My son, Devlin, had been objecting to too much stuff around BC and never getting to go anywhere cool for a couple years. My argument that BC stuff was cool didn’t fly, so I told him I’d take him somewhere special. He wanted something tropical—an island—with lots of swimming and well off the beaten path. We ended up booking for Seychelles. At the time of booking in 2022, my wife and I disagreed on the potential COVID risk vs. reward, and I couldn’t convince her to go. All the time we were there, Devlin would periodically say, “Mom should have come.”
Sunrise in Seychelles
Devlin going for it
Seychelles is an African nation, an archipelago of 115 islands spread out over more than 1500 km in the Indian Ocean. Almost all of the people are on the inner islands, which are mostly granite, rising up to 905 m. The granite is spectacular: it’s older than the dinosaurs and has been weathering undisturbed by ice ages, sand storms or anything else that would polish off character. As a result, it’s far grippier than the granite of Squamish, comparable to Joshua Tree.
One of, like, a zillion spectacular formations coming out of the beach
Continental drift broke Seychelles off from the mainland at about the end of Cretaceous, and it’s been left to evolve undisturbed from then until the 1700s. As a result, there’s a bunch of endemic species that have been able to evolve on their own. Although humans brought some mammals, environmental damage wasn’t nearly as bad as on many other islands recently discovered by people.
The longer beaches on the most populated islands have roads to them and thus people, but if you’re on a boat, willing to swim or walk along the shore, it’s easy to get to beaches in a totally wild state
Since I’m posting this as a VOC trip report, I’ll keep the focus mainly on the outdoors. I’ll spend a paragraph or two on society and culture, though, because it’d be a shame not to. Uninhabited until the 1700s, the Seychellois roots are all from somewhere else. The culture has influences from all over Africa as well as France and Britain, but as people have been there for a few generations, a cohesive, friendly, honest and laid-back culture has emerged. Creole, English and French are the official languages. There were a few people we met that I’d be happy to host if they ever were to come to Vancouver.
Conservation officer showing a giant tortoise shell
Seychelles was first claimed by France, and the French brought African slaves with them. Britain later invaded and routed the French, but kept slaves until abolition. Despite that history, Seychelles is more colour-blind than anywhere I’ve been, including Canada. They became an independent nation in 1976 and have been a healthy democracy since 1991.
Slavery exhibit and the Seychelles National Museum
Bustling fish market in Victoria
You can quickly see how much of a problem theft is by how people guard their stuff. It’s clearly a safe place to be just based on how people act, but I think what illustrates it most clearly is that one of the places we were staying at left their laptops on the desk, unlocked at night when no one was around, despite it being an open-air lobby. One wouldn’t even have to open a door to walk away with them. I asked a staff member about it the next morning and he was kind of surprised that laptops in Canada would get lifted if you just left them on an open porch.
No one will care about what order we did stuff in, so I’ll focus on plants, animals, outdoor activities, etc., rather than a narrative. I didn’t have an underwater photography setup, so I’ll need to steal the internet’s fish pictures. I won’t show pictures of anything we didn’t see up close. All internet photos are through the Creative Commons Share Alike License unless otherwise noted.
Off Seychelles, the internet claims that these are called red-legged golden orb weavers. That’s clearly too long a name for something that’s extremely common, so here they’re palm spiders. Despite seeing, like, a zillion of them, they didn’t stop being impressive. I think they eat small airplanes.
There were bigger ones, but this amputee is the one I got the best picture of. I couldn’t put my hand beside the spider, because of the web, so it’s in the foreground. I doesn’t quite do justice to just how big these things are.
Tenrecs are a family of mammals. They were the only small mammal on Madagascar and evolved into a bunch of different things, mimicking things like moles, hedgehogs and shrews. Tailless tenrecs were brought to Seychelles, where they are called tangs, as a food source. The tailless tenrec hibernates for up to three months, which is unusual for a tropical mammal. We had a few approach us. The nose points all over the place when they’re sniffing around. They mainly eat insects and are easiest to find at night.
Tailless tenrec rooting around Devlin’s feet. It’s dark so the picture isn’t that great.
There are, like, a hundred billion geckos on Seychelles. On Praslin, you see more Seychelles day geckos than anything else. Seychelles day geckos are special because they turn a very dark green, mistakable for black, when it’s dark, but turn neon green when illuminated. The change only takes three minutes, and each scale does an abrupt transition. We only noticed them in bright green format, probably because we’re not good at seeing almost black little geckos when it’s dark. We saw one Seychelles giant day gecko, a different species which does the same thing but in a much larger package.
Seychelles day gecko. Photo: Devlin
Seychelles giant day gecko
I’m not sure what kind of gecko this is, but it’s three stories up, on the outside of a window. Flat glass has got to be, like 5.27d
The males get up to 300 kg, while the females only reach a petite 160 kg. Technically there are more of these than people on Seychelles, because there’s 100 000 of them on the Aldabra Atoll. I’d love to get to Aldabra Atoll someday; it’s a UNESCO world heritage site, has a giant lagoon, and a ton of unique life on land, in the air and underwater. It’s 1500 km from the inner islands, though, so getting there isn’t trivial.
This tortoise is wise
Despite there being more people than tortoises where it’s easy to get to, there’s still a lot of tortoises. The tortoises evolved free of people and are thus totally unafraid. I’m so used to approaching large animals being a bad thing: bad for you and bad for the animal. If you approach a moose, you’re an idiot. If you approach a black bear, you’re an idiot. If you approach a grizzly, you’re a double-idiot.
There’s a bunches of tortoises all over the place. These at at the Victoria Botanical Gardens. They have foliage you can feed to the tortoises, so there’s always a good clump of them up against the bollards that stop the tortoises from getting out and eating the rest of the gardens. They warn you that if manage to get your hand mixed up with the branch you’re feeding the tortoise, it’s your own fault.
There are a bunch of places where you can feed, pet and interact with free-roaming tortoises. I didn’t get comfortable with the idea until I was told by a park warden that it’s all good and the tortoises dig it. Petting them is really surreal, partially because, well, they’re giant tortoises, and partially because they’re so warm. We sweat in the hot sun, but they don’t. On Seychelles, in the day, the reptiles are warmer-blooded than we are.
Tortoise looking for attention from Devlin
In the nurseries, they segregate the tortoises by size. I presume this is to avoid accidental squashing. Photo: Devlin
Juvenile tortoises. Any bigger and they’d be free-roaming.
Apparently you’re not supposed to steal tortoises
The plates on the shells of the male are quite protruding, and the females are smooth. The males have a concave belly so they don’t roll off when they’re humping. The warden explained that a successful mating is silent, but when it’s not lined up and the male’s tail gets squished under the female’s shell, they make an unhappy sound that people mistakenly interpret as a sexy sound.
There are these giant fruit bats flying around all the time during the evening. When I asked, I was told that they’re called black bats. We saw a zillion of them cruising around, but they never lost their appeal. We ended up checking out the Praslin Museum, because it was just across the street from where we were staying. It’s really not a museum; it’s a dude’s house and he shows you an old-school outdoor kitchen, traditional palm construction, how to open coconuts gracefully, etc. The highlight is the bats, though. He’s got a colony of bats that he entices to live there by giving them places to roost and all the fruit they want. Having a glass of passion fruit juice in one hand and feeding mangos to giant bats with the other hand is a real experience.
Snorkelling, flippers and beach socks:
There’s a ton of diving in the reefs around the island. I could imagine diving if I had a few months to stay there. The ratio of faffing to actually diving is inherently very poor. Beach-accessible dive sites are rare, the gear is heavy and expensive, a tank of air only lasts so long and there’s all these rules to avoid getting the bends. There’s so much that can be seen snorkelling that it seems way more worth it to spend a ton of time in the water actually snorkelling.
Devlin flopping into the water. Mostly we entered from the beach, but there was no one to take pictures then.
One thing I really regret not having is tighter beach socks. If you swim hard with flippers for a long time, they’ll chew up the top of your feet, so I got these neoprene/lycra beach socks for us. Devlin’s were tight and his feet were fine no matter how far we went, but mine had some movement. It was better than it would have been against a bare flipper, but I still chewed myself when going multiple kilometres.
I also really wish we’d had lycra body suits. Despite using up three big tubes of SPF 60 sunscreen, we each got roasted multiple times. The salt water is pretty good at taking the sunscreen off and the straight-from-above sun is a real punisher.
Now for the good stuff. The ocean is filled with so much life, and it’s just so easy to get close to it. There are a bunch of recommended places, but if you go nowhere special there’s still a bunch of stuff. Some reefs were heavily damaged by the 1998 El Niño and the 2004 tsunami and are mid-recovery, but many are healthy.
I’m used to urchins being something that are too deep to step on, and environmentally problematic because they have population explosions and eat the kelp without sufficient sea otters to keep them in control. In Seychelles, there’s no kelp, and they’re properly integrated into the ecosystem. There’s more variety, too. There are ones that look similar to ours, but also some more charismatic individuals, like the cake urchin.
Long-spined sea urchin. Photo Frédéric Ducarme
The cake urchin likes to cover itself with debris to make it less obvious to things that like to eat urchins. Photo: Philippe Bourjon
The problem with the urchins in Seychelles is that they live in very shallow water and blend in with the seaweed, so they’re easy to bump into. On the first day, I put my hands behind me as I sat down in foot-deep water and was urchined. I attempted to borrow a tweezer from the hotel, but they told me a tweezer extraction would not go well as the spines are covered in tiny, back-pointing barbs, but they dissolve in vinegar and lemon juice. A staff member dunked my hand in vinegar and massaged it with a lemon half and the spines disappeared.
Much of the shoreline is formed by coral reefs, creating an inner reef that’s barely submerged at low tide for a hundred metres from the shore. At the edge of the inner reef, there’s an actively growing reef (that’s even slightly shallower) where the waves break, and after that it drops off quickly. Because of the urchins, the inner reef are difficult to navigate during low tide, when it’s too shallow to swim.
The waves break at the reef crest. Image is public domain
Île aux Souris:
It’s a short snorkel from Mahé to get here. Devlin was surrounded by barracuda, which was rad. While getting onto the island, I stepped on an urchin, which was not rad. Since I was a long way from a lemon, I tried pulling them out. The first attempt didn’t work; although I could pull hard enough to get them out of my foot, backing them out of my beach socks was a bridge too far, and they’d end up stuck in my foot again. Peeling off the beach sock while being careful not to snap the spines worked, since the spines were moving the right direction relative to the sock. After that they were yankable, but it was definitely gentler with the lemon juice and vinegar.
View from Île aux Souris
Chevron barracuda. Devlin only had about twenty around him. Photo: Profmauri
Port Launay Marine Park (Mahé):
They have a “marine trail,” which has buoys just outside the reef that you can grab onto for a rest, although these aren’t needed at all for a strong swimmer. This area had the best coral we saw. Devlin saw a devil ray, and I saw a ridiculously large zebra moray eel slowly disappear into an impossibly small hole in the coral.
The zebra moray I saw was way bigger than the one pictured, maybe 1.5 m. Photo: public domain
The marine trail buoys are small and yellow, to the left of all the boats.
The coral here is heavily damaged, and while there are signs of recovery, there’s an alarming amount of white, broken coral. What makes it still very much worth the visit are the hawksbill turtles. The turtles here don’t mind hanging out with people as they cruise for turtle food. You’re not supposed to touch them, so we didn’t, but we spent a full hour where I could have licked one any time I wanted to.
The hawksbill turtles were one of the real highlights of the trip. They’re much more efficient than we are; even after spending what seems like an eternity at the bottom, then just take a small breath when they surface. Photo: Albert Herring
Île St. Pierre:
The diving and snorkelling guidebook claims that this is by boat access only. We went there on a tour boat, but we ended up swimming there from Praslin later. During the swim back, at about seven metres down, there was a thornback cowfish. It’s hard to find a picture that fully illustrates how ridiculous they are. Also, lemon sharks. Sea cucumbers release their unfertilized eggs and sperm into the water and let the current do the work. As the ocean is large, successfully executing this strategy involves a whole lot of sperm. Sea cucumbers can also squirt out sticky, poisonous organs from their anuses to ward off predators, so when there’s some sort of fiasco going on, it’s not clear what they’re up to. I saw one making a real mess.
This a public domain photo from Seychelles showing a sea cucumber, I think tigerfish, ejecting organs.
Sicklefin lemon sharks are the only shark with a lemon in their name around Seychelles so they’re just referred to as lemon sharks. Elsewhere, lemon sharks are a different, closely related species. Photo: Manoel Lemos
The spines on the thornback cowfish are toxic, but its primary weapon is looking ridiculous. Photo: Rickard Zerpe
These things like to get onto your table again and again. They’re as persistent as whiskey jacks, but they’re at the opposite end of the intelligence spectrum. Technically they’re called zebra doves, but by the time we found that out, goof balls was entrenched in our vocabulary.
Goof ball wants Devlin’s yogurt. Photo: Devlin
Red fody (also cardinal fody, Madagascar fody or common fody):
These are invasive, from Madagascar. One red fody raised some interesting questions for us. If you went to get a drink, came back and there was a red fody standing on your crepes, would you still eat the crepes? If your dad was getting a drink and a red fody stood on his crepes, would you tell him about it before or after he ate his crepes?
Red fody with syrupy feet
I packed stuff for bouldering but never used it because there was just too much else to do. Climbing isn’t really a thing here, but it sure could be. The first thing you see when you step out of the airport is a large bluff that would have hundreds of named routes if it were near Squamish. Because of the heat, the rock dries very quickly.
View from the airport
There’s things like this all over
Mangroves are forests that are flooded at high tide. Because the soil is always waterlogged, the tree roots send up breathers to supply the roots with oxygen. They’re an important nursery for the young of many reef species.
The breathers for the roots are called pneumatophores
Stilt roots provide support for in the very mucky ground
Sauzier Waterfall jumping (Mahé):
A resident was chatting me up and said that about ten people died jumping into the pool, as it’s sufficiently shallow that meeting the bottom is a risk. He said that he saw one personally. The dude took too long a jump and made it to the shallow end of the pool, and to make matters worse, he was head first. He went down and never came up. Kids and teenagers are optimists, though, so there was plenty of jumping going on.
Sauzier Waterfall. Photo: Devlin
Ros Sodyer (Mahé):
This is a rock pool that gets filled up by spray from the waves. We were warned that we needed a guide to make it, that people had died on the trail and in the pool, etc. No active VOCer would find it even vaguely difficult, though. The risk in the pool itself is that a large wave at high tide can sweep people into the ocean, and the bank is sufficiently steep that they can’t get back in. Three were swept out in December, and two drowned. It was low tide, and the surf was down when we were there, so it was safe. You can’t really see the pool as you approach, and then all of a sudden you’re looking right down at it. When we came over the edge, there was a naked lady floating motionless. Her eyes were closed, and I didn’t want to startle her from close range, so I awkwardly called out “Excuse me.” She was German, and they’re pretty laid back about public nudity, so she ended up chatting for a while.
The trailhead is a bit unsettling, as it winds between closely spaced private residences. It feels like trespassing, even though it’s not.
After you pass through some houses and work yard, you go through this hole in the fence. There is a small “yes, this is the trail” sign. Photo: Devlin
Ros Sodyer is a really special place
The water is really the perfect temperature for lounging
Morne Blanc (Mahé):
We were warned by hotel staff that this was a really hard hike. It’s not. Hotel staff are used to clients that are soft like butter. It’s like doing the first two kilometres of the Brew Hut trail. The trailhead is above 400 m and the summit is 667 m. Devlin and I walked across the park, starting at the ocean, did the trail mid way, and then to the outskirts of Victoria, the capital. The views from the summit were spectacular, with white-tailed tropicbirds circling below.
This is just before the rain came in. I was warned at the hotel that it was cold when it rained hard. I guess it depends on your perspective. Photo: Devlin
The rain was really nice. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that it made us cool, but it at least got us to not hot. Photo: Devlin
St. Anne Marine National Park:
The coral reefs are huge and spectacular. There are tortoise nurseries on Moyenne Island. Clamshell Rock is spectacular.
Clamshell Rock. Photo:Devlin
This is a glimpse of the coral from the glass at the bottom of the tour boat. It’s looking through too much water to really do it justice. When snorkelling, the colours come to life as you get close. Photo: Devlin
We got face-to-face with a starry pufferfish. I had no idea that they looked so odd when unpuffed and that they’re four feet long. Photo: Alexander Vasenin
Vallée de Mai (Praslin):
This is the other UNESCO World Heritage Site in Seychelles, and it’s a zillion times easier to get to than the Aldabra Atoll. It features a variety of spectacular trees endemic to Seychelles, but the highlight is the coco de mer. The coco de mer is one of six endemic coconuts, and it has the largest seed of any plant on earth. While growing, it has a smooth, green husk. After ripening for six to seven years, it falls off the plant. The seed will sink in the ocean and eventually the husk rots off and the nut floats to the surface. Before Seychelles was discovered, sailors thought that the rising nuts must be coming from an underwater forest, hence the name. The nut itself gets lots of attention, but the leaves of the coco de mer deserve some attention too, as they’re impressive in their own right. All the endemic palms evolved to have an impressive array of tortoise-repelling thorns while they’re young. The tortoises don’t climb, so once the palm is tall enough to not be threatened, it loses the thorns.
Coco de mer. Photo: Devlin
The screw pines have glorious stilt roots. The trunk basically disappears before entering the ground.
They have a table of exhibits you can touch. I’m holding the male part of the coco de mer. Photo: Devlin
Coco de mer nut
A bunch of attention gets paid to the spectacular coco de mer nut, but the leaves are worthy of attention too.
Tortoise repellent. Photo: Devlin
Glacis Noir Trail (Praslin):
Not many people seem to go here, probably because the Vallée de Mai is distractingly close, but it’s very much worth doing. At the top of Mont Azore there’s a lookout tower that provides a panoramic view. On the way up, the national bird, the black parrot, is easy to spot.
Panorama from Mont Azore. Photo: Devlin
Fond Ferdinand (Praslin):
They only let you do the trail with a guide, but that’s okay because you learn a lot from the guide. It’s maybe a kilometre each way, with a 100-m elevation gain. The steep parts all have stairs. The guide gives tons of breaks and a significant portion of the group gave up before making it to the viewpoint.
Anse Lazio to Anse Georgette via Mt. Plaisir (Praslin):
This apparently kills people and shouldn’t be attempted without a guide. Much like all the hard hikes, it’d be trivial for VOCers. It’s great because it’s a narrow trail without people, so you’re having some direct contact with the plants. It’s no bushwhack, but it’s still the least manicured place we went. Anse Georgette was particularly memorable because there were these fish that kept bumping us. I think they were juvenile black-spotted pompano, but I could be wrong. Regardless, we were bumped hundreds of times. It was both cool and weird.
Devlin and I had one red coconut and one fruit platter between us at Anse Georgette and that filled us up.
Île de Curieuse:
This used to be a leper colony and palm plantation. The ruins are still there, and while it is frequently visited, it has no human residents. It does have a whole bunch of tortoises and some spectacular rocks.
These pieces of art are really just sticking out the beach everywhere
La Digue has the highest tourist-to-resident ratio of anywhere we went. The rocks sticking out of Anse Source d’Argent were breathtaking, and snorkelling was pretty good. There are no private vehicles on La Digue, so the roads are filled with rental bikes. I don’t think the island has ever seen a bike helmet. There was a glorious bull.
These shells were for sale. They only sell the really common ones like on the table(!) and the rare ones are protected.
My rental bike pedal exploded
According to the Underwater Guide to Seychelles, this is a great dive site, but it’s too deep for snorkelling. That’s maybe the right thing to say in a guidebook that caters to people who can’t really swim. I’m comfortable being in the water for a long time, but I’m an ungainly swimmer. Despite distinctly subpar form, I could spend plenty of time at the same depth as the divers. We saw bigger schools of fish at Ave Maria than anywhere else.
Surge wrasse. Photo: Elisabeth Morcel
Anse La Farine (Praslin):
Off shore from the failed Emerald Cove beachfront hotel, there’s a huge lagoon, which is mostly too shallow to swim comfortably. In the middle of the lagoon, there’s a deep sandy-bottomed area. The coral doesn’t start growing on loose sand, resulting in a sharp transition between the sand and a large coral wall. Even compared to the normal coral environment, which is already pretty fishy, this was a fish party. Locals call it the aquarium because of the huge variety of small fish.
Remains of Emerald Cove’s dock
Cornet fish seem sufficiently strange that they must be rare, but they’re all over the place
There are little jellyfish that are too small to see but that still can sting. It’s like a watered-down wasp sting and a static shock at the same time. Aside: mentioning a static shock makes me think that static is something you probably can go a lifetime without seeing if you live in Seychelles. The consistent warm temperatures and humidity would make it really hard to zot your siblings. Back to the jellyfish, interacting with the ones that I can’t see made me really glad I never splatted into a big tropical jellyfish.
I saw my share of stingrays. I even saw one jump. Since they’re great at hiding in the sand, I likely passed by a bunch for every one that I saw. The Underwater Guide to Seychelles recommends shuffling to avoid accidentally stepping on one and convincing it to stab you in the calf. Locals talked about always being on the lookout for rays. Given the number of people I saw running around in waist-deep water, it’s surprising that no one got what they were asking for.
Thorny ray. Photo: Rucha Karkarey edited by JJ Harrison
With no mammals except for bats, crabs have taken the evolutionary niches usually occupied by small mammals. Even after the introduction of rats and tenrecs, they’re still the dominant roadkill. They dig the holes beside the road that you trip in. They’re the things you hear scurrying around the foliage as you walk by. They’re everywhere. While they’re definitely way more concentrated not too far from the ocean, we’d meet them a long way inland, even up on mountain tops.
Devlin’s feet being investigated by hermit crabs at Surfer’s restaurant
The island is a bird and turtle nursery. There aren’t any private residences or hotels on the island, but there are ranger stations to ward off poachers and track populations. The island is round, with no sheltered covers or anything to build a dock, so staff just wait for a break between waves and ram boats onto the beach. It’s an experience.
Once on the island, you meet a variety of birds. There are rare magpie-robins, relocated from islands where human-introduced cats and rats had them facing extinction. Frigate birds have about the same wingspan as a bald eagle, but they’re a quarter the weight. Bird photographers like to get pictures of the males inflating their necks into big red balls to attract the ladies, but what’s really impressive in real life is that they can ride a very light breeze to stay airborne without trying. The internet claims that they can spend more than a week without touching down, and it’s easy to see why.
White-tailed tropic birds nest on the ground. The chicks are fed until they outgrow their parents. When the parents can’t keep up with the demand for food, the juvenile pecks them, and then the parents leave. The juvenile gets skinnier until it learns to fly.
The fairy tern doesn’t build a nest. The egg is laid in a concavity of a branch. The chick, large and grey, is to the right.
White-tailed tropicbird chick
Fairy tern chick
Seychelles Public Transport Corporation buses are a distinctive blue, with a very short wheel base and high clearance. This is required, as with no shoulders on the roads, narrow lanes, tight corners and abrupt changes in grade, Vancouver buses would end up either off the road or high-centred. Being in a bus is a shockingly intense experience. Despite having a small engine, they give a consistently wild ride by not slowing down for corners. Everyone seems used to it, but they hold even while seated; otherwise, they’ll end up on the person beside them.
The transit schedule is difficult to follow, since the same bus number runs a bunch of different routes. On the timetable, there’s a “days” column that says 5, 6, 7, or 8. There’s no written explanation, but when I asked people, I was told that 5 was weekdays, 6 was Saturdays and weekdays and that 8 meant 7 plus holidays. There’s not a lot of 7 and 8. I think Google doesn’t know how to parse the schedule, because if you ask transit directions, it always fails to find a route.
You just don’t see high school kids putting their feet on the seats, spilling food or even talking loudly. It’s very refreshing.
On Praslin, you get your transit card reloaded at a yard that has a real employees-only vibe to it.
Bus depot on Praslin
Taking the bus means some waiting as they’re not super-regular. The consensus among anywhere that caters to tourists is that the bus is a bad idea and you should rent a car. People that want to minimize the amount of time they are exposed to a different culture and maximize the amount of time they spend smoking and vaping beside a swimming pool that’s ten metres from an indoor-pool-warm ocean should definitely rent a car. VOCers probably would be happier splitting between taking the bus and just walking.