One hundred fifteen coral and granite islands rising from the Indian Ocean make up the Seychelles, a pristine hideaway of white-sand beaches, majestic granite cliffs, palm-fringed jungles, and astonishing azure waters. Trading in exclusivity, luxury, and undeveloped natural environments, the Seychelles is an ideal beach escape for those who can afford all that gorgeous privacy.
With its countless perfect beaches and secluded coves fringed by sea-sculpted granite boulders, the Seychelles is a favored backdrop for fashion shoots and once-in-a-lifetime dream vacations. It has earned its reputation as an exclusive and costly destination, but in recent years, numerous self-catering options, locally owned guesthouses and two- and three-star hotels have opened their doors, making these islands more accessible. However, if ultraluxurious pampering, breathtaking style, and total privacy on some of the world's most stunning beaches are what you seek, Seychelles has them in spades, but not on a budget.
Beyond the luxury resorts—and really the basis for their existence—the Seychelles claim some of the world's best-preserved tropical habitats. Originally a huge granite shard attached to India's west coast, some event—probably a volcanic eruption or meteor impact—caused what would become the Seychelles to break free and begin its northward drift. Over time, that single mass became a shimmering line of islands, transformed by their isolation, 1,600 km (994 miles) from mainland Africa in the middle of the Indian Ocean.
Known as the Galápagos of the Indian Ocean, most of the islands were never settled by people (though many served as notorious pirate hideouts), and thus still harbor important populations of rare plants, birds, and animals, including the heartbreakingly beautiful ferry tern, the gentle giant tortoise, and the Coco de Mer—once thought to be the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. On the islands where human-introduced predators like cats and rats have been removed, astonishing populations of seabirds thrive, allowing visitors a glimpse of what the first explorers might have seen.
Those first explorers were probably seafarers hailing from Austronesia, followed in turn by Arab traders. The first European to pass through was Portuguese Admiral Vasco da Gama in 1502, followed by the English in 1609. A transit point for trade between Africa and Asia, the islands were used by pirates until 1756, when the French took control, laying down their "Stone of Possession" (visible today at the museum in Mahé) and naming the islands after Jean Moreau de Séchelles. Britain and France fought over the islands from the late 18th to early 19th century, with Britain finally gaining control in 1814. Achieving independence from Britain in 1976, the Seychelles today is a true success story of people who claim origins from all over the world and live together with an unusual and inspiring degree of harmony in diversity.