Vallée De Mai
Vallée De Mai is one of the smallest natural U.N. World Heritage Sites and one of the most beautiful, a 43-acre (20-ha) community of unique plants and animals in a lush forested valley within Praslin Island National Park. Its six kinds of palms include at least 4,000 famed coco de mers, some more than 300 years old, found in the wild now only here and on nearby Curieuse Island. The extraordinary tree has spawned many legends. One, by General Charles Gordon in Victorian times, said this valley was the original Garden of Eden, since the shape of the huge seed and flower suggested Adam and Eve’s sexual organs; and that this was the original Biblical Tree of Knowledge whose fruit they were forbidden to eat lest they gain knowledge of Good and Evil. Before the palm’s origin was known—when the seeds were mysteriously washed up on distant shores, or, some say, brought by ancient navigators—they were named “cocos de mer” as perhaps coming from trees growing underwater and thought to have mystical powers. Rare seeds were given great value and mounted in gold and silver as objets d’art. They remain subject to poaching, which could endanger their future.
Fauna include rare, noisy but—in the thick canopy’s dim light—successfully secretive black parrots, also yellow bitterns, Seychelles bulbuls, and glorious Seychelles blue pigeons. Seychelles tiger chameleons and multicolored geckos, lizards, and insects live among the luxuriant lichens, mosses, and air plants that can cover tree branches along a stream which tumbles through the valley, home to indigenous prawns and shrimps.
Access is by marked foot trails from the road dividing the national park. Praslin, three hours by boat or 15 minutes by air from Mahé, has a number of top-grade hotels and guesthouses where guided tours can be arranged.
ALSO OF INTEREST
Other Seychelles highlights (visits to many of these are possible only on specific days of the week—inquire):
Cousin Island, only 70 acres (28.3 ha) but with permanent land- and seabird population of some 500,000 plus up to 300,000 others that come to nest in April–May. Species include Seychelles warblers, Seychelles magpie-robins, plus white-tailed tropic birds, fairy terns, noddies, wedge-tailed and Audubon’s shearwaters, and bridled terns, many amazingly tame. World’s densest population of lizards, with highest biomass of fish in the granite islands, and most important nesting site for hawksbill turtles in the western Indian Ocean. Strictly protected.
Curieuse Island, with a glorious marine national park. Giant tortoises, introduced from Aldabra, are easily photographed in the wild. Also natural home of the coco de mer. Restored colonial house turned into education center. Contact Ministry of Environment.
Aride Island is one of the lushest seabird sanctuaries in the Indian Ocean, with unique ecosystem interrelationships, including six tern species—fairy, sooty, roseate and bridled, lesser (black) and common (brown) noddies, both white-tailed and red-tailed tropic birds, roosting frigate birds. Only place where fragrant magenta-spotted Wright’s gardenias grow in the wild. Home to recently introduced magpie-robins and Seychelles fody, a joint project of Royal Society for Nature Conservation and Nature Seychelles. Strictly protected.
Bird Island is breeding home to about one-and-one-half million sooty terns—one of the world’s densest bird populations—April–October. Privately owned, this island has successfully implemented conservation policies for many years. Hawksbill sea turtles lay eggs in daytime October–February. Private, with a fine lodge run by local people and managed for ecotourism. Accessible by inter-island plane.
Frégate’s rich fauna includes nesting sea turtles, skies overhead constantly filled with birds including 40 percent of the population of Seychelles magpie-robins. Habitat restoration by Nature Seychelles and the island’s ecology department has resulted in thriving indigenous forest and an increase in bird populations. Luxury resort catering to celebrities and the super-rich.
La Digue, accessible by ferry or helicopter, stunning four-square-mile (10-km2) island, exclusive home of Seychelles black paradise flycatchers, also Chinese bitterns, Seychelles cave swiftlets,with Anse Source d’Argent at L’Union Estate—said to be most photographed beach in the world.The Estate also has a working ox-driven coconut oil mill, a magnificent example of a colonial dwelling and captive giant tortoises. The Ministry of Environment recently has purchased a large tract of land to extend habitat for the rare flycatcher. Excellent lodging, restaurants.
To get there, international airlines and Air Seychelles fly from Europe, Africa, Asia, and Mauritius to Mahé Island, with the Seychelles’ capital, Victoria, having good hotels where arrangements can be made for inter-island travel. Mahé itself has Morne Seychellois National Park, miles of unspoiled, protected countryside, and a network of footpaths where much can be seen.
Best times are March–May, though temperatures are pleasant all year.