Once billed the island that time forgot, there may be a few more modern facilities now on La Digue, but they haven’t changed its sleepy, super-chill vibe. Hop on a bicycle to explore the tracks and beaches of this natural paradise, where traditional life continues and you can feel a million miles from the rat race. Considered to be one of the most beautiful of the Seychelles islands, a visit here should not be missed.
In the early days of tourism in Seychelles, life on La Digue went along at a pace little faster than that of ox carts, then the only form of public transport. Today, La Digue’s ox carts are more of a tourist diversion than a necessity – bicycles and pick-up trucks and one or two cars now share the tracks beneath the palms. Most people – tourists and locals alike – get around by bike and no one ever seems to be in a hurry.
Most of the residents and tourist facilities are centred on the west coast close to La Passe, the arrival point for the vast majority (though a few lucky ones come by helicopter). There are regular ferries to Praslin, just 30 minutes away, so it’s possible to visit without staying overnight. If taking this option, book a ferry in advance as they are sometimes full, especially on weekends and public holidays.
La Passe jetty is an artificial harbour creating shelter for visiting yachts and schooners. Ashore, there’s a tourist information office and a small cafeteria, Tarosa Café. On the opposite side of the road there are plenty of bicycles available for hire and this is the best way to see La Digue. Standards are generally good, but it’s wise to examine a few first before deciding on a particular model.
If bikes aren’t your thing, the flat coastal plateau and its beaches as far as L’Union Estate to the south of La Passe is easily explored on foot. Along the way, there are several grand old plantation houses. La Digue experienced a golden age when vanilla was the number-one export and there were several very successful plantations here. Some growers made small fortunes and built themselves these beautiful homes.
A visit to Veuve Reserve is a must for any trip to La Digue, where you can see a rare bird that’s unique to the island.
Veuve, or ‘widow’, is the local name of the beautiful Seychelles paradise flycatcher, the long black tail feathers of the male reminiscent of a widow’s black veil. The bird breeds only on La Digue and is the symbol of the island, while the nature reserve also protects the once widespread takamaka and Indian almond woodland, where the bird still thrives. It may be seen most easily in the early morning or late afternoon. There’s a small visitors centre with displays about the bird and other wildlife, and the warden can provide help if needed on where to find the flycatchers.
Further inland from the reserve is Château St Cloud, a delightful old building, once part of a vanilla farm, now a small hotel. Near to the Château, a steep road leads to Belle Vue. We’ll be honest: this is impossible to cycle and not easy to walk, especially in the middle of the day. However, the fit and energetic are rewarded with a magnificent view over the coastal plateau and across the sea to Praslin. If it’s too much to walk, it’s well worth a taxi fare. Back at the Château and continuing north, the road turns downhill and regains the coast, emerging close to La Passe jetty once more.
L’Union Estate is an open-air museum of plantation life, including a working kalorifer, used to make copra (dried coconut), an ox-powered coconut oil press and vanilla processing. Other features include the La Digue Rock, a gigantic boulder like a natural sculpture, giant tortoises, horse riding and a picturesque plantation house (now a private home).
The estate also guards the entrance to La Digue’s most famous beach, Anse Source d’Argent – its name means Silver Spring Bay. The beach is another Seychelles one that’s occasionally named as the best in the world. The silver white sands are framed by giant granite boulders and perfectly positioned palms – the ultimate in exotic backdrops and a popular spot for weddings and fashion shoots. Be warned, its reputation means it attracts tourists, and low tide can prohibit swimming. A coastal path, easy to follow on foot, continues southward past a series of equally beautiful coves.
Near the entrance to L’Union Estate, the road turns inland through a flat marshy area, La Mare Soupap (Soupap is the Creole name for the little terrapins to be found here). It then climbs steeply before descending to Grand Anse. The views en route are stunning, as is the beach itself, though it can be dangerous to swim here especially during the strong winds of June to September. There’s a bar and restaurant, Loutier Coco, which serves a Creole buffet at lunchtimes.
A track leads northeast towards two more beautiful bays, Petite Anse and Anse Cocos. The track is not navigable by bike but is easy on foot. The track turns inland, crossing Pointe Ma Flore to Anse Caiman. There it peters out, and it can be a struggle to reach the road at Anse Fourmis, even though it’s little more than a further 200m. This is easier at low tide on calm days when you may wade through the shallow water; it’s not much fun at other times when a precarious scramble over slippery granite boulders pounded by waves may be required.
North of La Passe, the road rounds the top of the island and leads to Anse Fourmis, a distance of about 4km. There are several beautiful beaches en route, the first of which, Anse Severe, is one of the best on La Digue for swimming and snorkelling, except when there’s a strong onshore wind. Snorkelling is easiest within a couple of hours either side of high tide and the best place is around the rocks at the corner of the beach.
Beyond the northern tip of La Digue is Anse Patates. This is a rocky bay but it’s also good for swimming and snorkelling. Next is Anse Gaulettes, where swimming can be dangerous because of strong currents, then Anse Grosse Roche, named after the immense granite outcrop at the northern end of the bay, and then Anse Banane. Both of these latter beaches are safe for swimming, though the sea can be rough at times. At Anse Fourmis, the road ends. Snorkelling here is good when the sea is calm around the rocks.
The private island of Félicité lies 3km northeast of La Digue – its luxurious accommodation is reserved for just a few visitors and is managed by Six Senses Zil Pasyon. The resort occupies about a third of this paradise island, with the rest left untouched for natural conservation. The facilities here include boat trips and game fishing, and there’s a good beach for swimming at La Penice. Be sure to bring or hire a snorkel – you will want to check out the underwater life in the same vicinity.