Strewn across the Indian Ocean, nearly a thousand miles off the coast of East Africa, the 115 islands of the Seychelles archipelago were uninhabited until 1770 and even today they offer the chance to live out your Robinson Crusoe fantasy in an unspoilt tropical paradise where Mother Nature still reigns.
Despite having a reputation as a luxury location and the preserve of honeymooners, the Seychelles offers affordable options for families and friends too – with charming local guesthouses as well as five-star resorts.
With its gaze firmly on a green future and around 50% of its land officially protected from development, the Seychelles is the perfect place for eco-conscious travellers who want to leave no permanent footprints.
While these scattered gems offer the chance to get away from it all in splendid isolation, direct flights from London to the Seychelles’ capital Mahé mean the islands are easily accessed and you’ll find a diverse culture fused between those who once arrived there from Europe, Africa and Asia.
While the Inner Islands, including the main island of Mahé, are the oldest mid-oceanic granite islands on earth, low-lying coral atolls and reef islets make up the Seychelles’ Outer Islands.
A regular network of transport operates out of Mahé, ranging from ferries to domestic flights and helicopter transfers.
The archipelago is blessed with year-round warm weather, between 24°C and 32°C. It’s the trade winds that define the climate, with the warm north-westerly winds blowing from October to March and brisker south-easterlies moving in from May to September, bringing ideal sailing conditions. The calmest conditions, ideal for snorkelling and diving, are during April and May and October and November.
The Seychelles’ most famous residents are its giant tortoises, which are endemic to the Aldabra Atoll, the furthest island from Mahé of all and a UNESCO World Heritage Site where over 150,000 of these dome-shelled reptiles ramble. Visitors can also see wild tortoises on North Island, Cousin Island and Curieuse Island and in enclosures on many others. They typically live between 80 and 120 years but the world’s oldest, Jonathan, is 188.
An avian haven, the Seychelles offers the chance to see many birds seen nowhere else. Veuve Reserve on La Digue Island was set up in 1982 to protect the rare Seychelles Black Paradise Flycatcher, a delicate fork-tailed bird. The island is also home to the Seychelles’ most iconic beach, Anse Source d’Argent, with its dreamy white sand and unique granite boulders which give refuge to nesting white terns.
Aride Island is known as the ‘seabird citadel’ of the Indian Ocean and had been protected for decades, since being purchased by the Cadbury family.
The island is home to the world’s only hilltop colony of sooty terns, breeding sites for the red-tailed tropic bird and roseate tern and the world’s largest colony of lesser noddies.
There is even a Bird Island, a paradise for ornithologists less than a mile long, wafer-thin and fringed with casuarina trees but home to around three million birds! Numbers swell between May and September, when hundreds of thousands of terns arrive to build their nests and offer a spectacular display of whirring wings and wind-born cries.
The world’s largest nut is found in the Seychelles, the Coco de Mer, which weighs up to 20kg. The nut’s botanical name is Lodoicea callipyge and the latter word is Greek for ‘beautiful rump’ which describes its rather risqué shape! The palm trees it grows on are found in the UNESCO-protected pristine rainforest of Vallée de Mai on Praslin Island, also home to the rare Black Parrot and other indigenous species
The century-old Botanical Gardens on the outskirts of Victoria, Mahé houses a huge collection of mature, exotic and endemic plants within five landscaped acres, plus an orchid house, giant tortoises and a fruit bat colony which can be found feeding or roosting in the trees.
Also on Mahé is Le Jardin du Roi, a fragrant spice garden set in a 35-hectare plantation where you can wander rows of vanilla vines, Citronelle, cinnamon, nutmeg, pepper and other spices and medicinal plants.
There are five national marine parks in the Seychelles, meaning abundant populations of aquatic creatures and perfect conditions for snorkelling and scuba diving. Habitats including coral reefs, sea grass and mangroves protect a kaleidoscopic array of fish and larger creatures like sharks and rays – including the whale shark which is the world’s biggest fish.There are dive operators on all the most visited islands and liveaboards are a great way to access outer and uninhabited islands.
The empty beaches and pristine waters of the Seychelles are home to several different species of turtles, many returning to the same beaches where they were born to lay their own eggs. Curieuse Island National Park protects both green and hawksbill turtles and Baie Ternay Marine Park on Mahe has sea-grass beds which are vital feeding grounds.
A female turtle can lay up to a 1000 eggs a season and across the Seychelles, many resorts offer guests the chance to see turtles nesting and hatching and even get involved tagging and releasing them.
Cousin Island is a land and sea Special Reserve which extends 400 metres offshore to protect the fringing reefs too, where a coral restoration project has been underway since 2010. Bought by a bird charity in 1968, to protect the last tiny population of the Seychelles warbler, it’s been transformed from an ecologically impoverished plantation into a thriving indigenous forest that benefits other species including the Seychelles magpie robin.
The island also has a freshwater wetland area that attracts insects like dragonflies and moorhens, its hill which has nesting sites for seabirds and its shores are home to crabs and birds. Also inland are tortoises, five endemic lizards, giant millipedes and hermit crabs.
You needn’t step in a gas-guzzling car the whole time you’re in the Seychelles. The islands are a hiking and cycling paradise and in La Digue you’ll find the local transport is by bullock and cart, although these are increasingly being replaced by bicycles.
You can cycle on certain flat parts of Mahé, Praslin and La Digue, with some of the island’s most iconic sights easily reached on wheels – the creamy sands of Anse Source D’Argent on La Digue, for instance.
Top hiking trails include Morne Seychellois, the highest point on Mahé at a spectacular 900m above sea level; Eagle’s Nest Mountain, which is the highest point on La Digue and has a restaurant serving delicious creole food and the Fond Ferdinand nature reserve on Praslin where the viewpoint looks over ten islands. There are also plenty of flat trails for a more leisurely ramble.
As an island nation, the Seychelles is a great place to harness the power of the wind and waves on a sailing trip, or there’s always kayaking, paddle boarding or wind surfing.
The islands of the Seychelles were discovered by Arab mariners in the 9th century BC and later visited by the sea-faring Phoenicians and the Chinese before being settled by the French in 1770 and then passed to the English. Subsequently, the culture is a fascinating melting pot and there’s plenty of chances to make meaningful connections with locals and support the local economy, including staying in local guesthouses or apartments.
Shop for locally made souvenirs at the Seychelles Craft Village in Mahé, the site of the historic Grann Kaz Plantation House but now an area dedicated to preserving and sharing Seychelles’ history, culture and traditions. You can buy local paintings, handmade jewellery, batik clothing and ornaments made from coconut. On Praslin, Black Pearl offers the chance to purchase unique jewellery, see over forty thousand giant clams and learn about their feeding and reproduction habitats.
For foodies, the local market in capital, Victoria, sells lots of produce from local farms, like chutneys, chilli and spices; La Digue’ L’Union Estate & Copra Factory produces coconut oil and at Mahe’s Takamaka Rum Distillery you can taste everything from aged rum to fruit infused potions and see how it’s made.
There are also plenty of local tours where you can visit local homes learn to cook typical creole dishes, learn the language and dance and even make local crafts.