Seychelles, Mahe Island

Seychelles is an African country that consists of about 90 islands in the Indian Ocean. The islands are scattered over 1,035,995 square kilometres. They lie about 1,600 kilometres east of the African mainland. Seychelles has a total land area of 455 square kilometres and a population of about 75,000.

Nobody lived on the Seychelles until the 17th century. In 1609, a British East India ship made landfall, and in the next few years shiploads of pirates moved their operations to the Indian Ocean from the Caribbean and used the islands as their base.

Most of the rest of the people live on the next largest islands, Praslin and La Digue. Many of the smaller islands are uninhabited. Victoria, on Mahe, is the nation’s capital, chief port, and only town. It has a population of about 24,000.
Seychelles was ruled by the United Kingdom from 1814 until 1976, when it became independent.

Mahe, the largest of the islands, is home to the most hotels and resorts in the Seychelles. Surrounded by coral reefs and pillowy beaches, Mahe has a full range of accommodation, restaurants, thatched beach bars and endless watersport opportunities.

Victoria, on the island of Mah? is one of the smallest capital cities in the world, and the only major port in the Seychelles. It’s also the only town in the country - every other settlement is a village. The courthouse and main post office in the centre of town have been untouched since colonial times, but the streets emanating from the centre have been rebuilt over the past 20 years, giving the town a clean and modern look. There are a few old houses and shops in the city centre, but barely enough to give the town any character.

The Natural History Museum is right in the centre of town, and specialises in natural history. It’s a pretty eclectic collection: there’s the bones of the extinct Seychelles crocodile, giant robber crabs, dried out fish, a deformed piglet in a jar and lots of glassy-eyed stuffed animals. Other displays include the wreckage of a ship which came to grief off the Amiranteds in 1570 and a display of gris gris artefacts. If you’re more interested in the history of the country’s people, visit the National History Museum or the Seychelles People’s United Party Museum, which celebrates the history of the party.

Victoria’s Botanical Gardens are highly recommended for short and shady walks among a variety of native and introduced trees. Within the gardens is a cafeteria, a pen of giant tortoises and an orchid garden. Victoria has plenty of guesthouses at budget prices (well, as budget as the Seychelles gets), but they’re all out in the suburbs. This is also one of the best places on the island for relatively cheap eats, as well as the odd up-market, romantic restaurant.

Beau Vallon is one of the largest and certainly most popular beaches in the Seychelles. The sand is good, clean and relatively free of rocks. The waves can sometimes be large, as there is a big break in the reef. There are platforms in the ocean that you can swim out to, and the local resort lets non-residents use its beach loungers and bar. Beau Vallon village has a petrol station, a bank and some souvenir shops. The beach is about 3km (nearly 2mi) west of Victoria, and you can either catch a bus or walk.

The beaches in the southern part of the island are prettier and quieter than those in the north. The nicest area for swimming and snorkelling is opposite tiny ?le Souris, on the east coast. On the west coast, Anse Soleil and Anse Petite Police are extremely secluded (you really need a jeep to get to them), but worth the effort - there’s a palm-fringed beach, boulders to dive or snorkel from and some wonderful marine life. If you like to watch, the surf at Anse Intendance is incredibly wild and completely unsuitable for swimming, but great for solemn gazing during pensive beach walks. Buses run from Victoria to most of the island.

There are six islands lying within the park a few km off Victoria. The snorkelling here is superb. Moyenne is probably the best island to visit, although you can only get here on a tour. The island is known for its buried treasures and ghosts, and you can have a look at the House of Dogs, built at the turn of the century by an eccentric English woman as a home for stray dogs. There’s a lovely walk on a marked trail around the island, with plenty of pretty plants and animals to look at (including two giant tortoises), and there’s also some excellent snorkelling sites.
Round Island was once a leper colony - the chapel of the colony is now a restaurant. If you can get over your initial squeamishness, this is one of the best places in the country for genuine Cr?ole food. Round Island also has a plesant tree-shaded walking track and an interesting national park visitors centre.

Believed by some to be the original Garden of Eden, Praslin is the archetypal perfect tropical island. The coco-de-meerm palm, a wild aphrodisiac, and three of world’s rarest birds share this island with the peaceful beaches that outline it. Many of Praslin’s resorts have free watersports available including canoeing, windsurfing and snorkelling and all have open-air restaurants. Three hours by boat from Mahe or 15 minutes by air, Praslin is a great island hop contender.