An end-to-end look at Mauritius
Barefoot luxury, Robinson Crusoe beaches, ‘paradise found’ – most travel clichés could have been written for Mauritius. And it’s known the world over for its white sands, turquoise sea and green mountains. In fact, Mark Twain even wrote, “heaven was copied after Mauritius”. But there’s much more to see than the inside of a parasol - with two sides to this exotic island. Bustling markets and balmy beaches in the north? Or the quieter, rugged nature of the south? The island’s not too big – so it’s easy to do both ends over a couple of days.
The northern stars
Grand Baie is perhaps the only proper resort town on the island. Once a sleepy, little seaside village, it now buzzes with restaurants, bars, nightclubs, fashion and craft shops, as well as many of Mauritius’ most luxurious hotels. As there are always lots of fishing boats bobbing around the horseshoe-shaped bay in nearby Anse La Raie, try swimming in the clear waters of Pointe aux Canonniers. This historic peninsular is just a five-minute drive away, so finding a sunny spot to flop on the sand shouldn’t be too hard.
Top Tip: For a bird’s eye view of Mauritius, take a helicopter ride from Grand Baie. With the right pilot – and a strong stomach – you can fly over the mountains before dropping low to see the coral reef.
Walk on the wild side
Everyone hits the beach, and it’s easy to see why. But don’t ignore the green northern plains towards the capital, Port Louis. As you pass fields of feathery sugarcane and imposing volcanic rocks, make a pit stop at the wonderfully titled Pamplemousses. Named after the grapefruit trees the 16th-century Dutch settlers brought in from Java, it’s home to world-famous horticultural gem – Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam Botanical Gardens.
But these aren’t your garden-variety botanicals. Keep eyes peeled for extraordinarily shaped palms and indigenous trees, such as the wonderfully named sausage tree and marmalade box tree.
Curiouser and curiouser…
Just as you think the exotic plants couldn’t get any more bizarre, you come across 2-metre-wide green tea trays floating in a pond. These are the Victoria amazonica water lillies. From one day to the next, the billowing flowers in the centre of each leaf will either be white or crimson red. Before you leave this naturalist’s wonderland, pop in to the L'Aventure du Sucre museum. Converted from a Beau Plan sugar factory, it’s the place for a fascinating history lesson on Mauritius’ biggest colonial export, as well as the slavery and rum trade.
Top Tip: Look out for groups of deer and giant Aldabra tortoises standing guard at the northern exit to the Botanical Gardens.
The dramatic south
Escaping the crowds is easier at the green southern coast where the island’s distinctly craggier side soon makes itself felt. While a few boutique hotels hunker down in the calmer coves, this is perhaps how Mauritius used to be before tourism took off. The rough surf and high cliff walks keep hiking and mountain biking enthusiasts happy. But if you’re looking for safe places to swim, the lovely, unspoilt beaches in Bel Ombre, Chemin Grenier and the Blue Baie will fit the bill. Here is where you’ll find protected coral reefs, and some of the best snorkelling and diving – just don’t tell the north side of the island.
Discover rare treasures in a lush, seventh heaven
The early French colonists may have eaten the last few Dodos. But thanks to the conservation crusade of naturalist Gerald Durrell and the Government of Mauritius, the endangered Pink Pigeon are still around to see. They were brought back from near-extinction in nature reserves such as Ile aux Aigrettes – where colonies of giant tortoises also roam (slowly) free.
Top Tip: Close to the Black River Gorges, you can abseil 100 metres down the Chamarel Waterfall. Then clamber over the Seven Coloured Earths. These striped, copper-coloured sand dunes will have you reaching for a camera.