Picture a huge granite mountain—its colors ranging from pure white to pitch black—rising nearly straight up from the sea: That's Mahe.

Dotted with palm and other green trees and surrounded by more than 60 white-sand beaches, Mahe is the largest, most populated island in the chain and the group's economic and political center (90% of Seychellois live on this 17-mi-/27-km-long island).

Victoria is one of the world's smallest capitals. A miniature clocktower marks the town center. The cathedral clock chimes twice each hour—once on the hour and then again five minutes later for anyone who missed it the first time. There is also an open-air market, a cathedral, a colorful Hindu temple, several art galleries and a botanical garden. Victoria has a suitably quiet, lazy atmosphere.

Mahe has more beaches, more hotels, more tourist facilities and more traffic than any other island in the Seychelles. The hotels are located throughout Mahe, but our favorites are on the beach of Beau Vallon.

If you're looking for a truly great beach, go to Anse Intendance on the southern end of the island. Grand'Anse beach is excellent for body surfing, with its waves of 6 ft/2 m (do, however, watch out for strong currents there). Nearby Morne Seychellois National Park, home to the country's highest peaks, provides beautiful scenery and good hiking.

Snorkeling is good right at the beach hotels, but some of the best snorkeling is at Port Launay Marine National Park, off the island's western coast. Divers and snorkelers will also want to visit Ste. Anne Marine National Park, in the harbor off Victoria, which offers splendid views of coral and sealife—100 species of coral and 900 species of fish live in the waters surrounding the islands.

Tour boats running out of the harbor usually include snorkel time, a ride in a glass-hulled (not glass-bottomed) boat and a visit to a private island for lunch. The main islands making up the park are Ste. Anne, Cerf, Long Island, Round Island and Moyenne Island.

Ste. Anne was where the first settlers in the Seychelles lived. It has been a whaling station and a World War II gun battery, and is now an important nesting site for the endangered hawksbill turtle.

Other island activities include hikes on organized trails and deep-sea fishing for wahoo, dogtooth tuna, marlin and bonito. Anse aux Pins (just south of the airport) has a nine-hole golf course, and several hotels offer tennis. There are casinos at Berjaya Beau Vallon Bay Resort (at Beau Vallon) and the Plantation Club (at Baie Lazare).

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