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We’re in the midst of our cruising time in Seychelles, and one of our many highlights so far has been exploring Vallée de Mai, a park and UNESCO World Heritage Site in Seychelles.
The park is located on the island of Praslin, which is the second-largest island in Seychelles. It’s a 20-minute flight from Mahé (SEZ), the international airport of Seychelles. Praslin is not that big of an island, so it’s easy to hire a taxi to get you to Vallée de Mai from anywhere on the island.
Before arriving in Seychelles, I had no idea how unique the Seychellois wildlife is. These small, mostly granite islands in the Indian Ocean contain a variety of endemic flora and fauna that we’ve gotten to see here – just a small fraction of it!
One of Vallée de Mai’s most famous inhabitants is the coco de mer, a palm tree that produces the largest seed in the world. The tree is dioecious, meaning that some trees are female and some are male. And BOY is there a difference (pun intended).
Coco de mer seeds got their name from washing up on the shores of India and Africa. No one knew where they came from, so they named the seeds”coconuts of the sea”. When they floated away from Seychelles, they had already germinated and were missing their husks (and weren’t viable). Without the husks, the nut resembles a women’s hips. There are even tufts of fiber sometimes between the lobes.
While Kyle and Lauren were visiting us, we started calling them “butt nuts” and it became our favorite phrase.
“Ugh, Kyle, why are you being such a butt nut?”
“I’ve had enough of these butt nuts.”
The trees can grow to be over 50 meters tall and 200 years old. Coco de mer palm fronds are huge. The nut itself is used for medicinal qualities in Asian cultures and also as flavor enhancers. We saw several examples of the nuts cleaned and carved to make bowls. They had coco de mer’s that we could hold – they are amazingly heavy. Each nut weighs 15-30 kgs.
There are many other endemic varieties in Vallée de Mai. We saw one Seychelles black parrot, although it was too far away for me to photograph. There are a variety of other endemic palms, lizards, and marine species.
We explored Vallée de Mai twice, once with our friends Vishu, Frido, and their three-year-old Ranju, and then the second time with our friends Kyle and Lauren.
The first trip, we did the green route, 1.7 km on the North Circular Path and then back through the Central Path. It was easy enough that Ranju hiked the whole time!
One the second trip, we hiked the orange route, completing the large circular path of 2 km. The trail is fairly easy and well marked. The elevation climbs are stairs and not slopes, so it’s not a technical climb.
The giant palms around us made us feel like we were in Honey I Shrunk the Kids or a Jurrasic movie set.
A little ways down from Vallée de Mai is Praslin’s only waterfall. Despite the rugged mountains in Seychelles, there aren’t many waterfalls. This one is right off the road, and worth a free stop, though the jungle is pretty thick around the viewpoint.
Entrance fees are steep – 350 SCR per person ($25 USD). Free tours are offered at 9 am and 2 pm, but you can also hire an independent guide any time of day. For the full trail, give yourself about 2 hours. There is a small information center with signs explaining some of the wildlife and the history of the butt nuts – I mean, coco de mers.
Vallée de Mai is maintained by the Seychelles Island Foundation, which is a conservation organization dedicated to Vallée de Mai and the Aldabra Atoll, one of the world’s largest raised coral atolls.
For a driver in Praslin, we highly recommend Jose Esther: (248) 2 520 718 on What’s App or tikapointe at yahoo dot com. His rate was reasonable and he’s extremely knowledgable about the area.