Last week, I had a chance to visit Tokyo on the back of a business trip… and it was an incredible experience! Despite it being such a large city, it is very easy to move around on foot and using the metro (once I figured out how to get a Suica or Pasmo card), and I was able to check out all these top spots in about two days. Here they are, in a very non-scientific order of preference:
[Comes from previous post] Around 9am, and after a minimal breakfast, the other climber, the remaining sherpa and I set out to Camp 2. I couldn’t fathom the idea of another long day, so I started at a decent pace, and soon found myself well ahead of them. I was on the Western Cwm, a massive ice valley, with possibly the most spectacular views in the world: Everest on the left, the Lhotse face in the middle, Nuptse very close to your right, and a whole range of beautiful mountains behind you, among other, Pumori and Cho Oyu.
[Comes from previous post] So after another uneventful rest day, and a short night dominated by nerves, we got up at 5am, gobbled some breakfast and grabbed all our gear. It was dark and extremely cold when we set foot on the icefall, and I struggled to get my stride. My hands were freezing, and one of the two sherpas that were accompanying us had to help me put my crampons on, and even clip and un-clip to the fixed rope a couple of times. When the sun finally hit us, I felt much better and picked up the pace. And I also allowed myself to enjoy the moment for the first time. Wow, after so many books and movies, I was on the mystical Khumbu Icefall, and what a sight it was.
Let’s get the #1 question out of the way: no, I did not summit Everest. I did, however, hike to Base Camp, spend a fair amount of time there, climb up to Camp 1 and Camp 2, and share the whole experience with true mountaineers and aficionados alike… in one of the deadliest seasons in Everest history. The experience, in fact, left me so raw, it’s taking me over a month to sit down and write this post.
After five days in Mahe, we took the ferry to La Digue. This island is fairly different from the main one, much smaller and with a limited number of cars, everyone moves around in bicycles. And although there are hotels, most people stay in so-called self-catering rentals, which you can easily find on Airbnb. These were the spots we visited over a little under three days:
Anse Source d’Argent: This beach is the most famous one in all of the Seychelles, as it has been named “the most beautiful beach in the world” in many rankings. Unfortunately, that means it gets crowded with tourists, while many other equally stunning beaches across the country are pretty much empty, and this really detracts from the experience. In addition, the beach is inside a private estate, so you have to pay 115 rupees / ~$10 to get in… except we found a loophole: we were able to get in two different days by walking in the water from the beach further north J It’s worth noting that they control the exit on the land, so if you “break in” you must “break out”, and that things get very tricky when the tide goes up (read: water up to your throat).
The beach itself is comprised of several coves with thin white sand and very cool boulders. The water is extremely clear and you can spot large fish easily, but swimming is not particularly easy due to coral reefs and seaweed. In addition to the beach, the estate has interesting plantations (e.g., vanilla), and giant tortoises you can feed, though these are in an enclosure and not very active. All in all, we did enjoy Source d’Argent the two times we went there, but I would definitely not put it at the top of my list of things to do in Seychelles, not even in La Digue.
Grande Anse, Petite Anse, Anse Cocos: On our second day in La Digue, we rented bikes (100 rupees / ~$7 per day, cheaper on the main road than at hotels) and headed south. The ride was very enjoyable, and we made it to Grand Anse in about 20 min, after a quick stop at a minimart to buy snacks (since takeaway places didn’t seem to open until lunch time). Grand Anse was yet another fantastic beach, but maybe a bot rough for swimming. So we left our bikes behind (no lock needed in this tiny island) and kept going.
From behind Grand Anse, we took the trail that led us to Petite Anse in barely 10-15 min. Once again, the beach didn’t disappoint: turquoise waters and white sands, lined by palm trees and boulders. It was scorching hot, the first day we had had with no clouds and no signs of rain. Luckily, the locals who run a juice bar on the beach had built a handful of shacks out of palm tree leafs, and we were early enough to grab one.
After chilling for a bit, we continued on, taking the trail just behind the juice bar towards Anse Cocos. This trail was a bit longer, around 30-40 min, and rockier, and we were glad we had sneakers with us rather than just flip-flops. Anse Cocos immediately won me over, I’d definitely say it’s the best beach in La Digue. The sand was extremely soft and fluffy, and the water had all shades of blue and green. And on the far end, beyond the first boulders, there was an unreal natural pool with even more clear and calm waters. We spent hours there, playing in the water and sand like kids J In the late afternoon, we biked back to town, stopping at Ray and Josh Café to grab some delicious curry.
North shore, Anse Severe: On our last day in La Digue, we rode north, enjoying the scenic shoreline, and eventually turning around and settling at Anse Severe. The sand was not as good as in other beaches, and the coral reef and low tide made it hard to swim, making it easier to just lay in the shallows. But we still liked it, because it was very laid back and the water was as perfect as everywhere in the Seychelles.
And in any case, we had a different agenda: we wanted to see tortoises in the wild and they hang out in the area. During the day it was too hot and they were sleeping tucked under the trees, so we went on another bike ride to Source d’Argent and to the nature reserve in the middle of the island, and by the time we came back two tortoises were out on the road. It was very cool observing them, they looked like dinosaurs, and they don’t seem to mind being petted! Anse Severe was also a perfect spot for a final sunset and a final fruit juice in the Seychelles.
The archipelago of Seychelles was up there on my list, together with French Polynesia and the Maldives, in terms of idyllic beaches to visit. After spending a bit over a week exploring it, I have to say Seychelles didn’t disappoint; if anything, it exceeding my high expectations. The landscapes are absolutely gorgeous, the people extremely nice, the whole country surprisingly well developed, and the cost is rather reasonable. Seychelles is not a backpackers’ destination (if fact, they really check that you have legit accommodation booked for all the days you are there before letting you go through immigration), but mixing up hotels with Airbnb, renting cars and bikes to move around, and buying some meals at supermarkets, you can get a fantastic experience without an expensive package.
Out of the three main islands of Mahe, Praslin and La Digue, we decided to focus on Mahe, the most developed one and point of entry / exit, and La Digue, the most chilled one. Praslin, which has equally beautiful beaches and is a great hub for hopping to smaller islands, would have to wait for another time. In Mahe, we stayed at the Le Meridian in Beau Vallon, because we could book it with points, and because that location is a great home base to explore the rest of the island, with cheap car rentals ($60 per day), supermarkets, etc. We slacked for two days and then rented a car for three days; these were the spots we visited:
Beau Vallon: The largest beach on Mahe and by far the most developed, Beau Vallon is quite scenic though not comparable to the top ones. It is probably the best beach for swimming, with consistently calm waters, and for watersports (SUP, parasailing, etc.). Apart from many stores for provisioning and restaurants of all price ranges, we enjoyed Beau Vallon’s local food stalls (grilled fish, chapati with curry, banana chips, fresh juices, etc.) on Wednesday evening.
The east coast, Anse Forbans: On our first day with a car, we drove south of the capital Victoria and past the airport, and soon reached the picturesque shore on the south east side of the island. We made a pit stop at Surfers Beach, and then parked at the DoubleTree Hilton. Walking over some boulders on the south side of the hotel beach, we accessed Anse Forbans and had it all to ourselves J The water, of a transparent green hue, was shallow and full of coral, so rather than swimming we simply floated around to cool off.
Anse Intendance: Crossing over to the west coast, we followed the signs to Banyan Tree Hotel and then to the public beach access… and we left out respective “wows” when we first laid eyes on Anse Intendance, a huge white sand beach with fifty shades of blue, surrounded by lush vegetation. We took dozens of photos, laid in the sun, walked to the cool boulders on the south side and eventually got caught in a classic Seychelles storm. The weather in this country is insane, going from completely sunny and scorching hot to gray and pouring like it’s the universal flood, in a matter of seconds. Many times, you can clearly see the storms approaching across the ocean.
We took refuge in our car, and when the storm had passed, got out and went straight into the water. The waves and currents are usually strong in Anse Intendance, and we got smashed several times… it was super fun! Before heading out, we walked to the north end of the beach and sneaked into the Banyan Tree Hotel to check out their pool… yup, not a bad place to stay.
Viewpoints: On our second day with the rental car, we drove through Victoria again, but this time turned west. We pulled over at a lookout near Fairview for some very cool views of the Victoria harbor and the new development of Eden Island. We then drove down the west coast, which offered amazing panoramas of the shoreline over and over again.
Petite Anse: In the impossible debate about the best beach of the Seychelles, my vote goes to Petite Anse. The beach is inside the Four Seasons, but everyone is allowed to access. We parked outside and were lucky to get a golf cart ride down to the beach (otherwise it’s a 10 min walk down and 20 min up). The beach was absolutely stunning, a crescent moon shape of powdery sand, and turquoise, calm waters. Even the hotel had been built in an aesthetically pleasing style, blending in with the green cliffs. And the beach was nearly empty.
I spent a lot of time swimming; the water temperature in Seychelles is simply perfect. Eventually, a storm came in we hid a hotel gazebo… yup, this would be another nice hotel to stay one day. When the storm passed and we walked on the beach one final time, we got one more gift from nature: a small eagle ray was gliding close to the shore, and the waters were so crystal clear that we could see it perfectly. Mental note for next time: bring snorkel gear.
Anse Major: On our third and last day with the car, we drove west on the north shore to Bel Ombre, and ventured into the 45-min hike to Anse Major. The trail was cool, combining lush forest with ocean views and typical Seychelles rocks… we felt like a dinosaur could emerge any moment. The beach looked spectacular from the trail, but was not nearly as good as Anse Intendance or Petite Anse, the sand rougher and the water harder to navigate due to coral. The area behind the sand quickly became known as “murder zone”, because the ramshackle structures and fish leftovers (Anse Major is offered as a boat day trip from Beau Vallon) made it look right out of a scary movie. In addition, the weather did not cooperate that day, the storms lasting much longer, and the sun barely coming out in between rains.
We still had the car because I was hoping to explore some other place that day, like Baie Ternay or Victoria, but otherwise one could take the public bus to Bel Ombre and hike from there. We did walk around Victoria, check out the market and the mini Big Ben on our way back from La Digue three days later. And that day we also took the bus back to Beau Vallon; it was easy and cost just 7 rupees / $0.5.
- Hiking all of Petra… and marveling at the Treasury at night
NICE TO HAVE:
- Bedouin camp in the Wadi Rum desert
- Floating in the Dead Sea
- The Roman ruins of Jerash
- The Crusader Kerak Castle
- 5 days
- Ferry from Sharm el Sheikk (Egypt)
- Buses / public shuttles if you can make the schedule work…
- … Otherwise private drivers / taxi for Aqaba – Wadi Rum, Wadi Rum – Wadi Musa (Petra), Wadi Musa – Dead Sea, Dead Sea – Amman (airport)
- Organized tour in Wadi Rum
- Hiking on your own in Petra
Just 10 days earlier I had marveled at the pyramids of Giza, one of those rare sights that live up to their tremendous expectations. The pink city of Petra, immortalized in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, stands to the same test. And our first impression of it, on a dark, starry night and lit up by hundreds of candles, was magical. I definitely recommend planning your trip to make sure that you can enjoy Petra by Night, which runs only certain days. Make sure to get there early (they let people in way before the official 8:30pm start time), and don’t let the high price (17 JD, ~S25), the hordes of tourists, the organizational chaos (if too many people come they just sit them in front of the first row, blocking the view), and the tacky show ruin it for you.
Maybe we should have done a bit of research before deciding to go to Jordan over Christmas. Or at least think about it for a minute, and we would have realized that the desert in the middle of the winter is bitter cold. But maybe it was blissful ignorance, because a couple of days later I’ve pretty much forgotten how cold we were, and we still managed to do everything we intended to 😉
- The pyramids of Giza
- The temples and tombs around Luxor
- Diving in the Red Sea, especially the Thistlegorm wreck