Most people have heard of the tiny island nation of Seychelles but would be hard pressed to locate it on a map. Officially, the archipelago is situated between 4 degrees S and 10 degrees S and 46 degrees E and 54 degrees E in the Indian Ocean. Victoria, the capital of the main island of Mahe, lies approximately 1600 kilometer or 994 miles east of Mombasa, Kenya. Victoria is about 920 kilometers or about 570 miles northeast of Madagascar.
While somewhat geographically isolated from the rest of the world, the Seychelles does receive quite a few tourists and visitors from Africa, Asia, Europe and the Middle East. It is a favorite place for honeymooners and young couples to visit. The extremely long travel times limit American tourism to only the most adventurous of souls. From London’s Heathrow Airport to Victoria, it is a 9-10 hour flight. That is approximately the same flying time as a trip from London to Las Vegas.
The nation of Seychelles consists of 115 islands and another 30 significant rock formations. The islands are divided into two distinct categories. There are 41 Inner Islands and another 74 Outer Islands.
The total land mass of the archipelago is just 457 square kilometers or roughly two and one half times the size of Washington D.C. The Inner Islands comprise about 243 square kilometers or 54% of the entire nation’s land mass. More than 98% of the entire population of roughly 82,500 lives on the Inner Islands.
The Outer Islands comprise the remaining 46% of the Seychelles and are largely unpopulated by humans. Their combined area is approximately 211 square kilometers. Less than 2% of the entire population lives on these small, outer islands.
The land mass of this island nation is set in what is known as an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). The EEZ spreads across 1.4 million square kilometers of combined ocean and land mass.
These islands, also referred to as the granitic islands because they have been formed by a hard rock composition, are the oldest islands in the world. It is theorized that they were once part of the African continent and broke apart some 50 million years ago to attain their present position in the Indian Ocean.
The Inner Islands are actually the peaks of what is known as the submarine Mascarene Plateau. They rise majestically from the sea and form mountains and hills that rise as high as 940 meters above sea level. They are a mixture of rocks, boulders and some fertile land that is suitable for agricultural purposes. There are also narrow coastal plains at the foothills which extend toward the sea. Surrounding the islands are some very old and well-established coral reefs which support a diverse sea life population.
Mahe is the biggest island and by far, the most populated (about 90% of the entire population) of the group. Two other islands, Praslin and La Digue, are populated by an additional 8% of the people of the Seychelles.
Mahe is just 25 kilometers in length. At its widest point it is approximately 8 kilometers. The only city in the nation is Victoria. It is the capital and serves as a deep water world port, capable of handling large passenger and cargo ships.
In 1972, the Seychelles International Airport (SEZ) was opened by Queen Elizabeth II. The airport is located about 11 kilometers from Victoria. There is one runway that stretches right along the coast. Visitors will enjoy the very picturesque view of the coastline and the majestic mountains that rise abruptly in the background.
The Seychelles International Airport is the prime means of access to the islands. It has an international terminal that serves Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East. It also serves the nearby islands with smaller, domestic aircraft. There is another airport in Praslin. For access to most other islands, ferries or boats are the most common means.
Unlike the rocky formation of the Inner Islands, the Outer Islands are coral islands. They are primarily very low lying, young islands. They rise only a few meters above sea level and are commonly referred to as the Coralline Outer Islands. The islands are divided into 5 different groups.
1. Southern Coral Group – the islands of Ile Platte and Coetivy
2. Amirante Islands
3. Alphonse Atoll – Alphonse Atoll & St. Francois Atoll
4. Aldabra Group – Aldabra Atoll, Assumption Island, Cosmoledo Atoll & Astove Island
5. Farquhar Group – Farquhar Atoll, Providence Atoll & St. Pierre Island
These sparsely populated islands do not have any fresh water. Some of the islands are sandy cays that have been turned into productive coconut plantations. Others are covered with vegetation that is conducive to the climate and conditions on the coralline islands. They also serve as the breeding grounds for turtles, birds and some other small wildlife.
All of these islands are special and the Seychelles is very careful to make sure they are not disturbed by curious tourists or other visitors. There are many plant species that are only found on these islands and the government wants to preserve the beauty of their small, but very proud, nation.