The only bad thing about the Seychelles is getting there. One can fly from New York on British Airways, which has connecting flights from London on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays, or on Air France, with connecting flights from Paris on Thursdays and Saturdays. The actual time spent in the air, New York to the islands, is about 20 hours, but that doesn't include the delays that frequently occur at Heathrow and Charles de Gaulle airports. Round-trip fare from New York: $1,259 excursion rate (14-45 days), $1,697 economy and $2,515 first class.
So, the trip is long, tedious and expensive, but now for the good news. The unspoiled Seychelles offer swimming and sunbathing along miles of empty, white-sand beaches, excellent snorkeling and scuba diving (called "goggling" by the locals), and sport fishing for striped, black and blue marlin, sailfish, yellowfin tuna, wahoo, bonito, various species of shark and dogtooth tuna; five world records on the latter species have been set in the Seychelles. Birders won't even need binoculars to add half a dozen exceedingly rare and almost poignantly trusting species to their life lists—birds like the black parrot, black paradise flycatcher and Seychelles brush warbler.
The climate is unusually agreeable for a country so near the equator. Temperatures average between 75° and 85°, and the annual rainfall, though a heavy 90 inches, occurs primarily from November through January. Nonetheless, bookings are hardest to get in December. "People even sleep on hotel floors just to get out of their misery in Europe," explains travel agent Sonja Lindblad. The most comfortable time to visit is during the cooler southeast-trade-wind period from May through September.
Mahè, the largest of the archipelago's 92 islands, is the site of both the International Airport and the country's capital, Victoria, a city of 23,000 nestled at the foot of palm- and fern-carpeted mountains. The most luxurious and expensive hotel on Mahè is Fisherman's Cove ($85 a day per person, including breakfast). Built of native stone topped with thatching, it offers air-conditioned chalets and rooms with balconies overlooking Beau Vallon Bay. The Mahè Beach is a large, modern European-style hotel built on a rocky point; from a distance it resembles an enormous cruise ship gone aground. It has a sizable swimming pool, a small beach, tennis courts and spectacular scenery. Except for some tropical landscaping, however, the hotel lacks island atmosphere and charm. The average rate for an air-conditioned double room is from $45 to $60 a day per person, including breakfast and dinner. Also on Mahè are the Beau Vallon Bay, the Coral Strand and the Reef. All provide a variety of water sports, and disco music at night, but they are much like resort hotels anywhere. Double rooms are in the same price range as the Mahè Beach's. If you'd like something more intimate, a number of inns and guesthouses are available.
Exploring Mahè's beaches and small restaurants is a treat, and a car can be rented for $15 a day. But beware. Although paved, narrow mountain roads are shoulderless, and driving is on the left side, English fashion. As a further driving hazard, the scenery is very distracting. Each switchback opens up a spectacular view of lush forest at one turn and azure sea and white beach at the other.
Praslin Island, 24 miles northeast of Mahè, is ringed with great stretches of sand, interrupted only by an occasional sun-bleached tree trunk or wind-sculptured rock. The largest hotel on Praslin, the Paradise, consists of 16 comfortably furnished chalets cooled by overhead fans. Excellent Creole and European cuisine is served buffet-style. A double room with breakfast is about $27 per person. The Village du Pecheur, situated on the beach of the C‚Äö√†√∂¬¨•te d'Or, is a delightful little hotel made up of five thatch-roofed chalets. At night, tables are placed on the beach; dinner, served under the stars, features superb Creole dishes and fresh bourgeois (red snapper) which practically jump out of the sea into the frying pan. A room with full board costs $45 per person.
Oxcarts meet the ferry that regularly leaves Praslin for La Digue. No cars disturb the tranquillity of this island, and the unpaved street of the village, La Passe, is swept clean by a woman with a palm-frond broom. Gregoire's Island Lodge, the largest of the three hotels on La Digue, has 10 A-frame cottages and charges $45 per person for a double, including all meals.
The only hotel on Bird Island, a wildlife refuge, is the Bird Island Lodge, a cluster of thatched chalets that resembles a small African village. The Lodge's extensive buffet luncheon includes freshly caught wahoo and dolphin, prepared in Creole, Chinese or Indian style. A double with full board is $52 per person.
For the first-time visitor, travel agents are indispensable. The complications of booking hotel accommodations, transportation to the various islands and charter boats, if the visitor is a fisherman, will discourage the do-it-yourselfer. In the U.S., Lindblad Travel Inc. (133 East 55th St., New York, N.Y. 10022) works directly with professional travel agents to set up itineraries. Sonja Lindblad is an expert on the islands, having lived there for eight years. Or contact these tour operators in Victoria, Mahè: TSS Travel Services (Seychelles) Ltd. (P.O. Box 356); Coralline United Touring, Ltd. (P.O. Box 115); Blue Safari (Pty) Ltd. (P.O. Box 549); or TFC Tours/Mason's Air Travel (P.O. Box 459).
For an evocation of the Seychelles by George Plimpton, turn to page 58.