Day trips to stunning, semi-deserted atolls, helicopter rides over the archipelago and some of the best diving in the Indian Ocean – when you stay at Raffles Praslin, Seychelles, the opportunities for indulgence are endless
They look just like rocks at first; scattered randomly across the sand, they’re the first thing you see among the swaying palm trees as you disembark from the Raffles hotel speedboat on to the beach of Baie Laraie on Curieuse Island. But then they move – slowly, blunderingly – and the brownish-grey, gnarled-looking boulders miraculously transform into the famous giant tortoises indigenous to this part of the world.
The Aldabra Giant Tortoise is only one of the attractions of a day trip to the island of Curieuse, a 10-minute boat ride from Raffles Praslin, Seychelles. Declared a Marine National Park in 1979, the island is home to approximately 500 tortoises, who share their habitat with sea turtles, rare birds such as the Seychelles Black Parrot, Coco de Mer palms and towering takamaka trees.
Rambling through the centre of the island, you see the local flora and fauna: coconut trees line the entrance to the trail, ripe nuts covered in a fibrous husk scattered on the ground. The beautiful trail takes you deep into the mangroves, the trees reaching high into the sky and cocooning you in silence, while large granite boulders jut out around the path.
The beautiful trail takes you deep into the mangroves
After a pleasant half-hour hike, you reach Anse St José, home to what is now a small museum in what used to be the residence of a doctor. Between 1833 and 1965, Curieuse functioned as a leper colony, and when William McGregor, a Scottish doctor, was posted to the Seychelles in 1873, he established the Doctor’s House on Curieuse, which is now a National Monument.
For more natural highs, take an excursion deep into a palm forest, which is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Vallée de Mai Nature Reserve is a short drive from the hotel where a guide will identify all the indigenous trees, flowers and plants.
The Seychelles’ most iconic symbol is that suggestive nut from the Coco de Mer palm tree; shapely and curved, its image graces everything from the immigration stamp at Mahé airport to the fountain outside the airport at Praslin. The Coco de Mer (or “sea coconut”) was believed to grow on trees at the bottom of the sea. In the 18th century, ripe coconuts, which had fallen from their trees into the sea, drifted to the Maldives, where the locals gathered them.
The Seychelles’ most iconic symbol is that suggestive nut from the Coco de Mer palm tree
Craning your neck up at these magnificent palms, you will also spot lizards, geckos, wild birds and snails. Sunshine filters through the leaves, and lush, plump pineapple-scented jackfruit dangle from branches. The interior of the forest is jungle-like, intensely perfumed with wild vanilla orchids and quiet, apart from the occasional calls of parrots.
To see the Seychelles from high above, and from under water, brings a totally different perspective. A helicopter tour, flying you over some of the most incredible beaches, can easily be arranged. Taking off with from Praslin airport, you’ll soon be marvelling at the breathtaking views. The craggy, granite coastline is fringed by pristine white beaches lapped by clear, turquoise waters; Anse Lazio, on the north-west of Praslin, has been named one of the top 10 beaches in the world.
If you want to go beneath those crystal waters to see the marine life, St Pierre islet is only a five-minute boat ride from the hotel and is perfect for those who want to learn to dive as well as those who already have some experience, as it is surrounded by clear and calm waters up to only 12m deep. Here you can see everything from angelfish to whitetip sharks, while at the nearby Coral Garden, you can spot the stingrays and clown fish that dart around the depths.
The waters are home to grey reef sharks, yellow fin tuna and brightly coloured tropical fish
Fully qualified divers have the option of being taken out to Felicite and Coco islands, where the waters are much deeper and are home to grey reef sharks, yellow fin tuna and brightly coloured tropical fish.
La Digue, the Seychelles’ third-largest inhabited island, is the perfect place to spend a day. Famous for the large pink granite rocks that pepper the coastline, it is home to a handful of stunning beaches, including Anse Source d’Argent and Anse Severe, and is reached by a 20-minute ferry journey. Locals offload piles of shimmering, silver fish on to the dock, while brightly coloured carts transporting market-goers are pulled around by oxen.
One of the best ways to see this pretty island is by bicycle. You’ll pass working coconut and vanilla plantations, massive boulders piled dramatically, old-fashioned corrugated iron houses, and more giant tortoises. Stall holders sell delicious fresh fruit by the roadside and, for lunch, you can choose from a range of just-caught fish and seafood. Those who feel energetic can take a walk up Eagle’s Nest Mountain, the island’s highest peak at 333m above sea level, for a fantastic view of the area.
You’ll pass working coconut plantations, massive boulders and more giant tortoises
The beauty of a stay at Raffles Praslin, Seychelles is that while the hotel itself is well equipped with things to do, the staff still want to showcase the best of what this exotic archipelago has to offer. You won’t be disappointed.