Although Hawai’i and the Caribbean are much closer to home, families willing to go the extra mile to find a road less traveled (and a lush one, at that) should put Seychelles on their radar. While Ethiopian Airlines made it easier for U.S. travelers to get to this magnificent archipelago four hours off Africa’s east coast, the islands’ natural attributes and culture set it apart from other islands they know and love.
One big selling point is a smaller number of visitors, which practically ensures continued maintenance of beaches, green space and pristine waters that make it one of the world’s great diving and watersports destinations. Protected national parks and UNESCO Heritage Sites offer access to plant and animal life only found in this corner of the world, including extraordinarily friendly Aldabra tortoises with dispositions similar to curious and friendly family dogs. While Seychelles remains a playground for the rich and famous, local laws have made most of the islands’ beaches public — even those adjoining the most exclusive hotels. All of this splendor is nicely framed with the Seychelles’ distinctive Creole culture, fusing influences from France, England, India, China and several East African nations.
Victoria, the island’s capital, provides a lovely introduction to Seychelles’ history, beyond the legends of pirates and fishing village life the kids will encounter at the various beaches and parks. The Sir Selwyn Clarke Market, built in 1840 and renovated in 1999, offers souvenirs as well as a sensory sampling of the Seychellois diet (dominated by fresh fish, fruits, spices and vegetables) and way of life. After a morning visit to the market, families can spend a few relaxed hours in the Victoria Botanical Gardens or enjoying a melting pot of architecture, viewing the city’s Catholic churches, Hindu temple, mosque, Clock Tower and public art.
From there, days will be filled with beach visits, snorkeling and diving days at sea, and hikes, all enjoyed at a tortoise’s pace. Trips between the islands on ferries like the Cat Cocos are themselves part of the immersive experience with an endless flow of postcard landscapes and ideal selfie backdrops — though putting the phone down and staying in the moment for longer stretches of time is strongly advised.
The must-do activity for every traveler is the UNESCO World Heritage Site Vallee de Mai Nature Reserve on Praslin, home of the fabled double-lobed coconut as well as the rare Seychelles Black Parrot, some of the world’s tiniest frogs, stick insects, chameleons and six species of endemic palm. Although the park is carved with several hiking trails, the main path was devised with kids in mind, down to its colorful and detailed informational panels. Astute guides and hands-on displays add texture to the experience, figuratively and literally.
Another recommended jaunt for families is Creole Tours’ Starfish excursion to Jolly Roger Beach and Moyenne National Park. In addition to a barbecue lunch and two opportunities to snorkel, the two-hour visit to Moyenne National Park celebrates the work of British journalist-turned-naturalist Brendon Grimshaw, who purchased the island in 1962 and steered conservation efforts there until his death in 2012.
Jolly Roger Beach is the start and end point of a guide-led hike, leading to indigenous bird sightings, sanctuaries for adult and baby tortoises and relics from Seychellois and expatriate inhabitants in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. While it’s a given the captain will be in story-telling mode or cuing passengers when to feed the fish, other poised crew members enrich his narrative by answering questions about everything from snorkeling and scuba to growing up in Seychelles.
Families with active teenagers may also want to consider a jaunt to La Digue, whose Grand Anse and Anse Severe beaches are prime sites for scuba and snorkeling. Although more laid-back types can bask in the beauty of Anse Source D’Argent, the world’s most photographed beach, tour companies can arrange for active travelers to safely navigate the island’s hiking trails (Mere aux Cochons, Casse Dent and Copolia) and user-friendly concrete bike paths with a knowledgeable guide.
According to Sherin Francis, CEO, Seychelles Tourism Board, U.S. families are a growing market for the Seychelles and several luxury hotels are ready to receive them with kids’ programs firmly anchored in the island’s flora and fauna. These include Raffles Praslin, Le Meridien Fisherman’s Cove, Constance Lemuria and H Resort Seychelles.
Even with a reservation at an activity-packed luxury hotel, however, Francis recommends planning your trip with tour operators like Creole Tours and Mason’s Travel. These companies specialize in developing customized itineraries based on a family’s interests and the ages of their kids. Logistics are thoroughly handled, from arrival to and departure from the main airport, to the docks, beaches, park entrances and other islands for excursions and tours.