The Seychelles – just the name conjures up images of golden sandy beaches, palm trees, turquoise waters, sunset cocktails and five-star beachside resorts. The islands are a luxurious enclave for honeymooners, celebrities and billionaires. So when I found a flight to South Africa with a stopover in the Seychelles along the way, I couldn’t resist – the only problem was that my travel style’s more budget-luxury than five-star. But I was determined to see if it was possible to visit the Seychelles without spending a fortune. And although it’s never going to be an ultra-cheap destination, it turns out that sticking to a budget isn’t impossible in the Seychelles, even when you’re following in the sandy footprints of A-listers and royalty.
There are 115 different islands in the Seychelles, but most are uninhabited so it comes down to a choice between the three main islands as to where to stay – Mahé, Praslin and La Digue. Mahé is largest and home to the Seychelles’ capital Victoria and the international airport. Praslin is smaller and accessible by plane or ferry, and from there you can get the ferry on to La Digue – the smallest, quietest and arguably prettiest island. The islands are fairly close together so it’s tempting to try and see them all, but travel time and costs add up, so if you only have a few days in the Seychelles it’s best to focus on one island. Accommodation prices tend to be lower the longer you stay, so you can save money by not moving around too much.
Mahé is the cheapest island as it’s the easiest to get to and the biggest so there’s more competition. As we only had a four-day stopover we stuck to Mahé, but if you have a week you can easily hop between islands and try a couple of different locations. From Mahé the fast ferry to Praslin takes about an hour and costs around €94 return, or Mahé to La Digue (via Praslin) takes 90 minutes and costs around €122 return. Peak season is from December–January and June–August, when you’ll pay higher prices and need to book well in advance. Rainy season is from January–February, but it’s still warm and downpours are usually short. So if you don’t mind risking a shower you can save money on flights and accommodation.
The currency in the Seychelles is the rupee (SCR or Seychellois Rupee), with around 19 rupees to the Pound, 16.5 to the Euro and 14 to the US Dollar. Most things have to be imported to the islands, so it’s a good idea to bring plenty of sun cream, mosquito repellent and toiletries to avoid high imported prices.
When you arrive into the airport, you need proof that you have accommodation booked, so it’s not the sort of place you can wing it and pick up a last-minute bargain. Luxury options far outweigh the budget gems, so if you want to bag the best places you need to book as far ahead as you can. Hotels tend to be expensive, so instead look out for family-run guesthouses or self-catering options like chalets, bungalows and villas. Expect to pay between £70 and £150 a night, depending on the location and facilities.
We stayed in the one of the two Fler Payanke apartments on the east coast of Mahé through AirBnB. They’re set on a hill overlooking Anse Royale bay, within walking distance of a beach, bus stop and a few shops and places to eat. Our apartment was a big studio with a balcony and kitchen which cost £85 a night for two (including the AirBnB fees). Other good AirBnB options I had on my shortlist were this studio in the far north of Mahé (£80 a night, sleeps two) and this villa on the west coast (£102 a night, sleeps three). (P.S If you’re new to AirBnB you can get £30 credit towards your first stay by signing up with this link).
La Digue is so small that, other than a few taxis, most people get around by bike or ox cart. Mahé and Praslin are bigger so a hire car is the easiest way to get out and explore. Car hire costs around £34 a day. Most are small automatic cars, which are a bit slow but nimble on the windy mountain roads. Petrol costs fluctuate but we paid around 170 rupees per 10 litres of fuel on Mahé – spending a total of 370 rupees (£20) over four days of car hire, and we covered pretty much every road on the island in that time.
If you don’t want to hire a car, then the best option is the public buses (the mountain roads are a bit hard going for cycling and walking can be a bit hairy as there aren’t a lot of pavements). The buses cover over 40 different routes on Mahé and Praslin – we spotted them even on the smallest beach roads. They use old blue Tata minibuses and the driving can be a bit crazy so hold on tightly around the mountain road hairpin bends! A single fare costs 5 rupees (30p) and it’s easy to spot bus stops as they’re painted on the road.
Things to do
The Seychelles are all about the beaches – and they’re the islands’ best bargain. All beaches are free access, so even the ones with five-star resorts are open to the public. So you can beach-hop your way around the islands and join the jet set from the Banyan Tree resort at Anse Intendance, the MAIA resort at Anse Louis or the Four Seasons at Petite Anse. You can usually access the beach from the road so you don’t have to walk through the hotel grounds. Sometimes there are parking areas or otherwise you can just park on the side of the road, and buses stop at all main beaches. Strong currents mean that some beaches aren’t safe for swimming, or are only safe at certain times of the year, so check local signs before taking a dip.
Away from the beaches there are a few other free or cheap things to do on the islands. There are hikes along the coast or through the mountainous area in the centre of Mahé. Among the most popular walks are the coast path from Beau Vallon to the secluded beach at Anse Major (two hours return) or the steep climb up to Morne Blanc with amazing views over Morne Seychellois National Park (two hours return).
If the weather’s not so good you can visit the Botanic Gardens (100 rupees/£5), Natural History museum (15 rupees/80p) and Hindu temple in the capital Victoria. Mahé is also home to the Takamaka rum distillery which runs tours and tastings at 11.30am and 1.30pm, Monday–Friday (250 rupees/£13). And if you do want to splash out (excuse the pun), you can take a snorkelling or diving trip, a boat out to an uninhabited island or spot whale sharks if you’re there between August and October.
Food and drink
Apart from fish and a few varieties of local fruit and veg, everything else has to be imported into the Seychelles so it comes at a premium price. This means a main course in a standard restaurant costs around 250 rupees (£13) and high-end resorts can be much higher. Add in a couple of drinks and the service charge and you’re looking at at least £50 for a meal for two. One bargain in Mahé though is Beau Vallon’s Wednesday market (4pm–8pm), with freshly cooked dishes like satay, grilled fish and coconut curry.
Self-catering helps keep the prices down – and even if you eat out in the evenings it’s worth grabbing supplies for a lunchtime picnic. In Victoria the covered market is open every day except Sunday and sells local fruit and veg, spices and fresh fish – you’ll also see fish sold along the roadside. There are also lots of little Indian supermarkets where you can pick up drinks and a few basic food items. Or there are a couple of bigger international supermarkets in Mahé – a Co-op in the Eden Island development and a big STC on the outskirts of Victoria. Both sell a lot of imported European products (mainly from France).
If you’ve got space in your bag it’s worth bringing a few food basics like pasta, cereal bars, tea and coffee to get you started, and stock up on alcohol at duty free before you arrive. You can’t bring plant or animal products into the country, but you can bring up to two litres of wine and two litres of spirits per person. Seybrew beer and Takamaka rum are both produced on the islands so prices are lower – you’ll pay around 35 rupees (£2) for a 0.5 litre Seybrew in a local shop versus 160 rupees (£9) for a beach bar cocktail.
So, can you visit the Seychelles on a budget? Well sort of! If you’re on a really tight budget then you’ll struggle with the food and accommodation prices. But for around £80 a day per person you can stay in an apartment, rent a car, spend your days beach-hopping and hiking, cook most of your own food and have a few local drinks. It’s very easy to spend a lot more though, so it’s a destination where you need to always keep one eye on the budget – but it’s worth it for a taste of Indian Ocean paradise.