La Digue is the third most populated island of the Seychelles, and fifth largest by land area, lying east of Praslin and west of Felicite Island. In terms of size it is the fourth largest granitic island of Seychelles after Mahé, Praslin and Silhouette Island. It has a population of 2,800 people, who mostly live in the west coast villages of La Passe (linked by ferry to Praslin and Mahé) and La Réunion. There is no airport on La Digue, so to get there from a foreign country, one has to fly to Victoria and continue by ferry, usually via Praslin. It has an area of 10.08 km2, which makes it relatively easy to travel around by bike or on foot.
According to modern historians, La Digue was first sighted by the French navigator Lazare Picault in 1742, but it was not named until 1768. The first people settled on the island in 1789, when French colonists arrived with their African slaves. Most of them went back to France, but some people were left and some of today’s inhabitants carry their names. Later, more French deportees arrived, followed by a large number of liberated slaves and Asian immigrants. In 1854, the first Catholic chapel was built on La Digue by Father Theophile. Most inhabitants of the island are of the Catholic faith. French colonists on La Digue manufactured coral lime, and they are believed to be responsible for the decline of the island’s coral reefs. They also made copra out of coconuts, and they planted vanilla on their plantations. This tradition has been continued.
The inhabitants of La Digue are called Diguois. The first inhabitants arrived in 1798, exiled from Bourbon for taking part in a political rebellion there. They were supposed to be sent to the East Indies, but bribed the captain to ship them to Seychelles instead where many had relatives.The population of La Digue is mostly Catholic and the islands feast day on 15 August is a national holiday.
Today, the island’s main industry is tourism, and it is known for its beaches, especially Anse Source d’Argent and Grand Anse. La Digue went through a major tourist increase in the previous century, which heavily impacted the economy of the Seychelles. In former times, copra and vanilla production were mainstays of the local economy, which is commemorated in the island’s museum.
Veuve Nature Reserve, in the island’s interior, is home to the rare black paradise flycatcher, of which there are only about 100 in existence. La Digue’s tallest peak, Belle Vue (Eagle’s Nest Mountain), is in the central part of the island, with a summit more than 300 m (980 ft) above sea level. La Digue is also visited for its wide variety of underwater creatures like fish, sharks and rays.
Once, one was not allowed to own a car at La Digue. This has recently changed, but the main means of transportations are still bicycles. Tourists are requested to adapt to this lifestyle; it is possible to rent bicycles right near the pier. There are a few personally owned vehicles, but most cars and buses belong to hotel companies. Driving a large car or even a bus can turn out to be a quite hard task, because the roads were originally designed for bicycles. Two cars going against each other must slide off the road with two wheels in the sand. The people who own a car on La Digue usually have many seats built in so that it can accommodate their whole family. Another method of transport on La Digue is using an ox-cart which has a slow pace suited to the island.
Since La Digue is an island inhabited by many ethnic groups, the cuisine is a specific mix of world cuisines. With the abundance of fish, the Seychellois people have learned how to make hundreds of recipes out of this simple ingredient. One can have fish curry, fish fillets, raw fish with lemon, grilled fish, steamed fish, cooked fish and so on.The inhabitants of La Digue also make fried octopuses, lobsters with garlic and their biggest speciality – bat curry. An ingredient used to a very large degree is ginger, which is put in many meals. The most popular alcoholic drink on La Digue is palm wine, which most Seychellois people like to make themselves by fermenting the inside of a coconut
La Digue is the home to the critically endangered paradise flycatcher. However, there are more rare and endangered animals that live on this island. Since the Seychelles are detached from the rest of Africa, many of the species are endemic to La Digue. There is a significant population of giant tortoises that come from the island Aldabra. The subspecies that lived on La Digue is extinct. From the arthropod group there is, for example, the Seychelles coconut crab which likes to dig holes in the backyards of the Seychellois people. Among others, there are fodys, sunbirds, terns, fruitbats…
The reefs and lagoons of La Digue offer a large amount of flora and fauna. Green sea turtles live on the very edges of the coral reefs, and they sometimes venture closer to the island. There are butterfly fish, eagle rays, murray eels and many other species of fish. Divers and snorkellers may be lucky enough to see blacktip reef sharks or even whale sharks, which come mainly in the winter but can be seen all year round.