The 115 islands of the Seychelles belong to two distinct groups. The inner islands, high and granitic, are mainly located on the relatively flat Seychelles plateau, 4° south of the equator and about 1800 km from the east coast of Africa, while the outer islands, low and coral-bearing, are mainly located beyond the plateau, up to 10° south of the equator.
These outer islands are divided into five groups: the Amirantes group, which is 230 km from Mahé, the South Coral group, the Alphonse group, the Farquhar group and finally the Aldabra group, which is about 1,150 km from Mahé.
In total, it has 43 inner islands – there are 41 Granite Islands as well as 2 Coral Islands, with a total of 72 outer coral islands.
Mostly granite, and concentrated around the islands of Mahé, Praslin and La Digue, the inland islands represent the cultural and economic hub of Seychelles, and also the center of tourism. Together they house most of the Seychelles’ accommodation and almost the entire population of the archipelago. There are a total of 43 inland islands, 41 made of granite and 2 of coral.
Mahe, which is 28 km long and 8 km wide, are the largest island as well as the cultural and economic hub of the inland archipelago which is the Seychelles’ international gateway. It is home to the international airport and the country’s capital, Victoria.
The island is home to almost 90 per cent of the total population (approximately 72,200 people), reflecting the ethnic diversity of Seychelles and the ancestry of the African, Indian, Chinese and European populations. It is the seat of government and the main centre of trade.
Nestled among 1,000-meter-high granite peaks, Mahé is a remarkable treasure trove of plants which have evolved over the centuries in isolation.
Rare endemic plants found nowhere else in the world adorn the cloud forests of Mahé in the mountain strongholds, such as the jellyfish, the Seychelles carnivorous pitcher plant and the Seychelles vanilla orchid.
First visited by the British in 1609, Mahé was not visited again until the expedition of Lazare Picault in 1742, when the gradual process of colonisation of the island began, first by the French, whose direct influence lasted until 1814, then as a British colony until the independence of the Seychelles in 1976.
Mahé is the transport hub for island shopping and day trips to the neighbouring islands and all the other islands of the Seychelles. All regular Air Seychelles domestic flights depart from Mahé to the islands served.
A leisurely tour of the island by car takes 2 to 2.5 hours and reveals most of Seychelles’ accommodation options, cultural sites and other attractions.
Praslin is the second largest island in the Seychelles with a population of 6,500. It is 45 km northeast of Mahé and measures 10 km by 3.7 km. A drive around the island takes about 2 hours.
Praslin is home to the fabulous Vallée de Mai, one of the two UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the Seychelles. The island has truly exquisite beaches such as Anse Lazio and Anse Georgette, both voted in the top 10 best beaches in the world in recent years.
Before the islands were colonised by the French in the mid-18th century, the Côte d’Or de Praslin was a popular haunt for pirates.
The island was named Praslin in honour of the Duke of Praslin, French Minister of the Navy, in 1768, when the first “stone of possession” was erected on the island in what is still known as Anse Possession.
Almost a century and a half later, General Gordon (from Khartoum), on a visit to Khartoum, is convinced that the Valley of May is the original site of the Garden of Eden. Here the legendary coco-de-mer, the heaviest nut in the world, grows high on ancient palms in a jungle. The valley is home to six species of palm trees found only in the Seychelles.
Praslin is at the forefront of the Seychelles tourism industry, with a strong tradition of hospitality and a wide range of accommodation options. It also serves as a base for excursions to neighbouring islands, some of which are important sanctuaries for rare species of endemic flora and fauna.
The island of La Digue is the immediate neighbor of Praslin Island as well as its satellite islands of Félicité, Marianne and its smaller sister islands. The island of La Digue is the 4th largest island of Seychelles.
La Digue takes its name from one of the ships in the fleet of the explorer Marion Dufresne, who was sent out by the French in 1768 to explore the granite islands of the Seychelles.
As well as being home to the Seychelles flycatcher, one of the rarest birds in the world, La Digue’s biodiversity includes stars such as the star bittern, cave swift, scissor-bill and two rare species of sea turtle.
The forests of La Digue are also home to a very rich flora in the form of delicate orchids, rampant vanilla vines, and trees such as the Indian almond tree and the takamaka. The gardens glow with hibiscus and nepenthe against a backdrop of swaying coconut palms.
La Digue is an island where time has stood still and where old traditions such as travelling by ox-cart and bicycles are still very much alive. The traditional methods of boat building and refining coconut products (copra) are still practised on La Digue.
With its friendly vibe, laid-back rhythm of life, its traditional architecture and charming beaches, such as the legendary Anse Source d’Argent, is an absolute must-see for visitors.
La Digue offers its visitors a variety of different accommodations, and the picturesque satellite islands are ideal for diving and snorkelling trips.
Bird, the northernmost island of the Seychelles, is 100 km or 30 minutes’ flight north of Mahé. The island was once known as Cow Island because of the dugongs (manatees) that lived there.
During the period of southeast trade winds (May-September), Bird is populated by more than a million Sooty Terns, each laying eggs in its own square metre of exclusive territory. Bird is also home to populations of Little and Fairy Terns, as well as tropical whitetail birds, ravens, plovers and cockatiels.
Located on the northern border of the archipelago, where the seabed drops to 2000 metres, Bird has an exceptionally rich marine life in the form of hawks and green turtles, dolphins and even, occasionally, whales.
Once famous for its large population of giant tortoises, Bird now boasts “Esmeralda”, the world’s heaviest giant tortoise living in the wild, weighing over 300 kg and said to be over 200 years old. By the way: “Esmeralda” is a male.
Bird turned to tourism in the early 1970s and with several conservation programmes, Bird Island Lodge is at the forefront of ecotourism in the Seychelles.
Twenty-four comfortable bungalows, excellent beaches, a reputation for good food and a friendly atmosphere complement the snorkelling, deep-sea fishing and nature-watching opportunities.
Le Cerf is located in the Ste Anne Marine National Park and is the closest neighbour to Mahé. It offers excellent opportunities for swimming and snorkelling, as well as unforgettable sunbathing on several large beaches.
Le Cerf is a popular picnic spot for Mahé residents because of its beautiful beaches and good swimming.
The Cerf owes its name to the naval frigate that visited the Seychelles in 1756 to officially take possession of the island on behalf of France.
The island once had a thriving coconut industry, the remains of which are still visible in the form of lush coconut groves. The 116 hectares are adorned with many exotic shrubs, and it is also home to giant tortoises and flying foxes.
Le Cerf is the only island in the marine park with a small local population that travels to Mahé for their daily business, covering the 4 km distance in a few minutes.
Quality accommodation is currently available at three hotels on the island, as is the opportunity to enjoy the tantalising Seychelles Creole cuisine.
Chauve Souris are private Island just a couple of hundred yards away from the legendary beach of Côte d’Or in Anse Volbert.
Leased to the government in the 1960s by a Spanish count, this granite outcrop is named after the fruit bat, but was also formerly known as Jeanette Island.
As one would expect for such a small island dominated by granite boulders, the flora of the bat consists mainly of exotic ornamental shrubs and bushes. The fauna is limited to skinks, geckos and a limited number of birds that mainly use the island as a perch.
The Chauve Souris Club is the ideal place for an intimate and secluded holiday, with five luxurious rooms set between sea and sky amidst granite rocks and lush tropical vegetation.
Located approximately 6 km off the west coast of Praslin, the immediately adjacent Cousine offers a unique island experience of absolute privacy found in few other places on earth.
Cousin is a private nature reserve that is home to five of the Seychelles’ endemic birds, such as the Seychelles robin and the Seychelles bush warbler, as well as a variety of endemic wildlife and spectacular marine life.
The island, which is also a nesting site for the hawksbill turtle, is home to several large specimens of the giant land turtle.
Once a coconut plantation, Cousin now has an exceptional resort complex which offers a special experience in a Private Nature Reserve.
Designed in an old French colonial style, 4 separate villas, where exclusivity is the order of the day, since only a maximum of 10 guests are allowed at any moment.
St Denis is 95 km north of Victoria, Mahé and 45 km from Bird Island, making it one of the northernmost islands in the Seychelles.
Like many islands in the Seychelles, at the height of the coconut industry Denis was a coconut plantation with a population of 70-100 people engaged in guano (decomposed bird droppings) collection, copra (refined coconut meat) production and fishing.
The island was purchased by French paper tycoon Pierre Burghardt in 1975, and he successfully operated the island under his marketing slogan “The Island at the End of the World”. In the mid-1990s, the island was sold to Mason’s Travel, one of the first local ground handling companies in the Seychelles.
Denis’ 350 hectares are home to diverse vegetation and populations of seabirds and landbirds, including frigatebirds, tropical whitetails, curlews, doves, wood pigeons, cardinals and mynas. The island has recently benefited from a successful project to introduce endangered bird species.
For anglers, it is ideally situated for deep-sea fishing expeditions on the edge of the Seychelles Bank, where marlin, sailfish, barracuda, wahoo, sea bream and tuna delight novice and experienced anglers alike.
St Denis offers excellent nature walks as well as opportunities for tennis, diving, windsurfing, canoeing and of course sunbathing on its brilliant white beaches. The 5-star lodge with 25 cottages is the perfect honeymoon getaway, offering seclusion in comfort and excellent gourmet cuisine.
Frégate is about 55 km from Mahé and is the furthest inland island from the Granite Archipelago.
Frégate was a popular pirate hideout at the end of the 17th century and stories persist about the treasures hidden somewhere on its 280 hectares.
Seychellois tycoon Harry Savy bought the island after the Second World War and turned it into a highly profitable business growing vegetables, fruit, coffee, vanilla, cinnamon and poultry for the Mahé markets. The island had a population of about 100 people who were actively involved in Savy’s various lucrative businesses.
This island microcosm of about 2 km2 is home to no less than fifty species of birds, including the rare Seychelles robin, and is also home to the world’s only population of giant Tenebrionidae, as well as many giant tortoises.
There is a luxurious five-star eco-lodge in Frégate that offers optimal comfort and amenities and has become a popular place for Hollywood stars to stay. The luxury villas are located right on the shore, so each of them has a million-dollar sea view. Meanwhile, guests are encouraged to participate in the island’s many conservation projects, led by ecologists who ensure that the island remains naturally pristine.
Located 4 km off the east coast of Mahé, Ste-Anne is the biggest island in the Ste-Anne Marine National Park, and is close to the neighbouring islands of Ile du Cerf, Ile Ronde and Ile Moyenne.
Ste Anne was discovered in 1742 by the famous explorer Lazare Picault and was the first island to be settled by the first French settlers before they settled on Mahé. The island later housed a commercial whaling station and a gun battery from the Second World War.
Besides the countless coconut palms, including three coco-de-mer, cinnamon grows wild on the lush hills, as do casuarinas and many species of plants, trees and shrubs found on the neighbouring islands.
Silhouette Island is the 3rd biggest island of Seychelles, and is situated 30 km from the west coast of Mahé, close to the North Island. Silhouette’s green and mountainous profile dominates the view from Beau Vallon beach in Mahé.
It is thought that the Arabs used Silhouette Island as a base for boat trips in the 9th century, as evidenced by the remains of Arab tombs at Anse Lascars.
Silhouette Island, along with North Island, was the first island seen in the Seychelles by the ships of the Charpy expedition in 1609. It was not until the early 19th century that it was finally colonised.
Protected by the Nature Protection Trust of Seychelles, Silhouette remains a living and intact natural history museum, home to many unique plant and tree species.
These include rare hardwoods, the amazing incense tree and the carnivorous pitcher plant. Silhouette is the only other island outside Mahé to have a cloud forest on its 731m peak, Mount Dauban.
The unspoilt beauty of Silhouette is the ideal setting for walkers and hikers who want to delve into the secrets of an island that is said to have once been the home of the famous pirate Hodoul, whose hidden treasure may still be there.
The outer islands are those beyond the Seychelles plateau. They comprise 72 low-lying bays and sand atolls, ranging from 230 km to 1150 km from Mahé. Less visited than their granite cousins due to their relative remoteness, these pristine miniature worlds, some of which are little more than sandbanks or isolated rocky outcrops, provide pristine habitats for many species of fauna and flora.
Only one of the outer island groups, Alphonse, currently offers accommodation. It offers luxurious accommodation as well as unparalleled opportunities for sailing, fishing and diving in places where few people have been.
Located 1,150 kilometers southwest of Mahé, Aldabra Atoll is the world’s largest sublime coral atoll, consisting of more than a dozen islands ringed by a lagoon large enough to accommodate the entirety of Mahé.
The exceptional and pristine state of Aldabra has led to the island being a UNESCO World Heritage Site, one of two sites in the Seychelles and a Ramsar Site.
The islands of the atoll are home to unique fauna and flora as well as the largest population of giant tortoises in the world (150,000), and the lagoon is home to the most vibrant marine life in the entire archipelago.
The atoll was first named by Arab navigators. The atoll’s harsh, sunny environment and the swift waters of the lagoon have generally kept all but the most intrepid explorers at bay. But since 1874 there has been a tiny permanent settlement on the island, made up mainly of contract workers from Mahé, who at various times have been involved in fishing, guano mining and the production of copra for sale on the mainland.
The Seychelles Island Foundation (SIF) now oversees the island and there are strict regulations on access to the island to protect the fragile ecosystem.
Located 1140 km southwest of Mahé and approximately 40 km west of Aldabra, Assumption Island has a length of nearly 7 km with a width of 2.5 km. Assumption is a nesting site for turtles and the surrounding waters, accessible mainly by charter boats, are excellent for diving.
Cosmoledo Atoll is located about 1,045 km southwest of Mahé and 120 km from Aldabra. It consists of a ring of nine main islands surrounding an inner lagoon that is about 16 km long and 11 km wide at its widest point.
The sea around Cosmoledo is particularly rich in fish, while the atoll itself is home to large colonies of frigatebirds, terns and lunaticas. This hauntingly beautiful atoll is also a nesting ground for green turtles.
Coëtivy is the easternmost of the Seychelles islands, 290 km from Mahé. An agricultural production site is still in operation on the island, which now has a large scale tiger crayfish farming project, and there is vegetable growing for sale on Mahe.
Platte Island, 140 km south of Mahé, is low and flat, with a surrounding reef containing a lagoon. Known for its rich fish fauna, Platte has an airstrip and is occasionally approached by Island Development Company (IDC) aircraft from Mahé.
African Banks is the northernmost land of the Amirantes Group and consists of two islands, North and South, 2 km apart, near the edge of the Amirantes Bank.
Once famous for their seabird eggs, these uninhabited islands are surrounded by waters teeming with fish such as mackerel, tuna and sharks.
D’Arros is part of the Amirantes group and lies 255 km southwest of Mahé and about 45 km west of Desroches. Along with nearby St. Joseph’s Atoll, D’Arros makes up a private property with a remarkably beautiful lagoon.
The island hosts a number of seabird colonies such as frigatebirds, fairy terns, crested terns, tropical birds and small noddies. There is a small population of giant land turtles and the island is often visited by sea turtles during the breeding season.
Formerly owned by an important local Seychellois family, the island was bought by Prince Shahram Pahlavi-nia of Iran in 1975 and has remained in private hands to this day.
This coral island is 5 km long and 1.5 km wide. It has 14 km of immaculate beaches bordering a lush grove of coconut palms with casuarina in between.
Desroches is named after a former French governor of Mauritius and, like many other islands in the Seychelles, was once a thriving coconut plantation.
Approximately 50 minutes from Mahé by air, this island and the exclusive Resort Desroches offers magnificent deep-sea fishing, fly-fishing as well as diving opportunities.
Located approximately 270 km to the southwest of Mahé as well as 40 km south of Daros lies Puyfre Atoll, famous for its stunning semi- lagoon and deep-sea fishing.
The two islands that make up Pepper Atoll, Pepper and South Island, are very different in nature and separated by a semi-lagoon.
Poivre was named after the intendant of Mauritius, Pierre Poivre, who helped import spices from the Far East to the Seychelles.
Pepper is one of the oldest coconut plantations in the outer islands and was the main source of income for a number of people who rented or owned Pepper.
There is a population of blue herons, Chinese herons, frigate birds, curlews and fodys, as well as little and fairy terns. Pepper is a nesting site for the sea turtle and the green turtle.
Remire Island, which is also referred to as Eagle Island, is situated approximately 245 km southwest from Mahé, on the northern side of Amirante Bay.
This charming island surrounded by fish-filled waters was once home to American Wendy Veevers-Cater, who spent a few years here with her family before the tiny island was placed under the management of the state-owned Island Development Company (IDC).
The island was once prized for its guano deposits and much of this compacted manure was exploited after the First World War with the casuarina trees that gave the small island a picturesque profile. After Veevers-Cater’s experience in settling the island, the IDC stationed a handful of workers there to keep the island clean, look after the coconut plantation and maintain a small number of houses.
Saint Joseph Atoll
St. Joseph’s Atoll is situated approximately 250 km southwest from Mahé Island and is adjacent to Aros Island, whose fortunes have always been closely intertwined.
The atoll includes the islands of St Joseph, Fouquet, Resource, Ile Varres, Petit Carcassaye, Grand Carcassaye, Benjamin, Ferrari Bank, Dog, Sand Bank, Cocos Bank, Ile Paul and Pelican. Ile Saint-Joseph itself covers an area of 1000 acres and is the largest island in the group.
St Joseph, like d’Arros, was once a thriving coconut plantation, interspersed with trees such as casuarina, mapu wood, brittle and white wood. Traditionally, a small population of contract workers from the neighbouring country lived here, who over the years have been involved in the copra (refined coconut meat) industry and also in fishing.
The atoll lagoon is home to a huge population of stingrays and a large number of turtles. Giant blue mud crabs migrate from the depths of the lagoon to the surrounding flats at high tide. Bony fish are abundant, as are groupers, lobsters and several species of coral fish. Oysters grow profusely on the coral walls and in the herbaceous beds that cover much of the lagoon’s surface.
There is a large colony of frigatebirds and large numbers of blue herons, crested terns, nymphs and plovers.
Alphonse, the main island of the Alphonse group, is a small triangular island, barely 1.2 km wide, protected by a spectacular coral reef.
Located 400 km southwest of Mahé, Alphonse first developed around the coconut industry and was also exploited for guano (decomposed bird droppings). The island remains an important nesting site for turtles and seabird colonies.
One of Seychelles’ few outer islands that offers deluxe accommodation in 25 bungalows as well as 5 executive suites . The island offers excellent fly fishing, deep sea fishing and diving in pristine waters. Alphonse is served by air from the main island of Mahé, with a flight time of one hour.
Alphonse’s small neighbouring island, Bijoutier, occupies a special place in the waters of a turquoise lagoon.
This circular, two-hectare island, which crowns the beauty of the lagoon like a gem, is lined with beach shrubs and coconut palms. A walk around the island takes 10 minutes.
Never inhabited, Bijoutier has a diverse fauna that includes colonies of frigate birds, turtles, giant blue mud crabs and now a world-renowned population of bony fish.
Trips to Bijoutier can be made from Alphonse.
Saint-François is a V-shaped reef, shallow and low, with a fringe of coconut palms, separated from its large neighbour Alphonse by a narrow but deep channel.
The island itself is relatively recent and has not matured, and the poverty of the topsoil has limited its development.
The island was once home to a handful of men engaged in coconut harvesting, but the plantation was never productive.
The sandbanks that now surround St Francis offer what is widely regarded as the best bonefishing in the world for fly fishers staying at nearby Alphonse Island Lodge.
Farquhar Atoll comprises North Island, South Island, North Manaha, Middle Manaha, Middle Manaha, South Manaha, Gulets, Rabbit, Middle Island, Depose and Sand Banks.
Located just over 700 km from Mahé, this group consists of the atolls of Farquhar and Providence and the island of Saint-Pierre. Beautiful lagoons within the atolls provide safe anchorages, sheltered from the sometimes stormy seas that surround them. The islands of the Farquhar group do not offer accommodation.
Farquhar, the southernmost outpost of the Seychelles, has an airstrip and is served by aircraft from Mahé on a charter basis.
The Providence Atoll comprises the islands of Providence, St Pierre and Ile Cerf.
The atoll of Providence occupies a large shoal known for its abundance of fish. Ile Cerf, a true coconut island with an almost cartoonish fringe of green palms, lies at the southern end of the Providence shoal.
Saint-Pierre, about 32 km west of Providence, is a small raised coral island that occupies its own small underwater bank and is a popular perching and breeding place for seabirds.