By Guest Lecturer Dr. John Freedman
In my many interesting conversations with fellow travelers at sea, I’m often asked about my favorite destinations. High on the list is the unique granitic archipelago of the Seychelles.
The World’s Oldest Islands
A sovereign state since its independence from Britain in 1976, the Republic of the Seychelles is certain to intrigue those with a taste for the exotic – and the spectacularly beautiful. It all starts with the archipelago’s remote location 1000 miles off the coast of Kenya in the warm turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean. The islands’ uniqueness begins with their geologic history.
About 80 million years ago a giant fragment of the ancient super-continent of Gondwana split into two pieces which were destined to become India and Madagascar. But there were tiny shards strewn between the two larger pieces in the breakup. These fragmentary bits were what we now call the Seychelles. The India piece drifted northward from its southerly oceanic position, eventually slamming into Asia (and creating the Himalayas in the process) while the Madagascar piece stayed close to the African mainland. But the lonely Seychelles – all 115 islands – were stranded between the two in the middle of the ocean.
They now compose the only oceanic archipelago on the planet which consists of granitic continental fragments. This extraordinary geological provenance also makes the Seychelles the world’s oldest islands, by far. The great antiquity of the granite megaliths has allowed them to be sculpted over eons into a breathtaking variety of sizes, shapes and configurations, and the granite formations are as stunning in their curvaceous beauty and delicate texture as they are in their impressive size and heft. Much of the granitic substratum of the islands became carpeted with lush tropical forest over millions of years, while white sand came to fringe the islands’ innumerable coves. Nature was in an excellent, bountiful mood here.
A Naturalist’s Paradise
Yet the Seychelles have another special card to play. The islands’ biogeographic isolation and gentle climate gave birth to a profusion of wonderful and unique life forms. With one of the highest endemicity rates on the planet, the Seychelles are a naturalist’s paradise. Only in these islands can you see the giant Aldabra tortoise, the diminutive Seychelles frog (which is smaller than your fingernail), and the rare black paradise flycatcher (the best chance of seeing one is at the renowned Veuve Nature Reserve on the island of La Digue – there are only 100 left).
Equally extraordinary and more whimsical is the coco de mer – the world’s largest and unquestionably most erotically-shaped nut. The swashbuckling British Victorian General Charles George Gordon believed that the Seychelles were the Garden of Eden and the coco de mer was the forbidden fruit. Eve must have been in very good shape to hand it to Adam given that the seed weighs up to 100 pounds.
You’ll usually visit one of several ports, and all are alluring. My favorite is perhaps the fabulously beautiful island of La Digue, which is home to some of the most iconic beaches including Anse Source De L’Argent and Grand Anse. La Digue is the 4th largest inhabited island in the Seychelles (after Mahé, Praslin, and Silhouette) but you can still walk most of it in a couple of hours. Bicycles or oxcarts are also a great way to get around this tranquil island. La Digue is considered a birder’s paradise, but don’t miss the Aldabra tortoise preserve. The main Inner Islands that are usually visited are the most dramatic because they are more granitic as compared to the coralline Outer Islands.
That only begins to scratch the surface of what’s in store for those lucky enough to visit the amazing Seychelles. It is surely one of the most uniquely beautiful and interesting destinations to explore. Get your camera ready!
About John Freedman, MD
Dr. John Freedman is an independent scholar and passionate world traveler who has explored over 150 countries on seven continents. He is a sought-after enrichment lecturer on cruise ships and riverboats worldwide, as well as an experienced expedition leader and lecturer for prestigious educational travel programs including Smithsonian Journeys, Yale Educational Travel and National Geographic Expeditions. His onboard lecture series delve into the most colorful and provocative aspects of the history, geography, culture, natural beauty and current affairs of our intriguing ports of call.