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Stunning and unspoiled, the Seychelles star in countless tropical island fantasies. Beautiful boulder-strewn beaches, virgin jungles, thriving coral reefs, and UNESCO-listed nature reserves are just some of the many attractions of the archipelago’s 115 coral and granite islands, which are the peaks of a vast underwater plateau. The Seychelles lie east of Kenya, near the equator. Almost half their total land area is protected, and many of the islands and atolls are contained within marine sanctuaries. On land, you can hike mountain trails, bask on the ravishing beaches, rock climb, photograph the unique flora and fauna, and dine on mouthwatering Créole cuisine. Aquatic pursuits abound in the clear, azure water. Diving, snorkeling, surfing, and sailing are all world class, and the Seychelles boast some of the richest fishing grounds in the world.
The larger, granitic inner islands of the Seychelles (primarily Mahé, Praslin, and La Digue) are the most developed for tourists, with many luxury five-star resorts. Mahé is home to the small capital, Victoria, as well as the international airport, cruiseship port, and the beautiful Morne Seychellois National Park. On Praslin Island, you can explore the UNESCO-listed Vallée de Mai, while sleepy La Digue shelters some of the world’s most breathtaking beaches. The outer islands are mainly uninhabited low-lying sand cays and small coralline islands and atolls. Fishing is superb here, and anglers will find exclusive fishing lodges on Alphonse Island and Farquhar Atoll.
1 Anse Intendance, Mahé
One of Mahé’s most beautiful beaches, this small and secluded crescent of sand on the island’s south coast is a favorite surfing spot thanks to its frequent big swells and wild waves. The lack of a protective reef makes swimming a little rough when tradewinds blow from the southeast, but sunbathers, beachcombers, and photographers will enjoy this picturesque, palm-framed strand at any time of year. Turtles nest along the powdery shores here.
2 Anse Lazio, Praslin
On the north shore of Praslin Island, Anse Lazio (Chevalier Bay) is one of the island’s most picturesque beaches. You have to hike over a hill to access the beach, but it’s worth the effort. Flanked by rounded granite boulders, this long stretch of soft blond sand merges with crystal clear waters in dreamy shades of blue. Takamaka trees and coconut palms fringe the beach providing patches of shade for relaxing, and hungry bathers can refuel at restaurants on both ends of the beach. The best time to visit is during the early morning or late afternoon when most of the tour buses have left.
3 Baie Lazare, Mahé
The pretty village of Baie Lazare on Mahé was named after 18th-century French explorer Lazare Picault, who landed here when the French government sent him to explore the islands. One of the area’s main tourist attractions is the neo-Gothic Baie Lazare Church, dedicated to St. Francis of Assisi, which provides a panoramic view of the area. The stunning beaches of Anse Soleil and Petite Anse are favorites, with their striking azure water and dazzling white sand.
4 La Digue Island
The fourth largest island in the archipelago, La Digue is a haven for nature lovers and those seeking a glimpse of traditional island life; bicycles and oxcarts are popular modes of transport. Stunning white-sand beaches and granite rock outcrops rim the coast, and beach connoisseurs will find one of the planet’s most picturesque stretches of sand and sea here, Anse Source D’Argent. You do need to pay to access the beach at the nearby L’Union Estate, where your admission includes a tour through this old copra factory and vanilla plantation. Another sightseeing attraction is the Veuve Nature Reserve, home to the endangered black paradise flycatcher, also called “the widow” because of its streaming black tail feathers. Diving and rock climbing are also popular things to do on the island, and hikers will enjoy La Pass to Grand Anse Trail, which threads past French colonial houses through woodlands and marsh areas to gorgeous Grand Anse beach.
5 Curieuse Island Day Trip
Once known as Île Rouge due to its russet-toned earth, Curieuse Island is now home to a breeding program for giant tortoises, which roam freely around the sandy coves. Curieuse is the only place besides Praslin where the coco de mer palm grows naturally. The island was also once a leper colony, and you can explore the ruins of the leprosarium on the south shore as well as the doctor’s house, a preserved national monument. Most of the island is covered with takamaka and casuarina trees, which shade the white-sand beaches. Curieuse Island is accessible by boat tours from Praslin Island.
6 Morne Seychellois National Park
The largest national park in the Seychelles, Morne Seychellois National Park covers more than 20 percent of the area of Mahé and is a haven for nature lovers and hikers. Within its lush borders lies the mountain chain named after its highest point, Morne Seychellois, which reaches a height of 905 meters and overlooks the capital of Victoria. Hiking trails ascend into the park from the village of Danzil, passing tea plantations and offering spectacular views of the southwest coast of Mahé from the mountain slopes. The moderate Morne Blanc hike is one of the most popular trails and offers spectacular views from its summit. Walking west through the park, hikers will reach the Baie Ternay and Port Launay Marine Parks. To the northwest lies the hamlet of Bel Ombre and the isolated beach at Anse Major.
7 Ste Anne National Marine Park
Encompassing six islands a 15- to 20-minute boat ride off the coast of Mahé near Victoria, Ste Anne National Marine Park became the first national park in the Indian Ocean in 1973. Snorkeling, scuba diving, and glass-bottom boat excursions reveal the rich diversity of marine life in the park’s coral reefs, and you can explore most of the islands within the reserve on day excursions from Mahé. You can also stay overnight on a few of the islands.
Sainte Anne Island is an important nesting site for hawksbill turtles and home to a luxury resort, Beachcomber Seychelles Sainte Anne. In spite of its mangroves and crocodiles, the island was the site of a 1770 French settlement, the first in the Seychelles.
On Round Island, a former leper colony, you can enjoy a nature walk and stay overnight at the Enchanted Island Resort. Île Cachée is an important breeding site for noddies and a designated nature reserve. At Cerf Island, you can swim, snorkel, or dive along the beautiful reefs or bask on the uncrowded beaches. You can also base yourself here at the Cerf Island Resort or L’Habitation Hotel. Privately owned Moyenne Island features nature trails; reconstructed settlers’ homes; pirate graves; a small, thatched chapel; and giant tortoises.
8 Beau Vallon Beach
The alluring curve of glittering sand at Beau Vallon, on Mahé’s northwest coast, is a magnet for both tourists and locals. Looking out to sea, mountainous Silhouette Island shimmers on the horizon, and hotels fringe the shore. Visitors will find a variety of watersports on offer, including jet skis and water skiing. The sea is usually calm here, especially during the southeast tradewinds, making this a good choice for families with small children. Lifeguards patrol the beach. On weekends, locals come here for beach barbecues.
Address: Beau Vallon Beach Rd, Beau Vallon, Mahé
9 Anse Volbert
On the northeast coast of Praslin, Anse Volbert (also known as Côte d’Or) is one of the island’s most popular beaches. Warm, shallow water laps the sun-bleached sands, and coral reefs beckon just offshore. The calm waters are also safe for swimming with small children. Anse Volbert is one of the island’s main resort areas and you’ll find many hotels and restaurants lining the shores.
10 Vallée de Mai National Park, Praslin
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Vallée de Mai National Park on the island of Praslin preserves a prehistoric forest that contains at least 4,000 examples of the rare giant coco de mer fruit palm (unique to the Seychelles). Other plants here include vanilla orchids, palmiste, latanier, splayed traveler’s palm, and Chinese fans. Nature lovers, birders, and photographers will enjoy exploring this reserve, where the trees form an overhead canopy, and large prehistoric boulders are strewn across the forest floor. The valley is home to many species of lizards and rare birds such as the Seychelles bulbul; fruit pigeon; and the national bird of the Seychelles, the black parrot. A great way to explore this primeval forest is to wander along the easy marked nature trails. Hiring a guide is highly recommended, so you can learn interesting details about the plants and animals.
11 Cousin Island Day Trip
Established in 1968, Cousin Island is a nature reserve primarily for the Seychelles warbler and the hawksbill turtle. The island lies about 2 km from Praslin Island, and birders can hike the trails to spot some of the Seychelles rare species. Residents include the Seychelles magpie robin, the Seychelles brush warbler, the Seychelles turtledove, and the wedge-tailed shearwater. The reserve also encompasses breeding grounds for lesser noddies, fairy terns, and tropicbirds.
12 Aride Island Nature Reserve Day Trip
The northernmost of the Granitic Seychelles, Aride Island Nature Reserve is the breeding ground of 18 species of seabirds, including frigate birds, red-tailed tropicbirds, and the world’s largest colonies of lesser noddy and roseate terns. Nature lovers will find the highest density of lizards anywhere on earth, as well as several endemic species of flowers. Wright’s gardenia, or bois citron, is unique to this island. Most hotels on Praslin Island can organize day trips to Aride, but note that the island is often closed to visitors from May through September due to rough surf. Visits by helicopter can also be arranged.
13 Silhouette Island
In a marine park, 30 kilometers off Mahé’s west coast, mountainous Silhouette Island is renowned for its rich biodiversity. It’s the only other island in the Seychelles besides Mahé with a mist forest, which cloaks the 731-meter peak of Mont Dauban. The third largest of the granitic islands, Silhouette Island has a rugged terrain that has helped preserve its natural beauty. The park protects more than 2,000 species, including birds, geckos, chameleons, turtles, and skinks. Visitors will find caves to explore; beaches with wonderful swimming and snorkeling opportunities; and diverse flora and fauna such as carnivorous pitcher plants, coco de mer palms, millipedes, slugs, and snails.
14 Victoria, Mahé
Named Port Victoria in honor of the British queen after her coronation, the small capital of the Seychelles on the island of Mahé is the only seaport in the country. It’s easy to see the main sites here in a day. One of the main tourist attractions is the Seychelles National Botanical Gardens. Established almost a century ago, the gardens encompass 15 acres of native and exotic plants as well as flying foxes, giant tortoises, and an orchid garden.
In the city, modern buildings of concrete and glass have sprouted up in recent years and the few remaining colonial buildings lie around Freedom Square. The most prominent historical structure is the clock tower. Erected in 1903, it was modeled on Little Ben, a small version of Big Ben in London.
Overlooking the square, St. Paul’s Cathedral is built on the site of the first church of the Seychelles, which was destroyed by a freak cyclone in 1862. Shoppers head to Sir Selwyn Clarke Market, where locals sell fish, fresh fruits, and vegetables, and the many craft shops offer souvenirs ranging from ship models to pearl jewelry. For an overview of the flora and fauna of the Seychelles, visit the Natural History Museum, which also displays a few historical artifacts.
15 Bird Island
Once known as Îles aux Vaches for the dugongs (sea cows) in the area, Bird Island harbors a population of migratory sooty terns, which swells to 1,500,000 birds during the May to October breeding season. Birders and photographers can climb raised observation platforms for clear views of the nests. Other species on the island include fairy and noddy terns, cardinals, ground doves, mynas, crested terns, and plovers. Giant land tortoises are also in residence, and the nearby Seychelles Bank is renowned for its big-game fishing. The only accommodation on the island is the Bird Island Lodge, a no frills eco-lodge, and you can access the island via a 30-minute flight from Mahé.
16 Aldabra Atoll
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Aldabra is the world’s largest raised coral atoll. The central lagoon fills and empties twice a day through four channels, revealing mushroom-shaped pinnacles known as champignons. Tiger sharks and manta rays often prowl the shallows, and the atoll is home to thousands of birds, including the white-throated rail (the only flightless bird in the Indian Ocean). Also on view are lesser and great frigatebirds, red-footed boobies, dimorphic egrets (found only here and in Madagascar), Aldabra sacred ibis, greater flamingos, and the malagasy kestrel. In addition to its rich avian life, Aldabra is the habitat of 200,000 giant land tortoises – five times as many as the Galapagos.