Maldives, Mauritius or Seychelles: which country has the best beaches? Where to go diving? What if you’re not a water person? Which is the least expensive and delivers most value for time and money? Here’s a handy guide to planning your next holiday in the Indian Ocean:
None of these islands require a prior visa. Just a valid passport, proof of stay/onward travel, and sufficient money while in the country!
WHEN TO GO
Maldives: Maldives is warm and sunny all year round. Nov-April has the best weather (April is ideal for diving as waters are clear). Dec-March is high season.
Mauritius: April-June and Sep-Dec are best. Jan-Feb are cyclonic months best avoided by divers. July to December is sugarcane harvest season when distilleries are busy with production.
Seychelles: May-August is high season. Best period for diving, snorkeling and birdwatching is April-May; Sep-Nov is good for whale shark sighting. Jan-March is lean season, so you may find discounted airfare and rooms.
GETTING THERE AND AROUND
Maldives: It is the closest of the three (2 hrs, ~Rs16k return) but its geographical spread requires air transfers, adding to travel cost. Resorts too are premium (Rs25,000-Rs2 lakh per night), perfect for luxury travelers and romantics looking for a do-nothing holiday. Fly direct on Air India, IndiGo, GoAir, SpiceJet or Air Maldives from Bengaluru, Mumbai or Delhi (approximately 2 hrs) to the capital Malé. From the airport, take a boat transfer to nearby resorts or head to the Trans Maldivian Airways (TMA) lounge for seaplane flights to private island resorts (20 min to 1 hr).
Mauritius: National carriers Air Mauritius and Air India fly direct from Delhi and Mumbai (7hrs) to Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam (SSR) International Airport, south of the main island of Mauritius at Plaine Magnien.
Seychelles: Air Seychelles flies direct from Mumbai to Mahé (4 hr 10 min) thrice a week with more flights via Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Colombo. For inter-island travel, hop on to Cat Cocos or local ferries to Praslin and La Digue.
USP: Maldives, Mauritius, Seychelles
Maldives: Maldives follows a ‘one island, one resort’ policy, so exclusivity is guaranteed. Each island or resort has its unique habitat and character, usually with a private beach, infinity pool, dive centre, house reef, gourmet cuisine, luxurious spa and stunning overwater villas. Craving over-the-top luxury? This is the place. Breakfasts on over-water hammocks, overnights at truly private islands, fishing excursions on liveaboards, dining experiences with some of the world’s best chefs… pick an experience you like and there’ll be a resort or three that will deliver.
Mauritius: Home to the world’s third-largest coral reef, Mauritius measures 60×40 miles and offers a wide range of experiences – wildlife, mountain trails, nature hikes, museums, rum factories, water sports, adventure, shopping and easily accessible cuisine. Catch the sunrise and swim with dolphins at breakfast, walk with lions at lunch and catch the famed Mauritian sunset with a sundowner and Sega dance on a beach– all in a day.
Seychelles: Seychelles has rare ecological treasures. Hike through Morne Seychellois National Park at Sans Souci in Mahé to spot endangered species like the jellyfish tree (Medusa tree), giant ferns and endemic birds like Seychelles bulbul and White-tailed Tropicbirds. Vallee de Mai Nature Reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage site in Praslin, harbours the rare Seychelles black parrot (the national bird) and the primitive coco de mer palm, which bears the world’s largest and heaviest seed. Called the ‘love nut’, its double coconut shape resembles buttocks and was believed to be an aphrodisiac! Off Praslin, Curieuse Island Marine National Park, an erstwhile leper colony is now an ecological reserve home to giant Aldabra tortoises.
WHAT TO SEE AND DO
Maldives: All things water–from diving to snorkelling. Whether it’s the world’s largest gathering of manta rays to whale sharks, there’s a host of marine wildlife experiences on offer. All this or simply do nothing and lap up the luxury at one of the many private island resorts.
Mauritius: The island was created by the eruption of the Grand Bassin volcano which formed a crater lake, worshipped by Hindu immigrants as Ganga Talao. At Port Louis, visit the first landing site of indentured immigrants at Aapravasi Ghat, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the historic 1770 Botanical Garden at Pamplemousses (French for ‘grapefruit’) nearby. Get a history lesson at L’Aventure du Sucre, a Sugar Factory and museum tour that ends with tasting 12 types of sugar and 9 rums or go rum tasting at rhumeries (rum factories) like Chamarel, St Aubin House and Chateau Labourdonnais. Chamarel’s attractions include Seven-Coloured Earth, Curious Corner and the island’s highest waterfall. The winding coastal drive along Bai du Cap with a pit stop at Macondé viewpoint is among the 10 most beautiful roads in the world. Non-swimmers are welcome at marine activities like Undersea Walk, Fun Adventure Sea Karting at Black River and Submarine Scooters and Submarine tours with Blue Safari, the only submarine operator in the Indian Ocean! The 40 dive sites are accessible by boat within 20 minutes from the coast. There’s enough adventure on land too – quad biking and the world’s third longest zipline at La Vallee de Couleurs Nature Park, segway rides and wildlife at Casela adventure reserve, La Vanille Reserve Crocodile Park, golfing at spectacular courses like Heritage and Tamarina or hikes to Le Pouce (The Thumb), Pieter Both and Mount Piton (828m), the highest peak in Mauritius. The 3-4hr trek to Morne Brabant, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, rewards you with unbeatable views of hills, forests, beaches and the famous underwater waterfall, best seen from a chopper!
Seychelles: In Mahé, Beau Vallon is the main adventure hub for sailing, parasailing, fishing, snorkelling and diving with dive sites varying from 8-30m. Big Blue Divers offers diving sessions around Willy’s Rock while St. Pierre Islet (15-min boat ride from Curiese Island), is another haven for snorkelling and diving. Go on a spice trail across the ‘Vanilla Islands’ to Le Jardin du Roi at Anse Royale in Mahé, a nature reserve, botanical garden and heritage museum. Explore La Digue on bicycles or quaint hooded oxcarts adorned with coconut leaves and flowers, emblematic of the island. At L’Union Estate heritage bungalow and copra kiln, discover old oil extraction techniques at an ox-drawn mill and the process of cultivating vanilla. At the 200-year-old estate and rum distillery Takamaka Bay, watch the process of rum-making from sugarcane and understand how tea is made at Seychelles Tea Factory. Learn to dance the Sega and traditional dances like mutzya or moutia.
WHAT TO EAT
Maldives: Most resorts come with a choice of restaurants, including Japanese and, in some cases, Indian. The magic ingredient is a tuna-based thick brown paste called rihaakuru. Maldivian cuisine is seafood heavy with culinary influences from India and Sri Lanka. Roshi or chapati (unleavened flatbread) is a popular staple besides sweet potato, cassava, taro and breadfruit, eaten with curries. Bajiya (fritters) are stuffed with fish, coconut and onions coupled with sai (tea). Mas (fish) is consumed in many ways with tuna being a favourite. Mas huni (fish salad) is a traditional Maldivian breakfast item made with dry tuna, coconut, onions and chili. There’s Kulhimas (chili tuna), Bis Keemiyaa (tuna-egg pastries), Kulhi Boakibaa (fish cakes), Garudhiya (fish soup), Dhon Riha (tuna curry) and Fihunu mas (grilled fish).
Mauritius: Mauritian cuisine is a mix of French, Creole, Caribbean, Chinese and Indian flavours. The national dish dholl puri is borrowed from the Bihari staple dalpuri, often rolled up with white bean curry, pickle and chutney. The French gave bouillon, tuna salad and coq au vin and the Chinese spicy noodles, fried rice and seafood dimsums. Mauritian favourites include calamari salad, daube (octopus stew), fish vindaye (vindaloo) and rougaille – fish or meat with tomatoes, onion and garlic. Creole classics like Mauritian fish and aubergine curry and chicken curry are eaten with rice and mazavaroo (chili paste). In Port Louis, a visit to the food market is a must. At Le Courtyard, relish French wines paired with seafood, mahi mahi and gueule pavé (Goldlined sea bream). Le Crocodile Affamé (The Hungry Crocodile) at La Vanille serves an interesting crocodile degustation platter. L’Alchimiste restaurant at Chamarel liberally uses rum for espressos, braised pork and baba au rhum.
Seychelles: Seychellois cuisine blends French, African, Indian and Chinese flavours. Popular dishes include chicken curry, dhal (lentils), seafood and curries with rice. Fish is steamed, grilled, baked, salted, smoked or wrapped in banana leaves. Pizzerias like La Fontaine offer salade de pieuvre (octopus salad), Assiette de fruit de mer (ocean platters), cigalle grille (grilled slipper lobster) and crispy calamari. The iconic Le Grand Trianon-Marie Antoinette Restaurant at St Louis Hill has been serving Creole cuisine since 1972 with dishes like kari zouri (octopus curry) and sosouri (fruit bat). Try grilled octopus or octopus salad at Bravo! at Eden Island Marina.
CURRENCY AND SHOPPING
Maldives: 1 Maldivian Rufiyaa (MVR) is about 4.61 INR. The airport has a few shops though TMA’s terminal has a decent souvenir store—miniature dhonis (boats), ship models, shell ornaments, stone statues and lacquerware.
Mauritius: One Mauritian Rupee (MUR) is about 2 INR (INR). Caudan Waterfront and Le Craft Market in Port Louis are perfect for picking up colourful bags, pareo (sarongs), baskets and handicrafts. The extinct dodo lives on through souvenirs like fridge magnets, t-shirts, mugs and accessories. Take home test-tubes of seven-coloured earth or ship models in a bottle. Pick up Muscovado brown sugar, mazavaroo, Bois Cheri tea, exotic flavours of rum like vanilla, mandarin and coffee at Chamarel and the prized Fleur de sel (‘Flower of Salt’), a delicate crust that forms on seawater.
Seychelles: One Seychellois Rupee (SCR) equals 5.23 INR. The vibrant Sir Selwyn Clarke Market at Mahé (Sunday closed) sells spices and souvenirs like corals, shells, coconut artefacts, batik jewellery made of beads and seashells, bracelets, necklaces and earrings. Buy vanilla pods from The Union Estate Park, black pearls at Pearl Farm de Praslin, SeyBrew beer, shark chutney, flavoured rum from Takamaka Bay besides classic and blended varieties of SeyTe at Seychelles Tea Factory.
Maldives: This is an Islamic country, dress moderately in public spaces. Religious idols are prohibited. Drinking is restricted only to private resorts. If you are carrying any liquor, it is confiscated temporarily at the airport and returned on your way out.
Mauritius: Look out for the paille-en-queue, the white long-tailed Tropicbird, named after its distinctive ‘straw-tail.’ It is the symbol of the national airline Air Mauritius and it is considered auspicious to spot one.
Seychelles: Catch the weekly night market Bazar Labrin at Beau Vallon beach in Mahé (Wednesdays and last Saturday of each month) that stirs up Creole specialties and live music, offering a peek into Seychellois life.
Source: Saint Ange Tourism Report