If you are visiting the Seychelles islands with the
intent of enjoying more than just the stunning beaches,
then pack a pair of hiking boots or comfortable walking shoes for the Vallee de Mai
Nature Reserve. Found on Praslin
Island, which is a top Seychelles
vacation destination, the Vallee de Mai earns the
distinction as being one of the smaller UNESCO World Heritage
Sites. A World Heritage Site it is nonetheless,
and without question, it is one of the more notable Seychelles
attractions. The unique flora and fauna of the
reserve is a big reason why this slice of virgin forest
is so renowned, and visitors come mainly to see the rare
Coco de Mer palms, which are quite curious indeed.
The Vallee de Mai Nature Reserve is one of just two World
Heritage Sites in Seychelles, the other of which is the
Aldabra Island atoll. Both are managed by the Seychelles
Islands Foundation, which took over control of the Vallee
de Mai in 1989.
Millions of years ago, the Seychelles were part of Gondwanaland, which was a huge land mass that would eventually separate over time. Also included in the realm of Gondwanaland was India, Madagascar, and mainland Africa. Over the course of time, the relative isolation of Praslin Island would help to contribute to its unique flora and fauna. There are few places in the world where you will find the Coco de Mer palm growing in the wild. In fact, the Seychelles's Praslin and Curieuse islands are the only places on earth where the palms are still endemic. To help conserve the Coco de Mer species, other Seychelles islands, more specifically Mahe and the Silhouette Islands, have created their own subsidiary populations. The most defining attributes of the Coco de Mer palms are their suggestive male and female structures. It's the kind of stuff that could easily have schoolchildren and adults alike giggling with bashful innocence. Mature Coco de Mer plants can grow up to over 100 feet tall, but it's the size of the seeds/nuts that the female plants produce that is most impressive. Weighing up to 40 pounds, these nuts are too heavy to float when not rotted, which has a lot to do with why these palms haven't spread to other islands.
There are 4 other palms that are endemic to the Seychelles Vallee de Mai Reserve, as well as various pines and other plants. Birdwatching is among the things to be enjoyed on Vallee de Mai tours, and among the animals that make their homes here are fruit bats, tree frogs, geckos, and freshwater crabs. Considered by some to be the original "Garden of Eden", the Vallee de Mai Nature Reserve can be toured with or without a guide, and if you are going it alone, you can pick up an informative brochure at the visitors center that will help you find your way around the park. The walking trails here are kept in good order, and they are well-marked. You'll be able to see all that you'll want to see from these paths. In fact, straying from the paths is not encouraged, as the protection of the fragile ecosystem here is of primary concern.
At the Vallee de Mai Nature Reserve, there is parking available by the visitors center should you be renting a car, and the facilities there include bathrooms, a souvenir shop, an information center, and things the like. The Seychelles Vallee de Mai opens daily at 8:00 a.m., closing around 5:30 p.m. If your visit to the Vallee de Mai is not included in your Seychelles vacation package or tour package, you can get admission tickets at the park's visitors center office. No visit to Praslin Island would be complete without a walk through the Vallee de Mai, and some might even argue that a trip to the Seychelles would not complete without at least a quick tour here. So, include it in your Seychelles travel plans, and experience a pristine forest that, thanks to isolation and conservation efforts, has managed to maintain its primaeval state of being.