In this second of a two-part story on the Seychelles, we explore the exquisite islands of Praslin and La Digue.
The biggest of the Seychelles islands and home to the world’s smallest capital city, Victoria, Mahé is a lovely destination in its own right, and its most popular beach, Beau Vallon, is picture-postcard pretty. But those in the know generally agree that one should see at least a couple of the other islands, too. Each is distinctive and has its own attractions. If you’d rather base yourself on just one island, such as Mahé or Praslin, it’s not difficult to do day-trips to the others.
In descending order of size, the granitic islands are Mahé, Praslin, Silhouette, La Digue and Curieuse, plus many others. After our three nights on Mahé, we had two nights on Praslin that included a day trip to La Digue.
It’s worth taking the €80 (about S$160) each way Air Seychelles flip to Praslin, if only for the spectacular views. You could catch the ferry (€45) instead, which takes an hour.
Picking us up from the Sun Paradise Hotel, our lovely Mason’s travel guide and driver team took us to the Vallée de Mai, the world’s smallest UNESCO heritage site and one of only two places in the world where the coco de mer grows naturally; the other is on Curieuse, and you can also see them in Victoria’s Botanic Gardens. When I visited the Seychelles a few years ago, the immigration stamp was in the shape of its iconic fruit; this time, disappointingly, it was the usual bureaucratic rectangle.
You could pay the €20 entry fee to Vallée de Mai (it’s free for the Seychelloise) and wander alone for up to three hours, but we were glad to have our informative Mason’s guide with us, and not to be in the large tour group we came across. She pointed out the empty “bowl” of the dead coco de mer, eight species of pandanus – the “walking tree”, so named for its limb-like exterior roots – and the green gecko, and told us that the Seychelles bulbul is a menace to the national bird, the now-protected black parrot.
Our next stop was Anse Lazio, probably the most famous of Praslin’s many exquisite beaches. Despite this, there were no more than a couple of dozen people there. Traipsing along the soft white sand, we asked ourselves if there could possibly be such a thing as the world’s definitively most beautiful beach. No, we decided: It’s a matter of opinion that depends on the texture you prefer between your toes, the curl and size of wave you deem aesthetically balanced, your ideal ratio of crabs to shells, the degree of angle formed by the trunks of the palm trees against the sparkling sand, and the shady spot that is perfectly situated in relation to your chosen dipping point.
Quick Coco de Mer Facts:
• Male and female trees have distinctively different fruit, each amazingly suggestive of the respective human
• Female trees bear 25 to 30 fruit at a time, and these take six or seven years to ripen. Each has an outer
husk that contains the world’s heaviest nuts, up to five at a time and weighing as much as 20 kilograms.
• The trees mature at the age of 20 and live for between 200 and 400 years.
Paradise Sun Hotel
We had the two best rooms (thank you!): numbers 1 and 3, boasting lovely sea views and situated at the far end of a semicircle of double-storey units each containing four rooms – two up, two down. Attractively designed, they had no baths, but excellent showers. With the ceiling fan whirring gently and the doors open onto my big balcony, the sound of the waves brought the best sleep imaginable
The greatest thing about this hotel, though, is the location of its bar and restaurant, right on the beautifully long Côte D’Or beach. You dine with the fine, white sand beneath your feet and waves curling mere metres from your table. Accommodation packages cost around €330 for two (sharing) and include half board: a good buffet breakfast, afternoon tea, and a dinner buffet with a different theme each night. Asian the first night was mediocre, but the international spread the next night offered good salads and an excellent carvery, featuring some outstanding local fish.
Walking the length of the beach was a delight. Along the way, we turned inland off the beach to check out some of the self-catering resorts; they look like a good option for a family holiday, and you could hire a boat for the day to take you snorkelling or island-hopping. It might be taking a chance to deal with one of the little outfits on the beach, though; it’s probably safer to go through a travel agent – we hear that a few tourists have been left stranded!
Laid-back La Digue
As different as Praslin was from Mahé, so was La Digue from either of them. A fifteen-minute catamaran ferry ride from Praslin’s Baie Ste-Anne got us there; the return trip on a schooner took thirty minutes. It costs 50 rupees (R50; about S$7) each way, and hiring a bicycle for the day sets you back R100. Our bikes, complete with bright green shopping baskets attached behind the seats, were waiting for us outside the nearby Mason’s office.
Luckily for me, you don’t have to be the world’s best cyclist to get around La Digue. The island has kept its old-fashioned ambience, and apart from the traditional – but now mainly touristy – bullock carts and a couple of taxis and trucks, it’s virtually free of motorised traffic and largely flat.
Off I wobbled in the wake of Rebecca and our guide on a fifteen-minute ride to Anse Source D’Argent. Giant granite boulders frame entrances to an idyllic beach, beyond which a wide stretch of waters is surrounded and protected by coral reef – stunningly picturesque. Not having snorkelling gear with us, we contented ourselves with wading out to the reef, wallowing in the shallows and basking like seals in the scorching sun. Though the beach was by no means crowded, shade in the lee of rocks and bushes was at a premium; the early birds had already staked their claim.
Ultra-casual Lanbousir Restaurant at the northern end of the beach has a monopoly. More out of gastronomic curiosity than hunger, we tried a delicious local Creole octopus dish (R130) washed down with a Seybrew (R40); a cappuccino was another R60.
La Digue is famous for its giant tortoises, but the ones we saw in their walled enclosure were rather too somnolent in the afternoon heat to be particularly interesting.
Apart from La Digue Island Resort, the only large hotel on the island, there are nine other small hotels and four self-catering options.
Why Visit the Seychelles?
The question has to be asked: Why would you go to the relatively expensive Seychelles from Singapore, when so many pristine and affordable Southeast Asian destinations are on our doorstep? The answer is that the Seychelles experience is not interchangeable with that of Thailand, Sri Lanka, the Maldives or Mauritius. Its topography, beaches, wildlife, culture and history are both complex and unique; it is distinctively itself and feels like nowhere else you’ve ever been.
Fortunately, the Seychelles Tourism Board is spearheading a drive to make the country more affordable for visitors. A special promotion for the most recent Singapore Natas travel fair runs to the end of February 2010 and does just that. Note, too, that there is a range of accommodation options, including less expensive hotels and self-catering.
Chartering a catamaran is a wonderfully flexible way to explore the islands and marine parks. One with a skipper and crew, four double cabins and full board costs from €2,500 per day.
When to Go:
From November through New Year is peak season, but not necessarily the best time to go: November to February is the rainy season, too. The best months of the year are September, October, March and April. From June to August it’s cooler and windy, and the sea can be choppy.
Air Seychelles, the Seychelles national carrier, flies to nine international destinations, including Johannesburg, Mauritius and various European capitals. It also operates multiple daily scheduled flights to Praslin.
It has weekly flights to Singapore: there on Wednesdays, back on Mondays. To us, five days seemed the perfect duration. We took the Wednesday 7.05pm flight, which arrives six-and-a-half hours later in Mahé at 9.45pm; the Seychelles is four hours behind Singapore. For the flight there, we were kindly upgraded to Pearl Class, where the food was tasty and the service friendly, but on the Boeing 767-200 there was no entertainment.
The Monday 8pm flight back took seven-and-a-half hours. This time in Economy class, with a film playing on the central screen, we managed to get a few good hours’ sleep before touching down at 7.30am.