PRASLIN SO NEAR AND YET SO DIFFERENT
Considering how much I travel and the often luxurious and exotic places I visit, it has to be very special to be remembered a few weeks or months down the line, since then overshadowed by new experiences, sights and sounds but the Seychelles are just that place which keeps lingering in my mind.
The main island of Mahe, home to the worlds smallest capital city, Victoria, is full of activities and being the largest of the 115 islands most of the countrys renowned resorts are found there.
There is no argument that Mahe is at the heart of the Seychelles, with the port, the international airport, government ministries, businesses, banks, university, sports stadium, the main hospital of the country and an array of restaurants offering something to every palate and every pocket.
Yet, there are another 114 islands out there to discover and when I wrote a few weeks ago about a visit to the island of La Digue, some of my readers instantly got back to me asking how do we get there and answers of course given readily and with enthusiasm.
What I left out then was an equally interesting visit to the island of Praslin, the second largest island of the archipelago, just under an hour by the high speed ferry from Port Victoria or about 15 minutes flight on the Air Seychelles domestic services which leave from the international airport.
When one arrives by ferry, something most travelers do, the crossing in good weather offers grand vistas of the surrounding islands, as Mahe remains behind and becomes smaller and smaller, and when entering the port of Praslin it is instantly evident that this island is rather different from Mahe. Leisure boats are moored off shore, ready to take guests for a day trip to some of the islands which cannot be reached by the larger ferries, or even take them for overnight trips, with plenty of opportunities to wade ashore to some of the smaller islands, do some diving or snorkeling, have a picnic under palm trees at a beach or do a spot of fishing to enhance the dinner menu.
Praslin is known for some spectacular beaches, like the Anse Volbert shown below, one of my personal all time favourites, and of course the more fancied Anse Lazio which has found its way into the top 10 of global beach locations. Resorts are dotted along the shores but also higher up on some of the hills, with spectacular views over the ocean at sunrise and sunset. There are no traffic jams, unless counting getting into the harbour parking when the ferries come and go, and life on Praslin is definitely a few notches slower compared to Mahe, but no less friendly for that matter. Less pace means more time for the essentials of a holiday, long strolls on the beaches, leisurely meals at the resort or else in one of the many restaurants, or perhaps a round of golf at the award winning Constance Lemuria Resort, the only one in the Seychelles with their own championship course.
Fans of Mahe will say there is a lot less to do on Praslin, but truly, that depends on the objective of a vacation and what one individually understands about a lot less or a lot more in terms of holiday experience. I for instance stayed at the Black Parrot Suites / Coco de Mer which has its own nature reserve on the hill behind the resort, worth exploring as is the generally much wilder interior of the island. With the highest mountain standing at only 1.100 feet, adventuring around the foot paths and little roads and tracks is a lot more fun, less demanding and offers more solitude than similar walks in the Morne Seychellois National Park on Mahe, where with its growing popularity one inevitably encounters more hikers. Not so on Praslin, where space seems to be ones own still across large sections of the island and especially when the day trippers from Mahe have gone back.
Best known in terms of nature reserves on Praslin is of course the Vallee de Mai, located almost at the centre of the island and a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1983. A visit to this treasured forest is a must see for tourists and remains to this day the most visited natural attraction on the entire archipelago with day trips from the main island of Mahe filling the early morning ferry every day. They all come to the park to see the home of the fabled Coco de Mer, an intriguingly shaped coconut which has all but become a national symbol for the Seychelles. Kilometres upon kilometres of well maintained tracks await the visitors, with view points and park benches along the way to allow for a rest, or to change the batteries in the cameras or just to sit and let this close up feeling of being in an ancient forest sink in. Multilingual guides are available to explain the ancient fauna of the forest and when standing still, as I did I visited in the afternoon when most of the tour groups had already departed and few voices disrupted the silence one can hear the wind rustling the leaves of the palms high above, an almost eerie sound at first, before the backdrop of bird song is then joining into this mighty soundtrack only nature pure can produce.
The park is managed by the Seychelles Island Foundation, which also manages the more distant, almost 1.150 kilometres distant to be precise Aldabra Atoll, often described as the original Garden of Eden, which receives a generous share of the proceeds generated by entrance fees at the Vallee de Mai.
The Coco de Mer nuts can be purchased, including the required export permit and certification of being legally bought, important as the government is cracking down on poaching or illegal harvesting of the prized nuts, and only a few weeks ago were several individuals arrested red-handed, when found to have illegally entered the park to cut the nuts off the trees. Dr. Frauke Fleischer-Dogley, CEO of the Seychelles Island Foundation, said at the time: Poaching is one of the most serious threats to the continued existence of the Coco de Mer. Continued theft of Coco de Mer nuts will eventually drive the species into extinction unless action is taken to stop it. The SIF staff did an excellent job to detain the suspected poachers and assist the police on the crime scene. Im very happy with the work they have done and with the rapid response by the Praslin police and I hope that the case be successfully followed through to prosecution. The Coco de Mer and the Vallée de Mai are vitally important to Praslins tourism industry, are unique symbols of Seychelles and are a natural wonder which need our protection. I hope that all agencies involved can work together with the help and support of the people of Praslin to protect and conserve this incredible species.
Threatened by acts of poaching by local criminals and of late also by periodic fires due to less than average rainfall, the Coco de Mer has recently been uplisted from vulnerable to endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in the organisations most recent update of its Red List, which evaluates the conservation status of biological species, going to show how unique and rare this example of pristine nature really is. Worth a visit anytime, whether staying on Mahe, Praslin, La Digue or any of the other inner islands within easy reach by boat and ferry, or air.
And in honesty, when I often say Seychelles, truly Another World I should actually say Seychelles, truly made of many worlds.
The archipelago can be reached by air, 13 times a week with Emirates via Dubai, 7 times with Qatar Airways via Doha, presently 6 times a week, rising to daily flights in July with Etihad / Air Seychelles from Abu Dhabi, 4 times a week with Ethiopian Airlines via Addis Ababa, 3 times a week with Kenya Airways via Nairobi and by Condor once a week from Germany. Get more information on the Seychelles range of islands and attractions by visiting www.seychelles.travel