The Indian Ocean trio of Seychelles, Mauritius and the Maldives may all share the vast expanse of azure water that laps at their shores, but that’s where the similarity ends, with each country having its own unique culture and natural appeal, plus a distinctive array of superb hotels.
The 115 islands of Seychelles are perhaps the most wildly paradisaical of them all, with endless chalk-white crescents and stretches of beach hemmed by enormous granite boulders so big that they must surely have been dropped by giants. There’s a population of only about 100,000 people spread across these scattered islands, so you can expect plenty of peace and space.
Still, adventure does await those who seek it, from hiking Morne Seychellois – the country’s highest mountain is a challenging mission that you should allow a good half-day for – to diving in hopes of seeing some of the 850 species of fish that can be found here. Seychelles also prides itself on its rich Creole culture, and there’s no better time to see this come alive than for Festival Kreol, which is usually held in October.
In the Maldives, it’s more of a numbers game – both in terms of the volume of people who flock to its Robinson Crusoe-style islands, and in the plethora of classy resorts they get to choose from. It’s also a game of innovation – top properties constantly try to outdo each other with engineering feats such as the Muraka, a two-level residence at Conrad Maldives Rangali Island with an underwater bedroom that means you can literally sleep with the fishes.
Mauritius, meanwhile, has a population of about 1.2 million and a history woven with tales of colonisation and sugar plantations. The nation is made up of many islets and sister islands include Rodriguez, but the bulk of travellers will explore the large main island of Mauritius, which has a strong Indian and Chinese heritage, a wonderful untamed interior and a dramatic coastline. Resorts tend to be on beaches that are a struggle to peel yourself away from, but you should try and explore what this island has to offer.
Of the three countries, Seychelles is the one where tourism is most low-impact and its development carefully measured, with islands maintaining a land-that-time forgot look about them. Sustainability is a way of life here, with almost half of this Eden-like paradise set aside as national parks and reserves. As a visitor, you can expect to come across plenty of wildlife-saving projects and conservation-first resorts.
Seychelles is made up of two island groups – the inner group of more than 40 mountainous granitic islands, which form the cultural, economic and tourism hub and include the three main islands of Mahe, Praslin and La Digue; and the 70 or so outlying, largely uninhabited, flat coralline specks known as the Outer Islands.
One new option in that area is a small eco camp on Wizard Island, set within the magnificent Cosmoledo Atoll, where Blue Safari Seychelles takes care of conservation and preservation. Cosmoledo has always been the domain of fly fishing, but Cosmoledo Eco Camp means adventurous, conservation-minded souls can now stay there in one of eight converted shipping containers, or “eco pods”.
Seychelles boasts a clutch of desirable resorts that have private islands all to themselves, such as North, Denis, Desroches, Cousine and Fregate. The last of these plays a crucial role in conserving the critically endangered magpie robin as well as hosting the archipelago’s second-largest gathering of giant tortoises, more than 3,000 of them. The highest number live on Aldabra, where there is a 150,000-strong population of these ancient creatures.
If you’d rather stay on a larger island with a bit more going on, opt for a resort on Mahe, home to the capital, Victoria, and the international airport, along with hotels from the likes of Banyan Tree and Hilton. Bringing some recent global pizazz is Minor Hotels’ top-notch Anantara brand, which took over management of the Maia resort on Mahe last summer.
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