Boasting some of the world’s most stunning beaches and atolls, the Seychelles is an archipelago nation made up of 115 islands that sit like a string of highly prized pearls in the Indian Ocean. The nation prides itself on its rich natural beauty, having recently struck a deal to protect roughly one-third of its marine areas in exchange for clearing away its sovereign debt. Realizing it was vulnerable to climate change, the Seychelles now stands as a leading nation when it comes to protecting our world’s oceans.
Seychelles may be best known for its relaxing, often uncrowded beaches. But few travelers realize just how rich the islands and their surrounding waters are with rare endemic plants and animals. Often referred to as “the Garden of Eden,” this tropical paradise harmoniously blends modern development with its pristine natural surroundings. Many of the Seychelles’ finest natural and cultural offerings are centered around its three main islands, which include Mahé, La Digue, and Praslin.
These far-flung islands offer travelers a vibrant multicultural experience, with a unique mixture of French, British, South Indian, Chinese, and East African influences. You can really see these disparate influences come together in the county’s capital of Victoria, which is located on the island of Mahé. Here, you’ll discover an impressive array of architecture, art, and cuisine on offer.
With nearly every setting in the Seychelles worthy of a magazine cover, there are endless attractions around the islands, and small ship cruises are arguably the best way to see them. Whether it’s hiking through nature reserves and spice gardens on land or literally diving beneath its surface to discover a colorful underwater world, the Seychelles were made to be explored.
So let’s take a look at our picks for the top 10 things to do on Seychelles cruise holidays (such as Zegrahm’s 16-day Ultimate Seychelles cruise), for those who might want to experience this idyllic archipelago for themselves.
1. Visit Seychelles National Botanical Gardens
Located on the fringes of Seychelles’ capital city of Victoria, the Seychelles National Botanical Gardens offers 15 acres of exotic plants to enjoy. The gardens were established at the turn of the 20th century and have become a national treasure.
This is a place where you can see the world’s largest nut, the Seychelles’ endemic coco de mer, which sometimes weighs in at over 50 pounds! The palm trees in the gardens that produce the giant nuts were originally planted by the Duke of Edinburgh in the 1950s.
Other plants on display include the cannonball tree and jellyfish tree, as well as flowers like ylang-ylang, frangipani, heliconia, and a variety of native and exotic orchids. These plants attract a great deal of birds, making it possible to spot endemic species like the Seychelles kestrel and Seychelles bulbul. Other species worth noting are the blue pigeon and the Seychelles Sunbird. Introduced bird species you may notice include the Indian myna, Madagascar fody, and the Malagasy turtle dove.
Of course, it isn’t just feathered creatures that inhabit the gardens. You’ll find a small collection of the famous Aldabra giant tortoises as well as several species of African terrapins. You may also want to keep an eye out in the treetops for colonies of Seychelles flying foxes or fruit bats hanging about.
2. Explore Seychelles’ Capital City
Originally settled by the French in the late 18th century, Victoria is now the capital of the Seychelles. The regal name was given to the city after the British took control of the Seychelles, shortly following the French Revolution. While the Seychelles would end up becoming an official British Crown Colony in the early 1900s, the islands retain a more French-influenced culture.
While most of the notable attractions in the Seychelles focus on nature, walking around the city of Victoria allows you to experience the nation’s international culture and relive its colonial history.
Tour the National Museum of History to gain a deeper knowledge of the archipelago’s past, and get your fill of French colonial architecture by paying a visit to the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception (which is also known as Victoria Cathedral). You’ll even encounter a scaled-down replica of London’s Vauxhall Clock Tower, which looks like a smaller version of Big Ben.
As you wander among the many Creole-style houses, you can also shop at the Sir Selwyn-Clarke Market for fresh fruits, vegetables, and seafood. Victoria is home to a third of the nation’s population, so the market can become quite crowded later in the day. An early morning visit is a more enjoyable option. In addition to the food offered in the markets, you’ll find numerous restaurants serving up authentic Creole cuisine. Also, check out the color and spirit of Creole life by browsing the art gallery of local artist George Camille.
3. Hiking in Vallée de Mai Nature Reserve
Located on Praslin Island, the nearly 50-acre Vallée de Mai Nature Reserve has been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Largely undisturbed by human presence until the mid-1900s, the park is home to a wealth of plants and animals. Thousands of coco de mer trees can be found within the reserve, which is one of only two places in the world where the trees grow naturally.
Wildlife that can be spotted here includes the Seychelles black parrot, tiger chameleon, and several species of skinks and geckos. The islands’ only endemic freshwater fish, the golden panchax, also calls this pristine wilderness home.
Visits to the reserve can be self-guided, but they’re better when led by a knowledgeable local tour guide. Guided tours are offered in several different languages, including English, and may give you a better chance of seeing the various animals of the reserve.
There are three main trails that wind through the reserve, each with varying lengths that allow you to choose one best suited to your available time and fitness level.
4. Wander Around Curieuse Marine National Park
Take a boat ride from Praslin Island to Curieuse Island to discover an area completely free from hotels and restaurants. Once referred to as Red Island due to the color of its soil, the island is a patchwork of mangrove forests, beaches, and granite cliffs.
Hawksbill and green sea turtles come ashore on Curieuse’s beaches to lay their eggs. The formerly exterminated Aldabra giant tortoises have since been reintroduced to the island and now number in the hundreds. There’s a hatchery on the island where, depending on the time of year you visit, you may be able to view baby tortoises.
The reserve was listed as a national park in 1979 and offers great hiking options across its roughly two square miles. A series of natural trails and boardwalks make for easy exploration, and many of the Seychelles’ endemic flora and fauna species can be seen here regularly.
Interestingly enough, Curieuse Island was once home to a leper colony. Today, visitors can visit the old colonial doctor’s house, which has been restored and now acts as a historical museum.
5. See Seychelles History at L'Union Estate
The island of La Digue is home to the L'Union Estate. On the grounds of the estate, you’ll find the restored 19th-century Coconut Plantation House. Coconuts were farmed here right up until the 1980s.
Individual coconut trees can live to be 80 years old and may produce around 60 to 80 coconuts in a single year. The coconuts were farmed for their oil before palm oil became a more popular alternative. The oil was extracted from the copra or dried kernel of the coconut. You can still see the ox-powered coconut oil mill, and possibly find a few Seychelles coconut crabs along the way.
The estate is also home to a vanilla plantation and a small enclosure of Aldabra giant tortoises. Many of La Digue’s first settlers have been buried in the historic cemetery, which is located on the property. Nearby the vanilla plantation rests the 700 million-year-old Giant Union Rock, a towering natural monolith.
As you make your way through the gardens, you’ll eventually find yourself at Anse Source d'Argent, which is considered by many to be the most beautiful beach in the Seychelles (if not the world). The setting here is extremely idyllic, with its dazzling white sand, granite boulders, and emerald-colored waters.
6. Birdwatching at Veuve Nature Reserve
Also on La Digue, the critically endangered Seychelles paradise flycatcher hangs onto existence in one of its last remaining strongholds. Lucky birdwatchers may be able to get a glimpse of this glossy black and blue bird by visiting the Veuve Nature Reserve.
The flycatcher is known locally as a Veuve or widow, hence the nature reserve’s title. Under the highly shaded forest canopy, small man-made water tanks have been set out to attract the birds, which visit them for drinking and bathing. Just a few hundred of these beautiful birds are left in the world and several dozen nest within the reserve.
You’ll find the reserve near La Digue’s tallest point, Belle Vue, which is located in the island’s interior. Off the coastline of La Digue, Scuba diving trips can be arranged to check out marine life such as eels, eagle rays, black-tip reef sharks, and possibly even a whale shark.
7. Tour Le Jardin du Roi Spice Garden
Visit the 18th-century gardens developed by French entrepreneur Pierre Poivre, who looked to capitalize on the islands’ position along the spice trade route. Located on the island of Mahé, this roughly 90-acre garden cultivates a variety of different spices as well as some medicinal plants.
Along with touring the grounds via interpretive trails, visitors can sit down for a meal or shop for spices and homemade jams. The on-site restaurant serves up delicious meals that use spices sourced from the gardens, as well as homemade ice cream that uses fresh vanilla from the gardens.
You’ll enjoy glorious sea views as you not only satisfy your appetite but also feed your brain with knowledge of the garden’s history and the many uses of the spices and plants that continue to grow there. Take a self-guided walk along the various trails that meander through the gardens and rainforest, taking note of the competing aromas of cinnamon, nutmeg, and vanilla.
Don’t forget to pay a visit to the small, one-room museum, and perhaps browse the gift shop for spices to take home.
8. Morne Seychellois National Park
Also found on Mahé is the Morne Seychellois National Park. The park is named after the island’s highest point, Morne Seychellois, which can be reached on foot via a five-hour hike that will take you roughly 3,000 feet above sea level.
The national park is one of the largest protected natural areas in the Seychelles, covering around one-fifth of the island. There is an extensive network of trails, from which you can attempt to seek out the elusive Seychelles scops-owl or the non-venomous Seychelles wolf snake, which helps keep the island’s invasive rodents in check.
Also, keep an eye out for the fascinating pitcher plants as well as the rosewood trees that line the path to the Mission Lodge. The Mission historically educated the children of African slaves after the abolition of slavery and was visited by Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II in the 1970s.
9. Watch for Wildlife at Aldabra Atoll
Quite isolated in the Indian Ocean, the Aldabra Atoll may be closer to Madagascar, but it actually belongs to the Seychelles. Aldabra is one of the largest atolls in the world, made up of four coral limestone islands that encircle an emerald green tidal lagoon.
The atoll’s remoteness has led to the evolution of hundreds of endemic plant and animal species. Watch for frigatebirds soaring high overhead as you seek out the islands’ flightless Aldabra white-throated rail.
The atoll is dominated by animals: the only humans that are usually present are the rangers and a small number of lucky tourists that get to see this magical place. Aldabra is the natural home of the Aldabra giant tortoises, of which over 100,000 roam around the atoll’s islands. The islands are separated by narrow passages, and each day the tides rush in and out of the interior lagoon. When the tide comes in, it often brings hammerhead sharks, barracudas, rays, and sea turtles with it.
The atoll is now protected from human interference, but at one time was under threat. The British government once floated the idea of establishing an air force base at the location, but thankfully Aldabra has instead become a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
10. Explore the Alphonse Island Group
Once referred to as San Francisco on early Portuguese maps, the Alphonse Island group makes up part of the Seychelles’ Outer Islands. The Alphonse Island group is made up of two atolls with a combined total of three islands. Only Alphonse Island is inhabited.
Although it was once a private plantation, Alphonse now features a single tourist resort located along the water’s edge. The Island Conservation Society allows visitors to enjoy activities including tortoise viewing, patrolling the beaches for sea turtle nests, and aiding in keeping the picturesque beaches clean.
The St. François Atoll is made up of the island group’s other two islands, St. François and Bijoutier. Together, these are some of the Seychelles’ most pristine islands and offer exceptional beaches and snorkeling/Scuba diving spots. – Megan Jerrard
BIO: Megan Jerrard is an Australian Journalist and the founder and Senior Editor of Mapping Megan, an award-winning travel blog bringing you the latest in adventure travel from all over the globe.