Named after Vicomte Moreau de Sechelles, this collection of islands offers every traveller an isolated island paradise with fine beaches, turquoise seas and tropical weather.
One would naturally expect to find schools of fish surrounding the island and one wouldn’t be disappointed. Board a glass bottom boat to see a variety of coral and a rainbow of fish. Or stay on the soft, white sand and explore an island rich in rare plants that flourish nowhere else on the planet.
Ornithologists flock to the islands every year to view up to two million sooty terns as well as the world’s largest colonies of lesser noddies, roseate terns and other tropical birds.
Why not visit the World Heritage Site on the second largest island, Praslin. Explore the world’s largest atoll. Dive with giant manta rays. On the granite island of Fregate, spot the neat extinct magpie robin and of course, find you very own Coco de Mer.
General Information on Seychelles:
Location: Indian Ocean
Islands: 115 islands
Size: 455km² across 1.3 million km² of ocean
Climate: Equatorail; temperature 24 – 30°C
Population: 81,755 (2002)
Main islands: Mahe, Praslin, La Diguw and inner islands
Capital: Victoria (on Mahe) (population 24, 994 including surrounding districts)
Economy: Fishing, tourism
Currency: Seychelles rupee (SR)
Language: English, French, Creole
Religion: Predominantly Roman Catholic
International telephone code: +248
Time: GMT +4
Electricity: 240 volts
Flag: Five colours (green, white, red, yellow and blue) radiating out from bottom left
National flower: Tropicalbird Orchid
National bird: Black Parrot
Seychelles most popular islands:
Mahe is the largest island in the Seychelles. Granite hills and mountains rise steeply from the sea providing a dramatic backdrop to the irregular coastline. Mahe is 27km long, only 8km wide and covers an area of 152km². It has a circumference of about 120km with breath-taking bays, intriguing coves and glorious long stretches of soft, white sand. Coconut palms and badamier and takamaka trees fringe the shoreline creating welcome shade and beautiful vistas.
The highest peak, Morne Seychellois, reaches up to 950m and, even on the hottest day, is frequently bathed in swirling mists. Much of the natural vegetation was destroyed in the early years of Seychelles settlement but the rich soils and high rainfall coupled with keen conservation by the Seychelleois have been conducive to a remarkable recovery, and the slopes are now clad with many indigenous trees, ferns, palms and orchids.
A necklace of coral encircles this truly magnificent island, protecting and sheltering the bays and beaches. Every beach or cove of any size or importance is named Anse, from the French word for ‘cove’, and although there may be a small billafe with a church, school, clinic and shop, it is simple known by its beach name – Anse Royal, Grande Anse, Anse aux Pins, etc. The only town on Mahe, or the whole of the Seychelles for that matter, is Victoria, named in 1841 after the young queen of England.
Mahe is surrounded by groups of satellite islands. Closest to Victoria on the east coast are Ste Anne, Cerf, Moyenne, Round and Long Islands. All these are situated within the Ste Anne Marine National Park. Therese and Conception are located off Port Glaud on the Western side, while Silhouette and North can be seen off Beau Vallon. On a clear day with good visibility, other, more distant islands like Praslin, La Digue, Mamelle and Fregate may be seen.
It is possible to drive almost all the way around Mahe, and there are only a few short stretches in the western and southern extremities with no linking roads. A good system of well-maintained roads has been developed. However, they are not without their dangers. The roads climbing the steep slopes are narrow and twisting with some hairpin bends and few, if any, shoulders. To accommodate the tropical downpours, deep channels have been constructed along the sides of the roads. But, beware, there are no protective barriers, and frequently the white or yellow lines have been worn away and are hardly visible. There is an easy going attitude among the drivers, who will frequently stop to chat to a fellow driver or pedestrian pal, with scant regard to traffic travelling in either direction. This, combined with the tourists in their hired cars who are unfamiliar with the geography, makes for some interesting situations. The saving grace though, is that speeding is not often possible except along Providence Highway, the dual carriageway near the airport.
The lovely island of Praslin, home to the coco de mer palm, has a gentle, unhurried pace and an ambience of quiet tranquillity. Long stretches of fine, white sand, framed by palms and shady takamakas; or small, secluded coves bounded by granite boulders, characterise this strangely shaped island which is surrounded by coral reefs. An assortment of islands lie beyond the coral reefs like chunks of emeralds in an azure sea.
Areas of great natural beauty surround Praslin but the romantic ‘island of palms’ is the only place on earth where you will see coco de mer palms growing in magnificent profusion. The tall, elegant female coco de mer palm produces a huge seed, astonishingly shaped like a female belly and thighs, and the taller male palm has a remarkably phallic-looking flowering catkin. As can be imagined, these erotic shapes have resulted in the perpetuation of many myths and legends.
The first recorded visit to Praslin, when it was covered in virgin equatorial hardwood and palm forests, was made by Lazare Picault in 1744, and he gave it the name of Ile de Palme. Marion Dufresne leading an exploratory expedition from Mauritius in 1768, named the island Praslin, after Gabriel de Choiseul, Duc de Praslin, the French minister of marine affairs.
Although a large amount of the original forest has disappeared as a result of deforestation, there is still a valley where the remarkable palms are protected and flourish – the Vallee de Mai, a World Heritage Site. There you can enjoy the majestic splendour of the forest and see all six of Seychelles’ endemic palms plus array of other trees and plants. The nearby island of Curieuse and the proposed new national park on fond Ferdinand in the south of Praslin are the only other places where coco de mer palms can be found growing naturally. Praslin is not only famous for the palms but is also home to the rare endemic black parrot, and though these birds are never easy to find, they can be seen in any of the natural areas on the island.
La Digue, with its dramatic, sculptured granite rocks and exquisite beaches is a laid-back, inviting island in the sun. It lies 50km northeast of Mahe, 4km east of Praslin and is the fourth largest of the granite islands. The 10km² island is almost completely encircled by coral reef and has no natural harbour. A jetty has been built at La Passe on the west coast and recently, a breakwater has been constructed to provide more shelter, particularly during the northwest monsoons. The island is about 6km long, a little over 3km wide, and rises up 33m at Nid d’Aigles, ‘Eagles Nest’, the highest peak.
Marion Dufresne, in his ship La Digue, made the first recorded discovery of this picturesque island in 1768, and the French took formal possession of it in 1771. Amid the lush vegetation, streams and swamps, the worst thing the early settles had to contend with were the crocodiles, and they were soon eradicated along with the tortoise. The birdlife managed to cling on to a precarious existence, and the rare black paradise flycatcher is still present in low, but increasing numbers.
Coconut palms, magnificent white beaches, few shops, plenty of bicycles and a couple of ox carts all add up to a totally relaxed island-style way of life. At L’Union Estate copra is still processed in the old fashioned way using an ox to turn the grinding wheel for extracting the coconut oil. Boats are built and repaired using traditional methods, and nobody is ever in a hurry. There are some lovely examples of Creole architecture nestling among the lush vegetation. Most of the 2,000 residents are involved in the tourism industry, others are fisherman and some are boat builders. On La Digue you will find small, welcoming hotels, coconut and vanilla plantations, art studios, and the most seductive beaches. Although the public telephones may not always work, the schooners and ferries do arrive and depart on time.
North Island lies almost 5km north of Silhouette and 30km north of Mahe. It covers an area of 210ha and reaches rocky heights of 214m. It has four superb beaches, framed by massive granite slabs and palm trees.
North Island had been in the Beaufond family since it was first awarded to Madame Cereline Beaufond in 1826. Like most of the Seychelles islands, it had large colonies of breeding seabirds which contributed considerable guano that was mined and sold for fertiliser. The island later became a coconut plantation but, after the collapse of copra industry, it was sold. It remained as a farm, but neglected, it became overgrown with many alien plants. Cattle, goats and pigs became feral and cats and rats proliferated decimating birds and other animals.
The potential for tourism and restoration of the island was recognised when Norisco bought it in 1997. Their aim was to remove the alien plants and animals, restore the natural balance of the island and create a small, exclusive lodge in harmony with the environment. An extensive rat eradication programme was carried out to make North Island one of the few rat-free islands in Seychelles and an area of land was cleared for construction of the lodge. Impressive indigenous plant nurseries were established and over a hundred thousand plants of 73 species were grown from seed. At least half of these have been planted out already and reintroduction of some of the rare and endangered Seychelles bird species is planned. A resident ecologist and a marine biologist work closely together, running conservation programmes on all aspects of the environment. Hawksbill and green turtles nest on the beaches and now that the vermin animals have been exterminated, the hatchlings stand a better chance of survival. A turtle monitoring and tagging programme is running in collaboration with others in Seychelles. Tropic birds are returning to nest, and kestrels and sunbirds have been sighted.
Fregate, 55km east of Mahe, is a privately owned island with an exclusive lodge. The island reaches a height of 125m and massive slabs of glacis dominate the plateau. Like so many islands of the Seychelles, Fregate also saw removal of endemic trees and plants to make way for coconut plantations. Nowadays, although the island is still dominated by coconut palms, large areas of woodland have been rehabilitated with a variety of indigenous trees including takamakas, badamiers, palms and screw pines. Sadly, many of the mighty sandragon trees have died as a result of a fatal wilt disease that has attacked the species throughout the Seychelles.
The efforts of the conservation team on Fregate are famous for the recovery of the endangered magpie robins. The smart black and white birds had declined to a critical number of only 24 but the total population now stands at around 100, with almost half on Fregate. When the numbers started increasing, some were relocated to Cousin, Cousine and Aride. It is also one of three islands supporting a population of the Seychelles fody, which are now so numerous they even come into the restaurant to share in the breakfast crumbs. Some of the rare Seychelles white-eyes have been relocated to Fregate and are thriving. Much of the success of the rehabilitation process has been due to the replanting of hundreds of indigenous trees and plants, the extensive rat eradication programme and the construction of an impressive rat-proof fence around the harbour area.
Remarkably, Fregate is the only known home of a strange insect, the 4cm-long giant tenebrionid beetle. This weird but harmless creature has long legs and rough bumpy wing cases but cannot fly. Small groups of these beetles can be seen on tree trunks around Fregate. A small herd of reintroduced Aldabra tortoises has an easy life on this beautiful little island. The juvenile tortoises are held in captivity until they are sufficiently mature to be released among the free herd.
Fregate is also famous for its stories of Arab sailors and pirate treasures which are fuelled by a few scattered ruins, some ancient graves, an old well and some interesting artefacts discovered on the island. Lazare Picault made the first recorded visit to the island in 1744 when he sailed from Mauritius via Chagos on his second exploratory expedition. He named island Fregate, after the stately frigate birds which occur in the area. Other early explorers noted the presence of giant tortoises, turtles and dugongs as well as the absence of crocodiles. Hawksbill and green turtle still haul up on to the beaches of Fregate to lay their eggs. Countless noddies and white terns breed on the island and large fruit bats can also be seen hanging in the trees.
Denis, on the moth northerly part of the shallow Seychelles Bank, lies about 95km north of Mahe. This privately owned island is only 2km long and, at most 1.5km wide, and covers an area of 120ha. It is an emerald-green flat coral island edged by white beaches with coral reefs protecting the southern side. Denis de Trobriand, master of the Etoile, was first to discover the island in 1773; he claimed it for France and gave it his name. It suffered the same fate as many of the other islands as, firstly guano mining was undertaken, followed by the development of coconut plantations. Since then, a rat eradication programme has been successfully carried out and several species of endemic birds are slowly being reintroduced. A lighthouse was erected in 1910 to warn passing ships of the hazards of the shallow area close to the northern side of the island.
The present owner bought the island in 1976 as his own little piece of paradise. He proceeded to build chalets to accommodate guests, and the island now operates as the ultimate tropical getaway.
Remote Bird Island, another privately owned sandy speck in the ocean, lies 105km northwest of Mahe on the edge of the Seychelles Bank. It is in fact the most northerly island in the Seychelles, being a mere fraction further north than Denis. It covers only 70ha of land, is, 1,500m long and 750m wide. Very little is known of the early history of Bird but the first recorded visit was in 1771 when the master of The Eagle chartered the island. In 1808, a French privateer, Hirondelle, with 180 people on board, was wrecked on the reef and the survivors remained on the island for three weeks while they constructed a raft, before sailing to Mahe. Bird was originally called Ile aux Vaches Marines (‘Island of Sea Cows’) after all the dugongs that lazed around in the clear waters. They have become extinct but the island is still often referred to as Ile aux Vaches and it appears on many maps as such. In 1896 guano was already being mined on the island and 17,000 tonnes were removed between 1900 and 1905. At the end of that phase, coconuts were planted for the copra industry. The present owner bought the island in 1967, an airstrip was cleared, and a small tourist lodge was developed. The owner declared the island a wildlife sanctuary in 1986 and the lodge was upgraded. Over the years it has been enlarged and refurbished but it maintains its integrity as an unpretentious hotel with a blend of hospitality, relaxation and simplicity in a non-sophisticated natural environment.