Seychelles might be the smallest country in Africa in terms of area and population, but it has plenty to say for itself. Famed for its snow-white beaches, rich marine life and eye-popping luxury hotels, around 350,000 people visit Seychelles every year. Did you know that the country stretches across around 1.35 million sq. km (521,000 sq miles), but over 99% of Seychelles is water? From the world’s largest seed to buried treasure, here are seven interesting facts about Seychelles we bet you haven’t heard before.
7 interesting facts about Seychelles
1. Seychelles boast the only granite islands in the world
Once upon a time – 200 million years ago – Seychelles formed part of the supercontinent Gondwana. Around 75 million years ago, Seychelles separated from the mainland due to continuous tectonic movements and created 113 islands isolated from the mainland.
Unlike most islands, which are made of flat atolls, volcanic rock or coral, the country’s innermost islands are made of granite. You’ll find the granite everywhere, particularly scattered along the beaches, which adds to the country’s many charms.
2. The country’s capital city is one of the smallest in the world
Squeezed between mountains and sea, Victoria measures just 20 sq. km and comprises just two dozen streets and two sets of traffic lights. The colourful capital city is located on the island of Mahe, the largest and most developed island in Seychelles. Around 90% of the country’s entire population lives on the island. Victoria is home to around 26,000 people – a third of the island’s population.
Unsurprisingly, the best way to explore Victoria is by foot. Sightseeing highlights include a mini replica of Big Ben, the Hindu Temple and the National History Museum – featuring a life-size Nile crocodile and an 18th-century shipwreck.
3. It’s home to the world’s largest tortoise
Seychelles is home to the world’s largest population of giant tortoises. Over 150,000 of these gentle giants live on the UNESCO-listed Aldabra Atoll – the second largest atoll in the world. It’s not easy to get up close to them though; to visit the atoll you’ll need to get permission from the Seychelles Islands Foundation. Only 1,000 people get the chance to visit the atoll every year.
It’s also home to the world’s oldest and largest tortoise. Esmeralda weighs over 303 kg. He’s at least 170 years old and is the heaviest and oldest living tortoise in the wild. Despite his celebrity status (he made it into the Guinness Book of World Records), he still roams the island freely.
4. … as well as the world’s largest nut
The coco-de-mer or sea coconut is the world’s largest seed in the plant kingdom. It weighs an average of 15–30 kg but the largest ever fruit weighed a staggering 42 kg. The nut grows on Coco de Mer palms, which can grow up to 30 metres high. The giant nuts were once highly prized and could reach prices of 600 Seychellois Rupees (USD 45).
The UNESCO-protected Vallée de Mai on Praslin protects at least 400 of these. It’s one of the few places where you can see a natural palm forest preserved in its natural state.
5. It was popular with pirates
Who can blame them? After the Portuguese discovered the islands, it became a popular hideout for the outlaws. According to local legend, the famous French pirate Olivier Levasseur took a liking to the islands and left hidden treasure amounting to around $130 million somewhere on the island. It’s not worth trying your luck though, an official search has been going on since 1949.
During the 21st century, Somali pirates started using Seychelles as a safe base. Sightings and attacks still happen, though less frequently nowadays. Notable cases include the seizing of a German cargo ship in January 2001 and the kidnapping of a British couple when they were sailing around the islands. While some Somali pirates still roam the waters, primarily in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean, the country’s Minister for Tourism and Culture, Alain St Ange said piracy should no longer be a concern for superyachts looking to visit Seychelles.
6. It was totally uninhabited before the Europeans arrived
There are no indigenous people in Seychelles – the islands were uninhabited before being discovered by Europeans. The Portuguese claim to have been the first to discover the paradise islands, though it’s likely Arab navigators had already visited. The first recorded landing was by the East India Company in 1609 and France later claimed the islands in 1756. Seychelles were uninhabited until the first settlers arrived on the Thelemaque ship in August 1770. After Britain occupied the islands from the late 18th century, it remained a permanent colony until 1976 when it became a republic.
7. An unusual local delicacy…
It’s not as widely consumed as it once was, but curried fruitbat is still eaten as a local traditional dish. If you’re in the country, you might notice bat traps – fishing wires dangling from the palm trees – used to catch the bats for cooking up in a curry later.
If that’s not your scene, try the breadfruit instead – an iconic Seychellois fruit. The versatile fruit is packed into everything from croquettes to chips to cakes. It tastes similar to a potato or freshly baked bread.