The lovely island of Praslin, home of the coco de mer palm, has a gentle, unhurried pace and an ambience of quiet tranquillity.
Long stretches of fine, white sand framed by palms and shady takamakas, or small, secluded coves bounded by granite boulders, characterise this strangely shaped island surrounded by coral reefs. An assortment of islands lies beyond the coral reefs like chunks of emeralds in an azure sea.
Mahé, 45km away to the south, is hazy in the distance; Aride, the seabird sanctuary, lies 16km to the north; and enchanting La Digue is located a mere 4km to the east. Curieuse, off to the northeast, is surrounded by its marine park and Île St Pierre is a jumble of rocks lodged between Praslin and Curieuse. Cousin, an island bird reserve, and privately owned Cousine, lie to the west. Round Island, at the entrance to Baie Ste Anne, and Chauve Souris, a tiny clump of tree-covered rocks just 500m off Anse Volbert, complete the assorted satellite islands.
Areas of great natural beauty surround Praslin and the romantic ‘island of palms’ is the only place on earth where you will see coco de mer palms growing in magnificent profusion. The tall, elegant female coco de mer palm produces a huge seed, astonishingly shaped like a female belly and thighs, and the taller male palm has a remarkably phallic-looking flowering catkin. As can be imagined, these erotic shapes have resulted in the perpetuation of many myths and legends.
Although a large amount of the original forest has disappeared as a result of fires and deforestation, there is still a valley where the remarkable palms are protected and flourish – the Vallée de Mai, a World Heritage Site. There you can enjoy the majestic splendour of the forest and see all six of the endemic palm species of the Seychelles plus an array of other trees and plants.
The nearby island of Curieuse and the newly created special reserve of Fond Ferdinand in the south of Praslin are the only other places where coco de mer palms can be found growing naturally. Praslin is not only famous for the palms but it is also home to the rare endemic black parrot, and though these birds are never easy to find, they can be seen in any of the natural areas on the island.
What to see and do on Praslin
Vallée de Mai
The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Vallée de Mai is a tiny enclave of 20ha within the Praslin National Park, and is home to some 4,000 coco de mer palms.
At the entrance to the park is a thatched shelter showing a detailed map of the area and there are usually a few coco de mer nuts with surrounding husks and flowers displayed on a bench. Pick up one of the nuts to feel the incredible weight. The well-maintained paths are clearly marked and easy to follow. In some places they are a little steep with steps, and there are boulders as stepping stones across the streams.
The shortest circular route of approximately 1km will take about an hour, allowing plenty of time to stop and examine all the interesting things described on informative multilingual plaques placed at various points along the way. Three hours are needed to complete the full north-to-south circular route, which includes a visit to the rustic shelter on the northern extremity. From there, the expansive views across the park give an idea of what the entire island must have looked like in its pristine state.
Ravin de Fond Ferdinand Nature Reserve
The paths and boardwalk take you along the lovely forested slopes of this 122ha reserve. Guided walks are offered through the indigenous vegetation up to a viewpoint (at least 100 steps!) taking about 2 hours up and down.
It can be very hot for the fairly steep climb so make sure you have water with you and preferably do it in the early morning. This is another place to see the famous coco de mer palms growing in the wild. Black parrots are often sighted in this area and the views over Baie St Anne are gorgeous.
Getting to Praslin
Île de Palme Airport in Amitié on the southwestern side of the island must be one of the most attractive airports in the Indian Ocean region, with typical Creole architecture, water features, palms and sculptures.
Air Seychelles operates a regular and frequent service to Praslin from Mahé using 19-seater De Havilland Twin Otters. Flights shuttle between Mahé and Praslin every 15 minutes during peak times and less frequently otherwise. The flight takes only 20 minutes and costs about €70, one-way.