By Joan Larsen
Marooned in the middle of the Indian Ocean lies an almost unknown archipelago of 115 islands – the Seychelles – that have a pristine, tropical beauty that made me feel that our small ship had drifted into a dream world. As a child, literature had called it “as close to the Garden of Eden as one could find on earth”. The words alone were tantalizing. I was determined to be one of the first to set foot on this remote island grouping that was about 900 miles off the coast of East Africa.
Tropical islands – well, everywhere – had been my dream getaways for years. But the Seychelles remained elusive, unknown, really difficult to get to. And yet – yet – I felt it was like a star that I had yet to reach.
It may have taken years to find the small ship to take us to this island nation with its small population . . . BUT it was the one with the most incredible geography and climate, as well as the most breathtaking beauty of some of the most idyllic little islands on our planet. It was worth the long wait!
Romantic? We weren’t the only ones who have given it 5 stars. Prince William and Princess Kate stayed in this hidden hideaway in the Seychelles for their honeymoon in 2011, and George Clooney and his latest love were spotted there in April. It is a lovers’ dream come true.
Thick, powdery sand crunched underfoot and a sea of impossible blue seemed to shimmer. Waves rolled lazily to shore, receding to reveal spindly crabs, tap-dancing their way across the beach.
Our ship hopped from island to island, anchoring for a day spent hiking in lush forest, snorkeling in secluded coves – in crystal waters – with the most colorful tropical fish – the gorgeous fish parading by as if vying for our selection for Miss World. Our ship’s scientists had counted a hundred species in a single cove. There were times when I found the incredible underwater scene so beyond belief that I asked (OK, I begged) for more time. (This year they have added scuba diving for the first time for those so inclined!)
Our group of fewer than 100 passengers quickly had become friends, vying for chances to tell of their own private experiences each evening as we went from island to island in this paradise.
But the best was saved to last. It was then we sailed to the remote Aldabra Atoll, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the largest atolls on earth. The only human inhabitants: scientists and rangers, here to protect the wildlife. But walking through the shaded grove, we found we were far from alone. The gigantic Aldabra tortoise, king of all he surveys, emerged from the shade to feed, giving us the feeling we were in a prehistoric world. It is estimated that over 100,000 of them roam wild only on these islands.
Even if birds are not usually “your thing”, Aldabra is home to birds of all sizes and colors that you will want to photograph. They exist nowhere else on earth.
The snorkeling – that anyone can do in minutes – is the very best here. And scuba divers – who thought they had seen it all and been everywhere– find they are in for the thrill of a lifetime.
The Seychelles – and as the crème de la crème – Aldabra – will forever after set this hidden world of islands apart, no matter where you have travelled in life. We and our fellow passengers toasted once again on our last night on shipboard – to the new friends we had made, to the wonders of these islands of Eden, and to a shipboard journey where all stops were pulled out to make a once-in-a-lifetime voyage.
The Garden of Eden? If it wasn’t, it was very very close. Go!
Writer Joan Larsen has spent a lifetime searching for the most remote places on Earth. But it is the polar regions of our world that she has been drawn back to again and again. She has done research in these lands of ice, and considers Antarctica to be her “other home”.