Another lifetime ago, back when I worked as a graphic artist for a local newspaper, my supervisor had a screensaver depicting a beach of limpid blue water lapping against white sands perfectly framed by enormous grayish-brown boulders worn smooth from millennia of erosion. Always a sucker for the power of an intriguing image, I felt inspired to find out where it was and then how I was going to get there. The image in question is that of Anse Source D’Argent – consistently voted among the world’s best beaches, and a frequent subject of wall calendars and screensavers everywhere. As for how to actually get inside that screensaver, allow me to explain.
Located – quite literally – about a thousand miles from anywhere, the Seychelles Islands are an archipelago of some 115 islands situated in the tropical waters of the Indian Ocean. Madagascar would probably be considered its nearest neighbor, but that’s another story with its own screensaver. In terms of neighbors, rather than being a weird recluse in a remote Unabomber-style shack, the Seychelles are more like a secluded retreat for the well-to-do, using their remoteness as a natural barrier against the penniless masses hoping to peek over the fence.
Historically, the island nation was a haven for pirates who made their living raiding the trade routes to India and beyond. Settled by the French in the mid-1700’s, they were named after King Louis XV’s finance minister, viscount Jean Moreau de Sechelles. Had there been computer screens back then, perhaps he would have settled for a screensaver, but technology being what it was, he became the namesake for an exclusive archipelago that is now synonymous with paradise and the good life.
Despite its French beginnings, in the early 1800’s the islands fell under British control all the way up until its independence in 1976. The production of crops such as cotton and vanilla began to decline, being replaced with perhaps the fattest (both literally and figuratively) cash cow of them all – luxury tourism. Here’s where those screensavers earn their keep.
International visitors – aside from those with their own cruise ships or luxury yachts – will arrive via air on the principal island of Mahe. Home to the capital, Victoria, and a few square blocks of ‘urban’ population, the rest of the island offers glimpses of what makes the Seychelles such an amazing destination and screensaver diva: rainforest, beaches, and sunsets.
Not far outside the capital is lovely Beau Vallon – a two mile crescent of white sand beach with a great view of the ultra-exclusive Silhouette Island across the bay. Not surprisingly, water sports abound from Jet Skis to diving to Deep Sea fishing. For anyone with limited time and budget, Mahe will be a satisfying stand-in for the screensaver-worthy scenes you likely came looking for. But since you came all this way, you might as well stretch things a little bit further and see those digital fantasies with your own eyes by either a short flight or ferry ride to the other two ‘main’ islands – Praslin and La Digue.
Praslin, in my opinion is the best place to base your explorations. There’s plenty to do and see, some of the finest places to stay, and one or two locales that have made their way to computer screens the world over. Lodging here is not cheap, but if you’re going to splurge, this would be the place to do it.
Once again, the beach scenes of lush greenery sloping down to powdery beaches abound, particularly at Anse Lazio, a gorgeous cove tucked away in the northwest corner of the island, and a great place to observe the mind-blowing Seychelles sunsets over the open ocean. This place is no stranger to screensavers and calender shoots, so make sure it isn’t a stranger to your itinerary. Yes, it’s that good.
What makes Praslin so unique though, is actually located in the hilly center of the island – a nature preserve and World Heritage Site called Vallee de Mai. This is the only place in the world where the indigenous coco de mer plant grows in the wild. Since its unlikely you’ve seen many coco de mer fruits on a screensaver or elsewhere, the ‘male’ appendages are shaped as you would likely imagine a male appendage to be shaped, and the ‘female’ nuts are the largest nuts in the world, weighing up to 40 pounds. Besides their hefty weight and size, they are noteworthy for their shape, which strongly resembles the lower half of a woman’s torso, and was known to cause excitement among early (and presumably lonely) sailors who would chance upon them on the open seas. Anatomical similarities aside, this is a virgin rainforest of soaring trees and oversized greenery, with leaves that could double as a car cover. If you ever wanted to imagine yourself as an ant in a terrarium, this would be the place.
Accessible only a short ferry ride away is the third most-visited of the Seychelles Islands, a tiny green gem called La Digue. If Praslin could be considered laid back, then comparatively La Digue would be considered comatose. There are only a handful of vehicles allowed to operate on the island, and you’re far more likely to hire an ox-driven taxi than anything with an engine. The tradeoff is a tranquil, quiet slice of heaven, or at least it would be if it weren’t for the harmless but disturbingly large palm spiders visible every so often.
Most opt to get around by foot, and if you don’t mind strolling around in near 100% humidity, less than an hour’s walk will bring you to Pointe Source D’Argent and its namesake beach. Here you’ll find abundant clusters of the signature granite boulders for which the Seychelles are famous. Worn smooth by eons of erosion, they take on unique shapes in surreal formations which no doubt accounts for their prevalence in the screensaver industry. The beach is shallow and the water warm, but as far as scenery goes, I can’t think of anywhere else that can compare–both digitally and in real life.
Getting to the Seychelles is sadly just slightly less difficult than climbing into your computer screen. Air Seychelles is the national carrier, with routes predominantly from Europe and South Africa. Tickets are not cheap, and so are accommodations, which range from ‘expensive’ all the way up to ‘need-to-sell-a-kidney-on-the-black-market-just-to-tip-the-bellboy’. Again, the Seychelles have marketed themselves as an upscale retreat, catering to those who have the means along with the occasional wannabe like myself, so budget well or else it’s a long swim back to the African mainland.
Now that you’ve got an idea of what to expect on a visit to the Seychelles, it’s time to ask yourself the hard questions: Am I willing to travel such a long distance to see it? Can I afford it? Will it be worth the expense to do so? If you said yes to all three then by all means, come visit this archipelago right out of Paradise. If you said no, then that’s OK too. You can always just stare at the screensaver.
Have you been to the Seychelles? Tell us about it!