The Seychelles Islands archipelago represents beauty, harmony, tranquility, world famous beaches, colourful culture, and vibrant nature. During my short 5 day stay, I mixed ultimate relaxation and exploration, so here is a bit of history to start.
The Seychelles Islands were officially discovered by the Portuguese explorer, Vasco da Gama in 1503, settled by the French in the 18th century, and colonized by the British in the 1800’s. For centuries these islands acted as the main transit point of trade between Africa and Asia, often frequented by pirates. This vivid history influenced the birth of the unique Creole culture which combines elements from European, Asian and African influences. The French spent a larger portion of their settlement on these islands and introduced many plantations such as cinnamon, nutmeg, pepper, as well as established that a trade route through the Seychelles was the fastest way to get to India. During the British colonization, life on the island flourished as all slaves were freed, proper plantations were enforced, and the town of Victoria was built. The Seychelles officially gained independence in 1976, and in the short time span of 41 years, the country has flourished into one of the world’s most popular tourism destinations.
Fun fact: did you know the Seychelles Islands archipelago is categorized into Inner Islands and Outer Islands? 43 islands represent the Inner Islands which include the 3 largest (and inhabited): Mahe, Praslin, La Digue. The Outer Islands are located approximately 230km away from Mahe and are less visited due to their remoteness, however these miniature paradises are home to untouched habitats for many species – most notably on UNESCO World Heritage Site, Aldabra which is the largest raised coral atoll in the world.
Today’s postcard is about my visit to the Praslin and La Digue islands … so let’s begin 🙂
The pick up was a very early start at 6:30am which took us to the pier where we boarded a large ferry boat called Cat Cocos at 7am. I must say, everything in this country works so efficiently, we even got printed out boarding passes for the ferry! The journey takes approximately 1 hour, crossing the magnificent Indian Ocean, where I enjoyed fresh breeze and a blissful morning sunrise. We arrived to Praslin Island and immediately boarded a short 15 minute ferry ride to La Digue Island, where our tour officially started.
At first sight, La Digue is surrounded by large rocks plotted along its white sandy beaches. The little town is a flashback to colonial French times and seemed, as if time has frozen. Tourists flock to this picture perfect destination to enjoy bike rides around the island and enjoy the avid sea life either through snorkeling, diving, fishing, or simply enjoying the crystal clear waters.
La Digue is the 3rd largest inhabited island of the inner island archipelago. Its history is traced back to 1742 when the French colonialists arrived with African slaves and Asian immigrants and made a living, producing copra and planting vanilla plantations, a tradition which La Digue is still known for today.
Our tour guide Nigel first took us to the Oil Mill (the only one left in The Seychelles) and introduced us to the authentic way of producing coconut oil. He explained the importance of the coconut to the Seychellois as they utilized every part of it from cooking, eating, cleaning, and construction, to name a few. For those of you who know me very well, you know that I swear by coconut oil as my elixir for youthful skin (ok now the whole world knows it too)… so you can imagine my excitement…plus the entire island seemed to radiant with a mixed smell of coconut, vanilla and cinnamon. Nigel explain the laborious process of coconut production where the coconut seeds are first removed from their husks. They are then dried in a hot oven called a kiln for up to 5 days, until the meat (that delicious part we all love), is completely dry (this is called copra). The copra is then pressed through an ox-powered mill (yes… a real ox…) and voila, beautiful coconut oil is produced! I was fascinated to learn that it takes about 10 coconuts to produce 1 litre of pure oil.
Our tour took us next to the Plantation of the Union Estate, which was built in the 19th century and makes up almost 1/3 of La Digue. The plantation house has been restored in its authentic state offering visitors a glimpse of how colonialists lived in the older days, and was the filming location for the movie “Goodbye Emmanuel”. Next to the plantation is a large enclosure for land tortoises, I just loved watching these graceful creatures stroll through time with patience … can you image what a 200 year old tortoise might have lived through? To end our La Digue tour, we visited one of the world’s most beautiful beaches, Anse Source D’Argent (which means silver beach), because, you might still find silver coins from the pirate ships. The beautiful strip is made up of soft white sand, clear turquoise waters and is surrounded by giant boulders sculpted by time and natural elements. While visitors were snorkeling, I sat under a shaded tree and admired the beautiful postcard I was sitting in.
Our tour continued to Praslin Island, the 2nd largest inhabited island part of the inner island collection. Today, Praslin is known for its white sandy beaches as the ideal place for pure relaxation, however the island has a vibrant history. Discovered in 1744 it was named originally Isle de Palmes (Palms Island) due to its robust collection of natural palm trees, and was used by pirates and Arab merchants as a hideaway. Once colonized, the island was later renamed to Praslin to honour a French diplomat and today it has a church, hospital, postal office, police & fire station, schools and the luxurious Raffles Praslin hotel. Upon arriving, we first enjoyed a traditional Creole lunch at La Pirogue Restaurant, one of the best on Praslin. We then proceeded to Vallee de Mai (May Valley), one of the Seychelles’ UNESCO World Heritage Sites – so remarkable that it was once believed to be the site of the original Garden of Eden, and home to the famous Coco de Mer.
Allow me to point out, the minute you land on Mahe Island, you will see pictures and references to this mysterious object, even in the form of your visa stamp. So what exactly is a Coco de Mer? Well, according to legend, when early explorers arrived on Praslin they saw the nut, which resembled a coconut, floating all over the sea and thus named it Coco de Mer (literal translation: coconut from the sea), although it is not at all related to the coconut family. Nigel explained that Coco de Mer is actually the largest seed from an endemic palm tree which forms the landscape of the national park, Vallee de Mai. The palms have male and female seeds, and ironically resemble the human male and female private parts. Unlike other plants, these trees are interestingly enough pollinated by the gecko (I know, disgusting). Full growth takes up to 20 years, which is why the Coco de Mer is a protected species and forbidden for consumption.
After an educational tour (and countless mosquito bites), we took a 30 minute drive up and down the winding roads of Cote D’Or. My eyes caught a glimpse of the sparkling white sand and crystal clear water as we arrived at Anse Lazio – voted the best beach in the world. This dreamy beach is laced with soft white sand and calm waters, simply idyllic for swimming.
The tour cost $205 and included pick up and drop offs to/from the hotel, ferry boat rides to Praslin and La Digue, a traditional Creole lunch and entrance to Vallee de Mai National Park. The tour guides were extremely professional, dedicated and fascinatingly passionate about what they do, it was definitely not a scripted dialogue! I highly recommend any trips with 7 Degrees South who offer tours to other islands – definitely something I will do on my next visit.
The Seychellois are a colourful blend of people with different cultures, religions and races combined to form a harmonious nation. From picture perfect beaches, vibrant cuisine, colourful art, music and down to earth hospitality, the Seychelles Islands are a true collection of paradise on earth.
Enjoy some more photos by clicking here!
- Seychelles Tourism: http://www.seychelles.travel
- Cat Cocos ferry: http://www.seyferry.com/en
- Vallee de Mai: http://www.seychelles.travel/vall-e-de-mai-unesco-world-heritage-site
- 7 Degrees South: http://www.7south.net