Both a step beyond the typical island destinations, the Indian Ocean’s jewels of Mauritius and Seychelles each offer their own delights. When choosing an idyllic island vacation, it’s the little differences that can help make the decision.
All the world’s great island destinations offer their share of luxurious resorts and spas, just as all strike a balance between exciting activities, natural beauty, and the kind of slow-down relaxation only an island escape can offer. But it’s the little differences that keep travellers coming back to the islands again and again, whether they’re little differences in culture, geography, flora and fauna, or something else entirely. Popular islands of the Caribbean are very different to those in the South Pacific or Mediterranean.
Then, there’s the Indian Ocean, literally a world away for most North American travellers. The Maldives take the lion’s share of vacation headlines in this part of the world, but two other island destinations offer much to travellers wanting to escape somewhere unusual. Mauritius offers a rich cultural blend of Africa and India, all found on a very visitor-friendly volcanic island with the world’s third largest coral reef. Meanwhile, Seychelles is an archipelago country made up of 115 islands, offering utmost seclusion, and a fantastic array of undisturbed wildlife.
Which to choose when looking for a new island adventure? That depends entirely on what you’re looking for.
Tourism on Mauritius has been well developed for many years. There are a wide range of resorts on the island, including those that cater to families, and those more suited to honeymooners. Since Mauritius is a single island, there’s a level of connectivity and convenience that doesn’t exist in Seychelles. It’s easy to get out and explore or dine in the nearest town, and it’s relatively simple to reach an activity on the other side of the island, usually less than two hours’ drive away.
Seychelles is also well prepared for tourism, but it is neither capable, nor interested in sustaining the same numbers as Mauritius (which gets four times the number of visitors). Conscious of protecting their natural environment, local authorities restrict expansion of the tourism industry, which gives Seychelles a measure of exclusivity unmatched by other island destinations. This of course comes at a price tag, but many visitors find the unspoiled natural sights and gentle pace to be well worth it.
Geography and Getting Around
Again, Mauritius is one island. Seychelles is an archipelago. This geography makes all the difference to logistics and costs while on a Mauritius or Seychelles vacation.
There are three inhabited islands in Seychelles, with the exception of a few exclusive resorts on the small islands. Mahe is your likely point of entry, and is the largest of the islands. Despite being the economic engine of the country, it still has large, well-preserved natural areas and some dazzling white sand beaches. Praslin and La Digue are located further north, offering a quieter, more secluded style of vacation. Praslin is ideal for island hopping, with relatively easy day excursions to Cousin, St Pierre, and Coco, home to Seychelles’ most famous marine life. Meanwhile, La Digue can feel a little like the island time forgot, offering an experience so laid back, you can even explore via ox-cart if you wish. It is commonly thought to be the most charming island in Seychelles, and certainly delivers that off-the-map vacation feel.
Mauritius is by contrast much more developed, at least in terms of roads and connectivity. Taxis are by far the most convenient way to get around, but the bus system can be a good way to see the island “like a local” to a certain extent. This is a mountainous, volcanic island, with lots to explore inland, including Black River Gorges National Park, which covers a good part of the southwest corner, and the beautiful Valley of Colours. That’s not to dismiss its coastline, which is ringed by the world’s third largest coral reef.
Mauritius keeps its main airport on the opposite side of the island from its largest city, Port Louis. This means it’s often possible to land at the airport and transfer directly to your hotel without ever entering the congested capital, or losing that “island” feel.
Here’s where Mauritius and Seychelles really diverge as two very different island vacation experiences. Mauritius offers every opportunity to relax on the beach, but that’s not really its main attraction. The well-developed tourist infrastructure here means you can almost literally create any sort of holiday you want. If you want to immerse yourself in nature, the island is a treasure trove, all nourished by the rich volcanic earth. You can visit the animals of Aux Aigrettes Island (okay, Mauritius is mostly one island), explore the caves, or go zip-lining in Rodrigues. Water sports and excursions out over the reefs are also very popular with visitors. If you’d prefer more of a cultural holiday, Mauritius has you well covered, boasting a strong Creole culture with a healthy shot of Indian and Hindu influence mixed in. Foodies might also find an unexpected new haven here.
Seychelles doesn’t try to reach so many different types of travellers. With development strictly controlled to protect the flora and fauna, the range of activities available reflects that. Consider that the country contains no less than four national marine parks, and has devoted 40% of its land area to national park, and it’s really no surprise. No motorized watersports are allowed, at all, and many of the activities you can book are day trips to the smaller islands, each of which has its own defining sights and wildlife.
Cousine Island, for instance, is 27 hectares of dedicated bird and turtle nature reserve, while the Aldabra Atoll is a UNESCO Heritage Site made up of four large coral islands that have seen very few human visitors, even during the colonial era, which devastated many species in the Indian Ocean (Mauritius’ dodo among them). As a result, it supports several endangered turtle species, and an estimated 100,000 giant tortoises. The main islands are not without their attractions of course. Vallee de Mai Nature Reserve on Praslin has palms going back to prehistoric times, and is another World Heritage site. La Digue’s coconut plantation offers a glimpse of Seychelles’ past, while Mahe offers a broad range of hikes, and one of the world’s smallest capital cities to explore. Diving with whale sharks is another popular activity in Seychelles.
Culture and Cuisine
This is another area where Mauritius and Seychelles really diverge. Despite their proximity, the two cultures have evolved very differently. Both have a strong Creole heritage, which you’ll see in their architecture, and residents of both countries usually speak a form of Creole as a first language. English and French are also official languages in Seychelles, and are often used in an official capacity on Mauritius. So North Americans will have no problem communicating in either country.
Mauritius however has had a much stronger Asian influence on its culture, particularly South Asian. 48 percent of the population is Hindu, with Christianity the second most common religion at 32 percent. Compare that to Seychelles, where 83 percent of the population is Catholic.
Both are fantastic countries for foodies, with Mauritius in particular boasting spicy delights such as fish vindaye, a seafood curry supposedly inspired by Indian vindaloo. Dim sum is also a surprisingly popular dining option. Rum is the local spirit of choice, particularly in a ti rum punch.
Seychelles cuisine is also rich with Asian influence, though often with a slight European touch. Traditional creole flavours dominate, and much like Mauritius, the cuisine is very seafood-heavy. The signature drink in Seychelles is calu, a form of palm wine.
Type of Traveller
There’s endless room to argue over what type of traveller will enjoy each destination more. Both Mauritius and Seychelles have so much to see and do, all located in a beautiful Indian Ocean setting, that it’s hard to imagine either being the “wrong” choice for many travellers. Consider this a very rough, general guide if you need help making the decision.
Families: Probably the easiest choice to make. If you’ve got kids in tow, Mauritius is the better option. The sheer variety of activities and ease of access make it far easier to keep island hoppers of any age amused. The lower price tag is worth considering too. In contrast, Seychelles is one of the few destinations where many guides agree it’s better to leave the kids at home.
Couples: Either country makes a great choice for a honeymoon or romantic vacation, depending on what you consider romantic. If you like to be kept busy, doing lots of activities together, head to Mauritius. If you’d prefer the tranquility and privacy of a more exclusive, untouched destination, choose Seychelles.
Solo Travellers: Again, this depends on why you choose to travel, and why you opt to travel alone. But if it’s to escape the crowds and enjoy some island serenity, Seychelles is definitely for you. The only drawback is the considerably higher price tag, particularly when travelling alone.
The Culture Vulture: This one’s no contest. Mauritius all the way. Both the country’s natural assets and its rich cultural mix are right at your fingertips. In Seychelles, 90% of the population lives on Mahe. The island offers only a fraction of the Seychelles experience, which really isn’t about human culture anyway.
The Nature Lover: While Mauritius offers some great opportunities for snorkelling its reefs and spotting unique species, there’s no questioning Seychelles as the Indian Ocean’s star island destination for wildlife. There are still islands here virtually untouched by humans.
The Budget Traveller: Plentiful accommodation and dining options tend to make Mauritius a more affordable option than Seychelles. Expect Seychelles restaurants to be anywhere from 1.5 times to twice the price. Good deals on accommodation can help to level the field. Some even include airfare, putting both of these beautiful island destinations within anybody’s reach.