PICS: Seychelles is another world
The cast of Finding Nemo are putting on a show for me.
Within touching distance a Powderblue Tang swims past me, followed by an Emperor Angelfish and then a Triggerfish.
Scores of them.
Wherever I cast my eyes as I snorkel the crystal clear waters of Sante Anne National Marine Park – off the island of Mahe in Seychelles – a galaxy of brightly-coloured fish dance and parade away.
Just when I think it could not get any better, a school of Damselfish swim by.
I reach my hand out to touch them and they dart away. It was breathtaking.
I am in Seychelles on the invitation of the Seychelles Tourism Board to see what measures the country has put in place to ensure its visitors are kept safe from the coronavirus as countries around the world – especially those with big tourist markets – walk the tightrope of opening their borders amid the global pandemic.
Hours earlier, I had boarded the Dolphin Nemo Glass Bottom Boat – after getting my hands sanitised – with two media colleagues from South Africa. We were greeted by Captain Michael, a local Seychoille who would spend the day regaling us with tales from his youth, pointing out landmarks, educating us about coral reefs and how 60% of them have died off in Seychelles because of global warming – which has not affected the fish population – and then taking us off to his secret snorkelling location where we were able to spot a 2.5m Nurse shark.
Seeing a shark in its natural habitat freaked us out. Coming from South Africa, we were used to the predatory sharks that stalk our waters, but Michael assured us that a Nurse shark was harmless.
In fact, it was a theme throughout our 7-day excursion, told to us from tour guides to drivers: “There is nothing on the islands, no snakes, no mammals and no insects that can kill you. And there is nothing in our waters that can kill you.”
The islands of Seychelles have, for more than three decades, been a must-do holiday destination for South Africans, who come to scuba-dive, snorkel and fish.
Many South Africans own property on Seychelles, and Eden Island in Mahe is said to be “little South Africa” – complete with an Absa ATM and a Spar supermarket.
Like most countries around the world, Seychelles, whose economy is 80% reliant on tourism, was forced to shut its borders for three months from April as the coronavirus spread around the world.
Its government undertook to pay all its citizens affected by the lockdown their salaries until the end of December but is now hoping that opening their borders to tourism again will revive the sector – even as the virus continues to infect people around the globe.
Strict measures have been put in place, such as mandatory Covid-19 testing before entering the country and, when people arrive, mask-wearing and sanitising everywhere they go.
While Seychelles is made up of 115 islands, most tourists base themselves on Mahe, which is in the capital of Victoria or Praslin, a 15-minute flight away.
On Praslin islands one will find, according to Lonely Planet, the world’s best beach, Anso Lazio, on the island’s north west.
However, to see the world’s most pristine beach, one has to get on to a ferry for a 15-minute journey to La Digue Island, where you will find Anse Source D’Argent. The beach is a location scout’s dream destination as the landscape is made up of giant boulders that lends itself to the most Instagram-worthy pictures.
La Digue itself has a quaintness unmatched anywhere in the world as there a very few cars on its roads and the main mode of transport is a bicycle.
You are spoilt for choice for accommodation and can choose where you want to stay based on your needs. There are hundreds of bed and breakfast establishments, boutique hotels, up to 5-star rated. The average price for one night in Seychelles in a high-end hotel is around 50 euros.
The food – and the restaurants – on the islands is out of this world. The foodie has a choice between local Creole dishes, Western meals and Chinese. For the more adventurous foodie, trying the fruit bat, a local delicacy, is a must.
It’s not only the white sandy beaches and the warm crystal clear waters on some of the world’s most pristine beaches that are a drawcard.
Seychelles has flora and fauna in abundance and the mythical Coco de Mer palm tree, which produces the world’s biggest nut and grows only on Praslin islands, is a must-see.
Everyone Seychellois you meet on Praslin Island has a story about the Coco de Mer, which grows wild in another must-see, the Vallee de Mei – a protected national park.
So beautiful is the Vallee de Mei that it was considered the original site of the Garden of Eden.
The Seychelles sells its country to the world under the tag line, “another world”.
It’s not hard to see why.