, it’s a place you’ll probably enjoy. If you’re looking for a destination with more defined things to do, consider other beach destinations (Roatan is always a favorite, and I also loved Gili Air).
Before I sign off, I’d like to share three more unedited photos from my time on the Seychelles, all taken on different afternoons, to show you what you can expect if you are there on one of the two hundred rainy days they experience every year:
I hope I haven’t crushed yours dreams of visiting the Seychelles!
I just want you to know the truth, because I feel like if I had read an honest blog post like this before my trip, I probably would have spent five more days in India and just flown directly to South Africa.
What do you think? Have you been to the Seychelles? Is it somewhere you’ve considered visiting? Let me know in the comments!