Praslin Island - Seychelles.
Off the East coast of Africa, in the Indian Ocean, 660 mls NE of Madagascar and 995 mls East of Kenya. Praslin's small airport lies 5 mls West of Vallee de Mai.
23 mls NE of the main island of Mahe, surrounded by many smaller islands, including La Digue and Curieuse. 15 mins by air from Mahe, 3 hrs by local schooner, 1 hr by catamaran.
Though the second largest of the Seychelles, Praslin is small (roughly 7½ by 3 mls) and probably as close as one can come to an idyllic, unspoilt tropical paradise with superb, sandy, palm-fringed beaches, coral reefs and crystal-clear waters of varying shades of blue. Even better are the island's creepy-crawlies; while they do exist here, none of them are poisonous, although mosquitoes can be a problem during the monsoon periods. Praslin is not as mountainous as Mahe (its highest point is just 1,100 ft), but has similar granite outcrops, red earth and luxuriant tropical vegetation. A thick, unique palm forest in the centre of the island, the Vallee de Mai National Park, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Extending over 150 acres, the park is home to the rare black parrot, as well as vanilla orchids and the famous coco-de-mer palm. Most development is on a small scale and includes a few limited supermarkets, tourist boutiques and a couple of local cafes. There are only 3 locations where the concentration of buildings could just about constitute a village; Baie St Anne, where all ferries land, Grande Anse in the South, and Cote d'Or in the North. The main roads which extend along the coast have many steep hills and deep ditches on either side. A hilly but good-quality road crosses the island through the national park.
Middle to upmarket: the Seychelles is expensive. Back-to-nature enthusiasts, families, the romantically inclined. Honeymooners are especially welcome.
One 5-star, some good 4-star hotels and many other beach complexes and guesthouses along the coast offer various degrees of quality and service. Many are built on secluded bays and appeal to honeymoon couples. The Seychelles government is encouraging more 5-star developments offering international standards.
Majestic bays and long beaches alternate with small coves. Most development is focused on 2 main strips of coastline: in the East (Cote d'Or) and in the West (Grand Anse). The Cote d'Or in particular offers long stretches of golden sand and sheltered, shallow water; good for families. From late May to Nov the whole of the SW coast is affected by seaweed, while from Nov to Feb it is the turn of the NE coast. Hotels generally provide free transport to the other coast at these times. Snorkelling is best in the more sheltered NW bays and in parts of the Cote d'Or. Anse Lazio, in the NW, is good for swimming and snorkelling and is reputed to be one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, although arguably there are several which could live up to that title. Anse Lazio is not directly accessible by public transport, entailing a long walk on very steep roads from the nearest bus stop you could always use a hire car or taxi.
Limited. A handful of boutiques along the coast roads cater for souvenir shopping; most hotels have their own souvenir shops. Local shops in villages offer a range of groceries; local markets offer fish and vegetables.
Daytime: beach, water sports, cycling, hiking in Vallee de Mai.
Nightlife: a handful of local dance halls; 3 discos in proximity of hotels only open at weekends. Casino at Cote d'Or. Evening entertainment available in some hotels and restaurants; otherwise it's peace and quiet.
A limited choice means that many visitors stay on a half-board basis. Only a handful of independent restaurants and cafes exist on the island offering local creole specialities and fish dishes. Hotels provide the usual international fare, often with a creole option; their restaurants are generally open to the public. Prices tend to be high.
A local bus service operates from early morning to early evening on 2 routes, with a special Sunday service; generally 1 bus per ½ hr on the main route by the coast and through Vallee de Mai, or every 3 hrs in the more remote SW. Cars or jeeps for hire; taxi ranks at airport and jetty. Bicycles may be hired through hotel receptions. Boats can also be hired at the larger hotels.
Cousin and Aride islands boat trips to 2 bird sanctuaries with over 20 species. St Pierre and Coco diving and snorkelling trips to 2 underwater reefs. Vallee de Mai National Park home of the world's largest seed, the coco-de-mer, and the rare black parrot.