The Seychelles Islands – an untapped paradise – open to Israelis

Most European countries will remain closed to tourists for the foreseeable future, leaving many Israelis desperate for a vacation.

The Hilton Seychelles Northolme Resort is renowned for its stunning sunset views. (photo credit: TOBIAS SIEGAL)
The Hilton Seychelles Northolme Resort is renowned for its stunning sunset views.
(photo credit: TOBIAS SIEGAL)
At a time when most countries have closed their doors to visitors while desperately trying to combat the spread of coronavirus within their borders, one country stands out, offering tourists a unique experience of untapped tropical scenery, flavors and scents that will make you forget about the raging global pandemic, if only for a moment. The Republic of Seychelles has recently opened its doors to Israelis looking for some time off in serene weather conditions and a dream-like environment that will convince anyone they’ve somehow made it to paradise.
Greece entered a second nationwide lockdown earlier this month, closing its borders to tourists, and most European countries will remain closed to tourists for the foreseeable future, leaving many Israelis desperate for a vacation. Air Seychelles, the national airline of the Seychelles, was the first to launch direct flights from Israel, offering discounted flights starting at 499$. At the moment, the airline operates four flights from Israel to the Seychelles every week, and that number is expected to rise to five during Hanukkah, according to Charles Johnson, Air Seychelles’ chief commercial officer. Israeli airlines soon followed, and more and more Israelis are taking the opportunity to visit this otherworldly exotic retreat just 6.5 hours away.
The archipelagic island country of Seychelles consists of 115 small islands in the Indian Ocean. To its west lies mainland Africa, and to its south the island of Madagascar. Most of the Seychelles Islands are uninhabited. The three major islands that are home to most of the local population (approx. 100,000) include Mahé, Praslin and La Digue. Mahé is the largest by far and where the country’s capital city of Victoria is located. It is home to about 30,000 people, making it one of the smallest capital cities in the world.
With tourism being the main source of income in the Seychelles, the small country suffered quite a blow as the coronavirus pandemic nearly crippled its economy. But now, having managed to prevent a wide spread of the virus by taking quick and drastic measures – including imposing a general lockdown from March to May and implementing a calculated policy for wearing masks properly in closed spaces – the tropical country has recently reopened its doors to tourists from green countries. It is now the only destination other than Rwanda that allows Israelis to visit without a quarantine requirement when arriving or upon return to Israel.
Our trip begins at the Seychelles International Airport on Mahé, home to about 95,000 people. The island is small, but full of winding roads and breathtaking panoramic views, so taking your time on the road is advisable. The weather is perfect – not too hot and never cold – and while our friendly local driver insists that “it’s always like this,” you should probably avoid the monsoon season between December and early February, unless constant heavy rain is your cup of tea.
Various resorts across the island offer all-inclusive packages that will give you the freedom to embrace the island and its many stunning, turquoise-water beaches.
The Constance Ephelia Resort, located on the western shore of Mahé, is the perfect choice for families or organized groups, and has become increasingly popular among Israelis. The beautiful resort is spread out across a large area worth exploring and includes 313 diverse suites and villas, according to Michaelle Alcindor, a sales executive at the resort. Guests may rent bicycles for quick transportation to the spa, nearby beach or one of the resort’s five restaurants that offer changing menus.
The Constance Ephelia Resort includes five different restaurants with diverse menus. (Credit: Tobias Siegal)The Constance Ephelia Resort includes five different restaurants with diverse menus. (Credit: Tobias Siegal)
THE RESORT also offers its guests the opportunity to witness and interact with Aldabra giant tortoises, brought over from Aldabra Atoll – the world’s second-largest coral atoll. It is an experience that will surely keep your children busy while you enjoy a delicious cocktail based on Takamaka, a local flavored rum, or a refreshing bottle of local beer called SeyBrew.
If you’re unsure about the right drink for you, don’t hesitate to consult the local staff, which is always ready to help and provide useful tips.
“People in the Seychelles are always smiling but will let you know if they’re angry. We are a direct people,” Alcindor mentions, pointing to a characteristic Israelis may be familiar with. “At the end of the day, the people are the best thing about the Seychelles,” she adds, which says a lot, considering the paradise it is.
The Constance Ephelia Resort offers its guests the opportunity to witness and interact with Aldabra giant tortoises. (Credit: Tobias Siegal)The Constance Ephelia Resort offers its guests the opportunity to witness and interact with Aldabra giant tortoises. (Credit: Tobias Siegal)
If you are a couple looking for a romantic getaway, you might want to consider the Hilton Seychelles Northolme Resort. With its 56 villa-like cabins and renowned sunset views, this quiet resort is probably more suitable for you. But be warned: With breathtaking ocean views directly from your cabin’s Jacuzzi and white beaches at your doorstep, you may find yourself staying longer than originally planned.
Once you’re unpacked and ready to explore, make your way to Victoria to witness its colorful markets. The Seychelles is especially known for its vanilla and cinnamon sticks and extracts, and bananas, with some 15 different species found on the island in all different sizes, shapes and even colors. Tuna fish is also very popular and is the country’s main export. Trying a tuna steak in one of the city’s restaurants is highly recommended.
History enthusiasts might want to explore the Seychelles Natural History Museum located in central Victoria, right next to the city’s central post office on Independence Ave. While the Seychelles doesn’t exactly have a rich history, the museum provides useful information about the country’s colonial history dating back to 1756, when French explorers reached the shores of one of its islands and declared it a colony of France.
The famous clock tower in central Victoria, Mahé, erected in memory of Queen Victoria who died in 1901. (Credit: Tobias Siegal)The famous clock tower in central Victoria, Mahé, erected in memory of Queen Victoria who died in 1901. (Credit: Tobias Siegal)
The islands remained uninhabited for 14 more years, until the French ship Thélemaque arrived in 1770 with a mixture of Europeans and African and Indian slaves. Additional slaves were later shipped from Asia. The Seychelles was surrendered to Britain in 1794 and remained a British colony up until 1976, when it became an independent republic.
Today, the local population of the Seychelles are descendants of that mixture of races, and so is the language most speak – Creole – a combination of English, French and African dialects. Having said that, English-speaking tourists shouldn’t worry, as nearly all locals are fluent in English.
This mixture of different races, the underlying common denominator of the local population, is also evident in the country’s unique architecture. It can be described as an unusual, yet beautiful mixture of practical, simple designs meant to allow for easy integration into the natural environment, and complex, Asian-looking designs that may make you feel like you’ve landed in Shanghai and not on a tropical island in the Indian Ocean.
To the outskirts of Victoria lies a botanical garden, where you can learn about the endemic flora and fauna found on Mahé. Hiring a local guide is recommended and guaranteed to make the experience more interesting and complete.
LA MISERE LA MISERE VIEWPOINT on the island of Mahé provides a stunning view of Eden Island. (Credit: Tobias Siegal)LA MISERE LA MISERE VIEWPOINT on the island of Mahé provides a stunning view of Eden Island. (Credit: Tobias Siegal)
A 10-MINUTE drive from Victoria will lead you to Eden Island, just off the main coast of Mahé. The island is accessible by bridge and is mainly home to foreign diplomats and government officials. The area resembles the famous Fisher Island in Miami, with its red-rooftop villas located on the seashore. It includes a shopping center and great restaurants if you feel like taking a break from sunbathing and exploring the island’s natural environment.
Once you’ve exhausted all there is to see, eat and smell on the island of Mahé, you should make your way to Praslin, the second largest island in the Seychelles, and home to roughly 5,000 people. You can reach Praslin with a 45-minute ferry ride from Victoria, or via local flights that travel back and forth multiple times every day.
A must-see in Praslin includes the Vallée de Mai Nature Reserve – a UNESCO World Heritage Site and home to some of the Seychelles’ most intriguing species. These include the Coco de Mer, a kind of palm tree that only grows naturally on the island of Praslin. The tree is best known for its fruit’s gigantic seed, the biggest known seed in the world.
The Coco de Mer palm tree, endemic to the island of Praslin. (Credit: Tobias Siegal)The Coco de Mer palm tree, endemic to the island of Praslin. (Credit: Tobias Siegal)
Medina Laboudallon, born and raised in Praslin and a local guide at Vallée de Mai, says the island’s forests are where she feels most comfortable.
“I grew up surrounded by these amazing trees, it feels like home.” She mentions her father, who she says is rather famous on the island. “He established the Trass Terristrial Restoration Society of Seychelles for preserving the forests and rehabilitating areas damaged by occasional fires.” Today, Laboudallon offers tourists the opportunity to join her team in such missions and plant trees in damaged areas. She dreams of opening a business that will provide all-terrain vehicle (ATV) tours of the island, a service that is currently unavailable.
Locals enjoy a beer at Grand Anse Beach, Praslin. (Credit: Tobias Siegal)Locals enjoy a beer at Grand Anse Beach, Praslin. (Credit: Tobias Siegal)
Your next destination on Praslin should be Grand Anse Beach, considered the most beautiful beach on the island and one of the nicest beaches in the world. Besides the soothing sounds of the ocean waves hitting the silk-soft sandy beach, you might also hear locals dancing to the rhythm of the Moutya, a traditional kind of music and dance that dates back to the time of slavery. The Moutya is the traditional dance of the Seychelles and often leads to social gatherings.
While there, you should also look around for fruit stands. These offer fresh local fruits that you won’t find anywhere else.
Grand Anse Beach on Praslin, considered one of the world’s nicest beaches. (Credit: Tobias Siegal)Grand Anse Beach on Praslin, considered one of the world’s nicest beaches. (Credit: Tobias Siegal)

It’s worth mentioning that the Seychelles has put a lot of effort into creating a peaceful experience for couples and families looking for tranquility in a beautiful location. As such, you won’t find many extreme attractions for thrill-seekers such as water sports or bungee-jumping. If you’re a young backpacker looking for those kinds of activities, you should probably consider another destination for your dream vacation.
Finally, in case you were wondering about any kind of Jewish community in the Seychelles, I’m sorry to disappoint, but it is basically non-existent. Various testimonies indicate at least several Jewish migrants reaching the Seychelles in the 18th century as part of the French and British colonies, but if they stayed, they completely assimilated into the local population.
Having said that, the growing number of Israelis choosing to travel to the Seychelles might lead local businesses to adapt to the new reality. Who knows? We might see a kosher restaurant open in the tropical island country sooner than expected.
The writer was a guest of Air Seychelles Airline Company and the Seychelles Tourism Board (STB).