Islands to play the carefree castaway

Costa Rica

The Seychelles, a magical scatter of 115 islands in the Indian Ocean with pristine white sand beaches and natural wonders, is many people's first choice for castaway seclusion. Gareth's list includes diving with sharks,  jungle jaunts,  spotting the Paradise bird and long, easy days on empty beaches scented with cinnamon trees and frangipani. Photo: Tim Davies

Bag your own beach

The island of Mahé is the largest in the Seychelles. Its finest beach has to be Anse Major In the north-west. it’s accessible only by foot (or fishing boat). There’s an easy 1 hour walk from the bus stop at La Scala (Bel Ombre) through shaded valleys and across weather-beaten granite rock faces, ending in a pretty descent onto Major’s white sands. Snorkelling here is some of the best around, and like most beaches it is supervised by the tourist police. They sit under a shady tree, keeping your belongings safe while you swim. There are several picturesque and often completely empty bays to investigate in the island’s south - it’s worth hiring a car. But beware: there are treacherous currents and swimming here is not advised.

Hike the green diamond

Almost all of Mahé, from the Morne Seychelles in the north to Police Bay in the south, is covered in luxuriant green. Squadrons of white-tailed tropic birds and fruit bats patrol over thick Jurassic forest that reaches to the summit of Morne, Mahe’s tallest peak ( 2700 feet). The best way to explore this delightfully cool forest is to take a half a day hike along one of the many trails within the Morne Seychellois National Park. Look for tiny frogs hiding within pitcher plants, and the harmless endemic wolf snake basking in patches of sun. If you only choose one walk, make it up to the summit of Morne Blanc (45 minutes). The reward is perhaps the finest view in the Indian Ocean.

Spot the paradise bird

From Mahé you can easily see the smaller granitic islands of Praslin and La Digue lying side-by-side 25 miles to the north. The transport choice is between the speedy Cat Cocos to Praslin (45 minutes) or, for the more swashbuckling, the slower-paced cargo schooner directly to La Digue (3 hours). Life is effortless on La Digue, where the boulder-strewn beaches are even prettier than on Mahé. Rent bikes for the day and peddle over to Grande Anse where turquoise breakers pummel the beach. Keep an eye out for the endemic Seychelles paradise flycatcher, an endangered bird confined to La Digue (and more recently Denis island) of which the locals are deeply proud.

Perhaps the best of all the islands is Aride, the nearest the Seychelles comes to its pristine state before it was discovered by the outside world. The entire island is one of the finest tropical island nature reserves in the world, bought for posterity in 1973 by British naturalist Christopher Cadbury (of the chocolate making family). Experts say there are more birds of more species here than on the other 40 granitic islands combined, with a million breeding seabirds, and land birds found only here such as such as magpie robins, fodies and blue pigeon. The sweet-scented Wright's gardenia grows nowhere else. The island has no accommodation, but there are daily boat trips to it.

Victoria’s secrets

Victoria is the Seychelles’ tiny capital. You can explore it in a pleasant two-hour stroll. Highlights include the silver-painted replica of Vauxhall’s Little Ben in London, and the Natural History Museum. The streets are rarely busy, except on Saturday mornings, and there are many small shops where you can refuel with cold drinks and samosas. Don't miss the outdoor market. Go in the morning to see the day’s catch laid out on display: red snappers, grouper, mackerel, sharks and eagle rays. This is fish as fresh as it gets. Other stalls are stacked with colourful fruits, vegetables and spices, and even for those who aren’t self-catering it’s easy to fill up a bag with exotic star fruit, mangos and coconuts for a picnic later on the beach.

Swim with the sharks

Between August and October the waters around Seychelles are at their most productive, and blooms of plankton signal the start of the whale shark season. A research project has been studying these harmless, filter feeding sharks, the largest fish in the ocean, for 20 years and gives visitors the chance to swim with them every afternoon. For the best view, arrange with the Marine Conservation Society Seychelles to go up in the microlite which makes morning reconnaissance flights to spot whale sharks, and direct the researchers on the boats below. Try Marine Conservation Society Seychelles, or Dive Seychelles. Find them through - see below.

Sunset strolling

Beau Vallon, in the north west of Mahé, is a favourite bay for locals and tourists alike, especially at weekends. But you needn’t fret about heaving throngs and scuffles over prime territory. The bay, even at its busiest, is relaxed and unspoilt. Several hotels and some good dive centres are dotted along the beach, and you can find a handful of humble but recommendable restaurants at the northern end. Watch the sun set into the Indian Ocean and then find a table in Baobab Restaurant for an excellent pizza. Beau Vallon hosts a lively Wednesday evening market. It kicks off just after the sun has set. Stalls serve up curry and chapatis to go. Or grab a tropical fruit juice and wander along the starlit sands.

Join Directory of Destinations on Facebook
Follow Directory of Destinations on Twitter