St.Without a private yacht (by far the best way to travel, I’d presume…), you will need to either rent a daily charter or take a tour out to the St. Anne National Marine Park and Ile Moyenne, which are a quick boat ride from the main island of Mahe. There are a few tour companies to choose from, but Mason’s is probably the most ubiquitous around Mahe.
As I mentioned in the last Seychelles post (here), I did try to book with them prior to leaving the States and received a very cursory email that essentially was like “email me your credit card number”. For a company that large, I was not impressed with that response–nor willing to send them a credit card number. There was a Mason’s rep at our hotel, and she quickly signed us up to do what we wanted. Of course she tried to see us additional tours in the process, but that is par for the course of a salesperson I suppose. It was about $120 per person, but will vary based on the current exchange rate.
In general, Mason’s was organized and on-time. The head ‘guide’ of the boat was kind and helpful. But don’t over-expect…you are getting a bulk tour and a real mixed bag of people. On pickup from our hotel, we had to backtrack to another resort because those people were not ready on time (which was very nice of Mason’s to do); people freaked on the boat when it was discovered that there were soft drinks–but no beer–available for purchase for a 5 hour excursion. I mean, lost it. There was one couple that seriously looked as if they were about to leave the entire tour, and ran off the boat to a local convenience store to buy the beer they so desperately needed. For the record, they were 60+ and not American…So, PSA: bring your own alcohol if you want some on the boat. Water is included.
The tour has 3 main parts, not including the ride out to the Marine National Park & Ile Moyenne (the snorkeling location and Ile Moyenne are virtually five minutes apart). First, you go on an underwater submersible to look at the coral (more on this in a second). Second, you have a long time to snorkel in the Marine National Park – likely a good two hours. Third, you get to hike around Ile Moyenne, swim around the island, and lounge on the beach. Lunch is thrown in here, I think we ate after the submersible on our way to the snorkeling site, which was a short cruise away.
Let’s start with the underwater submersible. Let’s start by saying: I will NEVER go on one of these again. First, and most importantly, if you plan to snorkel, you do not see anything on this thing that you don’t see when snorkeling. Second, it is super claustrophobic…and I am NOT claustrophobic. Like, ugh. I wanted off that thing the second I got on. Third, they do hit the coral occasionally. They only do it in one area, so they hit the same coral every day, and 90 percent is already pretty bleached in the area you go, but still…really unfortunate. They don’t try to hit it, mind you, but it is what happens when you take a boat with a large hull into areas with lots of coral. Lastly, a bunch of people got sick. I had my prescription medicine since I get sick on anything that moves, but even my husband was feeling it by the time we were done. Verdict: skip.
With that fun out of the way, lunch was far better than expected–great roasted chicken and good veggie options, too. And snorkeling was fantastic. While we didn’t see any large marine life, the quantity and different types of fish were worth the trip out to the Marine National Park, no doubt. They give you plenty of time to snorkel, so enjoy! You are in a pretty generous area, so you are not swimming on top of other people either, and there were not a bunch of other boats there. Some of the area is relatively deep, while parts of it are quite shallow. There are not guides in the water with you, but the boat is close by, and if you are uncomfortable in the water, it is easy to just swim right around the boat. They also put the small dingy (panga) into the water with you, and they do keep a good eye on where everyone is. Verdict: Worth the trip if you like to snorkel.
There are so many beautiful fish in the Indian Ocean, most of which we had never seen before, since our snorkeling as been in the Pacific and in the Caribbean. And these guys get big! We had so much fun taking photos, me flinching at the little sea-horse related things that looked too much like a sea snake, and then arguing over who took the better photos (obviously me).
Now Ile Moyenne is just special. There is a small entrance fee (I believe $12) if you aren’t part of the group–the cost of the tour with Mason’s includes this fee. It is a teensy tiny island that you can hike around–flip flops ok, better if they have some type of heel strap, just beware that there are slippery paths and lots of roots (I have these Havianas, which I adore and are perfect for the beach or for a dinner out when on a tropical vacation). There were a few places where I wished I had shoes (my husband has these from Adidas and LOVES them). It takes about 30 minutes to hike the whole way, and take the time to check out the little views here and there. There are also some secluded beaches that are just gorgeous. Right out front where you get dropped off by the dingy (panga), there is a long sandbar you can swim out to and just take in the Seychelles for what they are – teensy islands in the middle of a very, very big ocean.
One of the biggest highlights of Ile Moyenne is the wild population of giant tortoises which still inhabit the island. A lot of them gather around the ranger station, where they have some cut plants (from the island) that you can feed to them (they are usually over eating out of the pile anyhow). But when you are hiking through the tropical landscape, all of a sudden, you just come up on a giant tortoise in the forest. Such a neat experience! These guys aren’t shy, either, and will approach you — mainly out of curiosity. Verdict: must see!
Overall, I don’t regret going with Mason’s, though I hated the submersible and wished they’d stop running that portion of the tour anyway. I know that people who don’t snorkel or swim want to see the underwater environment, but coral damage doesn’t need any help from boats, and it was a wretched experience (there were multiple people vomiting when we came back up). However, St. Anne Marine National Park and Ile Moyenne were probably two highlights of our trip to the Seychelles. The amazing fish and the incredible tortoises, coupled with the perfect views and beautiful ocean really made these places special.
Tips: As I mentioned, water is included, but you can bring alcohol on board if needed. Lunch is good, but if you require a specific diet, please check in advance to make sure you can be accommodated. It is a full day by the time you get picked up and dropped off from your hotel in Mahe, so be prepared with lots of sunscreen and a change of clothes if you want. We had swimsuits and coverups, and that was plenty to get through the day. The bugs weren’t bad on the boat, but we did notice some on Ile Moyenne, so packing some spray/wipes isn’t a bad idea.