As promised, this is the second of two posts covering our experiences of the Seychelles outside the Hilton Northolme. To read about eating in the Seychelles and the capital of Victoria, check out this post.
Hiking to Anse Major
I like doing at least one physical activity on my vacations, be it mountain biking in the foothills of the Andes in Mendoza, kayaking in Panama’s Gatun Lake, or hiking through Cinque Terre in Italy. I knew there were a ton of beautiful hikes throughout Mahe, and somehow convinced my typically hike-averse boyfriend to join me on one. There were a number of options, some which went higher than others and provided wonderful views, but we decided to combine our hike with a beach day, and head to Anse Major, a beautiful beach that can only be accessed via boat or hike.
The directions for finding the trailhead were not particularly helpful – basically drive south from Beau Vallon and follow the road until you can’t go any farther by car. After a few “is this it?” false alarms, we pulled our car into a nook at what seemed to be a huge hotel under construction and began the hike.
The hike had been labeled as “easy,” but I actually think moderate would have been a better description. Although the path was fairly well-marked, there were a decent number of climbs up and down using small rocks as steps. There was also a lot of uphill and downhill, making neither direction particularly easy. But one thing that was not underrated were the views, which were simply breathtaking the entire time as you stay along the water, going through what seem to be several different climates (jungle, arid, wooded forest). It was a hot day, and we were glad we had our Hilton hats.
We forgot to time the hike in either direction, but we think it was about 90 minutes each way – not bad at all. There was a tap with water at the beginning, but nothing at the beach. So make sure you stock up!
The first view of the beach is breathtaking – alas, it deceptively seems you are almost there when yo still have 20-30 minutes to go. But finally, you pull away the brush, and you are there at a spectacular peaceful beach. Although we hadn’t seen anyone on the hike, there were about 10 people on the beach, many of whom left soon after on a water taxi. There was plenty of space for us to just lay down under the palm trees and admire the view – after taking what was possibly the most refreshing dip of our lives. We swam in the very blue water, and had a lovely time.
We probably would have stayed longer on the beach before hiking back had we known the poor quality beach we would have the next day, but at the time, we figured we’d have a few hours of beach the following day on our excursion to the Sainte Anne Marine Park . . .
Creole Travel Excursion to the Sainte Anne Marine Park
We wanted to do one day of a guided activity, and possibly get off of Mahe. Lots of folks fly or take the ferry to Praslin or La Digue, the other major islands of the Seychelles, but that was pretty cost-prohibitive. Several tour operators were selling one-day excursions to the Sainte Anne Marine National Park, a group of six islands off the east coast of Mahe that are a protected area where fishing and jet-skiing are not allowed. Some of the islands have hotels, and others are just for exploring.
The day trip wasn’t cheap – 100 Euros (about $137), but that didn’t seem so bad for a full day, including pickup from our hotel, a boat ride, snorkeling, a tour of Moyenne Island, and time at a beach, as well as lunch. Alas, the trip was not well-done, and although I’m glad we did the excursion, I would not recommend the excursion run by Creole Travel (although we booked through Holidays Seychelles).
The bus came and picked us up right on time at 8 am and after picking up a family and an older Japanese couple at another Beau Vallon hotel, we headed into Victoria. Once we got to the marina near Eden Island, we had a thirty minute wait while other transports arrived. Finally, the group was divided into French-language and English-language groups, and we boarded our glass-bottomed boat.
The boat was at capacity, with about 20 people. Unlike other tours I’ve been on, the guide didn’t bother with introductions or shmoozing the group. His English wasn’t very good either – surprising given how good everyone else we encountered in the Seychelles spoke English. We had gotten pushed to the back of the boat and the only area that had no coverage for the sun and no breeze whatsoever. It was so hot that I thought I was going to pass out. Eventually we were able to move to the other end of the boat where it was at least 15 degrees cooler.
We got to see some fish and some unremarkable reefs through the foggy glass at the bottom of boat. The guide passed out bread and we got to feed some fish. They were feisty, yet beautiful, and it was a hoot to watch them fighting each other for bread. A bit further out in the Marine Park, we moored for snorkeling. Without any instruction or direction, we were offered equipment and sent out into the water. It was a lot of fun puttering around and was quite relaxing. I was a bit surprised, though, that the water wasn’t quite as clear and the fish and reefs not quite as colorful as in the Caribbean.
One advantage of no introductions was that we played the fun “Guess where those people are from” game, which required keen eavesdropping – particularly where European languages were observed. Our favorites were a seemingly-Italian couple in their late 50s/ early 60s. The man wore a (fake) Armani Jeans polo, (presumably fake) Emporio Armani sunglasses, and Giorgio Armani shorts – capped off with a gold chain and a diamond-studded Armani charm. His wife had painted-on eyebrows, dyed blond hair, and sequined leopard print sneakers (with glittered shoelaces). For snorkeling, she stripped down to a metallic bikini. Every time we got off the boat, she had a cigarette. She reminded me of Maya Rudolph’s impression of Donatella Versace, down to the laugh. To our amazement, though, on closer inspection, we discovered they spoke German!
After snorkeling, we headed to Moyenne Island, which has an interesting story. The island was bought by Brendon Grimshaw, an English writer, in the 1970s. Grimshaw lived on the previously-abandoned island, and set about cleaning up the island and turning it into a nature destination. He created pathways and set up a small museum. The island eventually became a national park, and Grimshaw continued to live there until his death in 2012, and the island is now administered by a trust.
There’s a very pretty beach on the island, and we got to wait there a bit before our tour began. The tour was interesting, especially as we got to interact with the giant tortoises that Grimshaw had bought and raised on the island.
It was only about four hours into our “full day” tour, but that was the last organized activity. From Moyenne, we were transported to Cerf Island, one of the other islands in the park, and taken to dingy picnic tent on the side of a small beach close to Victoria. There was a buffet barbeque lunch that was fine, though there really wasn’t enough chicken for the size crowd. I was outraged to find that not only were beverages not included, but Creole Travel was committing highway robbery with the prices it was charging for water and soft drinks. Bottles of water were about $5 each.
We had about two hours after lunch to sit and wait on the small beach. The water was the least clear I’d seen in the Seychelles, and felt like a lukewarm bathtub. We really would have much rather been back at our hotel. The tent was next to a hotel, Le Habitation, and the guide had mentioned we could use their bathrooms and buy stuff at their bar – though were never shown how to get there. After a while sitting at the picnic tables on the cruddy beach, we headed to the hotel’s small grounds, took some empty seats, and got drinks at the bar. The hotel’s bar, notably charged half as much for bottled water and soft drinks as Creole Travel was.
We were very ready to go back to the Hilton, and the boatride back to Victoria was short. Unfortunately, our bus was not there when it was supposed to be, and we had to wait about 25 minutes for a ride back to the hotel.
All in all, an interesting day with some good sights, but I recommend a tour operator other than Creole Travel.
I leave you with some seashells in the Seychelles…. Sally was not in sight.