October 10, 2018
By Robert Holmes
With an endless array of luxe resorts strung along the coast of this gorgeous Indian Ocean island, it’s all too tempting to spend your holiday to Mauritius stretched out on a sun lounger.
But you’d be missing out, for while Mauritius boasts some of the best beaches on the planet, this colourful island has plenty to offer beyond sun, sea and sand.
Start off with a trip to the capital of Mauritius, Port Louis. The Caudan Waterfront offers a choice of restaurants and shops, but rather head for the nearby produce market; a colourful cacophony of stall traders and locals where island produce is piled high upon concrete tables. Upstairs you’ll find a fine selection of local crafts and souvenirs.
There’s history aplenty in Port Louis too, from the Blue Penny Museum to the Aapravasi Ghat. This UNESCO World Heritage Site was once the landing point for the thousands of indentured labourers shipped to the island from India and beyond.
Those long years of forced migration remain evident in the island’s multi-cultural cuisine, and the delicious street food in Port Louis dishes up everything from island-inspired dim sum to tasty dhal puri.
A day out in Chamarel also makes a fine distraction from all that sunbathing. Top of the list for most visitors is to ogle at the ‘Seven Coloured Earth’. This colourful geological formation delivers a rainbow of earthy reds, blues and purples as the sunlight and shadows create colourful optical illusions across the landscape.
If you need a little additional inspiration, stop first at the charming Rhumerie de Chamarel. Arguably the finest rum distillery on Mauritius, it’s one of the few that still grows its own sugarcane for crushing, fermenting and distilling into their range of classic, spiced and aged rums. The distillery is open daily for tastings and tours.
Pack a sun-hat and swimming togs for an unforgettable day on the water.
Catamaran cruises are offered around the island, but the best are on the east coast where you’ll sail across impossibly blue waters, enjoy a barbecue lunch on board, and moor up alongside paradise islands to cool off.
Worried about your sea legs? The coral reef surrounding Mauritius ensures (mostly) calm seas.
The warm waters around Mauritius teem with marine life. Besides snorkelling above the colourful fringing reefs, head to the west coast for an unforgettable morning swimming with dolphins. The coastline near Tamarin and Black River are the hotspots, with regular boat cruises taking travellers to the edge of the reef to locate the playful pods of resident Spinner Dolphins.
All equipment is provided, but you will need an adventurous spirit to strap on a mask and jump out into the deep blue. If you’d rather stay on the boat, the west coast is also the best place in Mauritius for whale watching, with humpback whales spotted from July to November.
Port Louis might be the official capital of Mauritius, but Grande Baie is the island’s party capital. You’ll find a wide range of restaurants and bars strung out along the sands here, from simple seaside shacks to glam diners and crowded cocktail bars. Start at the famous Banana Beach Club and see where the night takes you.
Drinking and driving is, of course, a no-no on the island. Be sure to take an accredited taxi, or ask your hotel to arrange a transfer.
The Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam Botanical Gardens are one of the world’s most remarkable floral funparks, and a must-see for any visitor to Mauritius. Its history dates back to the early-1700s, when it started life as a vegetable garden for the neighbouring Mon Plaisir Château.
The highlight of the SSR Gardens, and its most Instagrammable attraction, is the long pond filled with enormous Victoria amazonica water lilies. Although native to South America the lilies thrive in the warm climate of Mauritius, their expansive leaves – stretching two metres across – unfurling in just a few hours. The gardens are also home to a dizzying variety of palm trees, along with collections of spices, ebony and the all-important sugar cane you’ll see planted commercially across Mauritius.
In the south-west you’ll find the remarkable monolith of Le Morne Brabant, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a rewarding hike if you’re after an adventurous day out in Mauritius. It’s a challenging walk, but excellent local guides are on hand to lead the way.
At the summit, the panorama of shining sea and lush mountain peaks make the effort well worth it. Ask your guide to tell you the mournful story of Brabant’s link to island slavery.
A far cry from the busy beaches of the coast, this spectacular national park is ideal for escaping the crowds. Stretching across more than 6700-hectares, the largest national park in Mauritius is famous for its tumbling waterfalls, rugged peaks and panoramic views.
A network of hiking trails criss-cross this large conservation area, offering access to some of the island’s most dramatic scenery. The Black River Gorges National Park is home to a wide range of indigenous flora, but – twitchers take note – is equally famous for its endemic birdlife. Self-guided walks are possible, but we’d recommend you go with a local trekking guide, for safety in the mountains and to discover the fauna and flora of this iconic park.
On your way back from Black River Gorges National Park, stop in at the lake of Ganga Talao nearby.
Considered sacred by the majority-Hindu residents of Mauritius, the landscape is dominated by the huge statue of Lord Shiva.
If you have the legs, climb to the hilltop Hanuman temple for fantastic views.
Mauritius is home to the oldest horseracing club in the southern hemisphere, and race days at the Champ de Mars Racecourse on the outskirts of Port Louis are a fun-filled outing.
Races are held most weekends from April to November, and tourists are warmly welcomed. Hats and fascinators not required.
Soak up Mauritian history with a visit to the Château de Labourdonnais, one of the island’s historic plantation houses.
Dating back to 1859, but restored in the past decade, guests can wander through the historic mansion, explore the estate’s formal gardens and orchards, and meet the resident giant Aldabra tortoises that wander the grounds.
The estate’s La Table du Chateau restaurant is one of the best fine-dining restaurants in Mauritius.