Forty kilometers (25 miles) northeast of Mahé, Praslin is just a 15-minute flight or 45-minute ferry ride away. Praslin, at 11 km (7 miles) long and 4 km (2.5 miles) wide, is the second-largest island in the Seychelles. First settled as a hideaway by pirates and Arab merchants, the island's original name, Isle de Palmes, bears testament to its reputation as home of the Vallée de Mai UNESCO World Heritage Site: the only place in the world where the famous Coco de Mer, the world's heaviest nut, grows abundantly in the wild. Praslin's endemic palm forests shelter many rare species, and the island is a major bird-watching destination. Surrounded by a coral reef, majestic bays, and gorgeous beaches, Praslin is much quieter and less developed than Mahé. With few real "sights," the pleasures of Praslin largely involve relaxing in or exploring its stunning beaches and fantastical forests.
Almost all of Praslin's hotels have a restaurant. The best area for dining is Côte d'Or, which boasts some very good hotel restaurants and most of the island's true stand-alone dining establishments.
Coco de Mer Bar and Restaurant
Set smack dab on Cote d'Or beach, the Village du Pecheur Hotel's restaurant's magical ambience of fairy lights and hurricane lanterns will attract passersby, but the food is what will keep them coming back. An excellent menu of seafood and international dishes, and unpretentious setting makes this one of Praslin's popular eateries. The sea bass and the curried seafood pasta are recommended. No children under 7.
Café des Arts
Probably Praslin's best restaurant, Café des Arts is a funky, brightly colored haven of divine cuisine, located right on Cote d'Or, one of Seychelles' most beautiful beaches. Though the decor is a fine and festive combination of high-low—mixing elements like coconut-shell lamps with a ceiling swathed in cinnamon-color silks—the food here is all high, meeting the fussiest fine diner's expectations. The octopus gratin with lobster and the tuna carpaccio with a caper, garlic, and olive oil dip are highly recommended. Save room for the desserts, which are fabulously decadent. The cheesy music is forgiven by the excellent and incredibly friendly service. Lunch consists of a lighter menu, served on the wooden deck set right on the beach.
A small family-run restaurant serving authentic Creole cuisine, this casual eatery is popular with locals and offers takeout for both lunch and dinner, as well as coffee and light breakfasts. Perfectly cooked fish accompanied by delicious Creole salads made from smoked fish, mango, papaya, and breadfruit are the specialties at this extremely friendly and unpretentious establishment. The set dinner menu is very popular and a great value.
Beach Bar & Grill
Serving fabulous Creole-inspired food in a gorgeous setting atop a small rocky outcrop between Grande and Petite Anse Kerlan, Constance Lemuria's elegant beach restaurant is well worth a visit for lunch or dinner. The whitefish ceviche marinated with lemongrass oil and served on a bed of dried coconut and the whole grilled reef fish in a piquant Creole sauce (you can request it extra spicy) are highly recommended. Enjoy the sea breezes that cross from bay to bay, and bird's-eye views of the small reef sharks that sometimes ply the granite boulders below. Nonguests should call ahead to make a reservation.
Located on lovely Anse Lazio beach, this outdoor establishment is open for lunch only, but serves fabulous grilled seafood and Creole specialties right on the water's edge. There is a three-course set menu (Rs400), or you can order grilled lobster, fish, scallops, or mussels Seychellois from the à la carte menu (all served with rice, salad, and lentils). A large open-air structure of thatch and wood, the restaurant's best tables are in the sand under umbrellas. Outside of lunch hours, fresh fruit juices, milkshakes, and ice cream are available.
Compared to Mahé, Praslin's hotels are generally much smaller and less swish: there are only a handful of resorts and large hotels, and many of the latter are locally owned and enjoy a casual, friendly atmosphere. Most of Praslin's accommodations are clustered either on Côte d'Or (also known as Anse Volbert) on the island's east side, or Grand Anse on the west coast.
Praslin's shops mostly offer artisanal crafts and curios and are fairly limited. The unique double-nut Coco de Mer seeds are on sale in the Vallée de Mai Park, but they're part of a strictly controlled quota—if you buy one, make sure that it has a label that authenticates its origins. Most shops cluster around the Bay St. Anne jetty and the popular Côte d'Or beach.
Café des Arts Gallery
This small gallery, which features the paintings of several different Seychellois artists, is located next door to the restaurant of the same name.
La Vallée de Mai Boutique
The souvenir shop at the Vallée de Mai Park sells a certified Coco de Mer nut (about Rs2,900), books about Seychelles natural history, and other souvenirs.
Black Pearl Praslin Ocean Farm
Located just outside the airport, you'll find black pearls from the Seychelles' black-lip oyster, a specialty of the islands, at the source.
Cote d'Or Beach
Cote d'Or Beach (also known as Anse Volbert) is a stunning white-sand beach that frequently appears on best-beach lists. There is a good number of hotels and restaurants nearby. The only downside to this gorgeous strip of sand, probably Praslin's most popular, is that you won't be alone, and you may get hassled by beach boys selling boat trips and the like. Amenities: Food and drink, toilets (at hotels). Best for: Swimming, partiers, walking.
Cousin lies just off the southwest coast of Praslin, about 30 to 45 minutes away by boat. A nature reserve since 1968, Cousin is home to some of Seychelles' rarest birds, including the Seychelles bush warbler and the Seychelles magpie robin, and also serves as the breeding ground for thousands of lesser noddies, ferry terns, and tropic birds. Arriving on this small island, you'll see a sky darkened with the diving silhouettes of thousands of birds, and a visit gives a glimmer of an idea of what the first explorers to Seychelles might have experienced when alighting on these islands. In addition to its magnificent bird populations, the island is home to giant Aldabra tortoises, as well as being a favorite nesting site for hawksbill turtles. Your hotel can organize a trip to the island with one of the many boat excursion operators; the stop at Cousin will usually be one of three that the boat will make. Be sure to bring your camera (fantastic photo ops of ground-nesting birds), mosquito spray (the mozzies can be thick in the interior), and a hat (they say it's good luck to be pooped on by a bird, but let your hat take the hit).
Vallée de Mai National Park
Located on Praslin's southeastern end, the Vallée de Mai National Park protects some of the last ancient virgin Mascarene forest in the world. This World Heritage Site is also the only place on earth where the unique double coconut or Coco de Mer palms grow wild and abundantly. Some 6,000 specimens bearing the largest nut in the plant kingdom flourish here. This idyllic paradise is also home to the other five species of Seychelles endemic palms, the rare black parrot, fresh-water crabs, giant crayfish, and vanilla orchids. Visitors can take the tarmac road from Bay St. Anne toward Grand Anse for a drive through the park that will introduce them to its charms, but the only real way to experience it is to walk along the very well-maintained nature trails (sandals will suffice) that run through the valley. Allow at least three hours to really explore the park. A nice gift shop where you can buy certified Coco de Mer seeds, and a café with drinks and light meals are on the premises.
Once known as Île Rouge on account of its red earth, this rugged island was previously home to a leper colony situated at Anse St. Joseph. The resident doctor's house, which dates back to the 1870s, was converted into an eco-museum and visitor center, and Aldabra tortoises roam freely. Aside from Praslin, Curieuse is the only other island where the coco de mer grows naturally (Coco de Mers have been planted and cultivated elsewhere in the Seychelles). Curieuse also boasts eight different species of mangrove. It is reachable by boat from Praslin, and often serves as a lunch spot on the various boat excursions from Praslin and La Digue.
This stretch of white sand could certainly contend for Praslin's prettiest beach—a complete lack of development and difficult access keep it so. Unfortunately, road access passes through the Lemuria Hotel, and nonguests must get permission to enter, which is not always an easy task.
Amenities: none. Best for: snorkeling, swimming, solitude.
Grand Anse, on the southwest coast, is another large stretch of sand with several hotels, and is lovely from October to March, but it can be the recipient of a lot of mucky sea grass the rest of the year. Good for swimming and water sports the rest of the year, with plenty of places to rent equipment for the latter.
Amenities: Food and drink, toilets (at hotels). Best for: Swimming, walking.
Praslin's most famous beach is located on the island's northeastern tip. A long strip of golden sand with stunning granite boulders on either end and takamaka trees providing much coveted shade, this calm beach is known for excellent swimming and snorkeling opportunities. Unfortunately, this postcard perfect spot can get extremely crowded, diminishing the magic for some. When you arrive, head left and look for a nook at the very end between the boulders. The bus doesn't reach here, so you'll have to drive or walk about 20 minutes from the closest bus stop. Two restaurants operate on either end of the beach, about a ten minute walk away from one another.
Amenities: food and drink, parking, toilets (at hotels). Best for: snorkeling, swimming.
A 30- to 45-minute boat trip from Praslin, Aride is one of the most pristine of the Seychelles islands and is known as the "seabird citadel" of the Indian Ocean, with more than a million seabirds breeding here each year. Protected as a reserve since 1967, Aride hosts 18 species of native birds, including the world's only hilltop colony of sooty terns and the only granitic breeding sites for the world's largest colony of lesser noddies. The Seychelles warbler was introduced from Cousin in 1988, as were the Seychelles fody and magpie robin in 2002. Aride also boasts one of the densest populations of lizards on earth, as well as unique endemic plants. A beautiful reef surrounds the island, and in season it is common to see whale sharks and flying fish in the waters just offshore. Visitors to the island must land between 9:30 and 10, but then may spend the whole day on the island if desired. Numerous operators can take you to Aride, and usually include lunch in the trip; inquire at your hotel. Due to weather conditions, Aride sometimes closes to visitors from May to September, when strong winds can prevent boats from landing.