Image by Ruth Eastham & Max Paoli Getty Images
Gorgeous World Heritage–listed Vallée de Mai is one of only two places in the world where the rare coco de mer palm grows in its natural state (the other being nearby Curieuse Island). It's also a birding hot spot: watch for the endemic Seychelles bulbul, the lovely blue pigeon, the Seychelles warbler and the endangered black parrot, of which there are between 520 and 900 left in the wild. It's a real slice of Eden.
Three hiking trails (plus a number of connecting minor subtrails) lead through this primeval, emerald-tinged forest, which remained totally untouched until the 1930s. The shortest is about 1km and the longest is 2km and all are clearly marked and easy going – perfect for families. As you walk amid the forest, the atmosphere is eerie, with the monstrous leaves of the coco de mer soaring 30m to a sombre canopy of huge fronds. Signs indicate some of the other endemic trees to look out for (there are more than 50 other indigenous plants and trees), including several varieties of pandanus (screw pines) and latanier palms. This is also home one of only two populations of the giant bronze gecko, and 14 endemic reptile and amphibian species.
There are free guided visits at 9am and 2pm, but we recommend taking a private guide for a 1½- to two-hour guided walk (Rs 1000 per group) through the forest – you'll miss so much if you go it alone.
There's an informative visitor centre, cafe and excellent shop on site.