Delving deeper into Mauritius

Caroline Joyner on 20 October 2022
The sun is gently sinking in the sky, the waves lapping the white sand beach. Bird call echoes around the swaying palms; an owl-like 'twit too', squawks, clatters and tuneful song all make up the sunset symphony. A lone fisherman casts a hopeful net in-between boats, and beyond the lagoon, the waves break over a reef filled with colourful fish. The sunshine glimmers in a perfect channel across the sea. It’s easy to see why Mark Twain said “ God created Mauritius first, and then made a copy which he called Heaven”.

But Mauritius is more than paradise-like beaches and coastline, it’s unique history has left a kaleidoscope of cultures and juxtapositions: slavery and freedom, tolerance and Inequality have all played a part. When the first Europeans landed on Mauritian soil in the 16th century, they found an island inhabited by giant tortoises and dodos amongst other animals. Over the next 200 years she would be ruled by Dutch, French and Englishmen, become the unwanted destination of thousands of African slaves brought in by colonials to work on the sugar cane plantations and then the destination for half a million indentured labourers from India to work on the sugar plantations. Today Hindu temples sit next to Tamil temples and mosques, Catholic Churches and Chinese temples, the melting pot of peoples live in harmony together, united by their Creole language, Hip wiggling national dance and fusion cuisine. Gorgeous French croissants for breakfast, Indian street food for lunch and Creole-style fresh fish for dinner. Street markets sit next to brightly coloured temples and tiny local shops packed with simple wares add a splash of colour.

Here are some island highlights

The Pamplemousse gardens

Dating back to 1737 and set amongst shimmering plains of sugar plantations, these are the 3rd largest botanical gardens in the world and the oldest in the Southern Hemisphere - 62 acres of biodiversity including 500 species of trees and plants Wandering in the gardens is a serene experience, a pathway of giant palms, the giant floating water lilies which have a single delicate white flower, a 250-year-old Baobab tree, a spice garden, some giant tortoises, the tali-upas which bloom only once before dying and scores medicinal plants. Grand Bassin Lake

A crater lake, 550m above sea level, this lake is spiritual and sacred to the Hindu population. On the shoreline sits a temple along with a collection of small shrines and candy-coloured temples dedicated to Lord Shiva and other gods. It is the destination for a pilgrimage for thousands of Hindus from all over the island. It is also home to a population of monkeys and since fishing is forbidden here the lake is teeming with fish and eels, which entertained our kids far more than the stories of the Hindu gods to be honest! Black River Gorges national park and Chamarel Waterfall

The Black River Gorges National Park is Mauritius’s scenery at its most enigmatic. A dramatic forested gorge curves between a series of mountain ranges and countless waterfalls. This park doesn’t just offer stunning vistas, it protects many of the island’s most important endemic and endangered species and houses the last remaining native ebony forest. As we wind through the national park our guide excitedly explains that now we are in a place which has not changed for thousands of years, “the way Mauritius used to be” she enthuses. Tropical trees dangle over the narrow road and we see monkeys venturing out of the thick forest. The scenic drive through the park has various viewpoints, Black River peak viewpoint offers views over the first canopy out to the sparkling ocean, and the Chamarel waterfall is another standout viewpoint which thunders 83 metres, dwarfed by the size of the huge swathes of forest which surround it. The quirky mountain town of Chamarel is also worth a stop to see its famous rum distillery. Active types can hike one of the many established trails in the park. The Ebony forest reserve also has a raised forest walkway and plenty of endemic plants, trees and birds for keen naturalists.

Seven Coloured Earth Geopark

After reading in my guidebook that this was “underwhelming”, I was surprised that this natural phenomenon was actually pretty impressive and certainly unique. Caused by volcanic eruptions, over time the ash and earth mixed together to form rock with multi-coloured layers. This attraction has been modernised and it has a little cafe overlooking the rocks as well as some resident giant tortoises!

Le Morne Brabant mountain

On the southwest-western tip of the island sits the stunning Le Morne mountain, a UNESCO world heritage site. Take the 7-kilometre climb for spectacular views of Le Morne beach and Mauritius’s famous “underwater waterfall”. The mountain is historically significant as was used as a refuge by escaped slaves in the 18th and 19th centuries, and now represents a beacon of freedom and peace.

Port Louis

If you want to get to the heart of the island’s history then a tour of Port Louis should be on your list. See the place where the Indian indentured labourers first landed (Aapravasi Ghat), wander through Chinatown, admire the street art, See the 19th-century fort, or eat your way through the city on local a food tour. The cultural melting pot of Mauritius means that Port Louis has some of the most delicious food on the island, from street stalls to waterfront restaurants. The huge central market is also worth a trip - bursting with locally made handicrafts as well as food and street food stalls. Water adventures

Mauritius is circled by the world’s third-largest coral reef which has created lagoons perfect for shallow snorkelling. In some areas, you can snorkel from the beach to see Clownfish and Damsel fish, but the best snorkelling is on the ocean side of the reef where you may find yourself swimming amongst Hawksbill turtles. Take a catamaran to the northern isles where you can snorkel amongst rays, tropical fish and turtles in the crystal clear waters or snorkel and dive the blue bay marine park off the east coast for the island’s healthiest coral. Divers can have their pick of some of the Indian Ocean’s top dive sites off the west and north coasts. Swimming with dolphins is a popular trip from the west coast, however, the animal welfare surrounding has recently been questioned.

To find out more about your dream Mauritius holiday, get in touch!