Mauritius is famous the world over for its luxury beachside resorts, but the island is so much more than just a fly and flop destination, as Ginny Weeks discovers.
THE PACKING EDIT
Mark Twain once said that God first created Mauritius and then used it as the blueprint for paradise. It’s not hard to see why; the tropical island is breathtaking. Think pristine white sand beaches lapped by a warm, cobalt blue ocean, lush mountainous rainforests with scenic waterfalls and exotic wildlife such as monkeys and large colourful birds. It’s all wildly romantic and no wonder honeymooners love it here.
That said, there’s a lot more to take in beyond those IG friendly beaches. After centuries of occupation from the Dutch, French and the British, the island has a rich culture and interesting history. The buzzing capital Port Louis, for example, is packed with chic eateries, grand colonial architecture and a bustling market. Or try the historic Pamplemousse Botanical Garden with its giant water lilies and huge ancient trees.
The food is a real highlight. All over the island, you’ll find excellent places to eat, usually in a lovely seaside setting. The up-and-coming food scene blends Creole, Chinese, French and Indian influences and organic, vegan and free-range options are starting to appear.
The people make Mauritius a joy to visit. The locals are passionate about their beautiful island and like sharing it with tourists; you’ll get a warm welcome wherever you go.
What to do
Of course you can just chill on one of the pristine white sand beaches or take a dip in the warm Indian Ocean, but there’s so much other great stuff to do. Try these for starters:
Take a road trip
The best way to see the island is to hire a car in order to find secret spots, hidden turquoise bays, quaint fishing villages and up-and-coming restaurants. One of our favourites was the east coast road from Palmar to Poste Lafayette.
Pamplemousses Botanical Gardens
Established in 1770, Pamplemousses is the oldest botanical garden in the southern hemisphere. Go early to avoid the crowds and pay for a guide; their knowledge of the flora and fauna is impressive.
Visit the capital, Port Louis
Browse the delicious street food stalls for treats (try dholl puri, a spicy savoury pancake, and freshly made tamarind juice), walk the buzzing central market, take in the side streets with their boutiques or visit the Photography Museum. The views from nearby Signal Mountain (an easy 40-minute hike) provide a pretty vista of the whole city.
Snorkel the coral reef
Mauritius is surrounded by a flourishing coral reef with an abundance of marine life. Grab your snorkel or arrange a visit to Ile des Deux Cocos, a private island nearby with crystal clear waters.
Have dinner with a local family
There’s no better way to get to know the island and its people than to enjoy a traditional dinner with a local family. Just don’t underestimate the strength of homemade rum! Book through a hotel like Salt of Palmar (see below).
Visit Flacq market (every Sunday)
Much less touristy than the Port Louis market. Here you’ll find traditional snacks, aromatic spices, fresh fruit and vegetables, and colourful clothing and textiles. Go early before the heat and crowds get too intense.
Hike La Vallee De Ferney
This beautiful 200-hectare forest, protected by the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation, runs along the coastline and has excellent hiking trails. Look out for local wildlife including the Mauritian Flying Fox, a huge type of bat.
Ride a horse on Le Morne beach
With Le Morne Brabant Mountain forming a majestic backdrop, a sunset ride along Le Morne beach is pretty unforgettable, especially if your horse likes to swim too. Just make sure to book with a reputable company.
Where to stay
Salt of Palmar
If you’re looking for a design-led boutique hotel with sustainability and authentic experiences at its heart, then Salt ticks all the boxes. This showstopper blew us away with its bold and vibrant design, an innovative eco-friendly approach and genuine links with the local community. We loved the organic food (try the acai bowls and salt-baked fish), refillable water stations, laid-back but super stylish feel and interesting activities. Go for dinner with a Mauritian family or try pottery making with the local artisan that supplied the hotel with its crockery. One word: wonderful.
LUX* Grand Gaube
Recently redesigned by Kelly Hoppen in a chic and comfortable style, LUX* Grand Gaube resort is a great choice for groups and families. Manicured gardens lead to spacious villas and rooms with balconies overlooking the beach and lagoon. There are five restaurants, each with their own very different style. The food experience was the Peruvian/Argentinian restaurant INTI. The extensive spa offers an array of tailored treatments and a gorgeous pool to relax in afterwards.
Shangri-La’s Le Touessrok Resort & Spa
Cleverly designed to appeal to all types of traveller, from families to honeymooners, Shangri-La’s Le Touessrok is a large, award-winning resort with an elegant design. Guests have access to five private beaches and Ilot Mangénie island, where you can have a butler and beach for the day. The recently refurbished family villas are some of the best we’ve seen.
Where to eat & drink
Royal Road, Mahebourg
Authentic Creole cuisine at its finest. Try the seven-course tasting menu or opt for the excellent octopus curry.
Le Bois Cheri
Set in a picturesque hilltop tea plantation with views out to the south coast, this is a great option for vegetarian and locally produced dishes. Try the chicken in Bois Cheri green tea that is made with tea produced on site.
Red Bus restaurant
50metres passed the Maconde viewpoint, towards Bel Ombre
Devour delicious traditional food like fried noodles and curry on the top deck of this vintage red bus. The chef, Mala Goburdhun, has been running the café for 25 years.
La Case du Pecheur
Royal Road, Vieux Grand Port
Eco-conscious restaurant with views of a magnificent mangrove forest. The fish is caught from the owner’s saltwater pond.
Smart beachfront restaurant with excellent fresh fish dishes and a friendly, relaxed atmosphere.
Eat With Fingers
A cute vegetarian and vegan spot with organic and raw choices like carrot spaghetti and hummus.
A wonderful wine bar cum bistro with a mountain-view terrace and selection of 150 organic wines.
The Banana Beach Club, Grand Baie
The best place on the island for live music, hugely popular with locals and tourists alike.
how to get there
You can fly direct from London to Mauritius with British Airways.
12-hour direct flights to Mauritius depart from London five times per week – on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday Saturday and Sundays during the winter months. During the summer, flights depart three times per week – on Monday, Thursday Saturdays. They arrive at Plaine Magnien around noon the following day.