Mauritius is renowned for its tropical white beaches, but if you peel yourself away from the sun for a while you will discover a wealth of other exciting activities. Here are my top 5 things to do. But don’t be fooled, there are plenty more experiences on this magical island from quad biking and SUP tours to kitesurfing and tea plantation visits.
Top tip: I would strongly recommend hiring a private car, as taxis are not cheap.
Hiking Le Morne
The views are sensational but be warned, the final part of the climb is not for the faint-hearted! Declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO, the mountain was once a sanctuary for runaway slaves. After the abolition of slavery in Mauritius (in 1835), policemen climbed up the mountain to inform the slaves of their freedom but the slaves misunderstood their intent and jumped off the cliff to their deaths. Le Morne has since became the Mauritian symbol for the slaves’ fight for freedom and is now a popular hiking spot that offers incredible outlooks to the lagoons below.
Whilst steep, the first section is very manageable along a large path through forestry. Because the terrain is easy, you can really appreciate the surroundings and views. The second part, which takes you to the summit, is closed to the public so it can only be accessed if booked with a guide. This section is not for everyone as it involves climbing up very steep rocks and you will most likely be wondering how on earth you will manage the descent! Don’t worry you can shuffle the whole way down on your bum… If you can muster the courage to continue you will be rewarded with phenomenal ocean views and incredible water formations. My bravery led me to the top, but this wasn’t for me!
The complete hike takes between 3-4 hours and it’s physically demanding. We booked the hike through Yanature for 1,500 MUR per person. At an extra cost they will also arrange hotel transfers. The hike starts at a bleary-eyed hour of 6am in summer or 7am in winter, but you will be thankful for the dawn wake-up call, as it gets very hot on the mountain.
Yanature provided a very good service and an excellent guide. They organise a range of different treks and they came highly recommended to us. We didn’t get a chance to try any other hikes but the Tamarin Falls and Black River Gorge hikes both sounded fabulous and are easier options than Le Morne.
Rhumerie de Chamarel
I’m not a fan of rum, but I still enjoyed the visit to the Chamarel rum factory. First, the location is a beautiful, peaceful spot in the southwest of the island set amongst sugar cane fields and mountains. I was surprised by how pretty the Rhumerie was and that it felt like more of a spa than factory. It’s a tranquil, elegant space with relaxed outdoor areas to sit and enjoy a drink. There is also a restaurant on-site, which we didn’t try but we heard was very good.
The tour itself was short and sweet, maximum 20 minutes long. We had a very entertaining guide who brought the rum-making process to life with a comedic routine. After the tour comes the tasting, and they are very generous! You can sample a wide selection of rums from a tangy cocktail, to pure spirits, plus different flavoured infusions, including coffee, vanilla and more spiced options. If you are still in the mood for more, then you can pay an additional fee to try a couple of their premium bottles. Alcohol plus sugar isn’t everyone’s favourite combination, but if your palette and stomach can handle it then there is also a complimentary jam and honey tasting. Tropical flavours like papaya, guava and mango are amongst the many spoonfuls of sugar to enjoy. All products can be purchased on-site.
The tour plus tastings cost 370 MUR per person. Even without participating in the tastings, I felt like it was still worth the visit and a great combination with the Black River Gorges attractions.
Black River Gorges
The Black River Gorges National Park is a lush, thick forest spread out over rolling hills that has Jurassic World-esque panoramas and offers plenty of opportunities to explore either by foot or car. We chose the latter, but I wish we had also hiked one of the many trails. There are plenty of view points and places of interest to pause at within the park. These are just a couple of noteworthy stops:
- The sacred lake at Grand Bassin. An extinct volcanic crater, the lake is now adorned with Hindu gods, temples and shrines. Apparently, there are hundreds of monkeys roaming there too, but in the cold, wet and foggy I experienced, I imagine they were likely taking shelter.
- Seven Coloured Earths is an unusual spot. Sand dunes have formed from volcanic rock settling into different coloured layers and it has created rainbow mounds of earth! The colours are actually more distinct on camera than to the naked eye. If you are in the area it’s definitely worth a stop as you also get fantastic views of the Chamarel falls.
- At the Alexandra Falls viewpoint, climb the wooden platform for views of the falls, dense forest and distant glimpses of the south coast.
Dolphin boat trip
Swimming with dolphins was certainly on my bucketlist and the experience didn’t disappoint. Off the west coast of the island, dolphin sightings are pretty much guaranteed. There are numerous excursions offered, but I’d opt for the small boat outings rather than catamaran-style vessels. A speed boat day trip can be booked from a tourist kiosk in Flic-en-Flac that includes a BBQ lunch for 1,400 MUR per person.
I found myself amongst a pod of around 20 – 30 dolphins. Jumping in with them in their natural habitat is mind-blowing! Beg, borrow, steal a pair of snorkels and jump in and swim with them, as other snorkelers were able to clearly hear them clicking away underwater. It’s quite hard to catch the moment to dive in as they glide off so quickly, but even just watching them jump and twirl from the boat is delightful. It’s probably not worth chartering a private boat as there were quite a few other tour groups in the same area offering the same experience, so you won’t be swimming alone.
After five or six opportunities to swim, head across to clearer waters for some snorkelling. Although there are some beautiful fish and brightly coloured coral, it didn’t amaze me. What did, however, was the next stop: the crystal rock. It’s a micro-island amongst clear azure waters and is a very unusual sight.
Finally, Benetier Island, where the guides prepare a fabulous fish and chicken BBQ lunch for the group. The island itself feels a bit like a tourist trap: there are a lot of people trying to sell their captive guests jewellery, clothes, drinks, fruit etc. etc. But don’t let this bother you, instead enjoy the floating market stalls, which you could actively browse if so inclined. Overall, it was fine for a couple of hours to eat, sunbathe and swim. The water was extremely shallow so it was more wading than swimming but it was wonderful to be standing far out at sea.
The trip started at about 8:30 am, but if you can find earlier options then it’s worth getting out to sea as early as possible, when the dolphins are on the lookout for breakfast and before too many of the other day trippers arrive.
Pamplemousses Botanical Gardens
Head to the north of the island and enjoy a couple of hours meandering through the exotic Pamplemousses Botanical Gardens.
The pond of the Giant Water Lilies is glorious and the star attraction. It takes all self-control not to attempt a little leap onto one to see if you can just float away! The peaceful lake and wonderful variety of tropical plants and trees with sprawling roots make for a lovely environment for a gentle stroll. The gardens are very green and whilst they are clearly well tended to, they are not too manicured. There are also medicinal plants and a spice garden plus deer and giant tortoises to marvel at.
Built in the 18th Century, this is the oldest botanical garden in the Southern Hemisphere. Entrance costs 200 MUR and guides are available for an extra 50 MUR.
Combine this with seeing parts of the north, including Port-Louis and Grand Baie.
With thanks to http://www.theyogalust.com