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Introducing Seychelles

You’re planning a trip to the Seychelles? Lucky you! Mother Nature was very generous with these 115 islands scattered in the Indian Ocean and has spoiled them rotten. Undeniably, the beaches are the big attraction, and what beaches: exquisite ribbons of white sand lapped by topaz waters and backed by lush hills and big glacis boulders. And nary a crowd in sight.

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Which island should you go to? Don’t sweat the decision too much. Be it one of the three main islands of Praslin, La Digue or Mahé - its mountainous interior being home to Morne Seychellois National Park - or any outlying island, you’ll strike gold.

With such a dreamlike setting, the Seychelles is, unsurprisingly, a choice place for a honeymoon. But there’s much more to do than simply cracking open a bottle of champagne with the loved one in a luxurious hotel. Having earned a reputation as a paradigm of ecotourism, the Seychelles is a top spot to watch birds and giant tortoises in their natural habitat. And a vast living world lies just below the turquoise waters, beckoning divers of all levels. When you tire of beaches you can venture inland on jungle trails, indulge in fine dining or enjoy the sublime laid-back tempo.

Costs

Visitors to the Seychelles on a tight budget will struggle to get by on less than €70 per person per day (on the basis of two people sharing a room in a guesthouse or self-contained bungalow). A more realistic budget, allowing you to stay at a moderately priced hotel and treat yourself to a few good restaurants, will come in at around €100 to €150 per person per day. Living it up in a top-end resort will usually cost at least €250 per person per day, but will shoot up very quickly with meals and activities. Island hopping and indulging in excursions and other activities also jacks costs up considerably.

Money

The unit of currency is the Seychelles rupee (Rs), which is divided into 100 cents (¢). Bank notes come in denominations of Rs 10, Rs 25, Rs 50, Rs 100 and Rs 500; there are coins of Rs 1, Rs 5, 1¢, 5¢, 10¢and 25¢.

There are some complex rules governing foreign exchange in the Seychelles. By law visitors must pay for all accommodation (including meals and drinks at hotels), excursions, marine park fees, diving, car hire and transport in a major foreign currency (euros are the best currency to carry), either in cash or by credit card. Prices for these services are therefore nearly always quoted in euros (and less frequently in US dollars).

When changing travellers cheques or withdrawing money from an ATM, however, you will receive the money in rupees, not in foreign currency. Even when you pay for something in foreign currency, you will often receive the change in rupees. You can use rupees in shops, cafés and restaurants outside the hotels and for taxi and bus fares, but they can be quite hard to spend otherwise, so only change small amounts at a time.

If you pay cash in euros at guesthouses, small hotels or for car rentals, you’ll be in a position to negotiate a discount (up to 20% if it’s slack). Our tip: bring plenty of cash with you, and use a credit card as a backup.

If you want to change rupees back into foreign currency at the end of your stay, you must go back to the same bank (not necessarily the same branch, but it doesn’t hurt) with the original exchange receipt or ATM slip. The maximum you can convert is Rs 800 and it is illegal to take more than Rs 2000 out of the country. If possible, do it in Victoria rather than at the airport.

ATMs

There are ATMs, which accept major international cards, at the airport and at all the major banks in Victoria. You’ll also find ATMs at Beau Vallon on Mahé and on Praslin and La Digue.

Credit cards

Major credit cards, including Visa and MasterCard, are accepted in most hotels, guesthouses, restaurants and tourist shops.

Moneychangers

The four main banks are Barclays Bank, Seychelles Savings Bank, Nouvobanq and Mauritius Commercial Bank (MCB). All have branches in Victoria while Barclays Bank and Nouvobanq have desks at the airport that are open for all flights – in theory at least. There are also banks on Praslin and La Digue. None of the banks charges commission for changing cash but some do so for travellers cheques, generally a flat rate of Rs 25.

Climate & when to go

The seasons in the Seychelles are defined by the trade winds. These bring warmer, wetter airstreams from the northwest from October to April. From May to September the southeast trades usher in cooler, drier weather but the winds whip up the waves and you’ll want to find protected beaches. The turnaround periods (March to April and October to ­November) are normally calm and windless.

The rain generally comes in sudden, heavy bursts. Mahé and Silhouette, the most mountainous islands, get the highest rainfall. January is the wettest month by far, and July and August the driest. Temperatures range ­between 24°C and 32°C throughout the year.

Although the Seychelles lies outside the cyclone zone, cyclone activity elsewhere in the Indian Ocean can still bring unseasonably grey, windy weather between December and March.

Hotel prices shoot up and accommodation can be hard to find during the peak seasons from December to January and July to August. Easter can also get busy.

A lengthy struggle between France and Great Britain for the islands ended in 1814, when they were ceded to the latter. Independence came in 1976. Socialist rule was brought to a close with a new constitution and free elections in 1993. President France-Albert RENE, who had served since 1977, was re-elected in 2001, but stepped down in 2004. Vice President James MICHEL took over the presidency and in July 2006 was elected to a new five-year term.

Geography

The Seychelles form a widely scattered archipelago of over 100 islands, in the Indian Ocean Northeast of Madagascar.

The islands fall in two main physical types. The islands of the central group, including the main island Mahe, are formed from granite, and consist of a mountainous heart surrounded by a flat coastal strip. The outer islands are made up of coral accretions at various stages of formation, from reefs to atolls. These are generally smaller and almost entirely flat, lying only a few meters above sea level. Most of these islands have no water, and only a few are inhabited.


The main islands enjoy high humidity and rainfall, feeding the lush tropical rain forest. Wildlife includes a rare giant land turtle and colourful reef animals such as the Green Sea Turtle.


The islands have in the past suffered from human incursions, but are now strictly preserved and maintained. The islands are valued greatly for their unique forests and wildlife, some of which is only to be found within these islands.

Society

Occupying a strategic position on the Europe-India sea route, the Seychelles were annexed by France in 1756 to support its colony on Mauritius. It passed to Britain after the Napoleon Wars. Most of the people are of mixed racial descent, and speak the Creole dialect. The Seychelles became independent in 1976 with James R. Mancham as president and Albert Rene as prime minister. In 1979 Albert Rene also took over the presidency, and has instituted a multiparty system. He has been re-elected several times, and has remained in office since 1979.

Economy

The mainstay of the economy is tourism. Before the British handed over control of the Seychelles they built the International Airport on Mahe, which today receives all international planes and visitors. The islands agriculture no longer supports the expanding population. Copra, tobacco, cinnamon, vanilla and coconuts are grown for export, and much food is imported. Other exports include fish, guano and re-exported petroleum products. Industry is largely confined to food processing. Health care is excellent, and education is available to all children.

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