What’s not to like? Well in summary it can be expensive, very expensive by South African standards if you are a regular tourist.
The Seychelles is a country with a population of only 80,000 people currently reliant on tourism and tuna fishing with two other sectors of the economy under development namely offshore financial services and oil container shipping. It has a socialist government that is democratically elected. There is no tax to individuals (other than a 5% social security tax) and whilst it is the richest country in Africa in terms of GDP per capita it is also the most indebted country in the world (per capita). The country seems to continue to borrow in order to maintain its status quo, which begs the questions as to whether this is sustainable?
The official exchange rate of Seychelles Rupee (Rs) to the US Dollar was Rs 5.62 to USD 1. That makes it about Rs 1 to ZAR 1.26. However on Mahe locals frequently offered to exchange money at Rs 9 to USD 1 and on Praslin at Rs 11 to USD 1. I understand if you shop around you can even get as much as Rs 14 to USD 1. This disparity apparently happens due to the major shortage in forex as a result of the islands major dependency on imports and the government artificially keeping the local currency under valued.
I had booked to stay at the Wharf Hotel, a mere 5 minutes drive from the airport. Upon touching down and collecting my luggage I promptly summonsed the services of a taxi. The taxi driver told me the official rate to my hotel was either 15 Euro or USD 20. I thought that was a bit steep but what can you do? In retrospect if I do the calculation using the black market exchange rate back to rands that 5 minute taxi ride in effect cost me a staggering USD 20 x 14 x 1.26 = ZAR 350. Subsequently during my visit I found an honest taxi driver who told me a fair rate from the airport to the Wharf Hotel was Rs 50.
Some other costs were as follows:
Hotel Accommodation: 218 Euro per night (haggled down from 232 Euro).
A flight from Mahe to Praslin 61 Euro per person one way.
A ferry trip from Praslin to Mahe: 45 Euro per person one way.
Car Rental: 60 Euro per day for an entry level car.
Now foreigners have to pay for everything in foreign currency whereas locals pay in Rupees. For the flights and ferry tickets it seems locals pay at prices ranging between one fifth and one tenth of what foreigners pay. I understand that the Seychelles has positioned itself as a premier tourist destination but I still feel like I was being ripped off. Having said that if I were to buy property on Eden Island and become a resident of the Seychelles I might qualify for the local rates (I am however not sure).
To top things off on the day we headed off to Praslin I was relieved of my cell phone and the cash in my wallet. After locking my wallet and cell in my rental car (my little Kia 1300 at 60 Euro per day) I left the car keys and belongings on a beach nearby while heading off snorkelling on the beautiful coral reefs. Whilst I was doing this it appears some one removed the car keys from the beach, lifted my cell phone and cash from my wallet in the car and returned the keys. I must say they were fairly considerate thieves in that they left my wallet with all my cards, driver’s licence and passport behind – thank you!
Having said this, the rip off factor seems to be most prevalent in the tourist sector and looking at the price of general goods in a supermarket it did not seem to be excessively overpriced. Whilst I was bowled over by the amazing beauty of the country and I am sure I am going to return (probably even buying property), I was still left with of a bit of a sour taste in my mouth feeling somewhat ripped off.
Oh, I almost forgot - an 8 minute phone call from Praslin to South Africa to lock my sim card: Rs 290