The island nations of the Maldives and Seychelles have to a large extent remained unexplored by American travelers, but have long been the playgrounds of Europeans seeking idyllic beaches, tranquil lagoons, sensational swimming, snorkeling, scuba diving, surfing (on the Maldives) and spas.
Ease of access is an issue that may have affected visitation by Americans, as direct flights to these regions do not exist from the U.S., whereas from various European cities, flights are quite regular. Price wise, you will also find that it is far more affordable to travel via Europe or the Gulf region. With the opening up of long-haul flights to Asia from the U.S. east coast, in particular Singapore, access to the Maldives is becoming a lot easier (although not particularly cheaper) and likewise, direct flights to the Persian Gulf (Dubai), makes the Seychelles one-step closer.
Their very isolation from the lucrative U.S. market has in some ways contributed to these islands remaining largely unspoiled with limited development and fewer tourist numbers. Both the Seychelles and the Maldives boast pristine white sandy beaches, palm tree oases with tropical climate, small islands with luxurious world-class resorts, many featuring all-inclusive packages, especially on the exclusive smaller outer islands.
General Tours (tel. 800/221-2216; www.generaltours.com) offers a variety of packages to both the Seychelles and Maldives, flying Emirates via Dubai. All packages include round-trip airfare from New York, transfers and luggage handling, accommodation for five-nights at a deluxe or luxury resort, buffet breakfasts daily and full or half board as specified by individual resorts.
For Seychelles package deals, guests also have a personal meet and greet service upon arrival at Mahé International Airport, round-trip transportation from Mahé to the island and resort of your choice, and a half-day tour of the city.
A seven-day package staying at La Digue Lodge is priced from $2,899 per person with half-board. This resort offers spacious deluxe and it is known for its large pool, historical location, and fine cuisine. The Lodge is located on the beach and close to wildlife reserves. This price is valid from September 5 to December 20, 2006 and the package cost $100 more from January 7 to June 30 2006. High season (from July 1 to September 4 is $3,399.
Seven-days at Chateau St. Cloud is priced from $2,999 (from January 7 to February 28, 2006). This colonial style Manor House, once part of a vanilla farm, is within cycling distance to La Digue's famous beaches. This intimate hotel is half board. In May and June 2006, the price goes up by $100 and goes as high as $3,599 from August 1 to September 4, 2006.
For the Maldives, packages include round-trip airfare from New York flying Emirates, personal meet and greet service upon arrival at Male International Airport, English-speaking transfers to your resort by motor launch and five-nights accommodation with breakfast daily.
Seven-day packages at Bandos Island Resort start from $2,299. This first class resort is located on a stunning coral island surrounded by uninterrupted white sandy beach. A wide variety of water sports is available and buffet breakfast is included. Other dining options abound and the resort is easily reached by motor launch from the airport. This price is valid for departures from January 1 to April 30, May 1 to June 16, August 15 to December 8, and December 25 to 30, 2006. The package goes up $400 during high season June 17 to August 14, 2006.
A seven-day package at Paradise Island Resort is priced from $2,399. This is a five-star resort island in the North Male Atoll featuring everything for the sun worshipper. There are 40 Water Bungalows, 260 Beach Bungalows, a spa and several restaurants serving a variety of international cuisine. A huge selection of water and land-0based sporting activities is also available including basketball, parasailing, canoeing, windsurfing, snorkeling, water skiing, water bikes, snorkeling and fishing. This price is valid for April 21 to June 16, 2006. From July 15 to August 14, the rate goes up to $2,999. A $50 surcharge applies to weekend travel and land only transfers are $50 per person, each way.
Seychelles New Adventures (tel. 888/437-8456; www.sey.net) specializes in Seychelles vacations. They offer five, six and ten-night packages from Europe as it is more often than not cheaper and easier to fly from a city like London, Paris, Rome, Zurich or Frankfurt than it is from the U.S.. All these packages include round-trip airfare from any of the European cities listed above, accommodation, round-trip flights between Mahé and Praslin for packages with accommodation on Praslin, all hotel taxes and service charges and all airport transfers and ground transportation.
Enjoy six nights at the Coral Strand on Mahé Island in a sea view room, including breakfast and dinner daily for $1,879 per person. Six nights at Le Duc de Praslin on Praslin Island including breakfast and dinner daily is $1,689. Six nights at the Acajou on Praslin Island in a superior room with breakfast and dinner daily is $2,400 and staying at the Coco de Mer on Praslin Island in a standard room with breakfast and dinner daily is $2,188. A $290 surcharge applies for departures from July 15 to August 31. Airfare to Europe in additional.
For the dive enthusiast, The Indian Ocean Explorer (tel. 888/437-8456; www.ioexplorer.com) is a converted oceanographic research ship which has been especially outfitted to ensure an ideal dive vacations in the Seychelles. Featuring seven air-conditioned double cabins all with en suite bathrooms and a spacious lounge and dining area, the crew of the will take visitors on expeditions to magical places like Aldabra -- the World Heritage site visited by only 182 very fortunate divers a year, Alphonse, the Amirantes and Astove. Experience the Seychelles Inner Islands where the specialty is Whale Sharks, the renowned Ennerdale wreck and the majesty of Brissare rocks. Itineraries range from 3 to 15 days, with some expeditions open to non-diving companions.
The Inner Island Cruises visit the main islands of Mahé, Praslin, and La Digue but the tour concentrates on the sites not normally visited by the day boats, such as the wreck of the Ennerdale and Brissare rocks as well as the lesser known, but even more spectacular sites around the Sisters, Aride, Trompeuse, Frigate, Dennis and other islands. These cruises also provide significant non-diving content to allow access to the nature reserves and spectacular beaches. These tours operate from Monday to Monday with the option of starting or stopping on Thursdays, so you can enjoy from three to 14 nights onboard for $275 per person per day. The special Inner Islands New Year cruise departing on December 27 for eight-days and seven-nights is priced at $2,045 per person. August and September 2006 departures are priced from $1520.
There are 25 islands in the Amirantes group which include true atoll formations at St. Josephs, Desroches and Poivre. The diving here is rich and varied from mini-walls and canyons on the Desroches Drop to the migrating Manta Rays at Poivre. The Amirantes Cruise itinerary goes to the more southerly Alphonse group where six wrecks lie on the reef of St. Francoise. The diving on the Alphonse wall is some of the best in the Indian Ocean and the Gorgonian fan forest is a must for photographers hunting the Long Nosed Hawkfish. This cruise is priced at $295 per person per day. Prices include government mandated landing fees for each island and a $200 discount applies for all seven-day or longer cruises for non-divers.
Direct Line Holidays (www.directline-holidays.co.uk) offers discount Maldives vacations out of London and allows you to search by budget, number of days required, number of stars desired and whether or not you'd like bed and breakfast, half-board or all-inclusive. For example they have a seven-day package departing midweek from London Gatwick during November and early December. The deal includes round-trip airfare to Male, boat transfers to the South Ari Atoll, seven-nights accommodation at the three-star Ranveli Village and Spa and an all-inclusive meals and activities program. A fuel surcharge may apply. Priced from $1181 per person based on dual occupancy, add to this a round-trip flight from the U.S. to London and you have a very reasonably priced Maldives getaway.
If you are happy to put your own Maldives package together, consider booking your flights and hotel separately. Airfare.com (www.airfare.com) is currently listing round-trip airfares from New York to Male on Emirates via Dubai in February 2006 from $1342 plus taxes per person. Add to this one of the budget resorts, like Bathala Island Resort (www.aitkenspencehotels.lk/bathala/home.shtml) in the South Ari Atoll, which is $140 per night for two people full-board or The Giravaru Resort (www.giravaru.com/maldives.html) in the North Male Atoll which is $150 per night for two people full-board, and the Maldives becomes an affordable option.
For a comprehensive lists of accommodation in the Maldives, including website links, visit www.visitmaldives.com/Where_to_stay/all-resorts.php. For general tourism information about the Seychelles visit www.touri.st/seychelles.