Introducing Port Victoria
Victoria (often called Port Victoria) is located on Mahé, the largest island of the Republic of Seychelles. The Seychelles is a country consisting of 115 islands in the Indian Ocean off the east coast of Africa. Being rather isolated, these islands have no indigenous population and are now populated by a variety of peoples who have emigrated largely over the past few centuries. Mahé was first visited by the British in 1609, but wasn’t really settled until the French arrived in 1742. The island traded between British and French colonial rule until gaining independence in 1976. The largest groups are peoples of African, French, Indian, and Chinese descent, making for an interesting cultural mix. French and English are the official languages, and a distinctly French air exists; about 70% of the Seychelles populace has family names of French origin.
Some 90% of the country’s population lives on Mahé, making this area the cultural, governmental, and economic hub of the nation. This island is also the transportation hub for hopping to all other islands within the Seychelles. The international airport is located on Mahé, as well as the international cruise terminal. An old part of Port Victoria still exists, with narrow streets and old colonial buildings, but for the most part the city has been rebuilt over time. One of the smallest capital cities in the world, Port Victoria is a friendly and approachable city. The entire island of Mahé is reasonably small and can be toured by car in a little over 2.5 hours.
Port Victoria is the largest city of the Seychelles, but it is far from having a big-city feel. Originally a colonial town, a few of the city’s buildings (such as the courthouse and the main post office) still retain their colonial character. The rest of the city feels relatively modern, however, and has a beautiful mountainous backdrop. Tourists can visit the Natural History Museum or the National History Museum to get some insight into the local history.
Popular attractions one can find in Port Victoria include the landmark clock tower modelled after that of Vauxhall Clock Tower in London, England, the Victoria Botanical Gardens, the Courthouse, and the Sir Selwyn Clarke Market. Shopping is a popular activity, as one can find a wide variety of interesting souvenirs in local shops and street markets. Seashell and mother of pearl jewellery, batik textiles, baskets, tablemats, raffia and palm hats, needlework and crocheted pieces, local paintings, and bamboo and woodwork pieces can be found for purchase in handicraft markets. One can also find delicious local teas, vanilla pods, fresh fruits and vegetables, and cinnamon in the markets and small stores around town.
Port Victoria and the surrounding areas are also well known for their dazzling beaches and crystal-clear waters, so time spent by the water is also recommended. Snorkelling, scuba diving, and wind surfing are available for those interested in more than sun-bathing. A variety of tantalizing cuisines are available throughout the city, so don’t miss the opportunity to sample intriguing local dishes.
- Getting around
As Port Victoria is one of the smallest capitals in the world, a day on foot is ample time to see the city. The distances between attractions are short and the scenery is beautiful, so this can be an excellent way to see the sites. Bicycles are another delightful way to explore the city, and are the most popular alternative among locals. Bicycles can be hired inexpensively from many shops within the city, and are generally kept for a day.
For those not able to walk or pedal (or just wanting to rest!), buses are another viable option in Port Victoria. Buses are accessible and comfortable, and will be relatively inexpensive. Buses in Port Victoria are not known for their timeliness, however, so be prepared for somewhat irregular schedules and long waits. For a more immediate mode of transportation, tourists can consider taxis. Prices are negotiated ahead of each trip, so be prepared to haggle. Many will push to be your tour guide around the island for a metered fee. Personal cars are also available for hire to tour around the island, which can be a pleasant (and leisurely) way to explore on your own.
If travelling between islands, a variety of boat options are available. From high-speed catamarans to ferry schooners, there are options available for all tastes and budgets. Helicopter rides are also offered to tourists to show off the gorgeous rainforests, beaches, and the blue sea while island hopping.
- Beyond Port Victoria
For those wishing to see more than the main island in the Seychelles, a day trip via ferry out to the small island of La Digue is just what the doctor ordered. La Digue is the fourth largest island in the Seychelles, and a veritable time capsule of life during a simpler time. With only one main road on the island and with ox carts being the main mode of public transport, visiting La Digue is like taking a step back in time.
Visitors are invited to explore this beautiful island by bicycle to discover quaint harbour towns, secluded coves with white sand beaches and clear turquoise water, and other unspoiled secrets of this corner of the world. Traditional methods of boat building and refining coconut products are still practiced on this island, and traditional architecture abounds, allowing for a unique cultural experience of the Seychelles. Water activities such as snorkelling and scuba diving are also pleasant diversions in the island’s beautiful waters.
- Local activities
Victoria Botanical Gardens
Established almost a century ago, the Victoria Botanical Gardens are a short scenic drive from the port. The gardens are home to a rich array of plants both indigenous and introduced including Elephant Apple trees from Malaysia and a beautiful orchid garden. One can also see a variety of interesting animals including fruit bats, giant Aldabran tortoises, and flying foxes.
Natural History Museum
The Natural History Museum of Port Victoria offers displays of the natural wildlife of the Seychelles. Containing examples of living and extinct flora and fauna, the lovely exhibits include crocodile, giant crab and other stuffed and mounted birds and animals. The museum also features historical artefacts including pieces of a 16th century shipwreck and the original “stone of possession” – the item by which the French claimed right to the islands in 1756.
Mani Bhavan Gandhi Museum
The main fruit and fish market in Port Victoria, and a popular tourist attraction, is the Sir Selwyn Clarke Marketplace. With attractively priced local fresh produce and seafood, one need not worry about busting one’s souvenir budget. Local crafts and garments and exotic spices are also available for reasonable prices, making the marketplace a shopper’s delight and a fun place to snap photographs of the locals.
- Local cuisine and drinks
The Seychelles are not surprisingly known for their fantastic seafood—often influenced by the area’s African, Chinese, English, French and Indian traditions. Tuna and king fish are local favourites, and often come fried or with garlic butter sauce. Grilled octopus with crushed ginger, chilies, and garlic is another must-try treat. Bat meat is one of the more unusual offerings found in the cuisine of the Seychelles, but worth a try.
- Where you are docked
The port at Port Victoria has deep water able to accommodate several large ships at one time. Cruise ships berth at Ogden Point, which is a 15 minute walk (or short taxi drive) to downtown in the northeast. Most cruise ships will offer shuttles or taxi services, but the road is quite pleasant for a stroll. There are no facilities to speak of at Ogden Point, so expect to leave the terminal upon docking.
- Regional weather
Port Victoria may be on the equator, however it experiences quite mild temperatures. Split into two seasons, the ‘Dry Season’ (and hottest) months of the year run from May to October with and average of 27 degrees. The dry season then gives way to ‘Wet Season’ (December to March) where monsoon winds arrive bringing heavy rainfall and high humidity.