Written by Kat Mackintosh
No one should be forced to write about Mauritius unless they're sitting on the deck of their yacht overlooking a blue Mauritian bay so mesmerising that it will take them all afternoon to decide on what the shade must be called... Oh... It would appear I've just debunked my own argument for being sent to Mauritius pronto by admitting that I'd be more distracted by the real thing that I am by the photo that I've been daydreaming about for the past 22 minutes. Still, my daydreaming could be, for once, considered working, because I think I've pretty much planned the perfect Mauritian trip, or certainly imagined quite clearly how I'd like to spend the nine days there I just kindly allocated myself.
Mauritius is the poster island for the 70s honeymoon era – all pristine white sandy beaches and water a shade there's no proper word for yet – and it's not really changed since then. And that's a good thing not a bad thing. But there's actually a lot more about the island to be discovered than the near-perfect beaches that fringe your resort, if you can drag yourself away from them. The diving, sailing and snorkelling options are almost a given, as are the kitesurfing, windsurfing and parasailing facilities. The volcanic interior, exotic wildlife and stunning natural features will only surprise if you've forgotten how close the island is to Africa, but there's some unexpectedly interesting sounding historic and cultural stories to look into as well if you're travelling here to really experience the place.
Most of the resorts have been built along the coast, centring around the capital of Port Louis on the west and along the north coast round Grand Baie and Cap Malheureux, while most of the locals live in the interior in Curepipe. But this isn't a large island and it's only 45 minutes driving time from Port Louis to Mahebourg in the far south east, most of the other main towns are only about a half hour away, so you can see the sights of all without having to move your cases. Though you might want to move them onto a boat and sail out to Rodrigues Island, or do some live aboard diving.
I think nine days would be enough to allow for plenty of time on the beach, and some seeing the sights, so I've prepared myself imaginary regional itineraries, visiting each region's highlights in my daydreams, but I've not allocated specific days: I think I'd like to take it as it comes, thanks very much.
A port town founded by the French, a lot of the appeal of Port Louis can be found along its waterfront, called in some guidebooks the Caudan Waterfront. This is where all the really pretty old buildings are, including the old post office, Fort Adelaide and most of the museums – one of the the best being the Mauritius Natural History Museum where they have the world's only complete Dodo skeleton. The Port Louis Central Market is a good place to get a feel for the island's multi cultural atmosphere – a port this size required a lot of indentured workers in the early years, then attracted traders from all over the world, to add to the African neighbours who moved in at the same time as the colonial Europeans.
Port Louis is surrounded by the Moka mountain range, and for the best view of the city stroll up 800m Le Pouce peak ('The Thumb'), which is about a four hour walk via Petit Verger village. For a less taxing outdoor excursion visit Pamplemousses Botanical Gardens, to the north of the port, and known for its vast water lilies. I like water lilies... I'm also quite interested in the island's colonial history so I'd want to visit Eureka Mansion near Moka, which I'm advised is a charming Creole style mansion dating from the French and British period.
30 mins drive north of Port Louis, Grand Baie is the glittery younger sister of this graceful old dame. This is where to book your accommodation, probably resort style, if you want to go out at night, try out the best restaurants and do some shopping beyond the local wares sold in the markets.
La Curvette Beach is one of the nicest local beaches and a good spot for sport: windsurfing and other watersports, as well as being just plain pretty. Pereybere is another sandy local charmer and Mont Choisy is one of the island's most famous, if you're imagining this is going to be one of your beach days....
If not, the Balaclava Ruins and the Baie aux Tortues – named by the French sailors who christened it for the numerous tortoises they saw – are a short, historic trip to the south and into the French side of the island's history, and I'm a big fan of tortoises. Triolet Shivala, the island's longest village, and home of its largest Hindu Temple is another historic site to the north, just inland from the Baie aux Tortues.
I wouldn't normally consider visiting an orchard on such an idyllic island, I would have thought it would be a bit of a waste of time I could be spending on the deck of my yacht thinking up new words for blue, but the Labourdonnais Orchards sounds worth taking a few hours off the beach for a scented walk or cycle through, and an tropical fruit feast. Did I mention I like fruit?
Finish your time in the north with some more fine eating and some fine dancing, I would.
Ile aux Cerfs Beach is supposed to be THE most beautiful beach on an island of beautiful beaches so I couldn't miss out on seeing it. It's on Ile aux Cerfs (an island), also good for divers, or glass bottomed boat sailors. Belle Mare Beach is close if you need a beautiful point of comparison.
The town of Flacq is the main centre to the east, it has a market that gets a listing in all the guidebooks, which is supposed to be best on the weekends. The east also 'boasts' the Waterpark Leisure Village – I wouldn't bother with a waterpark inland from some of the world's loveliest beaches, but not everyone would have included the orchard in their daydreams.
Mahebourg for the Monday Market, Souillac for the dramatic coastline and poet Edward Hart's house made out of coral, and the Blue Bay for help getting that colour name right, and another opportunity to bob about on a glass bottomed boat. This side of the island also has the ruins of an old Dutch settlement at Vieux Grand Port - the Dutch were here before the French- and several wildlife reserves (see, I told you you'd be surprised at the wildlife.). Ile aux Aigrettes is an island reserve just off the south coast, Domaine du Chasseur has the monkeys, kestrels, Java deer and wild boar and La Vanille Reserve des Mascareigne has thousands of crocodiles and giant tortoises. And deer and geckos, and mongooses and wild pigs etc.
Chamarel and the 'Coloured Earths' is a string of words that comes up in all the guides on Mauritius; it turns out that Chamarel is a village and a waterfall, and the 'coloured earths' are patterns of colour in the hillsides here, created as the volcanic rock cooled.
The Casela Bird Park which has Pink Pigeons, which I've never seen before, the British built Martello Towers, forts from the Napoleonic wars, and this region's salt pans are along the 45 minute route back to Port Louis. I'd detour through the Black River Gorges National Park for a walk though the island's only national park, from the dry lowlands to the humid forests, and maybe a picnic. I like a good picnic. If you like visiting sacred sites, Ganga Talo, a lake formed in the crater of a volcano, and an annual pilgrimage site for Hindus, is another short detour off the route home.
Rodrigues Island is along the same lines as Mauritius but rockier and quieter. It can take up to a day and a half to sail there if you go on one of the large liners, or it's an hour and a half on the plane. Here the beaches have less footprints, the guest houses are smaller, the winds beckon kitesurfers and walkers and the diving and deep sea fishing is excellent.
This island is almost surrounded by barrier reef so there's some spectacular diving to fit into your itinerary if you're a diver or fancy learning. There are loads of dive sites off Mauritius, and you could spend you whole nine days under water if you wanted to, but some of the best are The Cathedral, off Flic en Flac on the western coast, Whale Rock and Roche Zozo, an underwater rock and pinnacle near Ile Ronde. There's some good diving off Trou aux Biches on the northern coast, where there's a couple of 18th and 19th century shipwrecks, to explore and some more recent ones sunk to form artificial reefs.
The big five and some of Africa's most pristine wilderness, married with Mauritius's tropical beach perfection = a match made in heaven, and on earth.
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