With diverse culture, clear water snorkelling, spicy food and a whole host of wildlife to see, both the Maldives and the Seychelles make great island escapes. And both have an unexpected wild side…
Where: Indian Ocean
Number of islands: Around 1,190
Total area (shelf): 34,538 sq km
Largest island (area): Gan, Laamu Atoll
Where: Indian Ocean
Number of islands: 115
Total area (shelf): 39,063 sq km
Largest island (area): Mahé
The atoll’s Islamic religion, Buddhist background and colonial contretemps are reflected in many of the main sights in capital Malé, such as the National Museum and the gold domed Islamic Centre, as well as in the fifth-century-old Utheemu Ganduvaru palace on Haa Alifu Atoll (at the north of the archipelago).
African, European and Asian influences have all contributed to a creole culture.
Explore this at Domaine de Val des Près craft village on Mahé island, the Grann Kaz plantation house (Silhouette Island) or the tiny National Museum of History in capital city Victoria, which has a section covering gris-gris witchcraft imported from Africa.
Around 2,000 species of marine life swim these waters. Bottlenose dolphins, manta rays and whale sharks can be spotted –snorkel Hanifaru Bay for best sightings.
Night-time dives off Vaadhoo Island bring the seas to life: bioluminescent phytoplankton will react to your movement, studding the waters like stars in the sky.
Birdwatchers can find the black parrot – the national bird – in the mangroves of Vallée de Mai NR, along with many endemic species.
The Morne Seychellois Trail is your best bet for spying the 11mm-long Gardiner’s frog, while Giant Aldabra tortoises (pictured) roam Curieuse Island; Praslin, Grande Sœu, and Bird Island are all established turtle sites.
“Did you know? The famous Peter Piper – French horticulturalist Pierre Poivre – planted Le Jardin du Roi in the 18th century, importing nutmeg plants, fruits and spices to the French-ruled islands to steal a march on the spice trade.”
Start on Malé and island hop aboard a dhoni sailing boat; pass the time snorkelling (pictured) or surfing – the North Male Atoll has some good waves for beginners.
On terra firma, take part in boduberu dancing. The music starts with a building drum beat, until everyone gets on their feet and starts clapping along to a crescendo.
Aquatic pursuits are the inevitable focus. Scuba-diving hotspots Shark Bank and the 30m-deep wreck of Ennerdale offers encounters with shoals of snappers, starfish and lion fish; whale sharks have also been spotted (August to November).
Or take on the five-hour hike to the islands’ 900m highest peak, Morne Seychellois, for panoramic views.
The sizzle of fragrant street food assails your senses, as vendors cook al fresco on
a dhumashi – a coconut shell grill. Short eats – or hedhikaa – are a staple (along with fresh tuna) typically served around 4pm.
Dine on gulha (bite-sized tuna and coconut dumplings), or bajiya (Maldivian samosas) before washing it down with black tea.
Spice is the key here. Visit Le Jardin du Roi spice garden (pictured) in the hills above Anse Royale; vanilla, nutmeg and citronella perfume the pathways.
Elsewhere, the hardy can try creole dishes like bat or octopus curry; a less daring option might be tec-tec, a soup made out of small shellfish and cooked with pumpkin.
Palm trees, coral reefs and thriving marine life – both island nations seem at first glance like honeymooner destinations.
But there’s plenty of opportunity for travellers seeking adventure and authentic cultural experiences, whether it’s the Maldives promise of bobbing alongside bioluminescent plankton and boduberu dancers, or the Seychelles imagination-capturing fragrant spice gardens and impressive ecosystem. Worth getting hitched for…