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Giant tortoises, pristine sands & beach BBQs – why you should try small ship cruising in the Seychelles

Seychelles cruises take vacationmakers to one of the most beautiful corners of the world – and sailing by small ship is the best way to explore this paradise.

Words by Andrew Dent | Photography by Alvaro Laforet

Seychelles – the very sound of the name makes me think of Robinson Crusoe: deserted islands, palm trees, lush vegetation and crystal-clear water.

It was to be my first visit to the Indian Ocean Island nation that sits as a part of Africa. Having done my research I discovered that the Seychelles are made up of over 150 islands of all sizes; how could we possibly make the most of that onboard a cruise ship? Well, the answer was: small ship cruising.

This is the concept of traveling on a boat of 20-30 cabins that is small enough to get right in close to the secluded spots that larger Seychelles cruise ships just wouldn’t be able to.

We were traveling with Variety Cruises, a Greek-based outfit which has been operating cruises in the Seychelles for 30 years and for over 70 years in total. The family company, now managed by the grandson of the founder, literally wrote the book on how to design intimate and friendly once-in-a-lifetime experiences.

Seychelles cruises: Small ship cruising

The whole ethos of small ship cruising is different from the larger ships, it is more of an immersion. You get to know your fellow travelers very quickly as well as the staff, and them you. There is something delightful about being wished a good morning by your name and someone knowing how you like your coffee in the morning and your wine in the evening.

On a more practical level, the crew on this Seychelles cruise quickly get to know your physical abilities and interests (or lack thereof). They tailor the day for you with useful suggestions as to what might suit you best. All of it makes for a more relaxed, personal and safe environment.

Another difference between small ship cruising versus larger ships is that often you are at anchor overnight sitting in a bay. This of course is different from being alongside a bustling port in the Mediterranean so the opportunities to go onto land and buy souvenirs or visit a cash machine are fewer. No bad thing in my view, but worth remembering.

Seychelles cruise vacations: Inside Variety Cruises’ ship

We were onboard the Pegasos (not a typo it really is spelt with an ‘o’!) which is a lovely vessel. She has 21 cabins and 18 staff and at 147 feet (45m) it is set over three decks.

The communal areas of Pegasos are comfortable with fashionable nautical colors and designs. The restaurant area is split into about six tables where groups naturally tend to form early in the week.

In our case, this was based on nationalities, with the Germans, Dutch and English all sitting in their own gangs. This was practical and didn’t stop more informal bonding between groups during the day or especially over drinks later in the evening, Luckily for me, English is the official language on board.

The top deck is where informal yoga and stretching classes were held in the mornings and there are plenty of sun loungers too, even with the Germans on board. The views from the here are invariably the best and is where most passengers were to be found on arrival or departure from our destinations.

The vibe on board the Pegasos is pretty casual; this is not a cruise to pack your posh frocks. Even on the gala nights jackets or long trousers were not required. However, it is worth packing some fun, bright clothes to enter into the spirit of the local Creole vibe.

Days on board follow an 8-1-8 structure. Namely, breakfast at 8am, lunch at 1pm and dinner at 8pm. Outside of that, you are pretty free to do as you like.

There is a fun briefing just before dinner in the galley/ lounge area (at which attendance is actively encouraged) and concentrates mainly on the next days’ destination and activities.

Variety Cruises: Seychelles excursions

Most days have an excursion in the morning, typically setting off at 10am via Zodiac (a 12-person ribbed vessel) to the shore. The Zodiac transfer is also unique to small ship cruising – getting on and off is generally pretty simple but when there is a swell it can be tricky. Fortunately, the crew are on hand and are excellent, with safety always the first consideration.

Daily excursions range from a snorkelling safari, a nature hike with giant tortoise viewing, a visit to a bird conservation island or simply a beach day. The crew pack beach towels each day for the passengers and the Pegasos boasts plenty of water toys: paddleboards, kayaks, masks and flippers. You really only need to bring yourself and some sun cream.

Variety Cruises: Dining

Now to the food. It is plentiful and tasty; however, this is not fine dining or the specialist restaurant scene you might find onboard larger ships. Breakfast, lunch and dinner don’t vary much, with a nice mix of traditional staples and local favourites.

Lunch and dinner offered up lots of locally sourced fish as you would expect while drinks on board are reasonably priced and settled at the end by any form of credit card payment.

Variety Cruises: Cabins

Pegasos is not classed as a luxury ship, but my cabin at the front of the ship was very comfortable with a double bed, sofa, good wardrobe and hanging space plus plenty of windows. Despite not spending much time in my cabin during the trip, it was good to know there was a comfortable bed always available if you ever felt like a lie-down.

Seychelles cruise: Where to go

Our itinerary started in the capital city of Victoria on the island of Mahe. Several of the passengers had spent a few nights at one of the many beautiful resorts on Mahe and I would recommend this as a way of getting over the journey and making sure you have fully relaxed ahead of the cruise.

Our first leg was from Port Victoria to St. Anne where, after a lovely swim off the back of the ship, we spent the night at anchor.

On the second day, after a hearty breakfast, we set off for Curieuse which, along with its surrounding waters, has been a Marine National Park since 1979. Hence it is a fabulous nature spot.

Most famous are the giant tortoise (pictured) that roam the island completely at ease amongst their human visitors. There are over 500 Aldabra Giant Tortoises here and it is an incredible sight. They are easy to interact with and you can even touch and stroke their skin. They can live to be 200 years old, so it’s safe to say they have seen it all before.

From the tortoises, we embarked on a moderately tough hike across the mangrove swamps where we could see Coco de Mer Palms, giant takamaka trees and an abundance of bird life. Just when you were getting tired the track opened up into a beautiful bay and there was the Pegasos bobbing on the water having moved around to set up a beach BBQ and swimming afternoon. Most civilised.

Our next day involved more nature with a visit to the Bird Sanctuary on Cousin Island. This is a truly stunning experience – the small island is a breeding ground for upwards of a quarter of a million birds and is managed by a wonderful group of local and international volunteers. There are also many giant tortoises slowly going about their business.

After a quick swim at the stunning beach, it is back to the Pegasos for more food, drink and a sail to the next stop. If all of that sounds quite active the next couple of days were to be relaxing beach days and taking in what the Seychelles are famous for: stunning beaches and turquoise ocean water.

We stopped at the beaches of Anse Georgette and Anse Lazio on the island of Praslin. The pristine white sand, exotic palm trees, ancient rocks and clear waters make these beaches some of the best I have ever visited. It is a truly magical experience and all the more special to be dropped off by Zodiac in a couple of minutes from Pegasos, your home away from home.

I snorkelled and paddle boarded around the bay at ease – it is a very safe place, but should you ever get in trouble the boys from the Pegasos are always keeping a keen eye out for their guests.

The next highlight of the trip is a two-hour snorkel safari around the island of St Pierre. (pictured). This uniquely Seychellean place is a natural photo spot and was the first place that felt remotely touristy in the itinerary.

There were groups of other snorkellers around but our guide was in the water with us and expertly navigated us away from the crowds and towards the best spots to see many local fish species in the wild.

Other highlights of the trip included a walking tour of the famous Vallee de Mai Reserve, a World Heritage site during which you can spend an hour or so amongst some of the tallest and oldest Coco de Mer palms in the Seychelles.

Seychelles cruise: Verdict

I was blown away by the Seychelles. It compares very favourably with competitors such as the Maldives and Mauritius. The beaches rival any in the world I have been to, the water is clear and inviting and the people are genuine and warm.

For nature and bird lovers, it is a gem. Even the casual conservationists can’t help getting caught up in all the good work going on protecting the environment. I will be back and I will certainly travel by small ship again – only next time I will combine the Variety Cruises itinerary with a stay at one of the luxury resorts at the end for some land-based indulgence. Go, you won’t regret it.

Set Sail

Seychelles: Garden of Eden with Variety Cruises

When: 5 November, 2022

Duration: 8 days

Where: Mahe/Victoria | St. Anne | Curieuse | Cousin island | Anse Lazio | Aride | St. Pierre | Baie St. Anne/Praslin | Felicite | La Digue | Moyenne Island | Mahe

Ship: Pegasos

Price: From €2,174 pp

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Sailawaze flew with Qatar Airways

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Published 16.06.22