Is the Real Garden of Eden on the Seychelles Islands?

Most people know the Seychelles Islands as a tropical paradise with white-sand beaches and those over-the-water bungalows contrasting with the aquamarine seas. Prince William and Kate Middleton had their luxurious honeymoon here, and countless others have followed.

However, there’s no reason you have to go to the Seychelles in a white dress. In fact, a giant sun-hat, some sturdy boots and a pair of binoculars might be a better get-up for spotting the giant tortoises like the ones in this Nat Geo video:

For bird, plant and animal lovers, the Seychelles are a different type of paradise. More than 100 different plants and animals can only be found on the Seychelles! Skip the languid days on the beach and head directly to the palm forests. Here are some of the plants and animals you’ve got to see on your Seychelles trip: 

Seychelles

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Jellyfish Tree | The jellyfish tree is so rare that people thought it had gone extinct. Luckily, a few trees re-surfaced during the 1970s and have been monitored ever since. Currently there are only 30 jellyfish trees and they can only be found on Mahe Island, Seychelles. 

These small, leather-leaf shrubs got their name from their fruits which open up in jellyfish-like tentacles as they age. The seeds spread over the wind and many blow right off the island into the sea. As a consequence, there are no young jellyfish trees growing in the wild and the tree is critically endangered. 

If you’re looking for the trees, they’ll be hard to spot. While they previously grew on exposed granite outcroppings, the tree can now only be found tucked away in the dense, humid cloud-forests that cover the island. 

Giant tortoise eating in the wild [Corieuse Island, Seychelles]

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Aldabra Giant Tortoise | The Aldabra Giant Tortoise was the only tortoise to survive the ravages of human settlement on the islands. These slow-moving giants were irresistible prey to hungry and trophy-hunting European sailors. By the 1840s, all but the Aldabra tortoises were thought to have become extinct in the wild. 

You can still find Aldabra Giant tortoises in the wild on Aldabra Atoll, but the island is extremely remote and access is tightly restricted to scientists and the occasional tour group. Nearby Assumption Island, where this Nat Geo clip was filmed also has wild tortoises. It’s much easier to see the giant tortoises at Curieuse Island Giant Land Tortoise Sanctuary.   

Sooglossidae Frog [Seychelles Islands]

Sooglossidae Frogs | These frogs are not pretty. They look like squashed, slimy, purple blobs with little pointy noses. Some of the frogs skip the tadpole stage and hatch directly as miniature frogs. Others hatch on the ground as tadpoles and are carried on their mother’s moist back until they undergo metamorphosis.

You’ll find these frogs in the jungle under leaves and in between the cracks in rocks. Unless you are really into amphibians, you probably won’t go looking for these bad boys, but if you see a shimmering purple blob in the forest, you’ll know what you are looking at. 

Coco-de-mer [Vallee de Mai, Praslin, Seychelles]

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Coco de Mer | The coco de mer has an exotic and pretty scandalous reputation for a tree. When sailors first arrived in the Seychelles they were met with what look like giant female rear ends hanging from the lush palm fronds. These “love nuts,” as they were called, instantly became a commodity. They are considered an aphrodisiac in Asian cultures and the Europeans thought they’d stumbled upon the original forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. 

Today, you’ll see many of the Seychelles’ coco de mer trees at the Vallee de Mai Nature Reserve. This lush forest preserve protects a serious cash-crop from exploitation. The government owns every single coco de mer tree on the islands, including those outside the park on private land. Illegal coco de mer harvest is a criminal offense. While you’re enjoying the unique coco de mer trees, you will also catch glimpses of the birds and animals who call this lush ecosystem home. 

Seychelles Blue Pigeon [Denis Island, Seychelles]

Seychelles Blue Pigeon | Many of the plants and animals native to the Seychelles are in danger of extinction. Climate change, farming, non-native species and human development have pushed animal populations to the point of collapse. Luckily, the Seychelles blue pigeon has managed to hang on and is one of the only endemic animals to have a healthy population. 

True to their name, blue pigeons are blue, but they also have red heads and brilliant white shoulders. You’ll see them year round, although visits from April to October increase the likelihood you’ll see the males engaged in athletic dive-bombing of potential mates. 

Seychelles Magpie-Robin [Seychelles]

Seychelles Magpie-robin | It’s quite a coup when you spot a Seychelles magpie-robin. There are only somewhere between 200 and 300 birds on all five of the main islands. Cats, rats and habitat destruction reduced their numbers so intensely that in the 1970s there were only 16 individuals left. 

If they have enough room in the forest, these black and white striped birds can live up to 15 years. Bring your binoculars and sign up for a tour to maximize your chances at seeing one of these rare birds. 

Beau Vallon Bay at sunset [Mahe, Seychelles]

Seychelles Scops-Owl | You’re more likely to hear a Seychelles scops-owl than see one. These small owls hunt the higher-elevation cloud forests at night looking for geckos, frogs and insects to munch on. Listen for their brittle, raspy call in Morne Seychellois National Park on Mahe – you’ll find them nowhere else. 

Due to the introduction of cats, barn owls and rats, the Seychelles scops owl was thought to have been extinct. The bird used to be found on three islands, but today it’s down to one island. If you’re lucky enough to spot one, you’ll be one of only a handful of people who’ve ever seen a Seychelles scops-owl. 

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Carmen Fifield

The delight of finding an unknown park, a captivating history museum or a fantastic desert means exploration is never far from Carmen Fifield’s mind. Carmen’s favorite travel memories include biking to historic sites on the island of Guernsey, huffing and puffing up the stairs to the Great Wall of China and eating the most delicious crab cake ever in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Carmen’s Favorite Travel Tip: Say goodbye to airplane food and tuck some fruit and your favorite sandwich into your carry-on.

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