Perhaps you are heading to or from a safari in East Africa and want some rest and recuperation, or perhaps you are simply looking for a different but special type of island vacation. The answer could well be the Seychelles Islands – a true tropical island paradise.
First of all, let’s locate it. The Seychelles Islands are a group of 115 islands 1600 kilometrs/995 miles off the coast of Kenya, East Africa in the Indian Ocean. The majority are uninhabited of which many are dedicated as nature reserves leaving 16 which are inhabited. The islands are scattered over 400,000 square kilometers/150,000 square miles of the Indian Ocean and range from granite rock islands with lush vegetation to coral atolls that barely rise out of the sea. Of the 16 inhabited islands, the largest and most popular and populated are Mahe, La Digue and Praslin Islands.
A Little Historical and Cultural Background
The Seychelles, which was a British colony and before that a French one, gained independence in 1976. With around 90,000 inhabitants, it has the smallest population of any independent African state. As it has evolved, the Seychelles has multi-ethnic roots. Over the last two centuries, the islands have remained a melting pot of different races, traditions and religions from the four corners of the earth. This large diversity of cultural and influences and ethnic diversity are the mainstays of today’s vibrant but tranquil and harmonious nation.
Society in the Seychelles Islands is, interestingly, essentially matriarchal. Mothers tend to be dominant in the household, control most expenditures, and look after the interests of the children. Unwed mothers are a societal norm (the law requires fathers to support their children). Men are important for their earning ability but their domestic role is relatively minimal.
Why the Seychelles Islands?
Most visitors are attracted to the excellent beaches and the turquoise waters. The coral atolls are home to giant lagoons which are full of marine wildlife which makes them naturally attractive to divers and snorkelers. One fact is much of the Seychelles Islands flora and fauna cannot be found anywhere else on earth. The scenery is lush being in the tropics and consists of forests, wooded low mountains and of course, coral reefs. There is an excellent choice of accommodation suitable for all budgets in many of the main islands.
Mahe is the most developed island but is well-preserved. There is a mountain range which runs along the spine of the island where the country’s highest peak, Morro Seychellois is located. These central highlands are also home to the Morne Seychellois Park, the largest national park in the Seychelles. It covers a total surface area of more than 20% of Mahe and is equipped with a total of 12 different trails which can be explored either by a half or full day excursion. The park contains a wide variety of scenery from coastal mangrove forests up to the country’s highest peak, the Morne Seychellois and has some very interesting indigenous fauna and flora.
Another beautiful nature reserve is the Port Launay Marine National Park located just off the coast of Mahe and famous for its whale shark sightings. The reefs provide a wonderful opportunity to use your mask and snorkel while the beautiful sandy beach is quiet and inviting. The park can be reached by land or sea.
The St. Anne National Park, a short boat-ride away from Mahe, is one of the best places in the Indian Ocean to view marine life. It consists of six small islands and was created in 1973 for the preservation of wildlife. It is known as one of the prime locations in the Indian Ocean for scuba-diving, glass-bottom boat excursions and snorkeling among the coral reefs.
You may want to do some exploration within the capital of the Seychelles, Victoria, known as the smallest capital in the world. You can have a pleasant stroll around it taking in the Victoria Clock Tower, actually the most prominent feature of the capital. It is an elegant replica of a clock that was first erected in London in 1897 near Victoria Station, known as “Little Ben”. This Clock Tower is one of the Seychelles Islands national monuments.
The National Museum of History is charged with the acquisition, preservation and exhibition of historical artifacts of the Seychelles and includes such items as the oldest map drawn in 1517, the Stone of Possession a block of limestone coral which is engraved with the arms of France topped with the Royal crown and the world’s smallest statuette of Queen Victoria.
Kenwyn House, built in 1855 is an elegant example of French Colonial architecture and a must-see for visitors who can browse through its world class jewellery collection.
The Bel Air Cemetery is the oldest historical site in the Seychelles Islands. The cemetery’s tombs, vaults and shrines contain the remains of some of the islands’ most famous personalities including the mysterious Pierre-Louis Poiret who was purported to be the son of Louis XVI who fled the French Revolution and took refuge in the Seychelles.
Located on the outskirts of Victoria, the Botanical Garden dates back more than a century. It houses a wide collection of exotic and endemic plants within its five acres of landscaped and beautifully maintained tropical gardens. An added attraction is the giant tortoises from Aldabra, some of which are over 150 years old (more information on these amazing creatures later in this article). Fruit bat colonies can be found feeding or roosting in the taller trees overhead and the latest feature is a house which holds a collection of brightly coloured orchids including Seychelles’ own native orchids.
And finally, if wishing to dine out in Victoria, here is a recommendation. A rambling wood and iron building from the Seychelles’ Colonial days is home to the oldest restaurant in the Seychelles. Marie Antoinette’s serves up Seychellois “creole” food, a fusion of Asian, African, and French flavors. If you are feeling adventurous, try the curried fruit bat!
Despite being the second largest island in the Seychelles it is inhabited by a mere 6,500 people. It is sleepy, laid back and far less developed than neighbouring Mahe. Yet it is still large enough to explore after the beach, although these are stunning with their white sand with names like Anse Lazio and Anse Geogette and known as some of best beaches worldwide.
Lush tropical forests cover the hills on Praslin. It is the only island where you can enjoy an 18 hole round of golf on a championship course It is also a great base for day trips to neighbouring islands such as Cousine Island where you can see amazing sea birds or explore the hills and mangroves and meet giant tortoises in the wild on Curieuse Island or go swimming or scuba diving around St Pierre at one of the fantastic dive sites around the island.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site here is the Vallee de Mai so remarkable that it was once believed to be the original site of the Garden of Eden. It is home to some 6000 Coco de Mer trees considered to be botanical wonders as they produce the world’s heaviest nut.
La Digue is the third largest inhabited island of the Seychelles. It has a population of about 2,000 people. It is known for its beaches, especially Anse Source d’Argent and Grand Anse. The Veuve Nature Reserve, in the island’s interior, is home to the rare black paradise flycatcher of which there are only about 100 in existence. La Digue also has a wide variety of underwater creatures like fish, sharks and rays. There are at least twenty guesthouses and hotels, a few restaurants and a dive centre. You can go on a boat trip or a diving trip around La Digue for a half or full day. The Veuve Nature Reserve offers hiking trips with a guide to show you the amazing beauty of La Digue.
Perhaps not the first of the Seychelles Islands to consider visiting but for specific reasons, it is very significant. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site which has been recognized as one of the wonders of the world by prominent naturalists due to its pristine coral reef ecosystems making its powdery white sandy beaches perfect for a dream island vacation.
Actually it is protected from full-scale tourism. Another reason to visit is that Aldabra is home to 150,000 giant land tortoises. The Aldabra tortoise population is the largest in the world. How big are they? They grow to up to 100 kilograms/220 pounds in weight. This is probably why they have no problem with possible predators. Aldabra is a strict nature reserve and visitors must receive authorization to travel there.
A Relaxing Way to Explore the Seychelles Islands
Want to see as much of the Seychelles Islands as possible but have limited time? The answer is definitely to take a cruise to some of the islands. Pegasus Cruises offers from 4 to 8 day cruises visiting islands such as Mahe, Praslin and La Digue plus some of the lesser known but equally enchanting islands such as Moyenne known for its extraordinary flora and fauna and Curieuse and Aride, both protected nature reserves.
So, if you want to combine sun, sand and sea with absolutely stunning scenery and enjoy nature at its most glorious, the Seychelles will fit the bill without any doubt.