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Praslin Island is the home of the coco de mer palm, with a gentle, unhurried pace - an island of total tranquillity.
Long stretches of undisturbed white beaches have some of the finest sand in the world on them where turtles still lay their eggs. The beaches are framed by palms and takamakas with small coves that are secluded and quiet with borders of granite boulders. The volcanic origin of the island means that the sea around it is punctuated by other, smaller islands and coral reefs that are unbelievably beautiful.
Praslin is known as the ‘island of palms’ and is the only place that you will see the coco de mer palm growing in large numbers without any outside help. The female and male palms have distinctive shapes, and are the subjects of many myths and legends that have stuck with them and help to make them seem all the more magical.
The Vallée de Mai is a World Heritage Site, and here the coco de mer can be seen alongside the Seychelles’ five other endemic palms, as well as a large number of other trees and plants. The plants are all protected, and as a result of the tropical climate they flourish. The paths through the reserve are well kept and well marked, with the longest path leading to a high point that affords a wonderful view over the whole reserve, which gives you an idea of what the island must have looked like before deforestation resulted in the loss of much of the forest.
The reserve can be explored in the sun or the rain; it may seem more special to visit in the rain, as the giant leaves of the palms behave as umbrellas and channel water down their trunks, leaving the sound of the rain falling on the leaves and the fresh look that water lying on vegetation often brings. Plenty of animals are active directly after rain, including bright green tree frogs, and the elusive tenrecs.
Another speciality of the island is the rare black parrot, which is another species endemic to the Seychelles. These parrots can be seen in any of the natural spots in the island, and any search for them will seem all the more amazing because of the outstanding beauty that surrounds you.
There are a number of satellite islands which sit like jewels in the startling blue sea which can be visited from Praslin, including Cousin, Aride, Curiese and Ile St Pierre.
- Cousin Island is a bird sanctuary, as is Aride, and both are located in a marine protected area. Cousin was bought by the Royal Society for Nature Conservation in the early 1960s (now Birdlife International), when it was discovered that the population of the Seychelles warbler had fallen to just 29. Since the island was protected, the numbers of these birds have increased dramatically, and are no longer treated as endangered birds; people come here in their hundreds to see the large breeding colonies and to appreciate their curious warbling cry. The island is open to visitors Monday to Friday between 10am and midday.
- Aride Island is similarly popular, with 10 species of seabirds and several landbirds nesting on the island, including the Seychelles warbler. Two endemic plant species, Wright’s gardenia and the Aride peponium, are found here and hawksbill turtles swim in the water throughout the year, coming onto the beaches to lay their eggs from October to February.
- Curiese Island is dominated by sculpted granite that looks over mangrove forests, sandy beaches, rocky shores and coral reefs. The island is home to another marine park, and is a popular haunt of the hawksbill turtle, which are often seen by snorkelers. On the land is a museum dedicated to art exhibitions, including the drawings of children made during environmental campaigns on the main islands, and an abandoned village add an air of mystery to a beautiful beach that faces Praslin.
- Ile St Pierre is in essence a stack of rocks with palm trees on the top of it. However, on appearance it is much more than this; it is sculpted from pink and grey granite that rises out of the crystal clear turquoise water that exposes a miniature, yet perfect beach at low tide. The trees look like a tiara on the head of the highest royalty, and the dazzling fish in the water that make snorkelling here some of the most rewarding snorkelling in the world complete the picture of a mini paradise.