A Little Bit of Paradise

A Little Bit of Paradise photo

With its paradise-like setting, the island Republic of Seychelles is not surprisingly an idea place for a laid-back vacation. But there's so much more to do than just lay in the sun on a pristine beach or crack open a bottle of bubbly within the confines of a luxury resort on your Seychelles holidays. The Seychelles, an archipelago of 115 islands in the Indian Ocean, some 932 miles (1,500 kilometers) east of mainland Africa, is probably the closest thing to paradise on Earth.

Portuguese explorer Vasco de Gama passed through this area of the Indian Ocean in 1502 on his voyage to encircle the globe. Later, pirates used the islands as a transit point for trade between Africa and Asia until the French began to take control starting in 1756 when Captain Nicholas Morphey laid a Stone of Possession, naming the islands after Jean Moreau de Séchelles, Louis XV's Minister of Finance.

The British contested control over the islands between 1794 and 1810 and eventually gained full control upon the surrender of Mauritius in 1810. In 1903, the Seychelles became a crown colony separate from Mauritius. Independence came in 1976 when the island nation became a republic within the British Commonwealth.

As with many tropical islands, the Seychelles had a plantation era when cinnamon, vanilla, and copra were its chief crops. Even into the mid-1960s, over one third of the people still worked the plantations. Colonial Creole-style plantation houses still dot the landscape on the larger islands.

Mother Nature has blessed the Seychelles with some of the best beaches anywhere — exquisite ribbons of white sand lapped by turquoise waters, backed by lush green hills, large granite boulders, and azure blue skies — all generally void of people.

Perfect beaches not withstanding, the Seychelles is an ideal place to watch birds and giant tortoises in their natural habitat. The islands host some of the largest seabird colonies in the world, particularly on the outer islands of Aldabra and Cosmoledo. Below the turquoise waters, a vast array of sea creatures beckons divers of all levels. More than 1,000 species of fish have been recorded, many of which are unafraid of divers and snorkelers. And when you tire of beaches or snorkeling, you can hike inland on jungle trails, especially through Morne Seychellois National Park on Mahé, afterwards indulging in tasty red snapper served Creole style under the stars accompanied by a cold Seybrew beer.

Seychelles is hot and humid, with an average yearly temperature of 84°F (29°C), and average sea temperature of 81°F (27°C). However, refreshing sea breezes will help to cool you down. The trade winds blow from May through November, making this the most pleasant time to enjoy the islands, with July and August being the coolest months when the temperature hovers around 75 °F (24 °C).

With so many islands, to which should you go? It doesn't really matter since the four largest — Praslin, La Digue, Mahé, and Silhouette — contain most of the resorts, such as the Constance Ephelia on Mahé. Exclusive hideaways occupy some of the smaller out islands.

But paradise comes at a price. Because of their remoteness, Seychelles resorts are expensive, although the islands offer quaint, affordable self-catering facilities and guesthouses.

Instead of staying in one spot, you might prefer to explore the Seychelles onboard a yacht, power boat, catamaran, or sailboat. Windsurfing is also popular and the best time for this activity is usually around May and then in October, at the start and end of the trade winds.

And should you tire of the sun, Seychelles has numerous markets, art galleries and shops in which to search for that traditional Seychelles souvenir, the coco-de-mer, or the "nut of the sea," the largest nut in the world found only here. And if you love to cook, you'll find an ideal selection of spices in the market in downtown Victoria.

As the sun sets in this paradise, you'll want to sip some dark Takamaka Rum on the beach as you listen to the soft lapping of the waves on the shore.