Regardless of final destination, all visitors to the Seychelles will begin their journey on Mahé, the largest and most diverse island in the archipelago. The name of the island comes from former French Governor Mahé de La Bourdonnais, although the original name for the island was the “Ile d’Abondance”, or the “Island of Abundance”. Indeed, the island has natural beauty in abundance, with many being won over by the inviting images of sandy, palm-fringed beaches under clear blue sky.
Although barely visible on most world maps, Mahé offers 154 km² (59 sq. miles) of space, is 28 km (17 miles) long, 8 km (5 miles) wide, and is home to the smallest capital city in the world, Victoria.
Politically, the island is divided into 22 districts (there are 25 in total in the Seychelles). From the air, it’s easy to spot the lush granite mountains that form the interior of the island, extending from north to south like a backbone through the landmass. Towards the east and west of the island, there are country foothills extending like arms into the sea, forming bays with clear turquoise water. From the ocean, the granite towers over you, extending steeply from the sea. Over millions of years, these rocks have turned into powder-soft sand that nestles in coves, giving the island its characteristic beauty.
Nine out of every ten Seychellois citizens live on Mahé – around 75,000 in total – of whom around a third live in the capital in the north. Even those who don’t live in Victoria likely work there or go shopping there. Thanks to the inauguration of Mahé’s international airport in 1972, along with its independence from Great Britain, Mahé is now a hub for tourists from all over the world, and is the economic and cultural heart of the Seychelles. Besides the airport, Mahé is also home to the Seychelles’ governmental and administrative centre, along with a university, sports stadia, TV and radio stations, craft shops, a trading and fishing port, and larger Seychellois companies such as the Seybrew Brewery and the tuna fishery.
Along the north-east coast of the island, extensive land reclamation projects have created much more space for commercial ventures and a four-lane motorway. In fact, Eden Island, a completely artificial island, is an example of this, even if it does not characterise the typical idea most hold of the Seychelles.
Those who wish to explore the island to find their own quiet spot should make sure that they are in reasonably good shape and bring along sturdy footwear on their holiday. Thanks to the well-developed road network, those less willing to walk around can traverse the island using public buses, taxis, or rental cars.
Mahé is beautiful, allowing you to witness natural growth up close. Drive on winding roads along the coast or through the mountains, discovering photograph after photograph – colourful, wooden Creole houses, small shops, isolated bays, and luxurious vegetation at the heart of it all.
The centre of the island serves up imposing peaks and clouded forests with diverse flora and fauna, creating a stunning backdrop for the island’s numerous hiking trails. Countless freshwater springs characterise the rich nature of the island, while tropical palms and other plants also grow throughout this region, including mango, papaya, banana, tea, and more.
In terms of beaches, the island’s best-known offering is Beau Vallon, which can be found in the north-west. This is also the touristic centre of the island, one that is almost as bustling as the capital itself. Numerous accommodation options, restaurants, shops, and diving centres can be found in this sprawling bay. Anyone looking for peace and quiet should probably look in the south of the island instead, as the atmosphere here is much more relaxed and contemplative.
BEST PLACES TO VISIT IN MAHE
Victoria – Take a day away from the beach to explore the island capital. At its centre you’ll find the Victoria Clock Tower, reminiscent of London’s Big Ben and now a national monument. A visit to the lively and colourful Sir Selwyn-Clarke Market is a great way to experience daily Seychellois life. Get there early to see the stalls of fresh fish, exotic fruits and island spices. Around the market you’ll find boutiques and shops selling a variety of souvenirs, clothing and local art. Victoria is also home to several museums including the National Museum of History and the Natural History Museum.
Seychelles National Botanical Gardens – Just on the outskirts of Victoria, in Mount Fleuri, lay the beautifully manicured gardens of one of the Seychelles’ oldest national monuments. The caringly landscaped gardens are home to a wide collection of rare and native plants, such as the famed Coco de Mer palm, as well as a variety of spice and fruit trees. Aside from the flora, you’ll also find giant tortoises, fruit bat colonies and a small cafeteria.
Morne Seychellois National Park – Encompassing over 20% of the land area of Mahe, this splendid national park is undeniably one of the island’s highlights. Created back in 1979 the park is made up of a variety of habitats, from the Seychelles’ highest peak – the Morne Seychellois (905m) – through dense forests all the way down to coastal mangroves. A network of 12 well-marked walking trails criss-cross their way through the park, varying in distance and difficulty from 1-2hr walks along the coast to full-day hikes taking in both natural and historical sites along the way. Even if you don’t have time to walk in the park, there’s a stunningly scenic drive from Victoria to Port Glaud, which cuts right through the park.
Beau Vallon – The sweeping bay of Beau Vallon is home to one of Mahe’s most popular beaches. Stretching almost 2km from Bel Ombre to Mare Anglaise on Mahe’s north-west coast, the golden sands of this takamaka-lined beach are a favourite with locals and tourists alike. The sparkling waters of Beau Vallon are ideal for swimming and other aquatic activities, while the off-shore coral reefs offer countless possibilities for scuba diving, with several dive centres located in Beau Vallon. Behind the beach you’ll find a good number of hotels, restaurants and bars. It’s also the site of a long-established bazaar, where stalls sell a variety of tasty street food snacks and assorted souvenirs every Wednesday and Saturday evening.
Craft Village (Domaine de Val des Près) – Showcasing several aspects of traditional Creole culture, this colonial homestead highlights local architecture, arts & crafts and gastronomy. Explore the collection of buildings that include the 19th century plantation house Grann Kaz, featuring examples of colonial period furniture and artefacts, as well as the Maison de Coco – a house built almost entirely from coconut palms. In the brightly painted cottages surrounding the main buildings, local artisans display their handicrafts.
Ste. Anne National Marine Park – Lying about 5 kilometres off Mahe’s northeast coast, this collection of six small islands and their surrounding waters make-up one of the Seychelles’ most popular natural destinations. Glass-bottom boats will transport you in about 20 minutes from Victoria to the crystal clear waters of the marine park, where colourful corals and reef fish abound. The waters here are ideal for snorkelling and with one of the largest areas of sea grass in the archipelago, there’s a good chance you’ll encounter hawksbill and green sea turtles; dolphins are often spotted too! With its powder white sand beaches and dense tropical vegetation, Ste. Anne Island itself was the location of the Seychelles’ first settlement over 240 years ago, which later became a whaling station and eventually gave way to a naval base in WWII.
For those wishing to stay longer than just a day trip, there’s accommodation and restaurants available. There are also places to eat on neighbouring Cerf and Moyenne islands, the latter of which is alleged to hold buried treasure! Being a national park, visitors will need to ensure they purchase an entry permit in Victoria before arrival.
Le Jardin Du Roi Spice Garden – Originally created by French settlers to grow spices, this renovated plantation now boasts rows of vanilla vines, cinnamon, nutmeg, pepper plants and many other spices. From its hilltop location above Anse Royale this pleasant park is also home to various medicinal plants, fruits and other endemic flora. Take a leisurely tour of the garden (maps available on site) followed by a refreshing drink or snack at their open-air restaurant. Spices, scented candles and other assorted souvenirs are available for purchase from their Spice Shop.
BEST THINGS TO DO IN MAHE
Head to the beach – One of the main reasons visitors head to the Seychelles is for its beaches, and on Mahe there’s definitely a beach to suit everyone. Mahe proudly boasts some spectacular beaches dotted around its rugged coastline, from surf beaches like Anse Intendance and Anse Parnel to the calmer waters of Anse à la Mouche and Anse Soleil which are ideal for swimming. Pack your swim clothing and some snacks and you’ll be sure to have a great time on the stunning Mahe beaches.
And if the popular beaches of Beau Vallon and Anse Royale seem too busy, then you can always get away from it all at Anse Forbans, Anse Major or one of the many other smaller, secluded beaches. If you’re lucky, you might have the beach all to yourself!
Spot a spotty whale …… shark – Measuring up to 18 metres in length, the Whale Shark – with its distinctive spotted skin – is the biggest fish in the sea! From August to the end of October, sea conditions permitting, you can join the monitoring activities of the Marine Conservation Society Seychelles and experience first-hand what it’s like to encounter one of these majestic animals. Micro-lights are used to spot the sharks from the air and then, using high-speed catamarans, you’ll be whisked out to their location. Groups of up to a maximum of 8 people at a time are then given the privileged opportunity to snorkel / free dive with these gentle giants, with all activities being run in strict accordance to the Seychelles Whale Shark Encounter Code of Conduct. Whale Shark experiences are offered by the leading dive operators with over half the cost of your trip going directly to support on-going MCSS projects.
Scuba Diving – With over 30 dive sites around Mahe alone, there’s never a shortage of diving possibilities in the clear blue waters surrounding the inner islands of the Seychelles. An assortment of underwater seascapes, from characteristic granite boulders to shallow banks and reefs, provides a home to a myriad of fish species and other marine life. Giant sea fans and colourful hard and soft corals can be seen growing on the boulders while, depending on the season, whale sharks and manta rays can be encountered as they sift the ocean for its plankton rich treasure. Year-round however, there’s always plenty to see for the experienced diver, with large schools of snappers, fusiliers and jack fish keeping the reefs sharks and mobula rays company. For the uninitiated, the island’s dive operators offer all levels of courses from half-day dives of discovery to complete certification programs. Dive sites to look out for include Shark Bank, Brissare Rocks, L’Ilot and the well-known Ennerdale wreck – a British Fleet Auxiliary tanker which sunk in 1970.
Surf’s Up – Although not topping the list of world surf destinations, Seychelles surfing is slowly starting to hit the map. The warm waters of the Indian Ocean, coupled with some stunning coastal scenery, offers surfers of all abilities the chance to have some fun in the relatively undiscovered waves that break along Mahe’s coastline. Around the island, you’ll find both left and right beach breaks, multiple coral breaks and the odd point-break too. Beginners should consider the soft sandy bottom of Beau Vallon whilst Grand Anse is hailed as probably the best and most consistent overall surf-spot. Other popular spots include Anse Soleil and Anse Gaulette, while for the more experienced, the reef breaks at Anse Bourgainville and Anse Poules Bleues will more than keep you challenged. Always check with the locals for current conditions, as the best places to surf will vary with the changing monsoon climate.
Sail into the sunset – There’s probably no better way to appreciate the diversity and breath-taking natural beauty of the Seychelles than aboard your own vessel, under power of sail. With 115 islands, spread over 1.4 million square kilometres of azure ocean, there’s far too much to explore for the average holidaymaker. But you can still experience the feeling of life on the ocean wave by hiring your own sailboat from one of Mahe’s many charter operators.
Choose from simple day charters around the main inner islands to fully-crewed long range charters to the outer-lying islands of this pristine archipelago. Operators also provide diving and snorkelling opportunities, as well as private and group sunset cruises that depart from Beau Vallon and Bel Ombre.
Swing from the treetops – For a great day out with the kids and for anyone with a head for heights, SMAC Adventures offers an exhilarating experience for all the family. Located within the Constance Ephelia resort, this professionally run adventure organisation has created an exciting series of aerial ziplines that will have you flying through the trees like Tarzan in no time.
With breathtaking views of Port Launay your experienced guides will help you tackle adrenalin-pumping rides like “The Icebreaker” while always ensuring your safety and providing all the necessary safety equipment and instructions. Young and old alike are sure to have a fantastic time with rock climbing and abseiling completing a day of adventure.
Fancy a cuppa? Discover first-hand how Seychelles tea is grown and produced at The Tea Factory. Take a guided tour through the stunningly scenic terraces of tea plants at Morne Blanc, where you’ll get to see how the leaves are picked, blended, processed and packaged to produce an array of tea products. Tastings and purchases are possible at the Tea Tavern located next to the factory.
WhatsSUP? – Yes, the Stand Up Paddle-boarding phenomenon has now hit Seychelles’ shores. Join the guys from iSurf Seychelles who offer (beginners) lessons as well as guided SUP tours around some of Seychelles most breath-taking paddling locations and beaches. Based at the Kempinski Resort, their qualified instructors will teach you all you need to know to have you paddling across Seychelles’ turquoise waters in no time.
Snorkelling – The Seychelles offers some fantastic snorkelling opportunities, with Mahe having its fair share of great snorkelling spots. For some of the best snorkelling, head to one of the National Marine Parks – Ste. Anne or Port Launay. Snorkelling around the tiny island of Moyenne in the Ste. Anne park is an unforgettable experience, whilst in the Port Launay park the reefs on both sides of Baie Ternay provide some wonderful snorkelling opportunities. Outside of the parks, which levy an entrance fee for all non-residents, you’ll found some other great snorkelling spots at Anse Major, Petite Anse, Anse Diri in Bel Ombre and in Glacis between the Hilton Northolme and the Sunset Beach hotels. Masks and fins are available to rent from some of the dive operators but best is to bring your own equipment from home.
Pilot an F16! – Ever thought what it would be like to sit in the cockpit of an F16? The people at Buggy & Jeep can make your dream come true….well almost. The F16 in question is the SECMA F16 Roadster, a light-weight racing car with the reliability of an everyday road vehicle. This, along with a number of other specialty vehicles, is now available for rent on Mahe. Whether winding your way through Mahe’s Morne Seychellois mountain roads or cruising along its beaches, being behind the steering wheel of one of these vehicles is an incredible experience – a must do activity for any auto enthusiast visiting Seychelles. There’s a couple of F16’s as well as traditional Beach Buggies and a Copen Roadster. Anyone can hire a car to see Mahe’s highlights, but are you game to try something a little bit different, not to mention the heads you’ll turn as you cruise your way around paradise!
Fishy, Fishy, Fishy – Want to discover Seychelles’ underwater world without getting your feet wet? Then a visit to the Eden Aquarium is the ideal way to see what lies beneath the waves. With around 33 tanks, the recently opened aquarium – situated in the Eden Island mall – gives guided tours to visitors of all ages, allowing you to see close-up the incredible variety of local fish species that inhabit the waters throughout the Seychelles archipelago. But it’s not just about the fish. The themed tanks are also home to an extraordinary array of other sea creatures, including anemones, eels, starfish and even an octopus. There’s also a gift shop offering fun sea-themed toys for the kids and t-shirts with beautifully designed marine art. A great family activity!
BEST PLACES TO EAT & DRINK IN MAHE
With its blend of European, Oriental and Asiatic flavours the Seychelles kitchen is a glorious fusion of spices and local ingredients, caringly prepared to create both traditional and modern Creole fare. Mahe has a wealth of restaurants offering diners not only the chance to experience this unique cuisine but also caters for a broad variety of international palettes.
Choose from fine-dining with a beach view to a wood-fired pizza in the heart of town and everything in between. Next to the regular restaurant experience, there are also traditional bazaars, where stall owners freshly prepare a variety of inexpensive street food delicacies for the passing crowds.
Marie Antoinette – For a full-on authentic Cajan/Creole experience, this historic hillside restaurant just outside Victoria is well worth a visit. Their time-honoured set menu has remained virtually unchanged since opening over 50 years ago and features traditional Seychellois cuisine.
Housed in a colonial mansion, now a national monument, you’ll feast on everything from aubergine fritters and chicken curries to tuna steaks and battered parrotfish. Along with a selection of salads and sides, there are also local desserts and sorbets. This place will give you a real insight into the authenthic way of life on the island and the only thing you have to do is remember to bring your appetite!
La Plage Restaurant – As the name suggests, this stylish restaurant is located right on the beach and overlooks the calm waters of Beau Vallon. Their innovative menu veers away from the usual Creole fair and offers diners a more sophisticated brasserie-style experience, which draws on international flavours to create an unforgettable fine-dining experience – Lovely views, great food and outstanding service.
Pirates Arms – Right in the heart of Victoria is probably the most popular meeting places for locals and tourist alike. Grab a cold beer and watch the world go by for a few hours or maybe sample some of their reasonably priced dishes such as Fish Creole, a house speciality. There’s often live entertainment on the weekends and a separate games room with slot machines.
La Plaine St. André – Somewhat more upmarket is La Grand Maison restaurant at the famed Takamaka Bay Rum distillery. Located in a lovingly restored colonial house, Christelle Verheyden – one of the country’s most talented chefs – offers contemporary remakes of traditional dishes as well as some true and tested international favourites, ensuring there’s something to satisfy even the most discerning of palates. A good selection of wines and cocktails, complimented by the romantic setting, makes this an ideal venue for a special evening.
Surfers Beach Restaurant – Positioned only metres from the clear waters and sandy shores of Anse Parnel, this relaxed beach-side eatery is where surfers and beach-going tourists head to for a tasty snack. Serving a range of international and Creole cuisine, it’s the perfect spot for a refreshing drink or quick lunch while watching the waves break.
La Perle Noir – Another notable option in Beau Vallon, this pleasant restaurant offers a mix of Italian, International and Creole cuisine. Whether you choose to sit outside on the veranda, overlooking the tropical garden, or in the air-conditioned inside space, their friendly service and choice of specialities will have you coming back time after time – Bookings essential.
Sam’s Pizzeria – Just a few metres south of the Clock Tower in Victoria you’ll find some of the best wood-fired oven pizzas in the Seychelles – Friendly service and reasonable prices.
Double-Click Cafe – Freshly made sandwiches, homemade cakes and pastries and great coffee are what you’ll find in this Victoria (Internet) cafe. They also have some of the best money exchange rates on the island!
The Maharajas – For probably the best Indian food in Seychelles, look no further than this elegant restaurant situated by the marina on Eden Island. Their choice of appetizing dishes embody the essence of North Indian cuisine, with a menu of popular curries, tandoori specialities and delicately spiced signature dishes that are bound to satisfy even the most discerning of Indian food lovers.
Delplace Bar & Restaurant – From its beachside location at Port Glaud, a visit to this trendy chic restaurant is a must when visiting Mahe’s north-west coast. Renowned for its fresh fish and seafood platters it’s the perfect spot to enjoy a relaxed lunch, with views across the lagoon, or a romantic dinner as the sun sets behind Isle Therese. The ambience is laid back, the cocktail delicious and the view is arguably one of the best from any Mahe restaurant.
Maria’s Rock Café – If you’re a fan of DIY then why not head down to Baie Lazare and try out the ‘hot rock’ barbecue. This quirky place offers guests the chance to cook their own meat, fish or seafood on hot stones. The drinks are cheap, the service super friendly and although access may be a little tricky in the dark, it is well worth a visit – Definitely an experience.
Boat House – Popular with locals and tourists alike, this spacious but cosy restaurant is famed for their scrumptious all-you-can-eat buffet dinners. Open 7 days a week and located only a few steps away from Beau Vallon beach, they offer over 20 mouth-watering dishes that include all the usual Creole standards along with fresh salads and grilled fish – Great value for groups and families.