The Galápagos of the Indian Ocean
At the center of Aldabra, the world’s largest raised coral atoll, lies one of the world’s largest lagoons, like a sea within a vast tropical ocean. This 50-square-mile atoll encompasses an ecosystem so isolated that the wildlife is in many cases considered unique.
It is the last remaining natural habitat for giant Aldabra tortoises, the unofficial and much-beloved national icon of the Seychelles; 150,000 of these enormous antediluvian creatures roam the harsh terrain. With huge eyes, wrinkled necks, and an odd expression reminiscent of E.T.’s, some tip the scales at 600 pounds.
Nature in its purest state reigns on Aldabra, observed biologist Sir Julian Huxley in 1970, who declared it a unique “living natural history museum” that should belong to the whole world. Open to the public only since 1991, the island has become a nirvana for divers, naturalists, and ornithologists.
Jacques Cousteau described it as the most spectacular drift dive anywhere. Lying closer to Mombasa, Kenya, than the principal Seychelles island of Mahé, Aldabra is the most distant of the Seychelles’ outlying islands: The very distance that enabled the flora and fauna to survive human encroachment also makes it difficult to reach the hotel-free island. The only crowds you’ll find are of the tortoise kind.