Seychelles day trips: Aride, Cousin and other islands

Praslin is a great base for day or half-day trips to several other islands, all of which can be booked through almost any Praslin hotel, with tour operators, or direct with boat owners. Aride, Cousin and Cousine are key to conservation efforts in the Seychelles, being extraordinary refuges for rare land birds and breeding grounds for thousands of seabirds. Further on, visit Curieuse to see the remains of a leper colony and a tortoise sanctuary, or the Sisters and Ile Cocos for the most incredible snorkelling.

1. Aride

To see the nearest thing to what the Seychelles looked like before humans arrived, head for Aride Island Nature Reserve. This is the most northerly of the Seychelles’ granitic islands. Its size and relative isolation mean that a full-day trip is required, but this also means fewer people compared to other island trips, and more time to savour the beauty of the place, take photos, swim, snorkel (an amazing 450 fish species have been recorded), explore or relax.

Aride has more seabirds of more species than the other 40 granite islands of the Seychelles added together. Unlike most islands, it’s not dominated by coconuts, and plants include the beautiful fragrant shrub Wright’s gardenia, found naturally nowhere else on earth.

The island is owned by the Royal Society of Wildlife Trusts of UK and leased and managed by local NGO, the Island Conservation Society. The Aride Island Conservation Centre features exhibits on the history and natural history of the island. There are a few things to buy and their sale helps fund some of the longest continuous scientific monitoring programmes undertaken in the Seychelles.

A nature trail leads through a small plantation area where the warden and staff grow a few crops. The rest of the island is given over to nature. The walk along the plateau is easy. It then turns uphill and, while not too steep, can be hot work on humid days, but fear not, the effort is worth it. The view from the northern cliffs at the climax of the trail is properly stunning. There’s no comparable cliff-top view in the Seychelles, and nowhere else is it possible to look down upon thousands of roosting frigate birds, and glimpse the elusive red-tailed tropicbird. While in the turquoise waters below, you may be able to clearly see rays, turtles and dolphins.

2. Cousin

The island of Cousin is only 2km from Praslin and fairly sheltered, with a beach surrounding most of the island, so landing is generally possible all year round. Cousin Island Nature Reserve is owned by BirdLife International and managed by Nature Seychelles. It’s a smaller, gentler version of Aride, without the huge number of frigate birds but with the same land birds and many of the seabird species. It’s also largely returned to its natural state since its purchase as a reserve in 1968.

You come to Cousin to see the wildlife, so entry is quite controlled. Visitors cannot land themselves – this must be done by disembarking into the island’s small boats. A small armada of boats from Praslin moors offshore and waits for the island’s boats to come out to collect and ferry visitors ashore, who then assemble at the boat shelter. This process can take an hour or so, depending on the number of people to be landed and your place in the queue. The gathered ensemble is then split into English- or French-speaking groups for guided tours around the island. The tour lasts about 2 hours.

Note that it’s not possible to roam the island unaccompanied and there’s no time to swim or snorkel, but trips are very well organised and led by knowledgeable guides. Most of the birds are very tame and can be photographed at close quarters.

Cousin is one of the most important hawksbill turtle nesting islands in the western Indian Ocean and has a long tradition of turtle monitoring. During the nesting season (Oct–Apr) there’s quite a good chance of seeing one, as they will come ashore to nest in daylight, unlike in other parts of the world. Nesting turtles should never be approached until they have begun to lay, and, even then, only under the watchful eye of one of the island’s staff.

3. Cousine

Cousine Island lies off Praslin, a short distance from Cousin. It’s a privately-owned nature reserve and is the only granite island of any size with no alien mammals, the island being exclusively for the use of up to eight guests, accommodated in four individual villas. For those who can afford it, it’s a rare opportunity to experience living on an island teeming with wildlife. A resident conservation officer is available to take guests on guided walks and explain the various conservation projects.

4. Curieuse and St Pierre

An excursion to Cousin is often combined with a visit to Curieuse Island for lunch and to nearby St Pierre islet for snorkelling. You can also arrange separate day trips to Curieuse from most Praslin hotels. Curieuse lies just 1km north of Praslin at the centre of a Marine National Park. It’s less heavily wooded than other islands and was once known as Ile Rouge because from the sea the red soil is very noticeable.

A leper colony was established here in 1833 at Anse St José. Ruins of the lepers’ houses remain, while the doctor’s house has been renovated as a Visitors Centre with an interesting history section on the ground floor and a good natural history section on the first floor. Next to the doctor’s house there are sheltered tables and an area for barbecues.

A footpath leads over the hill to Baie Laraie. Apart from the steep hill at the start of the walk, this is a very easy stroll. The path follows the coast, part of it a boardwalk through mangroves of various species. At Baie Laraie there’s a Tortoise Conservation Project, where baby tortoises are kept in pens to give them a head start in life before being released. The turtle pond has also become a sanctuary for female lemon sharks to birth their offspring and is another conservation project.

5. The Sisters, Ile Cocos and Marianne

Grande Soeur and neighbouring Petite Soeur (known collectively as The Sisters) are owned by the Praslin hotel Château de Feuilles, which reserves them exclusively for guests at weekends. During the week, other boat owners offer trips usually with a barbecue lunch and the opportunity for snorkelling. The island boat ferries guests ashore to Grand Soeur. There are sandy beaches on each side, so that landing is possible in both seasons. It lacks the rich wildlife of Aride and Cousin, but is a beautiful little island with nice beaches, and the snorkelling is excellent.

Nearby, tiny Ile Cocos is surrounded by a small Marine National Park and has one of the best snorkelling sites in the granitic islands. There are large numbers of parrotfish, butterflyfish, angelfish and groupers. Whale sharks are sometimes seen in this vicinity. Marianne is nearly 2km north of Cocos. It’s covered with coconuts – great for a picture – and is especially fun to visit because it’s uninhabited. A single beach on the western coast permits landings by small boat.

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