Beyond Private Island Resorts: Celebrating Festival Kreol in the Seychelles
The Seychelles is, first and foremost, a beach destination. It is not usually considered a place for budget travelers. If you plan to thumb through Lonely Planet to find a hostel after you get through immigration, you will be disappointed. There are a few cheaper guesthouses and bungalows in the capital city, Victoria, but the people at passport control take the proof-of-accommodations requirement more seriously than you might expect.
Low volume, high cost tourism
Yes, this is a destination dominated by luxury rental villas, private island resorts and all-inclusive five-star hotels. The Seychelles subscribes to a high-cost, low-volume tourism strategy. This is an idea that conservationists and economists both praise. The high prices guarantee plenty of income from tourism, but the low number of people who can afford the costs means that the environment isn't affected by tourist traffic.
And the environment is the main draw on these sparsely populated Indian Ocean islands. The Seychelles is known for its palm-fringed white-sand beaches and clear coastal waters that are always at the ideal temperature. This is a place for beach vacations for the jet set, honeymoons and once-in-a-lifetime splurges.
Experiencing an overlooked culture
Unfortunately, the lively Creole culture of the Seychelles gets overshadowed by the resort scene. Each October for the past 30 years, the country has hosted the Festival Kreol. This celebration, which also draws musicians and artists from neighboring Indian Ocean enclaves like Mauritius and Reunion, is a chance for tourists to immerse themselves in the unique Seychellois culture, which developed from the many different influences that have converged on the country over its history.
The Festival Kreol has a lot in common with Carnival celebrations that are held in many countries with large Creole populations. The party kicks off in Victoria with a parade featuring people in traditional costumes who are serenaded by Seychellois folk music as they march to the Stad Popiler, an arena in the middle of the city. Other activities during the festival include a Miss Creole pageant, play performances, art shows and concerts.
The Creole Capital
Though its population is less than 100,000, Seychelles is a center for Creole culture. The French-based tongue, known as Seychellois Creole, is an official language alongside English and French. In contrast, a very similar language spoken on Mauritius has no official status. This is one example that illustrates the sense of pride that the country has in its culture.
The Festival Kreol only runs through the end of October, but people who want to see the non-resort side of this Indian Ocean country can find it any time of year. The best option is to come to Mahé, the main island where Victoria is located. You can rent a bike and cruise around like a local, visiting the early-morning market, trying traditional cuisine and hear some tunes in the evenings.
If you come to the Seychelles for the culture, you probably won't want to travel beyond Mahé. The island is home to 90 percent of the country's population. That said, if it's in the budget, a few days on a perfectly idyllic private island would be a nice addition to the itinerary. And even jet setters who are there for the beaches can take a day or two in Victoria to get a taste of one of the world's great Creole cultures.
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