After a great week in Jordan and an overnight in Paris, I was on my way to paradise.
The flight to the Seychelles Islands from Paris takes about 10 hours. Not a bad trade – the cold and rain of a Parisian winter for the sandy beaches of a tropical paradise.
We landed at 8:30am and when the boarding door cracked open, I was greeted by a wall of heat and humidity (did I mention it was only 8:30 in the morning?).
Situated just 4 degrees south of the Equator, the humid climate of the Seychelles is not for the faint of heart. The heat can be, quite literally, stifling. But, since I have been complaining about the cold weather at home for weeks, I decide to wrangle my rapidly expanding hair into a ponytail and go with the flow.
My first mission was to get a rental car. Though the island of Mahe has an extensive and inexpensive bus system, with only two days to explore, I needed my own wheels to maximize my time.
I was fortunate that there were at least a dozen companies with desks in the airport, all with cars available. It was a renter’s market and within 10 minutes, I had cut a deal I was satisfied with. With keys to my little red car and a map of the island in hand, I hit the open road in search of my hotel.
Stretching from the Equator to the tip of Madagascar, the 115 islands that make up the Seychelles are scattered across 154,000 square miles of the Indian Ocean.
The granite island of Mahe is, by far, the largest of these and home to 80% of the population of 85,000. Interestingly, all other mid-oceanic islands in the world were formed by coral and volcanic activity. However, the inner islands of Seychelles are actually the tips of continental granite mountains submerged millions of years ago when the supercontinent Gondwana tore itself apart separating India from Africa.
When you drive around the island, it is easy to picture the soaring granite peaks as the tips of submerged mountains. They create a dramatic backdrop for the white sand beaches and blue lagoons unlike any other I have seen.
They also create a bit of a driving hazard for several reasons:
One, it is difficult not to be awed by the scenery around you when you should be focused on the road in front of you.
And two, getting from one side of the island to the other requires going up a steep and winding road through the mountain pass that will definitely keep you on your toes.
Adding to the difficult terrain is the total absence of anything resembling a shoulder on the narrow roads. The edge of every road is a drop-off – sometimes 4 feet, sometimes 400 feet. Needless to say, it is in your best interest to stay carefully between the lines at all times.
Once I’d checked in at the beautiful Le Meridien Fisherman’s Cove, situated on a pristine beach on the western side of the Mahe, it was time to head out and explore the island.
I decided that for my first day, I would hop on the perimeter road and make a loop of the island, stopping to see the sights along the way. Without stopping, the drive would probably take about 2 hours. But when you want to stop and explore many of the 70+ beaches on the island, it can quickly become a full day affair.
And what a full day it was! The enormous granite boulders that define the beaches of the Seychelles Islands give them almost a prehistoric feel. As if they tumbled down the side of a mountain millions of years ago splashing into the ocean exactly where they now lay – and, who knows, maybe they did.
After a full and wonderful day exploring every remote beach on Mahe, I headed back to the hotel for dinner, sunset and a night of sleep that didn’t involve an airplane seat. I had big plans for my next and final day on the island.
A Tortoise Tall Tale
As some of you may know, I first fell in love with the idea of visiting the Seychelles Islands when the Today Show’s Matt Lauer went there several years ago on “Where in the World is Matt Lauer?” I tried to go last year but the flights were totally booked (Air France only flies to the islands twice a week so frequent flyer seats are scarce).
In one especially memorable segment on the Today Show, Matt was sitting on a stunning white sand beach with swaying palms behind him. As he interviewed the Minister of Tourism, a giant tortoise lumbered into the shot while in the midst of a seemingly typical stroll down the beach. I was mesmerized. I mean, really, where else does that happen??
I immediately thought to myself, I MUST go there!
Not surprisingly, one of the main things I was dying to see in the Seychelles were the giant tortoises. I scoured my guidebook and the in-flight magazine on the flight down for any information I could find on where to go to see these giant creatures.
And here’s what I learned: The Seychelles Islands are indeed one of only two places in the world to see the endangered giant land tortoises in their natural habitat (the other is the Galapagos Islands).
However, if you want to see them on a beach, you’ll need permission from the government and possibly a science degree. Turns out, all 150,000 giant land tortoises reside on the island of Aldabra – the world’s largest atoll and a World Heritage Site that is closed to everyone but the scientists who work there.
The only tortoises available for public viewing on the main island of Mahe are those in residence at the Victoria Botanical Gardens.
So, grudgingly, that’s where I went.
Starting my second day in the capital city of Victoria, I headed straight for the Botanical Gardens. Within the gardens is a giant tortoise pen formed by natural black boulders. About a dozen giant tortoises live here and I was excited to learn that I was allowed to get into the pen with them to get a closer look.
It was feeding time while I was there so they were all happily chomping away on leafy greens. One was even enjoying an impromptu shower provided by a garden worker’s hose. They were quite entertaining and I’m glad I got to see them, even if it wasn’t exactly the “Matt Lauer turtle on a beach experience”.
The Gardens are also home to Seychelles’ other famous inhabitant, the enormous coco de mer palm. The double nut of the coco de mer is the world’s heaviest fruit weighing in at a whopping 40 pounds.
I spent the rest of the morning exploring Victoria’s shops and market. Then I took a drive through the mountain passes in the afternoon to stop along the way and appreciate the magnificent views of the island from above. Finally, I headed back to the Meridien to spend my final hours enjoying the lovely beach at my own hotel.
My two days in Seychelles Islands were extraordinary. The islands are so sublimely unique with their granite peaks and boulder-strewn beaches. It is with good reason that the slogan of the Seychelles tourist bureau is, “Not just another place, another world.” Another world, indeed.
I forgive you, Matt Lauer.
Next stop, back to Thailand!