- Pramod de Silva
Only one country in the world has a name that instantly evokes its close connection to the sea – Seychelles. Yes, it indeed sounds like Sea Shells. Seychelles is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. The good news for Sri Lankans is that we can travel to this group of tropical islands without a visa. There are flights from Colombo to Seychelles every day. It is a little more expensive than some other regional destinations, but the experience is a truly unique one.
Seychelles is a chain of 115 outer and inner islands that lie lie between 480km and 1,600km from the east coast of Africa in the western Indian Ocean. This Indian Ocean republic with a population of only 90,000 occupies a land area of 455 km².
It represents an archipelago of timeless beauty, tranquility and harmony that is famous for its world-beating beaches and for its great diversity which rolls from lush forests down to the warm azure ocean. Seychelles is home to no less than two UNESCO World Heritage Sites: the legendary Vallée de Mai on Praslin where the wondrously shaped Coco-de-mer nut grows high on ancient palms and the fabled Aldabra, the world’s largest raised coral atoll, first seen by early Arab seafarers of the 9th century A.D. The Seychelles’ climate is one which is always warm and does not reach extremes of heat or cold. The temperature rarely drops below 24°C or rises above 32°C. All but the remotest southern islands lie outside the cyclone belt.
Seychelles is a comparatively young nation which can trace its first settlement back to 1770 when the islands were first settled by the French, leading a small party of whites, Indians and Africans. The islands remained in French hands until the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo, evolving from humble beginnings to attain a population of 3,500 by the time Seychelles was ceded to Britain under the treaty of Paris in 1814. Seychelles achieved independence from Britain in 1976 and became a republic within the commonwealth. There are three official languages in Seychelles: Creole, English and French. Many Seychellois also speak fluent Italian or German.
The Inner Islands cluster mainly around the principal islands of Mahé, Praslin and La Digue, forming the cultural and economic hub of Seychelles, as well as the centre of its tourism industry. Together they are home to the majority of Seychelles’ accommodation facilities as well almost the entire population of the archipelago. The country is a food lover’s paradise. Creole cuisine features the subtleties and nuances of French cooking, the exoticism of Indian dishes and the flavours of the Orient. Moreover, a recent survey has found that Seychelles is the most vegetarian friendly country on Earth.
There are plenty of things to do and see in the main islands, from the clock tower at Mahe to the Praslin Museum. If you want an active holiday, there are many options available from rafting to hiking. There are only a few countries where the mountains and the sea almost come together and this is one of them. A unique country indeed.