As a seasoned tortoise owner I was interested to read in the papers at the weekend that the world’s oldest land animal, Jonathan, a giant tortoise resident in St Helena, turns 190 this year. Tortoises (not to be confused with their water loving cousins turtles) are gentle creatures, with beautifully marked shells, a slow lumbering gait and a penchant for cherry tomatoes. My tortoise, Steve McQueen, is currently hibernating in our fridge, but year round you can see these lovely creatures in some truly beautiful places. So this week’s holiday inspiration focuses on destinations where you can combine sightings of giant tortoises and turtles with a fabulous holiday.
As of 4am on Thursday this week fully vaccinated travellers will no longer have to take any Covid tests to leave or enter the UK, although they must still complete a Passenger Locator Form. Great timing for those wanting a ski holiday or winter sun during the half term break. But also good news if you want to have long weekend away to break up the winter months. The whole UK testing regime made overseas weekends away far too much of an effort for many but now, particularly if you pick a destination with no or limited entry requirements, it’s once again an option.
But remember, whilst the UK has removed its travel restrictions for vaccinated travellers, other countries still have them, and in some cases have tightened them since the emergence of Omicron. So you must check the entry requirements for your chosen destination, ideally before you book and again before you travel. They vary hugely from country to country, particularly if you are travelling with kids. See the link in the quick links below to the FCDO pages as a starting point. Travellers who are not fully vaccinated must still take a Covid test in the two days before they arrive in England, book and pay for a PCR test to be taken within two days of their return and complete a Passenger Locator Form.
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Where to See giant Tortoises and Turtles
Renowned for its gorgeous white beaches with granite boulders, Seychelles has coral reefs, lush vegetation, soaring mountains and a number of nature reserves with interesting wildlife including giant tortoises. There are thought to be around 100,000 giant tortoises living in the wild on the Aldabran islands. But access to these islands is heavily restricted and most travellers will have to look to other islands for sightings. I visited them on the island of Curieuse as a day trip from Praslin island. We saw plenty of them in the wild and were able to feed some of the tamer ones. There are trails through the mangroves for those who like walking and it is possible to combine a trip here with St Pierre island nearby for some snorkelling. Alternatively, Aldabran tortoises were introduced to the island of La Digue when the island’s indigenous population died out. The island has some beautiful rock formations and beaches and lovely boutique hotels. And if your budget allows, a stay at the Four Seasons hotel on Desroches island will enable you to visit the tortoise conservation sanctuary. A twelve day island hopping trip including stay on Praslin and La Digue staying in small hotels de Charme starts at £1950 including flights. Click here to read more about the Seychelles
Giant tortoises are just one of the wildlife highlights to be seen in the Galapagos Islands. You’ll have a chance to see land and marine iguanas, albatross, flamingos, hammerhead sharks, manta rays and sea lion. Travel in the second half of the year for the best chance of seeing giant tortoises who are at their most visible as they look for a mate. Many people visit the Galapagos on cruises in small boats. But land based and walking tours are also possible. And the Galapagos Islands combine really well with Colombia and Ecuador to get a real taste of South America. A simple trip to the Galapagos including two nights in Ecuador’s capital Quito, five nights aboard a catamaran cruising the islands and one night in Guyaquil starts at £4795 including flights.
A stay at the Ras Al Jinz turtle reserve in Oman will give you opportunities for early morning and late night walks to see turtles emerging from the waves to lay their eggs and to witness baby turtles hatching and taking their first wobbly steps to the sea. A truly amazing sight. The best time to see this is the months of April to August. July and August can be far too hot in Oman so April and May are the best times to go. You can see them at other times of year as well but April to August is the peak season. Include a couple of nights at Ras Al Jinz as part of a longer tour of Oman or as an add on to a beach stay in Muscat. A nine day tour including time in Ras Al Jinz as well as Muscat, Nizwa and Wahiba Sands starts at £3000 per person including flights. Click here to read more about Oman
Four different species of turtle can be spotted coming to lay their eggs on the beaches of Sao Tome and Principe. They start arriving on the beaches in November, and can be seen laying eggs through to February. In the weeks after this, until the middle/end of March, you might be lucky enough to see hatchlings making their way to the ocean for the first time. Africa’s second smallest nation after the Seychelles, the former Portuguese colony of São Tomé and Príncipe can be found on the Equator, 225 km west of Gabon in West Africa. These islands are virtually untouched by tourism and if you choose to visit you will definitely feel you are on the road less travelled. Click here to read more about Sao Tome and Principe. A nine day holiday including a night in Lisbon and stays on both Sao Tome and Principe with a number of activities, incluyding turtle watching in season starts at £3098 per person including flights.
The West African island nation of Cape Verde has seen turtle nest numbers rise so dramatically in recent years that some say Cape Verde is now the second largest, if not the largest nesting site for loggerhead turtles. Turtles nest mainly between July and October and to see them hatch and make their way to the sea you should aim to be in Cape Verde in August and September/October. Cape Verdeans take turtle conservation seriously but it is possible to visit the conservation sites with a ranger and to see the hatcheries. A week at a five star beach hotel on Sal starts at £1,000 per person including flights. Click here to read more about Cape Verde.