The Seychelles: Fantasy Travel to the Garden of Eden?

Ile Cocos in the Seychelles. © April Orcutt
Four-acre Ile Cocos in the Seychelles’ Ile Cocos Marine National Park sits in a shallow area in the Indian Ocean where the seawater is remarkably clear. © April Orcutt

Story and photos by April Orcutt

Wiggling my toes into soft white sand while lounging on crescent-shaped Anse Lazio beach framed by massive reddish boulders and looking out at a turquoise bay with verdant jungle behind me, I couldn’t help but think that the 19th-century British officer known as General Gordon of Khartoum was on to something in thinking that the Seychelles island of Praslin held the real Garden of Eden.

Reddish granite rocks line the shore of idyllic Anse Lazio on the Seychelles’ Praslin Island. © April Orcutt
Reddish granite rocks line the shore of idyllic Anse Lazio on the Seychelles’ Praslin Island. © April Orcutt

But later, looking at four-acre Cocos Island in Ile Cocos Marine National Park east of Praslin, I decided Gordon was wrong. With its vertically eroded granite rocks, lush green trees and exquisitely framed, petite white-sand beach — a tiny deserted world surrounded by an aqua and cobalt sea — Cocos Island must have been Eden.

A turtle swims near the Seychelles’ Ile Cocos Marine National Park. © April Orcutt
A turtle basks near the Seychelles’ Ile Cocos Marine National Park while oblivious snorkelers swim nearby. © April Orcutt

Eden in the Indian Ocean

I had expected the Seychelles — 115 islands 1,000 miles east of Kenya and the coast of Africa in the Indian Ocean — to be intriguing, but I hadn’t realized how many glorious little beaches, unusual equatorial forests, and dramatic granite cliffs could be found on the three main islands: Mahé, Praslin and La Digue.

Scientists agree the islands’ granite mountains do go back a long time. They were part of Gondwanaland, the supercontinent that broke into Australia, Antarctica, South America and Africa some 230 million years ago. The Seychelles’ larger Inner Islands remain as the world’s only granitic islands in the middle of an ocean.

Mahé: Creole Heritage and Harmony

Flying into Mahé, the largest island, where nearly 90 percent of the country’s 92,000 people live, I couldn’t take my eyes off the gray cliffs rising directly from the sea. Vegetation in myriad shades of green grew from every crack in the stacked layers of granite that rise more than half a mile in Morne Seychellois National Park.

Victoria Market on Mahé in the Seychelles. © April Orcutt
The Victoria Market on Mahé in the Seychelles is a wonder of Creole heritage, brilliant colors, friendly faces, and enchanting scents of fruits and spices. © April Orcutt

The Seychellois pride themselves on the peaceful ethnic and racial “melting pot” of their country with its Creole mix of East African, Malagasy and European as well as Indian and Chinese heritage. In Victoria, the capital and cultural center, shopkeepers of all races sold colorful cotton clothing, jewelry, fish, mangoes, bananas, avocados, coconut oil, cumin, pepper and cardamom seeds in the lively open market. The scent of cinnamon bark was divine.

Two girls smile in the village of La Passe where ferries dock on La Digue Island in the Seychelles. © April Orcutt
Two girls smile in the village of La Passe where ferries dock on La Digue Island in the Seychelles. © April Orcutt

But I had come to explore the Seychelles’ extraordinary beaches. Beau Vallon, the most popular of Mahé’s more than 60 beaches, curves as a mile-long white-sand strand backed by resorts and a wide tree-lined walkway with local vendors selling tropical fruits and coconut drinks.

While children played in gentle waves and visitors floated quietly by on paddle boards, I swam and snorkeled. Later, behind a yacht anchored in the bay, the aptly named Silhouette Island stood silhouetted in the vivid oranges and pinks of the setting sun.

children stand-up-paddleboard off Beau Vallon beach on Mahé in the Seychelles. © April Orcutt
With Silhouette Island behind them, children stand-up-paddleboard off Beau Vallon beach on Mahé in the Seychelles. © April Orcutt

Praslin: Tortoises and Palm Forests

The one-hour catamaran-ferry trip between Mahé and the second-largest island, Praslin, passed several tiny rock islands where, alas, only the boating crowd could go.

On the larger islands, many of the coral-sand beaches are bordered by granite-cliff backdrops or bizarrely eroded boulders. In 2015 one of those beaches — quarter-mile-long Anse (meaning “cove”) Lazio on Praslin, where I sunk my toes into the softest sand my tootsies had ever felt — was voted by readers of TripAdvisor as one of the world’s top 25 beaches.

Praslin Island’s Anse Lazio. © April Orcutt
A beach-goer in the Seychelles relaxes in the surfline at Praslin Island’s Anse Lazio, which has been voted by readers of TripAdvisor as one of the world’s top 25 beaches. © April Orcutt

Just inland from Anse Lazio, eight huge primordial-looking native tortoises in a pen munched leaves and cooled off in a pond.

A giant tortoise in a pen behind Anse Lazio on Praslin Island in the Seychelles. © April Orcutt
A giant tortoise near Anse Lazio on Praslin Island in the Seychelles. © April Orcutt

I had another primeval experience on the island: A couple miles inland — Praslin’s only 23 miles long and six miles wide — the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Vallée de Mai Nature Reserve in Praslin National Park holds a forest like no other. The double-lobed nuts of the 11-story-tall coco-de-mer palms can reach 20 inches in length and weigh 66 pounds. (The record is 95 pounds.)
The unique coco-de-mer nuts, the largest seeds in the world, hold a special place in the hearts of the Seychellois people. They’re pictured on the currency, in jewelry, on logos and more.

double-lobed nut of coco-de-mer palms. © April Orcutt
The double-lobed nut of coco-de-mer palms can reach 20 inches in length and weigh 66 pounds. The endangered palms are found naturally only in two locations, including the Vallée de Mai Nature Reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, in Praslin National Park in the Seychelles. © April Orcutt

“The endangered coco-de-mer palms only grow naturally on Praslin and Curieuse,” said my guide, Dora Rose. “They grow very slowly — only one leaf each year.” But what a leaf: Towering coco-de-mer palms with fronds more than five feet across shelter the park’s pleasant trails from the equatorial sun.

In the quiet of the forest we heard a whistle. “That’s our black parrot,” Rose said. “It’s a threatened species and hard to see.” We heard the parrot whistle again.

Coco-de-mer palms in Vallée de Mai Nature Reserve, Praslin, Seychelles. © April Orcutt
Coco-de-mer palms as tall as 110 feet shade guide Dora Rose on the paths winding through Vallée de Mai Nature Reserve in Praslin National Park on the island of Praslin in the Seychelles. © April Orcutt

La Digue: Bicycles and Beaches

It’s a 10-minute ferry ride from Praslin to six-square-mile La Digue, where cars are banned. (Dream-come-true: no truck or automobile noise.) Locals and tourists walk, bicycle or ride in golf- or ox-carts to reach the dazzling white sand of Grand Anse or the beginning of the dramatic string of tiny beaches nestled among boulders along Anse Source d’Argent.

Strangely eroded granite boulders tower over Grand Anse beach on La Digue in the Seychelles. © April Orcutt
Strangely eroded granite boulders tower over Grand Anse beach on La Digue in the Seychelles. © April Orcutt

Waiting for the ferry I strolled the village at La Passe and watched locals cruise by on bicycles, children play around kiosks selling souvenirs, and yachtspeople load supplies onto their crisp white boats. Ah, the quiet life!

Anse Source d’Argent on La Digue Island in the Seychelles. © April Orcutt
Beach-goers walk the trail between tiny beaches along Anse Source d’Argent on La Digue Island in the Seychelles. © April Orcutt

The Fantasy: Floating and Privacy

Still, it’s the small-boat trip from Praslin to go snorkeling south of Ile Cocos in the astoundingly clear water that most fulfilled my own tropical-island fantasy. Perfect air and water temperatures combined so I felt like I was soaring over rocks, coral, turquoise parrot fish, striped convict tang, black and orange triggerfish and a moray eel without even the sensation of being in water.

Others must agree this islet is gorgeous because Ile Cocos adorns the covers of many Seychelles travel brochures.

With spectacular beaches and fewer than 240,000 visitors each year — some of those visitors being celebrities hiding out in exclusive resorts on remote islands where they won’t bother the rest of us — the Seychelles tops my list for fantasy travel.

Beau Vallon Beach, Mahé, Seychelles. © April Orcutt
Beau Vallon beach on Mahé is the most popular beach in the Seychelles, and still the “crowds” are tiny. © April Orcutt

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When you go:

Getting there: Emirates flies from the U.S. to Mahé with one stop in Dubai.

Getting between islands: Cat Cocos Inter Island Ferry, Victoria, Mahé; tel: +248- 432–4843 or +248–432–4844; catcocos.com

Where to stay:

Mahé: Hilltop Boutique Hotel, Victoria; tel. +248–252–6870 or +248–426–6099; seychelles.travel/en/plan-your-visit/accommodation/bed-breakfast-guesthouse/1301-hilltop-boutique-hotel

Mahé: Savoy Resort & Spa, Beau Vallon; tel: +248–439–2000; savoy.sc

Mahé: Augerine Small Hotel, Beau Vallon; tel:+248–247–257; augerinehotel.com

Praslin: Acajou Beach Resort, Côte D’or; tel: +248–438–5300; acajouseychelles.com

Praslin: Castello Beach Hotel, Anse Kerlan; tel:+248–429–8900; castellobeachhotel.com

La Digue: Le Relax Luxury Lodge, Anse Gaulette; tel:+248–4–23–43–43; seychelles.travel/en/plan-your-visit/accommodation/small-hotels/1107-le-relax-luxury-lodge; recommended for couples only

Where to eat:

Mahé: Marie Antoinette, Victoria; tel: +248–426–6222; marieantoinette.sc; traditional Seychellois Creole dishes including grilled fish, curries and fish stew

Mahé: Jardin Du Roi (Spice Garden), Anse Royale; tel: +248–437–1313; seychelles.travel/en/explore/attractions/1903-le-jardin-du-roi; traditional Seychellois Creole cuisine including chicken curry and grilled fish using spices grown in their garden

Mahé: Bravo Restaurant, Eden Island; tel: +248–434–6020; seychelles.travel/en/explore/restaurants/1711-bravo; casual, trendy dining with a multi-page menu including salads, fish, curries, pastas, pizzas and burgers

Praslin: La Pirogue, Côte D’or; tel: +248–423 7766; piroguelodge.com; local and international cuisine

Praslin: Le Duc De Praslin, Cote D’or; tel:+248–4–294–800; leduc-seychelles.com/en/

La Digue: Zerof; tel: +423–4439 or +258–7463; seychelles.travel/en/explore/restaurants/1715-zerof-restaurant; local Creole and Continental dishes

La Digue: Fish Trap Restaurant, La Passe; tel:+248–2–636–100; facebook.com/www.fishtraprestau.sc/?_rdc=1&_rdr; seafood

La Digue: Chez Jules Restaurant, Anse Banane; tel:+248–2–584–432; tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g477968-d4437263-Reviews-Chez_Jules-La_Digue_Island.html; seafood, Cajun and Creole cuisine

What to do:

Water and land tours, excursions, and activities: Marine Charter by Mason’s Travel Services, Victoria, Mahé; tel:+248–428–88–88; masonstravel.com

Snorkel or fishing trips: Starfish Boat Charter, c/o L’Hirondelle Guest House, Côte D’or, Praslin; tel. +248–256–5881 or +248–277–4966 or +248–423–2243; email hirondel@seychelles.net; seyguide.com/fr/praslin/detente/excursion-mer-peche.html
Translated: translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&sl=fr&u=http://seyguide.com/fr/praslin/detente/excursion-mer-peche.html&prev=search

More information: www.seychelles.travel

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Beau Vallon beach on Mahé in the Seychelles. © April Orcutt
With Silhouette Island 14 miles in the distance, children play in the warm water off Beau Vallon beach on Mahé in the Seychelles. © April Orcutt

Find more of April Orcutt’s stories at Medium.com/BATW-Travel-Stories, Medium.com/Travel-Insights-And-Outtakes, AprilOrcutt.Medium.com, and AprilOrcutt.com.

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