There are 9000 bicycles on La Digue – That’s a fact. It’s a thing we can’t deny, And you must see this place before you die.
OK, huge apologies to Katie Melua, but I’m sure she’d agree with the sentiments, and those lyrics (or similar) were going through my head as I pedalled my way around this little paradise within a paradise.
Schoolchildren, grandmothers, dads with one child on the handlebars and another on the back carrier, housewives with shopping, cool young guys with awesome bike sound systems, and entrepreneurs who carry whole pop-up shops on their bikes. On La Digue life happens on a bike. Bikes are quiet, they move at island speed, and they facilitate friendly face-to-face interaction. La Digue would be a pretty amazing place even if it weren’t bike heaven, but the combination is sublime.
The route to La Digue reflects its status as the smallest of the three “big islands” of the Seychelles. You have to fly to Mahé, which is the big island, and then take a ferry or a commuter plane to Praslin, the beautiful second-biggest big island. We did that and fell in love with the Vallée de Mai, where we oohed and aaahed at the verdant palm forests. And then we took a short ferry ride to La Digue, zipped up to our hotel on a golf cart, dumped our bags, and tried out the numerous bicycles till we found ones we liked. It takes about half an hour to become another person entirely. When we got the bikes, we’d insisted on a chain lock, but, once we discovered it didn’t actually work and no one else had one anyway, we chilled – hey Toto, we’re not in Gauteng any more.
But before I wax even more lyrical I must confess to one huge disappointment. I’d read a somewhat dated guidebook to Seychelles, and I was under the impression there were no motorised vehicles on La Digue – just bicycles and ox carts. Then I was told about the golf carts, which was a bit sad but still something I could live with. So I was really disappointed to see cars, taxis and trucks when we disembarked. Actually, there aren’t many, and I believe the Seychelles government is working to get rid of them, but their presence is somewhat disturbing. And, worst of all, it means that the ox carts, which used to carry anything too big or too heavy to fit on a bicycle, have been reduced to tourist attractions. This is not progress.
But, hey, if there’s one thing island culture teaches you, it’s to focus on the positive because there’s just so much of it. We pedalled through a vanilla, nutmeg and coconut farm, where we chatted to the ladies who pollinate the vanilla flowers, and discussed Bob Marley with possibly the only Rasta in the world who sports a number 4 buzz cut. There’s a tiny little gift shop where we discovered coconut fudge. You know that pink and white coconut ice kids eat? Well, it’s nothing like that – or, more accurately, it might just be something like that when it grows up. It’s flavoured with fresh vanilla, nutmeg and cinnamon – and lime, I think. The taste is unique and positively addictive.
We then cuddled some giant tortoises, and visited Anse Source d’Argent because – well, because the guidebooks say you must. And so everyone goes. Yes, a beautiful beach with a great little pop-up juice bar, but a tad too popular for its own good. Crowded by Seychelles standards, though still nowhere near Durban or Clifton. But we found a hammock in the shade, and bought a coconut with a straw popped through a hole hacked in the shell. Coconut water straight from the nut has got to be the most refreshing drink in the world.
Feeling a tad peckish we pedalled to the main town – if it can be called a town – where we fortified ourselves with a fabulous lunch and a few fruity, coconutty cocktails at a restaurant overlooking the beach and jetty. We went on to explore the other side of the island, where the beaches were less crowded and just as beautiful – but not as calm, as there is no protective lagoon. And there were little pop-up juice bars on that side of the island, too.
It’s a time-warpy kind of place. Cycling along the sea, on secretive forest paths or through vanilla plantations is meditative, and the beaches are – well, tropical island beaches. Other than the very few cars, the worst thing about the island was having to leave. We only spent a day there, and my blood pressure had gone down about 20 points. Next time, I’ll spend less time in Mahé and Praslin, and just park off on La Digue for a week.
Getting there. Air Seychelles (www.airseychelles.com) flies to Mahé direct from O.R. Tambo, landing in the evening, so you’ll need to overnight in Mahé – and it’s worth spending a day exploring Victoria, the Seychelles capital, so you’ll probably want to stay another night. Then take the ferry (about €50 to €60) to Praslin. Check out www.catcocos.com.
We’d recommend a day on Praslin, visiting the Vallée de Mai, where you can see the beautiful coco de mer palms and maybe even spot the endemic Seychelles black parrot, but you can just hop on the next ferry to La Digue if you like. It’s a quick 15-minute crossing (€15). You can also fly to Praslin – a 15-minute flight with Air Seychelles – but then you will have to take a taxi to the ferry. If money is not an issue, you can charter a helicopter direct from Mahé to La Digue.
Where To Stay
There are loads of guesthouses, B&Bs and hotels, ranging from affordable and basic to pretty darn luxurious. Check out www.seychelles.travel.
Where To Eat
There are pop-up juice bars and small takeaways all over the island and your hotel is likely to do great food but, if you want to spoil yourself, then try chilling for a few hours at Fish Trap Restaurant. If you’re in Mahé for the day, you have to try Marie Antoinette, the original Seychelles Creole restaurant that’s been in the same family since 1972, and – on the principle that, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it – has kept the same menu since 1972.
What To Buy
You can buy yummy, plump vanilla pods direct from the farm (at about the same price as you would pay in the market in Mahé, which is significantly less than you would pay for skinny, dried-out ones in SA), and you just have to try the coconut fudge.
What To Do
Chill, hang out on the beach, cuddle the giant tortoises and explore the island. Get on your bike and ride …