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The Seychelles is an archipelagic nation in the Indian Ocean, off the coast of Africa. It covers some 176 square miles (451 sq. km), making it a bit more than twice the size of Washington DC. Nearby islands include the Maldives, Mauritius, and Réunion.
While people undoubtedly knew about the Seychelles before European discovery, none of them appear to have settled there permanently. It is like the Arabs were already visiting them regularly and collecting nuts of the coco de mer tree, which they then traded throughout the world.
The Portuguese were the first Europeans to spot the islands, in the 16th century, but they didn’t form any settlements. The British later landed on the islands in the 17th century, but they also opted not to settle them. The French thoroughly mapped the islands in the early 18th century, but didn’t place any permanent structures on them. When France and England later went to war, the French finally claimed the islands as their own, in the mid-18th century. By the end of the 18th century, after the French Revolution, Seychelles became largely autonomous, ruled by a Colonial Assembly. The Seychelles then adopted a largely neutral stance, working with the British as it suited them, and paying enough lip service to the French to keep them from interfering.
The Seychelles continued to grow during the 19th century. The British enforced a no-slaving policy on the islands, and the islands converted to an economy built around coconuts, becoming relatively prosperous. Early on, when the French still had nominal control of the islands, they used it as a place to send troublesome political prisoners. Later, after the British took control, they used it for the same purpose.
During the early 20th century the Seychelles economy suffered from both World Wars and the falling prices of copra. The modern political movement was born in the early 1940s, largely to protect the interests of the landowners. In the mid-1960s an independence movement began, and in reaction a movement started promoting closer ties to Britain. In 1976 the Seychelles declared independence, remaining a part of the Commonwealth. The next year, following a coup, the nation transitioned to a one-party state. This would last until 1991, when the country moved back to a multi-party system.
There are more than 115 islands in the Seychelles archipelago, and the majority of these are virtually untouched tropical paradises. Relatively isolated, unlike similar paradises in the Caribbean or the South Pacific, the Seychelles does not have the most developed tourist infrastructure, but nor does it have the hordes that sometimes descend on other tropical destinations. The beaches and the waters of the Seychelles are about as perfect as anywhere on Earth, and remain perfect through much of the year. Places such as Cousin Island offer amazing bird watching opportunities, as well, and the numerous coral atolls offer amazing diving and snorkeling. The exotic coco de mer, with its highly erotic fruit, can also be found on two islands in the Seychelles, and nowhere else on the planet.
Flying to the Seychelles usually involves routing through a number of cities, eventually going through Mauritius, Singapore, or parts of Eastern Africa. Direct flights are beginning to appear from European countries, however, as the islands become more well known as a tourist destination. Cruises often stop off in Victoria, but to date no cruise ships stop there for very long.