Lying 480km off the east coast of Africa in the Indian Ocean are the 115 islands that make up the Seychelles group. The 41 inner islands are the oldest oceanic granite islands in the world, while the remaining 74 form five groups of low lying atolls and reef islets that are known as the Outer islands: Amirante Islands, Alphonse Atoll, Aldabra group, Farquhar group and the Southern Coral group.
The inner islands have mostly narrow coastlines and rocky, lush terrain, with the highest peak reaching 3,000ft. Mahé measuring just 28km long is the largest of the granite group and is home to 90% of the total population. The island's lush vegetation and plant life has evolved undisturbed for centuries, with many rare plants found nowhere else in the world. The exquisite beaches of Praslin (the second largest island) have been voted amongst the top ten best beaches in the world and the island is also home to two UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The island is also famed for the legendary Coco-de-Mer the world's largest nut, grown in the ancient palm forests.
The Outer islands lie between 230km to 1,150km from Mahé and are so remote that they are only accessible by chartered yacht trips and the occasional flight from Mahé. Only 11 islands are inhabited, with the largest settlement on Coëtivy Island. The low-lying coralline islands provide perfect conditions for diving with warm waters rich in marine life and numerous shipwrecks and caves to explore.
The Seychelles enjoy a warm tropical climate and year-round average temperatures of 30°C. Consequently any time of year is perfect for visiting. October to March are generally the wetter months, but showers are normally short, followed by warm sunshine, which also helps to keep the island green and lush.
The islands are affected by the south-east trade winds from May to September which bring windier weather and stronger currents.
From October to April when the north-west trade winds arrive, the weather becomes a lot calmer, creating perfect conditions for snorkelling and diving, as visibility is at its best.
The citizens who live in the Seychelles Islands are called the Seychellois. There are a number of ethnic races represented in the Seychelles, most of which come from Africa. There are also significant numbers of Arabs, Indians, French, and Chinese. You will also see Polynesian, Indian, and Arcadian influences. The Seychellois are a beautiful combination of British, Chinese, French, Indian, and African blood. The Seychellois live simple lives in an earthly paradise where the tourism trade is closely regulated to preserve the abundant natural charms of the islands. Languages spoken in the Seychelles include Creole, French, and English.
Upon meeting someone in the Seychelles, it is customary to shake hands. The Seychellois are friendly and often invite newcomers to their houses. When visiting someone's home in the Seychelles, it is the custom to bring a small gift. Because the Seychelles consist of over 100 islands and only has a population of around 83,000, it has the distinction of being the least crowded country in the world. Population growth in the Seychelles is low, but the average age is quite young. Half the population is under 25. Nearly 70% of the inhabitants of the Seychelles live on Mahe, which is the largest island. Life expectancy in the Seychelles is about 72 years.
Though the Seychellois population is made up of many different ethnic groups, the people get along in harmony and are proud of their republic. The life on the Seychelles is casual, peaceful, and spiritual. Some 90% of Seychellois are Catholic. Other religions include Protestant Christians, Muslims, and Hindu. Most people are quite friendly and are glad to have any reason to have a party.
During the plantation era, cinnamon, vanilla, and copra were the chief exports. In 1960, some 33% of the working population worked at plantations. Another 20% worked in the public or government sector. In 1971, the international airport opened, and tourism leapt into prominence. The economy was basically divided into plantations and tourism. The tourism sector paid better, and the plantation economy could only expand so far, due to market forces affecting the prices that exports could command. The plantation sector of the economy declined in prominence, and today agriculture only accounts for about 4% of the Gross Domestic Product. Even though copra from the Seychelles is high quality, the possibility exists that the plantation segment of the economy could disappear altogether. Now tourism employs 30% of the labor force, 13% of the GDP, and 60% of the foreign exchange income. The World Bank defines the Seychelles as being upper-middle income, but the distribution of the wealth is skewed. In the year 1992, 7% of the Seychelles population was considered poor. The currency used in the Seychelles is the Seychelles rupee, and there are about five Seychelles rupees to the US dollar.
The president of Seychelles is both the Head of State and Head of Government who heads a cabinet of 10 ministers including the vice president who all serve a five term office. The current president James Michel was the former vice president was re-elected in 2004 after previous president France Albert Renée who came in power a year after independence by coup d’état. The legislative power is given to the national assembly of 34 members of which 25 are elected by popular vote of the National Assembly election results and the other 9 by proportionality of votes. The main political parties are The People’s Party who currently holds 23 seats in the Assembly, The Seychelles National Party the main opposition party who holds 11 seats and the Democratic Party.
Being an island nation few people tour the Seychelles like they would in other countries. Most people remain in a single resort for the duration of their stay. If staying on Mahé or one of the larger islands it's possible to explore via public transport or hire car, or pre-booked excursions. Before you plan your visit, it's worth bearing in mind public holidays which may affect timetables.
On Mahé there is a regular bus service from the capital to outlying areas. Most bus routes operate every 30 minutes from 05h30-19h30 and fares cost SCR3. Buses on Mahé originate from the central bus station on Palm Street in the capital Victoria. A more limited bus service is available on Praslin, originating from Mont Plaisir.
On the larger islands notably Mahé and Praslin a taxi service and several car hire firms operate. A cheap and fun mode of transport is by Mini Moke (a small jeep with canvas top and sides); more expensive, air-conditioned cars are also available. Bring a valid driving licence. Taxis are readily available on Mahé and Praslin and a few services are available on La Digue. Approximate fares from Mahé airport to Victoria are SCR69 and from Praslin airport to the resort hotels, SCR110.
International flights land at Mahé and from here Air Seychelles operates an inter-island service in a variety of small planes to Praslin and the larger islands in the group. Visitors on package tours to islands other than Mahé will usually find that their travel to and between the islands is already catered for. There is no rail service on any of the islands and on many the transport infrastructure is very limited. Helicopter rides are a fantastic if expensive way to visit nearby islands. Helicopter Seychelles operates tours over Mahé and to a number of the islands. For more information Tel: +248 385-858.
Motorboats (schooner or catamaran) offer regular services between Mahé, Praslin and La Digue. Boats can also be hired for day excursions to the smaller islands and for diving and fishing trips. Contact the Marine Charter Association located in Victoria for more details of boat operators, Tel: +248 224-679. Monohulls, schooners and catamarans can be chartered with or without crew for longer cruises around the islands - undoubtedly the best way to explore the Seychelles for those with both the funds and the sea legs to enjoy this mode of travel. The Seychelles Yacht Club on Victoria, Mahé will provide useful information to private yacht owners planning to tour the region.
If you are hoping to buy a one-off craft or souvenir to remind you of your stay in the Seychelles, then it's possible to pick up a bargain in one of the craft markets on Mahé Island.
what to Buy
Markets and stalls are the norm here; don't expect to find large shopping malls! Local music CDs and tapes offer the distinctive Creole sega sound and creative handicrafts (made using raffia and palm leaves, or from coconuts) will serve as a reminder of the lush tropical vegetation. The thriving local community of artists capture the magnificent beaches and sunsets you will experience while there, along with some of the more quirky elements of Creole life.
Jewellery of the classic kind, or the more unusual Creole variety using local shells and coral is also available.
Take away the scent of the islands as perfumes, cinnamon sticks, vanilla pods and other spices. Alternatively buy attractively packaged samples of local tea and colourful bottles of coconut liqueur, which form the flavour of the Seychelles.
Fresh flowers are another gift option: lovely orchids and other tropical blooms are carefully packaged to remain in pristine condition during your journey home. A unique gift, albeit rather heavy, is a Coco de Mer nut, either purchased whole or halved and glazed to make an attractive bowl. A good range of local craftsmanship is on show at the Codevar Craft Centre on Mahé. Since a number of artists have taken up residence on the Seychelles, it is also possible to visit their home exhibits or local galleries, to purchase one-off extra-special souvenirs.
For a real shopping experience, Seychelles-style, check out the Sir Selwyn Clarke Market in Victoria on a Saturday morning to ramble among the fish stalls loaded with the catch of the day and the mounds of seasonal fruits and vegetables. A souvenir or two can be gleaned from the spice trays and more orthodox purchases from the craft shops upstairs. You may be tempted to go for the shark's teeth and shells, which some stallholders offer, but the politically correct should shun such eco-unfriendly offerings.
Shops are generally open between 09h00-16h00 Mon-Fri and from 08h00-12h00 on Saturdays. Only the smaller shops stay open Saturday afternoons and Sundays.