When it comes to this utopic island country, we discover there is plenty more to do than just marvel at the beauty of its beaches
Who doesn’t love the beach? Plenty of people, as it turns out, which you’d think would be reason enough not to visit Mauritius any time soon, but you’d be wrong, because this beautiful island has far more to offer than just a guarantee of a good tan. For those who have an irrational fear of sharks, get bored lying on the beach all day or simply prefer to keep their feet firmly planted on the ground, here are ten reasons to visit Mauritius that will make your sand-groping friends rethink their holiday strategy.
1. Vibrant villages and towns
No trip to Mauritius is complete without a dedicated village-hopping expedition, where you can sit down to a feast in one of the many restaurants, spend some holiday cash in the boutiques and simply have a chat with the locals. In the north of the island, the narrow streets behind the main road of the popular beach spot, Grand Bay, is home to small local boutiques and a wide variety of restaurants and nightlife, while Cap Malheureux, with its famous red-roofed church, its view of the northern islands and thriving fishing community is particularly picturesque. The town of Vacoas is best known for the Gymkhana Golf Club, the oldest golf course in the southern hemisphere, while in Curepipe you’ll experience traditional Mauritian charm and the coolest temperatures in Mauritius. It’s also home to two of the island’s treasures: Trou aux Cerfs, the crater of a dormant volcano, and the Botanical Garden with its rare plant species (more on these next).
2. Giant Victoria Amazonica water lilies
The Pamplemousses garden is known by botanists around the world for its large collection of indigenous and exotic plants, including the giant Victoria Amazonica water lilies that are like something out of a fantasy movie. Here, you might also be lucky enough to feast your eyes on the talipot or coryphe parasol, but given legend says it flourishes only once every fifty-seventy years before dying, don’t get your hopes up for a floral frenzy – you could be waiting a while.
3. Fascinating local history
Mauritius has an incredible history dating back to the 17th century with the colonisation of the Dutch, and historical places of interest are scattered across every corner of the island. Start your history lesson in the country’s capital, Port Louis, before heading to some of our favourite pit-stops:
- The Red Roof Chapel in Cap Malheureux, where the Commander-in-Chief John Abercromby landed his troops when the British attacked the island for the second time in 1810. Pamplemousses (named after the grapefruit imported by the Dutch) has a rich past too and a fascinating museum revealing the Mauritian sugar industry, rum production, and its history of slavery of people from the African mainland, Madagascar, India and South-East Asia.
- Mahebourg, one of the main fishing villages on the island, was founded in 1804 by the French Governor Charles Decaen, and witnessed the only Napoleonic naval victory over the English in 1810. This victory is also listed on the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. A major centre of economic life under French administration, Mahebourg was also known for its slave market.
- The mountain of Le Morne is a UNESCO World Heritage site and another commemorative landmark of the harsh slavery period in Mauritius.
- Eureka “La Maison Créole”in Moka is an historical mansion built in 1830 with an incredible 109 doors. It’s a fascinating glimpse into the lifestyle of the more affluent Mauritians during the colonial era, and when you work up an appetite, the Eureka House Restaurant is on-site for delicious Creole meals.
4. Markets full of beautiful textiles
Visiting the public markets is always a good idea when travelling, no matter how luxury-tuned you are, because it’s one of the best ways to get involved in the local culture and see the community in action. Mauritius is particularly known for its many clothing and textile manufacturers, who produce high quality products for the local and international market at competitive prices. Goodlands is a huge village of 14,000 people and on Tuesdays and Fridays it comes alive with a market dedicated to fabric and fashion. Here, you’ll find ready to wear, printed cotton, colourful saris and plenty of excellent people watching.
The town of Quatre Bornes in the central plateau is a cosmopolitan hub known for its famous market and shops that are some of the best for bargain-hunting, while Mahebourg market on the south of the island is perhaps one of the best markets for getting a true taste of local atmosphere and the heart of the Mauritians. For those who like to go big or go home, the lively and colourful Flacq, located on the east of the island, is one of the most important villages in Mauritius and has one of the largest open-air markets in the country on Wednesdays and Sundays.
5. Cycling and hiking adventures
Mauritius has countless cycling and hiking routes for adventure travellers or just those who want to work up a sweat and breathe in the island’s fresh, clean air. One option is cycling from Cap Malheureux towards Calodyne and Saint Antoine through the little villages, sugar cane fields, and pine forests, which offers beautiful views of the outer islets. For mountain-bikers (or hikers), the Bras d’Eau forest trail winds its way through the bush and through the shady, lush forest before following an old railway line to lava caves. There, you’ll find the ruins of an old sugar factory, as well as a special Milky Way observatory where small radars on kilometres follow the movement of our galaxy. Some of our other favourite hikes include:
- Black River Gorges National Park, which extends over 16,680 acres and is home to around 311 species of native and endemic flowering plants and nine species of birds that can only be found in Mauritius. You can walk along a number of dedicated trails inside the gorges itself and can even hike up to the plateau.
- The Moka Mountain Range, which you can hike up from both Saint Pierre and Port Louis, offers incredible views of nearly the whole island from the top.
- The “Tea Route” in the central plateau is a feast for the senses, starting at Domaine des Aubineaux and taking you to the factory of Bois Cheri at Rivière des Anguilles before finishing at Domaine Saint Aubin.
- Plaine Champagne, the highest plateau in Mauritius, is covered with forests and lakes to explore, with the route leading to Chamarel, the seven-coloured earth. At Pétrin you can hike in the Macchabée Forest past the Mare aux Joncs waterfall and walk around the Mare Longue reservoir back to Pétrin.
6. Sailing and Diving
Before you say, “you said no beaches!”, sailing and diving isn’t strictly beach-related, so this one still makes the list! Grand Bay in the north is the ultimate Mauritian sailing paradise thanks to its protected bay, and from there you can join a yacht trip, a catamaran cruise or rent a private luxury sailing boat. The area is also known for its spectacular diving, with some of the best spots to discover untouched, vibrant coral and fish including Gunner’s Coin, Whale Rock, and Holt’s Rocks. Other family-friendly snorkelling spots found in Trou aux Biches and Pointe aux Piments, where you can swim with the turtles. Blue Bay on the south of the island is also worth a visit for its beautifully preserved marine park, its coral and fish visible just a few metres from shore. For those keen on an even better view or less inclined to dive, go for a glass bottom boat experience, or take a trip in the Blue Safari submarine or with an underwater scooter.
7. Beautiful luxury hotels
Mauritius is home to some spectacular luxury resorts, with some of the most beautiful hotels and golf courses found at Le Morne Brabant. The oldest hotels were established with the arrival of the first tourists on the island and have an authentic hostelry culture, but if you’re seeking something fresh and new and a feeling of absolute luxury, you won’t have to look very far. The photos alone are enough to get us reaching for the sunscreen…
8. Caves, volcanoes, and waterfalls
In the area of Roches Noires, you’ll find mysterious caves and the remains of the volcanic activity that formed the island, but the most famous dormant volcano in the country is Trou aux Cerfs in central Mauritius, where you’ll get to enjoy a 360° view of the island. On the eastern plateau, at Brisée Verdière, hidden in the middle of a sugar cane field, is another cave you’ll want to seek out – the Pont Bon Dieu cave, with beautiful surroundings and views of the sea. A trail leads to this natural cave, which is approximately 15 metres high and 20 metres wide and is often home to nesting swallows and wild monkeys. It’s off the beaten track, but well worth the effort.
Ganga Talao, not far from Mare aux Vacoas reservoir is one of the rare natural lakes in Mauritius, formed inside the crater of an extinct volcano and is the renowned pilgrimage place for Mauritians of Hindu faith, while the wide estuary that is the Grand River South East is a must-see with its impressive gorge that culminates in a spectacular waterfall.
9. Swim with the dolphins
We don’t think any explanation is needed for this one, because who hasn’t dreamed of swimming with the dolphins at some point in their life? You can do this at any time of year at Ile aux Bénitiers in the west of the island.
10. Scrumptious food and drink. Because we’ve all got to eat, right?
Flic en Flac in the West is where it’s at for a local beach restaurant scene and lively nightlife, but if you find yourself further south a good option is Gris-Gris cliffs, where the locals serve a range of fresh seafood cooked the Mauritian way, at very reasonable prices. Inland, authentic Chinese-Mauritian restaurants pepper the high streets along with hawkers selling traditional Indian food – just look for the longest queue when deciding where to eat!
In the highlands, Chamarel village is known for its charming family restaurants serving local food as well as its rum factory, where you can learn everything about distillation and even do some rum tasting. There is also a restaurant on-site, so get to this spot just before sunset for dinner with beautiful views out over the ocean and the west coast.