Aldabra is awesome in its wild, untamed and natural beauty.

Rugged, rough and remote, this World Heritage Site wilderness atoll has survived the ravages of man over the centuries because of these very characteristics. The harsh and arid nature of the atoll, with its sharp, jagged, limestone terrain and thick, impenetrable vegetation, prevented the full-scale exploitation that beset most of the other Seychelles islands.

Although it is not, and never has been, on any regular shipping routes, it was first recorded on early Portuguese charts in 1509, and it is highly likely that discovery by Arab seafarers preceded this date. The evocative name Aldabra probably stems from the Arabic word Al-Khadra meaning green, which could be a reference to the green-based cloud that can sometimes be seen hanging over the atoll, reflecting the colour of the vast interior lagoon.

Giant tortoise Aldabra Seychelles by Jan Bures Shutterstock
Aldabra is one of only two places in the world where giant tortoises still occur naturally – the other is the Galápagos Islands © Jan Bures, Shutterstock

The elliptically shaped atoll is approximately 34km long and about 14km across, which makes it the largest raised coral atoll in the world. The rim of the atoll is broken by four channels which link the massive, shallow lagoon to the ocean. The four islands thus formed are Grande Terre or Main Island, which is by far the largest; Picard, hosting the settlement; Polymnie, the smallest; and Malabar, which runs straight along the northern edge of the atoll.

Fringing platform reef encircles almost the entire atoll. The jagged, fossilised limestone cliffs undercut by constant wave action, and the desolate sand dunes rising up to 15m above sea level, form the barrier between sea and land. Many of the islets inside the lagoon are champignon with a flat, tabular surface and a slender limestone stalk. Some are barren while others are covered in a variety of flowering plants including orchids and mangroves.

What to see and do on Aldabra

The warden and expedition leader will plan any excursions, taking into account the weather and state of the tide. All visitors have to be accompanied by Aldabra personnel at all times; no-one is allowed to wander around on their own and a strict set of guidelines needs to be adhered to regarding the flora and fauna.

Giant tortoises

There are only two places in the world where giant tortoises still occur naturally: the Galápagos Islands in the Pacific, and Aldabra. The Aldabra population of about 100,000 is much greater than that of Galápagos.

Giant Tortoise Aldabra Seychelles by Katiekk Shutterstock
Aldabra is one of only two places in the world where giant tortoises occur naturally © Katiekk, Shutterstock

These great, lumbering herbivores are easily seen around the Picard settlement grazing on the short turf. The tortoises are generally shy and on being approached will hiss and retreat into their shells, except, that is, for one very large and friendly tortoise near the settlement that loves having his neck stroked! 

Walk to La Gigi

From the settlement on Picard you can walk to La Gigi, a small promontory at Passe Femme on the West Channel where you can see the World Heritage Site plaque resting on a coral cairn. At low tide it is possible to venture a little way up the edge of the lagoon and see four species of mangroves and typical champignon, some upright and others collapsed into the shallow water.

The breathtaking views across the near-empty channel touch the soul, and the timeless beauty of the vast lagoon merging with the sky will be a lasting memory. Birds feed on the exposed coral reef, and frigates, boobies and white fairy terns wheel overhead as they have done for centuries. The only sounds are the distant thunder of the surf crashing on the reef and the friendly twangs of the white fairy terns as they curiously inspect the visitors.

Birdwatching

Depending on time and tide, it may be possible to visit one of the frigatebird colonies inside the lagoon by boat. However, be aware that if the boats approach too close, the noise of the boat engines causes the most incredible disturbance to the courting or nesting birds.

Red Footed Booby Aldabra Seychelles by Janos Rautonen Shutterstock
The great colonies of nesting red-footed boobies are spectacular © Janos Rautonen, Shutterstock

While inside the turquoise-green lagoon it might also be possible to stop on Polymnie, Picard or Malabar to look for the white-throated rails. They are curious little birds and will often come to investigate the arrival of strangers.

Diving

Diving and snorkelling at Aldabra are fabulous, particularly near the entrances to the channels. However, tidal currents are strong, so take advice from the warden and his staff.

Corals Scuba Diver Seychelles by JonMilnes Shutterstock
The diving and snorkelling opportunities at Aldabra are second to none © JonMilnes, Shutterstock

There are lots of turtles, big groupers, blacktip reef sharks and stingrays, and the vertical reef drop-off is marvellous. The corals are in good condition and the fish life is prolific.

Getting to Aldabra

The inaccessibility of Aldabra enhances its desirability. There is no airstrip, helipad or landing jetty. The supply boat from Mahé visits Aldabra every two months and live-aboard dive boats, expedition cruise ships and yachts visit periodically. Aldabra has no tourist facilities.

After clearing immigration in Mahé, private yachts and expedition cruise ships wanting to visit the atoll must obtain authorisation from the Seychelles Islands Foundation. Small cruise ships visiting the atoll will anchor on the seaward side of the reef near the settlement. Those passengers lucky enough to go ashore will be accompanied by their expedition leader and transported to the beach adjacent to the station in their ship’s inflatable boats.

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