Glen Donovan is a London-based travel agent to some 150 cherry-picked clients for whom he, in turn, cherry-picks suites in the world's best resorts. He is a virtual litmus to emerging destinations in upmarket travel. In 2000, talk was of Bali, and the fight to get rooms at Begawan Giri. In 2001, the mood had switched to the chic of Marrakech—the riads, private Casbahs, the Amanresort that had recently arrived in the bustling North African desert. This year, Donovan is filled with a new enthusiasm: the Indian Ocean. "We've reached the point at which two related trends intersect," Donovan explains. "Escapism has never been more important, while the range of places to escape to has become increasingly narrow. To my kind of client, the solution lies in the tiny islands between Africa and India, where you get the Robinson Crusoe experience with Asian service." But what makes them different from other palm-fringed dots? "The perfect cliché," he says. "The lack of development, powdery white sands, the unreal turquoise of the water. Colors are better than they can ever be in brochures, which—unusual for this business—means the destination exceeds the expectations created by computer manipulation. Take a seaplane to a northern atoll in the Maldives and you feel like you've entered a new reality. These islands may be 100 percent Muslim, yet they're so far removed from the images of Al Jazeera, you could be on another planet."
Post-September 11th, the Indian Ocean seems a very long way from troublesome governments and mystery diseases. It's also very far from the United States. Europeans, especially the French and British, have adopted it as their alternative Caribbean. Now Americans are discovering the islands as one part of a two-part vacation, according to specialist agents like Norman Pieters, president of the Florida-based Karell's African Dream Vacations. Pieters increasingly pairs trips to Mauritius and the Seychelles with African safaris. "It is one of the most vigorous trends in the region. Americans can now experience beach and bush during a two-week vacation. You won't find a lion anywhere near the Caribbean." High-end outfitter Cox & Kings frequently combines East and South African safaris with the Seychelles; Abercrombie & Kent, always on the cutting edge of travel, plans to introduce a new Indian Ocean program this fall, pairing African lodges with Mauritius and the Seychelles, and beaches in the Maldives with temples in south India.
One thing the Indian Ocean does not have is the Caribbean's neat geography. It is a two-and-a-half-hour flight between Mauritius and the Seychelles, a three-hour flight between the Seychelles and Maldives. But with this less convenient spread comes far greater topographical variety; the islands are stepping stones across the vast water separating Africa from Asia. The landscapes range from the Maldives' coral atolls that barely break the water's surface to mountainous archipelagos like the Seychelles that are pristine, green, and jungly. Likewise, their peoples are an eclectic mix of African and Asian, with Arab influences. That makes for a cultural layering you don't find in the Caribbean, as well as for very interesting local cuisines. Add to this Zanzibar, the Andamans and Nicobars, Lakshadweep and the Comoros, Madagascar, and the eruptive island of Réunion, and you get a sense of the region's emerging potential.
Indian Ocean chic started in Mauritius. In 1998, the old Sandy Lane on Barbados closed for refurbishment. Its regular, well-heeled European clients started looking for an alternative, explains Glen Donovan. "They ended up at Le Saint Géran on Mauritius—the Barbados, if you like, of the Indian Ocean. When Sandy Lane failed to reopen on schedule the next year, the same clientele began to explore neighboring islands, like the Seychelles and Maldives." It caught on. In the last six months I've seen private jets belonging to Russian industrialists clog the Seychelles' single pitted runway. In the Maldives I've shared seaplane charters with the travel scout for the Bahrain royal family and in Mauritius I've struggled to get a room in low season, despite unusually poor weather. And hotels just keep opening: In the Seychelles there's the brand-new North Island resort as well as a Banyan Tree. The refashioned Des Roches and Alphonse debut in the fall; Cocoa Island opened in the Maldives last Christmas; and a new resort is planned for Mauritius next year.
"It's remarkable," says Ibrahim Bashir, a private guide on Mauritius. "In the 1970s there were less than five hotels on this island. Now there are 105, and we get enough business to share with our neighbors. Our popularity should hold up because hoteliers are making the investments. Mauritius is a fiscal paradise. New hotels don't pay tax for the first ten years. When the same investors open a second property, they get rebates they can put back into the first hotel's refurbishment. Nor do we want to lose what people originally came for—a place where fish tickle your feet in the water and no building is higher than the tallest palm tree." Protective mechanisms are also shared by the Seychelles and the Maldives. Here too the "palm-tree rules" have been put in place, and new resorts are almost exclusively high-end. "These strategies should ensure that the islands don't go the way of the dodo," says Pieters, referring to that famous bird, now extinct but once endemic to Mauritius.
I visited 21 top-notch resorts over the last ten months. Six of them made the Departures list of the Best of the Indian Ocean. The competition was stiff, but the criteria simple: Each one had to meet or exceed the best of the Caribbean to justify the flight time. Even on their own, we believe they do. But when combined with an African safari—as we have suggested in the scenarios that follow—the Indian Ocean is truly extraordinary.
"The Seychellois are laid-back and discreet. Here you don't come to see and be seen, but for straightforward privacy."
Patrick Brizio, managing director, Frégate Island Private, 2003
THE PLACE 115 coral-and-granite islands spread out over 540,000 square miles. Mahé is the main hub. Most of the top resorts are on private islands in the northern part of the archipelago; Frégate and North Island are farther afield. Most resorts are accessible by boat, helicopter, or by 12-seater plane.
THE PEOPLE The hotel trade is newer here than on Mauritius or the Maldives, but the people are naturally hospitable. The population combines Africans, Europeans, Indians, Chinese, and Arabs. French Creole is the lingua franca, English and French the official languages.
THE X-FACTOR Lack of development. Instead, nature assumes center stage. Forests are lush and plentiful; beaches are white and perfect. The diving is better than around Mauritius, and almost as good as in the Maldives.
WHEN TO GO March to May and September to November.
Frégate Island Private
This is the original queen of Seychellois resorts. There are 16 villas and seven beaches spread over 500 acres of forest whose most famous inhabitant may be the magpie robin, the world's seventh-rarest bird. A dubious claim, admittedly, but charming. (Spot a magpie robin here, as nearly every guest does, and you have seen one percent of the bird's global population). If Eden had been an island, this might have been it.
What is remarkable about Frégate is its logistical coup: It has avoided the challenges that similarly isolated islands face—supplies, staffing, technical details—despite being a 90-minute boat ride from Mahé. It is almost self-sufficient, with a garden that supplies the hotel with fresh produce. It is also eco-minded: Twenty-one of the bird species native to the Seychelles are happily ensconced in indigenous woods. Fruit bats fly through forests of banyan. Giant tortoises graze outside your villa. And from October to January you can watch sea turtles lay their eggs on the beach during the day or by moonlight.
To witness nature this pristine is rare; to witness it from your own private Jacuzzi is what makes Frégate different. The resort is built on the north coast of the island, with two villas inland. Despite this concentration along a single stretch, it remains a remarkably private place. From the villas, your view is of the sea. The rooms, which are done up in African chamfuta teak with white linens and cream-colored sofas, are decorated plantation-style, with planter's chairs, fourposter beds, and French doors. Each villa has two outdoor showers and one indoors, a bath, and a hot tub. There's a spacious open deck for dining. Villas also come with a buggy for exploring the grounds.
Most guests tend to stay put in their fiefdoms all day, but a few venture down to a free-form pool built into the rocks. Others prefer to visit beaches like Anse Maquereau, where they can relax on an extra-large chaise positioned on a natural-stone platform above the water. In early 2004 they'll also be able to amble to the new spa.
And the food? It's downright marvelous, from perfect gazpacho to divine curry. Service is also first-class, headed up by Patrick Brizio, who hails from the Lyford Cay Club, in the Bahamas. The only serious threat to Frégate's supremacy in paradise is North Island, a new resort that materialized just around the corner.
VILLA TO BOOK Number 16 has the best views of Chimney Rocks; number 3, 4, and 5 are set just above the beach and a bit apart from the others. Numbers 1 and 2 are in sheltered meadows slightly inland; they are also less rocky and good for families.
THE PERFECT PACKAGE Pair Frégate Island with Olonana, Kenya's sophisticated, tented luxury-safari lodge on the banks of the Mara River.
HOW TO BOOK IT Frégate Island Private, Victoria, Mahé; 248-282-282; reservations 49-69-83-83-76-35; www.fregate.com. Villas, $1,800, including meals.
"Haute Robinson Crusoe" is how architect Silvio Rech describes this new resort, which opened in May. "What we wanted was to create something that represented the best of the Seychelles and at the same time celebrated nature."
And celebrate it does: North is a retreat where nature gets the VIP treatment. The private island is part conservation project, part philanthropic venture whose owners want to take their treasured property back to its pristine natural state following damage by overfarming. Alien vegetation is being replaced by takamaka woodlands; hawksbill and green turtles are being protected, as are the surrounding coral reefs.
"When we're finished, there won't be an island like it, except maybe in the Galápagos," says Colin Bell, CEO of Wilderness Safaris, one of the principal shareholders. "It will be its own sort of Noah's ark, home to a number of critically endangered wildlife species." Guests can witness conservation in action while contributing to its continuation. They can also enjoy a hotel experience that—dare we say it—gives even Aman a run for its money.
The fact is, its natural credentials are extraordinary. The nearly mile-long east beach is a ribbon of luminous, powdery white sand. It's here that the 11 villas sit, looking out to sea—an uncanny turquoise deepening to cobalt around the granite rocks at either end—and facing the sunrise. High on one side are a spa and infinity pool hidden among jungle palms. On the other is Villa 11, built on stilts like a tree house. It's private and dramatic, with 180-degree views of the ocean.
The villas are constructed of sandstone, rock, and reclaimed takamaka wood. The bureaus, couches, and tables are of native woods like casuarina, some with butterfly ties; the beds from a chunky hardwood called banua. The decking is sandblasted pine, which has the look of bleached driftwood, and floors are teak with rosewood—weathered rather than shellacked. The style is casual rustic, with tactile finishes, including muslin-soft linens. Each villa's two bedrooms are equal in size to presidential suites at other resorts, with a cavernous stone bathtub, indoor and outdoor rosehead showers, and a freshwater plunge pool. There are also televisions and air conditioning—but many guests prefer to sleep with the sides of their villa left open.
Don't expect the usual diversions like motorized watersports. This resort's relationship with nature is carried through in all the important details, right down to the cuisine. "We use only what is available locally and seasonally, recognizing the diversity of the islands and their influences—French, Creole, African, South Indian," says chef Geoffrey Murray. "It wouldn't be appropriate for example, say, to recreate Paris in the middle of the Indian Ocean."
VILLA TO BOOK Number 11, at the far end of the beach, is the most beautiful. However, because it was built among the rocks it may not be ideal for families that have small children.
THE PERFECT PACKAGE Pair North Island with Ngorongoro Crater Lodge in Tanzania. Situated in a region famous for its wildebeest, this extraordinary lodge— on a dramatic escarpment with sensational views—has been dubbed the "Masai Versailles." Ngorongoro was designed by the same architects as North.
HOW TO BOOK IT Guests cannot book directly through the hotel. Instead, reserve through Karell's African Dream Vacations, (888-735-3914) or Cox & Kings (800-999-1758). Rates, $1,220-$4,450, including meals; www.north-island.com.
Banyan Tree Seychelles
In the past, I have not always been the most ardent fan of Banyan Tree Hotels and Resorts. But Banyan Tree Seychelles, which opened in February 2002, is something altogether different. In fact, I'd put it among the top ten resort hotels of the world.
The location on Mahé is impeccable. It is a place that has retained its native wildness.The beach, called Intendance Bay, is a bright swatch of white—the late Beatle George Harrison and actor Peter Sellers purportedly once planned to build places here—backed by a precipitous mountainside covered with lush palm forest. The 37 villas fit snugly into the landscape's natural contours: 21 on the slopes, 15 on the beach, plus one presidential-style fortress on a jagged rocky outcropping. Each is freestanding, with inspiring ocean views. All are set far apart (this is a 290-acre site) and as a result are incredibly private. The style is clean-lined Colonial—not unlike the Cotton House on Mustique—white clapboard exteriors, French doors, wraparound verandas. Each has its own plunge pool, and most also have outdoor Jacuzzis.
The hotel does accept children, but admits that it prefers adults. I can understand why. Around the restaurant, a foot-high rail is all that protects the little ones from a lethal 20-foot drop. Infinity pools, especially on the hillside, create another set of hazards. Since this is open ocean, not a still lagoon, weak swimmers wouldn't want to reckon with these currents.
The service here is first-class (like all Banyan spas, staff is something the company also gets right), with a sophisticated emphasis on privacy. There are double massage pavilions at the Asian-themed spa (most of the staff members are veterans from Banyan's Phuket property), and a quiet gourmet Asian restaurant serves delicious Thai salads. However, the international menu at lunch could do with more variety, an intention of Banyan's new American chef, David Ansted. With this small caveat resolved, this resort will surely keep Banyan Tree Seychelles well ahead of the curve in the entire region.
VILLA TO BOOK For dramatic ocean views, try numbers 209 or 210 at the far west of the resort. Of the hillside villas, number 408 has the most dramatic views of the forest and ocean as it enjoys the highest elevation. Villas 201, 202, and 203 share a private cove.
THE PERFECT PACKAGE Combine Banyan Tree Seychelles with the Royal Malewane in South Africa. It's one of the great safari lodges and it also has a fabulous spa. Wine, dine, and get pummeled beneath the stars after a day tracking elephant and lions in Kruger National Park.
HOW TO BOOK IT Banyan Tree Seychelles, Anse Intendance, Mahé; 248-383-500; reservations 805-499-9101; www.banyantree.com. Rates, $1,150-$3,600.
"You gather that Mauritius was made first and then heaven."
Mark Twain, 1896
THE PLACE This is one of the larger Indian Ocean islands. It's 36 miles long, 29 miles from east to west, and lies 500 miles to the east of Madagascar. (Jet lag is less of a problem with Mauritius than with the Maldives, as you're flying south from Europe as opposed to east.) The interior is thick with mountains and sugar plantations. Many of the big, high-end resorts are on the east coast, with its wide beaches.
THE PEOPLE There's a strong Indian population (it's more than 50 percent Hindu), owing to a history of indentured laborers who mixed with the Africans, Chinese, British, and French. Everyone speaks English, the official language. Tourism is more highly developed here than it is on other Indian Ocean islands, and service is also more sophisticated.
THE X-FACTOR Mauritius is all about choice. You can stay at one resort, eat at another for lunch, another for dinner, and play golf on a championship course somewhere else—all within an easy drive. The food is excellent, and has the greatest variety in the Indian Ocean.
WHEN TO GO Winter, from July to September, is the most pleasant, with temperatures of around 75 degrees. The rainy season is from November to May, but in general the weather is more unpredictable than in the Maldives.
Le Saint Géran
Le Saint Géran, on Mauritius, is the sister resort to the Ocean Club in the Bahamas, which you can use as a barometer to size and quality. Both properties come under the aegis of Sol Kerzner, the South African tycoon who—on the opposite end of the spectrum—also specializes in themed resorts such as Atlantis on Paradise Island, also in the Bahamas. At Le Saint Géran, Kerzner's way is brashy-flashy. Evening cocktails at the casino come with maraschino cherries, and on the beach, a gentleman in starched Bermudas offers to shine your sunglasses. So while you can't come here expecting subtlety, you can expect tremendous attention to detail. And the bill? It's big, very big. However, nearly 50 percent of the Saint Géran clientele are repeat customers. In fact, this is the most difficult reservation to land of all Indian Ocean resorts. It is particularly popular with Americans who want a vacation where everything works. Maybe not everyone's samovar of coffee—but its fans are many and passionate.
Much of the staff have been here for the resort's 27-year lifetime, including during its massive renovation three years ago. The old-timers are proud and exacting; younger recruits keen and willing. All guests are supplied with their own round-the-clock butlers who will unpack their bags and press the first night's dress upon arrival. At the Presidential Villa, head butler Trevor Humphreys will even iron the newspaper so that you don't get print on your fingers. At the kid's club—a signature success of Kerzner's resorts—it's not unusual for staff to outnumber children.
The style is equally grandiose. Two wings span out from a central lobby, with a free-form pool that is flanked by a bar and two restaurants. The food, particularly at Paul et Virginie, is nearly flawless—a mix of healthy Creole and French gourmet cooking. Spoon des Iles, an ambitious eatery from Alain Ducasse, is yet a third restaurant. And although chances are extremely remote that you will ever happen upon the Michelin-six-star himself, his sous-chefs are behind some of the most extraordinary haute cuisine to be found in the tropics. Dishes are a playful and creative mix of Asian, Latin, Creole, and American influences. The touch is light but hits every note perfectly, whether in a salad (onion, green chili, and Riviera octopus) or a main dish (grilled skewered tuna and barbecue fish sauce). The wine cellar also has an excellent selection.
Ducasse is not the only bold-faced name at Le Saint Géran. Philippe Starck is responsible for the furniture at Spoon des Iles; Christofle and Alessi did the cutlery and table accessories. Givenchy is behind the spa, and Matt Roberts, London's celebrity trainer, is responsible for the gym.
There is a Gary Player-designed golf course and Peter Burwash Tennis Academy. Rooms are large—all 162 are rightly classified as suites; plus there's a two-bedroom villa. But unfortunately they're done up in passé pastels with orange-stained wood.
Still, this is not resort-building-by-numbers. Le Saint Géran has character. Could it be called glamorous? In a 1980s, Dynasty sort of way. Not that the kids will notice. They'll be too busy cavorting (the watersports are free), which is why honeymooners might want to look elsewhere—to the west coast's Oberoi hotel.
ROOM TO BOOK For families, the Ocean Suites, especially numbers 312 to 415, which have extra-wide private lawns.
THE PERFECT PACKAGE Combine Le Saint Géran with the Singita Private Game Reserve, in South Africa. Many consider Singita to be the most glamorous of the South African lodges.
HOW TO BOOK IT Le Saint Géran, Belle Mare, Mauritius; 230-401-1688; www.oneandonlylesaintgeran.com. Suites, $1,225-$2,450; villa, $7,435.
The Oberoi, Mauritius
When The Oberoi, Mauritius debuted in 2001, it went out on a limb, opening on the relatively undeveloped northwest coast in Turtle Bay, a 15-minute drive from the capital of Port Louis. The beaches are less impressive than those on the island's east coast, but that's okay: What The Oberoi loses to the competition in a few million grains of sand it makes up for in design. This is the chicest hotel on Mauritius. It's a close call between this and Le Prince Maurice, next door to Le Saint Géran; but while the Maurice is clearly derivative of Asia's Amanresorts, The Oberoi has successfully introduced a new lexicon to the island architecture, which previously had developed with little respect to Mauritian heritage.
This has been achieved by brilliant landscaping. All 76 of the single-story thatched villas are set amid dense foliage and volcanic boulders. From your room you have an uninterrupted view from lawn to ocean. (The resort's two swimming pools are positioned below your line of vision.) The feeling is both rustic and soft, something akin to what you'd find in an African lodge. Designers used volcanic rock and keruing, pine, and teak woods. Sugarcane leaves have been woven into the headboards. Such details reflect the eclecticism of Mauritius. Indonesian influences are picked up in the carved-stone sculptures; African references are made in tall ebony figures. Modern Urban comes in the striking use of black-and-white photography and in the very contemporary whites and creams in the interiors.The design works—especially in the 18 villas that have their own private pools.
In other respects The Oberoi is sometimes right on the mark and sometimes slightly off. There are two restaurants, no buffets, and the menu is strong on Creole and Indian dishes. The resort's spa puts an emphasis on pampering massages rather than on anything usefully cosmetic, so avoid the halfhearted Ayurvedic facials. A kids' club is set up over Christmas and other busy holidays. Watersports are comprehensive, and the beach staff is helpful. This, however, is not true throughout the resort. Elsewhere in the hotel service can be downright annoying. But at The Oberoi, you will likely be too relaxed to notice.
VILLA TO BOOK If price is no object, chose one of the two Royal Villas: Number 412 is more private; Number 112 is right on the ocean. Otherwise, the best two villas with pools are numbers 205 and 206, alongside the beach.
THE PERFECT PACKAGE Pair The Oberoi, Mauritius with Stanley's Camp—small, with just eight tented suites in Botswana's Okavango Delta, where children can walk with orphaned elephants.
HOW TO BOOK IT The Oberoi, Mauritius , Turtle Bay, Pointe-aux-Piments, Mauritius; 230-204-3600; reservations 800-562-3764; www.oberoihotels.com. Rates, $1,000- $3,400, including breakfast.
"By God, I envy this man his island and wish that it was mine to withdraw to."
Ibn Battuta, explorer to the Maldives in 1343
THE PLACE A 530-mile-long string of coral islands (1,190, to be precise) south of India, west of Sri Lanka. Most are less than half a mile square and no higher than seven feet above sea level. Some 200 are inhabited, including about 90 that have been given over to tourism.
THE PEOPLE The population, almost entirely Muslim, has the same approach to service as the rest of the Indian subcontinent—well-meaning, smiling, with good English.
THE X-FACTOR Intelligent, restrained development has preserved the islands' natural features: powder-white beaches, pristine marine environments, calm lagoons. For diving, the Maldives are among the best spots in the world, despite coral bleaching from El Niño-like conditions in 1997. Better still, you can see most of it with a snorkel from the reefs just beyond your hotel.
WHEN TO GO The dry season runs from November to April. Mid-April and late November are best for diving, as seas are calm and the water is exceptionally clear.
My Indian Ocean favorite? Absolutely, but then it matches most closely my own desert-island fantasies. You don't come here to be waited on hand and foot—although butler service is promoted big-time. This is a sleepy place that moves at a sleepy pace, and the point here is quietude and privacy. The resort is designed with precisely that in mind—especially in one of the Soneva Fushi Villas, which is where you should stay.
Kunfunadhoo, on which the resort is located, is a relatively large island for the Maldives—some 100 acres—yet there are only 62 villas. You barely notice them as they are hidden amid the unusually lush interior, thick with tall palms and jungle flora. Still, some don't like things this "wild." After all, with it come geckos in your bathtub. It's certainly not manicured, and there are no golf buggies to cart you to and from the restaurant. Instead, guests use bicycles. But of the eight resorts that I reviewed in this single archipelago, including a competitive Four Seasons, Soneva Fushi remains the clear chart-topper, packed with style and natural beauty.
What makes it so special? The white, soft beach is sublime. The spa, recently upgraded to include a hydrotherapy suite, also introduced Pilates, shiatsu, and craniosacral massage. The excellent dive center is run by Soleni, a local company with loads of experience. Add to this the fact that swimming and snorkeling are fantastic here, and that it's close to world-class dive sites, including Baa Atoll's "shark nursery."
As for dining, you go barefoot in either the Mediterranean or New Asian restaurants. At both the food is fresh and sophisticated, a happy mix of healthy and decadent—pizza loaded with lobster was my favorite, and I was intrigued, I admit, by the rare 1924 Martinique rum. The wine cellar is superb, featuring some 400 different labels and 2,500 bottles.
ROOM TO BOOK Take those on the sunrise rather than the sunset side of the island (better views and beach). The Presidential Villa is on the southern tip; number 42 is a Soneva Fushi Villa at the north end. Of the Crusoe Villas, number 37 has the best views.
THE PERFECT PACKAGE Soneva Fushi would go well with a trip to Malabar House Residency in Cochin, South India, and Privacy, a private house in the Keralan backwaters—both are easygoing colonial-style properties with exquisite cuisine.
HOW TO BOOK IT Soneva Fushi Resort & Spa, Kunfunadhoo Island, Baa Atoll, Republic of Maldives; 960-230-304/5; reservations 44-151-486-4500; www.sixsenses.com. Rates, $460-$1,750.
The Indian Ocean, Practically Speaking
FLYING FROM THE U.S.
We recommend that you use either London or Paris as your main international hub.
For Mauritius, the simplest option is flying on British Airways (800-247-9297; www.britishairways.com) to London, where you can pick up a nonstop BA flight to the island. Air France (800-237-2747; www.airfrance.com/us) flies nonstop from Paris. Air Mauritius (800-537-1182; www.airmauritius.com) has nonstop flights from London and Paris. Flight time from any of these European hubs: about 12 hours.
For the Seychelles, British Airways has flights from London (12 hours), including a two-hour stopover in Nairobi. The national carrier, Air Seychelles (800- 677-4277; www.airseychelles.net), also has nonstop flights from London, Paris, and Rome, as well as Zurich.
For the Maldives, SriLankan Airlines (877-915-2652; www.srilankanusa.com) flies nonstop from London, Paris, and Zurich with a connection in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on the return. Qatar Airways (877-777-2827; www.qatarairways.com) and Emirates Airline (800-777-3999; www.emirates.com) fly from London and Paris via Doha and Dubai respectively. Flight time: about 12 hours, not counting connections.
TRAVEL WITHIN THE REGION
The Seychelles and Mauritius are in the west, off the coast of East Africa; the Maldives are in the east off southern India. There are only a few direct flights that link the two. Air Seychelles has a once-a-week, three-hour flight between the Seychelles and Maldives. They also operate a regular two-and-a-half-hour flight between Mauritius and the Seychelles.
ONCE YOU'VE ARRIVED
Local travel is straightforward. On Mauritius we recommend transferring from airport to resort by hotel limousine (maximum journey time, 90 minutes). In the Seychelles, do it by chopper, using the safe and efficient Helicopter Seychelles (248-385-858; www.helicopterseychelles.com) that operates between the international airport on Mahé and the outer islands. In the Maldives there are regular 45-minute seaplane flights between Male' and the resorts. Maldivian Air Taxi (960-315-201; www.mataxi.com), which has experienced international pilots, is also recommended. Your resort will make all the arrangements. For air transfers, specify whether you want a private or mixed-group charter.
BOOKING YOUR TRIP
U.S.-based agencies are beginning to sell the Indian Ocean in packages with Africa and South India. Among the best are Abercrombie & Kent (800-323-7308; www.abercrombiekent.com), Karell's African Dream Vacations (888-735-3914; www.karell.com), and Cox & Kings (800-999-1758; www.coxandkingsusa.com).
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