Running Paradise: Seychelles Eco-Friendly Marathon
“Hey Penny, are you keen to go for a run – in the Seychelles? ” asked my editor. My mind raced. Running in a tropical paradise? Let me see… electric blue ocean surrounding white sandy beaches, cocktails, coconuts, snorkelling…
“Yes! I’m in!”
True, I knew little if anything about this little cluster of islands off the east coast of Africa. But I spent the remainder of that afternoon becoming a fundi on all things Seychellois!
Two weeks later, I was off to the 2019 Seychelles Eco-Friendly Marathon – armed with my passport, my running gear, and a heightened sense of adventure. I’d never been to a real island before. But the journey was a breeze; it’s a quick five-hour flight from Joburg.
I could have done with a breeze, actually; landing that evening in Mahé, I was met with 35°C heat… at 9pm. My immediate thought: How on earth am I going to run in this in two days’ time?!
Most of my first day was spent exploring Victoria (the smallest capital city in the world), Victoria Market, Eden Island, and the surrounding areas on Mahé island. But I also attended the race briefing, and soon my nerves kicked in – after the race director mentioned (multiple times) how the 5, 10, 21 and 42km race were ALL challenging, with MANY hills!
The 2019 Seychelles Eco-Friendly Marathon was the 12th edition of the race. Traditionally, it’s hosted on the last Sunday in February. This year there were 3 300 runners in total – 64 in the full marathon, 74 in the half, and the remainder split between the 10km and 5km races.
Race-day arrived – and the heavens opened. I’ve never experienced such hard, relentless rain! On the plus side, I thought, at least I wouldn’t die from the heat.
The start gun fired and off we went, heading for the hills. The rain did not let up once, but
it was the last thing on my mind. I was that distracted by my surroundings. Despite the weather being rainy and miserable that day, the sea was bright blue and beautiful, lapping the white sand. Endless palm trees hugged the road we ran along, dotted with frangipani trees of every colour imaginable.
The Seychellois people are some of the friendliest humans around – the city of Mahe certainly came to life and everyone was involved in some or other aspect of the race. Yes, the hills were pretty intense, but to be honest, when you’re looking anywhere around you, time vanishes as you cruise along the roads of Mahé island. It’s hard to be in a bad mood in the Seychelles!
I was in my element, and it was a race I’ll never forget, and one that is highly recommended! Keep an eye out on runseychelles.com as entries for the 2020 Seychelles Eco-Friendly Marathon will be opening soon. Planning a trip around this race is encouraged – there is so much to see in the Seychelles and you won’t be disappointed by extending your stay for a few days to explore.
After the race was when my real exploring began. I had six days to get my travel pants on and see what this famous constellation of islands has to offer. First stop: Praslin Island.
Praslin is the second-largest island in the Seychelles, and one of the better-known ones.After ogling its beauty on Instagram from the minute I learned I was going on this trip, I was beside myself to get there and see the famous white beaches for myself. Surely the sea couldn’t be THAT blue without the use of some sort of photographic wizardry?
A quick one-hour ferry ride on the Cat Coco took me from Mahé to pristine Praslin. Top of my to-do list list was to visit the Vallée de Mai Nature Reserve, which also happens to be a UNESCO World Heritage Site, famed as the home of the rare black parrot and the Coco de Mer palm tree, which has the largest seed in the world (30kg, fully grown).
After the forest, the beaches were calling, and it was hard to know where to begin! Anse Lazio, Anse Georgette (inside Constance Lemur), Petite Anse, Grand Anse and the Cote d’Or… and those are just the main beaches around Praslin; there are many more. But some are trickier to get to than others, and
require hiking to get there. For the next six days, I lived in my swimming costume, and took my goggles
and snorkel with me everywhere! Although it’s extremely hot and humid (since the island is basically on the equator), the freedom to snorkel directly off the beaches is such a win.
The underwater world is fascinating, and I couldn’t get enough. The sea life was mind-blowing; I was lucky enough to see pretty much everything from huge parrot fish to regal blue tangs, stingrays, octopi and baby squid, jellyfish, and the most incredible sea turtles.
Various environmental issues have ‘whitewashed’ the coral: rising water temperature, tsunamis, global warming generally. Thankfully, snorkelling still makes you an observer in a world of other species – there’s nothing quite like it! And the clarity of the water in the Seychelles makes it possible to see an enormous amount: schools of fish, and giant, sharp-toothed barracuda swimming beneath you, totally unfazed by you floating around the surface.
For two days, that was my Praslin routine: locate the best beach, hike or drive there, snorkel for hours, eat, snorkel some more, then fall into my bed exhausted by the end of the day. Then it was time to move on. Next stop: La Digue.
LA DIGUE ISLAND
La Digue, the smallest island of the three I visited, was high on my to-do list – a cycling only island, home to one the most famous beaches in the world – Anse Source d’Argent – and home to giant, prehistoric-looking tortoises.
Again, the quickest way to get to La Digue is to take a Cat Coco ferry, which takes just 15 minutes. Despite it being so close, the general feeling of the island was worlds away from what I experienced on the previous two – more relaxed, and exactly what you’d expect from a tropical island paradise. There are a handful of cars, generally from the fancier hotels, but for the most part it’s pedestrians, bikes and more bikes.
La Digue is tiny – approximately 10km², with a population of just 2 800 – and can easily be cycled around regardless of your fitness levels.
I was frothing to get going, so after dropping my luggage and picking up a bicycle, I packed
my bag, my towel and my snorkelling gear into my cruiser basket and got on my merry way. It was difficult to wipe the happiness off my face, with the salty air blowing through my hair, cruising around next to golden beaches, passing locals carrying fresh squid or chopping coconuts – I was living the island dream. Oh, and not to mention that you have to dodge the giant tortoises; they make their way slowly through the town during the day.
A highlight was going on a snorkelling trip to Félicité and Coco Islands, satellite islands to La Digue. Swimming around the striking granite boulders that dot the ocean, and are home to countless fish, was an incredible experience. The pristine, crystal-clear water makes it a pleasure to spend hours swimming and floating around these beautiful islands..
Ed’s note: A trip to the Seychelles is an expensive exercise, so maximising your time on the beaches, snorkelling and on the trails will help to cushion your wallet. It’s no hardship – the daily temperature is around 27°C, and the sea is around 25°C, so prepare to spend a lot of time in the water!
• Pack more sunscreen than you think you’ll need – it’s incredibly expensive, and you will need it!
• Take your own beach towel; they’re not always provided.
• You’ll spend your life in your swimming costume, so pack accordingly.
• If possible, take your own snorkelling gear, as it’s expensive to rent equipment.
• Sea shoes are advisable, as you often have to walk across the reef to get to swimming/snorkelling areas.
• You do not need a visa to visit the Seychelles.
• The most convenient way to get around on Mahé or Praslin is to hire a car. The Seychellois drive on the left, like us, and rates are affordable.
• Don’t stay on just one island – spend some time on Mahé, Praslin and La Digue. The Cat Coco ferries make it easy.
• Don’t stick to one beach; each has its own unique beauty, so explore them all!
• Sample local Creole food, such as octopus coconut curry, and the delicious barbequed fish.
• Pack a GoPro – I didn’t, and regretted it!
How to get there:
Air Seychelles flies to Mahé (and on to Praslin) daily, direct from Johannesburg. Flights start at
Where to stay:
Mahé: Beau Vallon is one of the most popular beaches on the island, and there are many hotels lining the strip.
Praslin: The majority of the hotels surround Cote D’Or, which is a great option for most budgets.
La Digue: As the island is so small, you can’t really go wrong anywhere. I stayed near to the town and port, which was convenient and central.
Where to eat:
Avoid the restaurants, and eat at the local food cafés – they’re much better value. If you
choose to self-cater, many local fisherman sell their catch of the day near the ports.
- The Seychelles Eco-Friendly Marathon is held on the last Sunday in February (runseychelles.com).
- Snorkelling is a must. There are plenty of hikes and incredible views on all the islands.
- Sample the local Takamaka rum, right at the distillery (takamakarum.com).
Penny was a guest of the Seychelles Tourism Board.