The Republic of Seychelles
Seychelles is a 115 island country in the Indian Ocean. Some of the islands have formed from corals (and are called atolls) and others were formed when the pinkish granite boulders rose from the depths of the ocean. The giant boulders and the picture postcard beaches are what makes them famous. Only hundred thousand inhabitants live here and most of them speak three languages – Creole, English and French. Seychelles are often compared to paradise on earth, especially for divers, as the weather is almost always suitable for diving Air temperature does not drop below 26°C and does not rise above 32°C, water is 28°C all year around and winds are calm most of the time. There isn’t a distinct rainy season, so you can visit anytime. No dangerous insects, spiders or reptiles live here, you don’t need vaccinations or take any malaria prophylaxis. If you visit these islands using only organized transfers and spend all of your time in the hotel territory, all you will see are beaches of surreal beauty and jungle, as well as immaculate service. Some very high end hotels are available as well, so you could easily find a way to spend several thousand euros per night. Many locals live on Mahe, Praslin or La Digue, so if you leave the safety of your hotel, you’ll see a different view altogether – stray dogs and chicken (!) and some very simple local housing too.
Nature is amazingly beautiful in Seychelles. The transparent water with fish and intact coral, the jungle full of birds attracts roughly two hundred thousand tourists a year. A thousand foreigner couples get married here every year, whereas local marriages amount to five hundred a year. It becomes clear why Seychelles is known as wedding and honeymoon destination.
Why Get Married Abroad?
When I was a little girl, I used to dream about my wedding day – princess dress, celebration in a castle with hundreds of guests. Later I understood that this way wedding may become celebration for others and not for us. The more I thought about it, the more I understood that traditional weddings were not for me. Matching color of napkins with shoe soles really is not my kind of thing. Neither mine nor my groom’s plans included Latvian traditions, guesthouse and musicians. It took us long time to decide what kind of ceremony we wanted. Civil ceremony where registrar reads the same poem she has been reading for every couple for ten years or church and all it entails? Also listening to my friends telling stories of imposing distant relative’s ideas on how weddings should be organized, I really did feel like running away well in advance.
The idea of a destination wedding was often used as an excuse to everyone who would ask one more time why we still weren’t married although have been together for more than 10 years. When we announced our plans to our friends, everyone asked right away in which country it would take place. Before Seychelles we had several other options – Hawaii, Samoa, Fiji, or Caribbean. Some of the ideas were not feasible because of the extremely high ticket prices; others would make legalizing the marriage in Latvia troublesome. A few years ago we visited the Maldives, which we really liked, but unfortunately the country does not allow for legal foreigner marriages due to the religion. “Vows renewal” ceremony would not have any legal power. Thus when our tourism agency suggested Seychelles, it was immediately clear that this would be the right choice, as these islands are very close to the Maldives, the service level is as good and the marriage ceremony would be binding in Latvia.
Estravel Latvia representative Victoria helped me a lot in all maters organizing. Not only in the beginning, when we were just discussing which country to select, but also later on. She would offer us seasonal insights and tips and she was our eyes and ears on location, as she had a business trip to Seychelles few months before our big day. She made sure everything did look like the pictures we’ve seen. I did my own research independently and was pleasantly surprised when the suggestions of the agency matched perfectly to what I had found out on my own.
Why did I use a travel agency? It was a wedding day I was planning after all and I did not want to worry about anything. The agency was sort of an insurance policy for me, a “call to the friend” option, which I would use in case something went wrong. Also considering my packed schedule at work, it was often easier to call the representative rather than keep writing back and forth to the hotel and then wonder if they understood me correctly and everything would go as planned. Ferry tickets and the hotel with the meal plan were cheaper, when booked through the agency.
Now, already returning from Seychelles I believe it’s possible to organize wedding ceremony directly, but it definitely was easier through an agency. All the bookings for the honeymoon we did on our own, as 100% precision was no longer important. If you are just visiting (no weddings involved), everything can be booked and planned yourself, unless you want to use some of the special offers.
How You are Supposed to Plan Your Wedding
We started the preparation about five months before the big day. First Google search indicated that we have missed everything already. There was a lot of discussion on the forums about dresses which are supposed to be ready six months in advance and photographer’s bookings a year in advance. Another sentence I came across on numerous occasions was that those who truly love each other don’t bother organizing a wedding, and if you plan on making one, it signals your flashy personality and lack of love for each other. The other extreme was all details arranged and all colors matched even several years before the wedding, which reminded me of the term “bridezilla”. Reading the forums once I was cured from wanting to return ever again.
Everyone who asked me what my wedding color is got the same answer – tropical, which would mean – any. I did not read anything about any customs what we are and are not allowed to do before, during or after the wedding. Both of us are very rational and don’t believe that running around a pole ten times will change anything in our happiness. Our wedding also wasn’t planned as the one and only beautiful day in our lives, rather it was a continuation and celebration of amazing life we have had and will continue having afterwards.
Photographer and Number of Guests
As both of us are very interested in photography, picking the right photographer was one of the key tasks. Unfortunately quick Google search on local Seychelles photographers was not promising, most offered roughly 400 pictures and without any post-production copied into a flash drive, right after the wedding. Thus we decided on taking a photographer with us from home. Since the wedding season in Latvia is from May till September, it was not difficult to find an available photographer off season. When selecting a photographer for a destination wedding, it’s even more important to have good relationships with him or her, as you might end up spending more time with them than in a traditional wedding. Apart from the photographer we also had 12 guests coming with us. We did consider eloping due to budgetary concerns, but it really was not something we wanted. Our wedding was an opportunity for our guests to visit one of the most beautiful places in the world, where they most likely wouldn’t go on their own.
I imagined picking a light, possibly short dress for my beautiful beach wedding. Right after selecting the date, we went to US, where I had the chance to visit several dress shops and try on a variety of dresses. Many times I had heard that trying on dresses I’d know which one is The One. But the more I tried them on, the worse I felt. At one point I thought that all of them are horrid. I even started to think that posing for wedding catalogs might have ruined me and now no dress will ever seem good and special enough. At last I decided to try on a dress that was the opposite from what I had imagined. It was outside my budget, extremely long and wide, with a corset and…pink. I had to leave the fitting room to see myself in the mirror, and immediately heard exclamations from other salon visitors. Seeing myself in the mirror I realized this dress truly was The One. However, there were several obstacles. It was very expensive, and would become even more so due to customs and shipping to Europe. They did not have any other sizes in stock and making and shipping one to Europe would require several months. The delivery date would be too close to the wedding day, and I would still have to take it to seamstress for adjustments. So this dress became an inspiration for my real dress, which was made in the famous Latvian fashion house Amoralle. Every detail was made perfect so I would feel comfortably in it, as it is hot enough in the Seychelles and I did not want to suffer on my wedding day. Only one day before the wedding I saw some pictures of Audrey Hepburn from the fifties wearing almost identical dress made by Givenchy.
When we just started organizing everything, it seemed that the budget would be similar to organizing a lush wedding at home. But considering the high expenses of living in Seychelles, we had to revise it several times. The first purchase was the airline tickets, then selecting the hotel and then planning the honeymoon.
When selecting the location it was important that there would be no strangers around me during the ceremony. I have heard several times of wedding parties being harassed by homeless. I wanted to avoid this irrespective of the country. This is also one of the main reasons why I selected Silhouette island Hilton Labriz Spa & Resort. The island is a wildlife refuge; there is only one hotel and almost no locals. Apparently, there are two or three weddings every week and the process is very smooth. We met the wedding planner two days before and in a very relaxed twenty minute conversation we decided it all.
The island of Silhouette greeted us with clear blue sky, sinking into turquoise blue ocean, met by white velvety coral sand, sparkling with freshly washed out shells. The beauty of the island continued to surprise us every morning, and it is not possible to get used to it! We would cool off in the garden shower in the mornings, with trees right above our heads. We shared breakfast with pocket sized pigeons, which would coo all the time, and small birds called fodies, which looked just like sparrows, but red. You could observe fish in the transparent water, and the swimmers were constantly watched by guards. In the afternoons we would watch how fruit bats would eat fruit in the trees, their yellow stomachs and dark ears moving. In the nights the Moon shone right above our head, like a giant headlight, and once it set, you could see countless meteorites and the Milky Way. If you were swimming in the night and decided to move the algae, it would start flashing up, as bioluminescent plankton lives in it. Every night we fell asleep with waves crushing just few meters from our terrace stairs. On the day before the wedding I decided to relax in the famous SPA center. I drank ginger tea, flipping through a photography book about love, featuring also stories from neighboring Lithuania. The masseuse in an hour long procedure took away all my worries about the upcoming day. I came out of the SPA fully relaxed and full of energy!
The Wedding Day
When I close my eyes, my wedding day is like an album full of perfume I relish. The last few hours as the bride and groom, the kiss before he goes to get ready to his villa. The enormous mirror on the terrace where I was getting ready. Those few moments alone in my room, turning on some music and dancing in a silky robe. How my veil smelled of dry powder, when my mom put it around me. The moment my dad sees me for the first time, and then the groom, both tearing up. My brother holding the little start fish ring pillow, us reading the vows and putting on the rings. The petal rain falling on us leaving the beach. I remember every step, every sound that surrounded us on that day. It’s difficult to imagine a more beautiful and more suitable place for a wedding! Many friends looking at the pictures say they can’t believe this wedding was real and not one of a Hollywood movie.
Hotel staff had made sure that we had absolutely no worries on this day. There were no strangers on the beach that day. Creole restaurant in the plantation house offered us a delicious dinner. Our bed was full of petals and bath with foam and flowers. It was amazing to take out all the pins from my hair and go swimming in the ocean, just the two of us in the middle of the night!
If I had a chance to change something in my itinerary, this would have been it – staying just a few more days on Silhouette island, enjoying the time off. But we had decided heading off on the day after the wedding, so the next morning was really busy for us. Breakfast on the terrace, packing everything back into the suitcases and heading to Praslin. The sea was rough that day, and many people got seasick. Staff suggested staying outside despite windy weather, and taking seasickness medicine. If it gets really dangerous in the sea, the ferry would have be cancelled, so it’s worth to stay the last night on Mahe island just to be sure, if you really want to make it to your flight.
The island of Praslin has the world famous UNESCO site Vallée de Mai. It is the only location in the world where the endemic Coco de Mer coconut grows. It is also the biggest seed in the world, but better known for the fact that it looks like a female pelvis (and the male palm flowers looks like… I am sure you figured it out). Also one of the most beautiful beaches of the world, Anse Lazio, is located on this island. The evening we had a chance to visit it was cloudy and there was not much of a sunset, it started raining right after we returned to the guesthouse. The streets became rivers and you could barely make out the lights from the house across. We ate delicacies prepared by the cook and saw a gecko on the wall. Apparently these little guys can make sounds just like birds! There were many more geckos and other types of lizards on this island, as they did not spray the mosquitoes.
We used the bus on this island, and the price was only 5 rupees (if you use a conditioned bus, it’s more expensive). As we lived right next to the final bus stop, we got lucky and could sit, but on the next stops it got significantly more crowded. We got the feeling that everyone knows each other on the island, as they would pass on kids to sit on someone’s lap or would give each other bags for holding, and chat in the meantime. Later, when taking a cab, we asked the driver how is it then, does everybody really know everyone? He said that he knows everyone who drives a car, as there are only five thousand inhabitants on the island.
While we were waiting for the bus on the way back from Vallée de Mai, a car stopped, without any markings of it being a taxi, and offered to take us to any place on the island. Private taxi business is very popular here! The son of the guest house owner explained to us that you can stop any car on the street and arrange them to take you anywhere, for a fee, of course. Later, when walking the steep road to Anse Lazio, this is exactly what we did. We stopped a pickup and agreed on a 10 euro price and him returning to pick us up later. Riding in the back of a pickup on a steep road was something! I am the one to buckle up in a bus, so this was new to me. I would not want to drive myself on this island, as some roads were very narrow, and when the bus was coming, the traffic would stop completely. There were no safety rails and road would end abruptly on the side with several meter drop.
The owners of the guesthouse warned us about theft on Anse Lazio beach. We saw many tourists going for a swim and leaving all their belongings in the shade, but we were very vigilant about our bags. We also saw a stingray just few meters away, no other types of sharks though. This is the beach were two tourists were attacked in 2011 and after that swimming on the island was forbidden for a short while. These have been the only shark attacks in many years, and it was said that the shark was not local. Since we dive and are well read about sharks, we are usually not worried about being attacked, but it really did not feel safe on this beach after having read such information.
Anse Lazio really is very beautiful, but there are significantly many more people that on any of the Silhouette beaches. Would I agree that it is one of the most beautiful beaches in the world? It’s difficult to say, as many of the beaches in Seychelles were amazingly beautiful.
Honeymoon Continues: La Digue
The last destination on our honeymoon was La Digue, the location of the most beautiful beach in the world according to several ratings – Anse Source D’Argent. We lived in a small guest house, taken care of by a young Nepalese man. We had agreed in advance with the guest house owner Monica that someone will pick us up at the port, and although it was not far, walking 20 minutes with our entire luggage in the heat would not have been easy. It was just a five minute car ride, but cost us 150 rupees. We also had to wait, as there are many more visitors than cars on the island. Many of the “buses” were made out of trucks, with seats and wooden roofs attached to them.
Our guesthouse had a nice garden with deck chairs, and the Nepalese man really cared for our wellness, our room was full of petals, and we got some fruit and drinks for our honeymoon. Every day he would make fresh juice for us, some day from mangoes growing nearby, on others from star fruit and papaya. We ate orange jam with toast, fresh omelet, had tasty tea and enjoyed the surrounding. Most of the stay we were the only visitors at the guesthouse.
We saw hundreds of chicken on the island, wandering on their own in the bushes. Also quite many stray dogs, although the guesthouse owner said that all of them belong to someone. They would pick out a tourist and wander along, sleep at the porch till the next morning and would not leave under any circumstances.
It’s the best to use a bicycle to see the island, but you can also walk on the flat side of the island. Our guesthouse offered bikes for free on the first day and for a small fee on other days. I am not a big fan on bicycles and it was really difficult for me to use these broken up bikes. Driving on the same road as the transfer buses was not too pleasant either, as some of them went significantly over the posted speed limit. Taking all of this into consideration we mostly walked. A while ago the only transport on the island was oxcarts, but there are many jeeps now too. We saw a few oxcarts as well, but I’ve heard they are very expensive; a short ride would cost as much as 500-600 rupees. There are many visitors on the island, but most come just for one day to see the L’Union Estate plantation, where the world famous beach is, as well as vanilla plantations and the cemetery of the first inhabitants.
It’s possible to walk from Anse Source D’Argent to Anse Marron, either using the jungle path or during low tide, on the water. We wanted to use the jungle path, walked half an hour, squeezing between such granite boulders we thought we would never get out again, but we did not manage to find a path to the beach and went back. As internet was not freely available on the island (only at the internet café where it cost 2 rupees a minute), we did not know the schedule of the tide and were not sure what to do. We got lucky, the water started receding and we managed to go to the very end without any issues. Anse Marron beach might be even more beautiful than Anse Source D’Argent, and you can enjoy true solitude there. We did see a couple of organized groups coming from the jungle side later on and then noticed the water had started coming back, so we decided to go back as well. When we reached the end, in the deepest places the water was waist high, while going there only knee high. Our guest house owner just shook her head disapprovingly and said that it’s not safe to do what we had done on our own.
We had planned to go diving on La Digue. Constant air conditioning, especially in the airplane, caused some health problems for my husband, so we had to cancel our first diving day. On the second day something had happened to the compressor and there was no air to go diving, cancelled again. Finally on the third and fourth days we managed to go diving, but only for three times total due to limited air supply. All of the diving locations were a few minutes ride from the island. The waves were rocking our small boat while we were putting on gear, and I could not wait to get into water, as just sitting in the boat I started to get sick. When the boat was moving again, I did not have any issues anymore.
Underwater world is simply breathtaking in the Indian ocean! We saw white tip sharks, turtles and moray eels. Saw a school of stingrays and thousands of colorful fish. Unfortunately I did not get to see a whale shark, our guide told us she had not seen one for over two years. It seemed strange that Seychelles in October-November were described as the best whale shark spotting place in the guidebooks.
To Return Again
We spend our last night in Seychelles on Mahe , in a beautiful guesthouse on top of the mountain with a view to Victoria. We saw ships and other islands in the distance. There are many more inhabitants on this island, and it was much noisier. We walked a bit in the evening, had dinner and went to bed. In our thoughts we were planning already to return so celebrate wedding anniversary someday.
- Currency: Seychellois rupees, 1 EUR=16 rupees. You can pay with euro almost everywhere. Cards are not accepted in all places, many of the ATM’s don’t accept Maestro cards.
- Most of the tourists are from Germany, France, Russia, Italy and South Africa
- Special warnings: prohibited to collect endangered species (including plants, shells), purchase items made from endangered species. You have to be careful with Coco de Mer, when buying one, you must also have a permit to be able to take it out of the country. One of the staff members on Silhouette told us that everything that has washed out of the sea, we are allowed to take with us. So I have a bag with shells from my trip.
- It gets dark quickly and there are not many streetlamps, so flashlight is a must.
- The flight cost us 850 EUR per person, back and forth, we used Etihad, on the way there Riga-Amsterdam-Abu Dhabi-Mahe, on the way back Mahe-Abu Dhabi-Munich-Riga. On the way there our suitcases did not make it on time and we had to wait for 24 h, as there is only one flight per day. As they told us, 2.5 h in Abu Dhabi is too little, but despite that our guests’ luggage, who were travelling on the day before the wedding, came on time. In the airport they gave us 1000 rupees per person to buy basic items. The experience was quite stressful, as they could not locate the luggage and even on the next day, calling the airport repeatedly, there was no information, and most of items needed for wedding were there.
- We bought insurance by Seesam and Swedbank, which we had to use for buying clothes because of the bags being delayed and visiting a doctor to get something for the flu for my husband. There were only two shops on Silhouette, and both quite expensive, so insurance money was only enough to buy shorts, t-shirt and flip flops.
- A five star hotel with two meals a day was from 300 EUR per night, with special offers for weddings and honeymoons (but not later than 6 months after nuptials, presenting certificate). We were upgraded to beach villa, although we paid for garden villa, because of our wedding. Our guests got lucky too and were upgraded as well, as by then the hotel was fully booked.
- One or two star hotel with or without breakfast was 50-100 EUR per night, I booked through agoda.com.
- Ferry Mahe-Silhouette cost 56 EUR per person per way; we managed to agree for a better price through the agency, 44 EUR per person. If you stay at least five nights, then you get one free trip back and forth during the stay (but not the one you use to arrive or leave in the first place).
- Ferry Mahe-Praslin cost 39 EUR per person per way (newlyweds are upgraded to business class, showing proof of the marriage, but it’s preferable to agree on that in advance, as in the port they could not help us and we had to call the agency to arrange it). Ferry Paslin-La Digue 14 EUR per person per way (this was agency price, on the website the prices were higher).
- If you are more than one person coming from the airport, I suggest taking a taxi and not an organized transfer, agreeing on the price with the driver in advance. It will be cheaper and you won’t have to wait for the other people to arrive. We did have issues with one of the taxi drivers on Mahe, who after the ride asked for a twice as big price as initially. She said she thought the address was closer! I am not sure what to do in such cases, if we would not have had the money in cash, maybe she would have let it go, or maybe would not give us our suitcases back and would say to get money from an ATM. The rest of the drivers were nice and we did not have any issues with them.
- A bottle of water 1 l: 4-6 EUR.
- Dinner for one in a touristy restaurant 20 EUR, in some places even as high as 70 EUR (the fancy Italian place on La Digue)!
- Dinner for one in a local buffet cost only 3-5 EUR (the serving sometimes bigger than in the tourist places). They had fries, chicken, toasts and ice-cream (which costs five times more at the beach).
- L’Union Estate entrance fee 7 EUR (if you pay in rupees; if in euro or dollars, more), valid for all day
- Diving on La Digue: 1 time 69 EUR, 6 times 310 EUR, equipment rent 12 EUR per day. OWD certificate is enough, as diving depth is 15-18 m.
- Local supermarkets – the choice is not huge, you can buy pasta, tomato sauce, frozen meat, water and local beer (25 rupees a bottle). I did not see ice-cream in any of the stores. If you don’t want to eat in the local buffet, just buying stuff in the shop won’t work out, as you have to cook it.
The Costs of the Ceremony at the Hotel
- “Fire” 570 EUR, without official registration. Wedding concierge, preparing and decorating the location, witness from the hotel, a room for the bride to get ready in, a romantic preparation of the room for the night, a scarf for the bride and T-shirt for the groom, fruit and wine upon arrival, sparkling wine for the ceremony, two level cake and romantic breakfast in bed.
- “Earth” 730 EUR, all of the above and official registration with certificate and apostille
- “Water” 2000 EUR, all included in “Earth” and in addition manicure, pedicure, massage, VIP check in, better room for the wedding night, specially decorated bathroom, romantic dinner
- Make up 136 EUR
- Hairdresser 287 EUR
- “Live” music 440 EUR
Legalizing Marriage in Your Country and Other Details
- This is definitely different for every country, but in Latvia before marriage I looked up the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and there was a list on 1961 Hague convention countries. If your destination is in it (and you also come from one of these countries), legalizing should not be difficult.
- Before getting married you have to check if there are no religious obstacles to getting married in that country. Maldives offers vows renewal ceremony, but it’s not a real wedding.
- You can coordinate the ceremony yourself, but I thought it would be easier to do it through an agency
- Not later than two months in advance you have to send translated and notary approved copies of you birth certificate and passport to Seychelles
- After returning home we translated (and got notary approval) the certificate and had to take it to Citizenship and Migration Bureau in Latvia, within 30 days
Don’t forget to see all of the pictures in the beginning of the article (the first picture is the clickable gallery!). The author of the wedding pictures is Kristine Grinvalde, the rest are done by my amazing husband Jekabs Andrusaitis!