One look at the Seychelles’ white sand beaches lapped by warm turquoise water, with a backdrop of lush hills and unique glacis boulders, and you’ll be hooked. Combine that with the slow pace of life on islands that are sparsely inhabited, contain few (if any) roads, offer delicious fresh seafood, and where you’re more likely to see an ox card than an automobile…You might never want to leave.
The Seychelles is composed of 115 islands. Of these, 41 are the oldest mid-oceanic granite on Earth. The other 74 are low-lying coral atolls and reef islands that are largely uninhabited, untouched, and offer spectacular fishing, snorkeling and diving opportunities. The islands are home to 81 endemic plant species, including the Coco de Mer coconut, which resembles a female pelvis.
If you love fishing or diving, you’ll fall in love with the Seychelles atolls—coral islands that encircle lagoons and are a haven for many marine species. Aldabra Atoll, the world’s second largest, is inhabited only by scientists and is home to the world’s largest population of giant tortoises, the world’s largest land crab species, hammerhead sharks, manta rays and countless bird species.
Once you’ve had your fill of the water wonders of these islands, you’ll be equally enchanted by a journey inland to the Seychelles charming settlements and jungle-covered hillsides. Victoria, the capital city, has busting markets, superb dining, manicured botanical gardens, colonial architecture and modern shopping centers. You won’t soon forget its backdrop of hills that appear to tumble into the sea. Praslin similarly offers stylish town life at a slow pace, set against palm trees and sand.
Nature lovers will enjoy a quiet trek in Morne Seychellois National Park. Explore the park’s varied habitats and accompanying wildlife—from coastal mangroves to Morne Seychellois, the country’s tallest peak. Hop over to La Digue Island to look for one of the 30 pairs of rare Paradise Fly Catcher, or visit Praslin to catch a glimpse of the unique black parrot.
Arab traders are known to have visited the Seychelles as early as the 9th century. The first European contact was likely the Portuguese in 1502. Other early visitors were members of the British East India Company. In 1752, France made a formal claim to the islands, which were uninhabited at the time. A few years later, French planters and their slaves settled the islands and began cultivating crops. They quickly learned to exploit the islands’ natural resources, exporting giant tortoises and harvesting hardwoods and cinnamon.
The islands changed hands between France and Britain several times during the French Revolution and Napoleonic wars. They were ceded to Britain in 1814 as part of the Treaty of Paris, but settlers remained primarily French. Slavery was abolished on the islands twenty years later. Additional Africans arrived in the Seychelles after being liberated by the British navy from slave ships on the East African coast. Today, nearly all of the Seychelles 82,000 inhabitants are of mixed French and African descent. Creole is most commonly spoken, but English and French are also official languages.
The Seychelles officially achieved independence on June 29, 1976. This event was followed by a series of power struggles that continued into the late 1980s. Today, presidents are elected by a popular vote thanks to the constitution adopted in 1993. The Seychelles are a member of the Commonwealth of Nations, the United Nations, the African Union, the Southern African Development Community, and an African, Caribbean and Pacific state of the European Union.
Despite its small size, the Seychelles are one of Africa’s more prosperous nations. The islands’ economy is sustained primarily by tourism, agriculture and fishing. Exports include tuna, copra (the fruit of the coconut palm) and cinnamon bark. Interestingly, the islands’ small amount of arable land and scarcity of fresh water necessitate the import of staple foods like rice.
The Seychelles built an international airport built in 1971 catapulted tourism into a main source of income for the Seychelles. Tourism continues to increase as more accommodations become available. However, the area still maintains an out-of-the-way feel, and visitors would be hard pressed to find a crowd in the whole of the islands. The Seychelles also have a well-deserved reputation for ecotourism. More than 40% of the country’s total land area and over 26,000 hectares of the surrounding waters are protected.
Although just 176 square miles of total area, the Seychelles are rich with flora and fauna. Hundreds of species are found nowhere else on earth, including 81 plant species, 15 bird species, three mammals, 30 reptile species and several hundred snails, insects and spiders. The area is accordingly important to scientific research. Some atolls, the like Aldabra Atoll, are inhabited only by scientists who conduct various research projects ranging from marine conservation to whale shark monitoring. A notable project is the $1.8 million Biodiversity Conservation and Marine Pollution Abatement being conducted by the Global Environment Trust Fund of the World Bank.
Photos: © Giovanna Fasanelli, Jonathan Rossouw, Jack S. Grove, and Zegrahm Expeditions