Nestled in the Indian Ocean, east of Southern Africa, and remarkably close to Madagascar, is the beautiful island of Mauritius. This island is steeped in cultures including French, Roman, Indian, African, Chinese and English cultures. Mauritius definitely has a rich history, breathtaking scenery and landscapes, great food with many activities to provide adventure.
This arial image gives you just a hint of the beauty of the crystal clear water and beaches that surround this island. The island despite being tropical in nature, allowing for the growth of sugar cane and spices, is equally a verdant blanket of greenery in some areas.
One might be thinking, I can see perfectly why Mark Twain would confuse this island with being in heaven!
Well, Mauritius is truly a dreamy place to visit, with much to keep enthusiastic tourists and travellers occupied. Given its location in the south western Indian Ocean, it was historically a route that most explorers would visit.
The result is that this island is full of culture with a unique and diverse landscape. Added to this is a tropical climate, with some wonderful, dreamy beaches that you would expect to see in the Indian Ocean, and not dissimilar to those of the Maldives.
This island was explored by the Portuguese, British, Indian, Chinese, Dutch and French. Today these influences are still very present on the island, in the form of buildings, language and even food.
The island of Mauritius, or 'Ile Maurice', as referred to by the French, was discovered by the Portuguese in 1510, and was later taken over by the Dutch, French and finally the British. Equally, it was visited by people from Africa, China and India, so these cultures are ever present.
Be ready to see Hindu temples, unique tropical landscapes, botanical gardens and fabulous beaches with crystal clear waters. The food is fabulous with accent of spice in the dishes, mixed with Asian and French cuisine.
The choices are phenomenal, however to best enjoy this luxury location, you must opt for at least 4 stars, and above if the budget will allow. This will ensure you receive VIP treatment during your stay, and be prepared with lots of spending money to enjoy the many pursuits and trips on the island.
There is an array of luxury locations to choose from on this paradise island, and we chose Pointe aux Piments for a number of reasons. Firstly, we did not want to be anywhere too small but relatively self-contained, and yet still have plenty to do. Personally, I wanted a spa to top up on my beauty treatments, with a children's activity centre so I could have precious downtime in the knowledge the kids would be having fun too.
I was lucky enough to stay at Le Méridian Ile Maurice, which is a Marriott hotel, boasting alarge complex with multiple restaurants, an almost panoramic beach, multiple swimming pools, a spa, small shops and a separate complex for couples.
Arrival at the hotel complex was brilliant as we had a transfer arranged, so we were collected by jeep to travel to the resort. The hotel nailed the sense of luxury as we were taken to the bar area, and given tropical cocktails, decorated beautifully with exotic fruits. This was great as we were able to relax and take stock of the amazing décor of the hotel, as well as the ethnic clothing worn by the staff.
We had a beautiful first floor suite, which was very spacious and had two widescreen televisions, a bedroom and lounge, plus a private balcony and en-suite bathroom. The accommodation was well-maintained, and even decorated by the housekeeping with towels styled as swans when we arrived. It was of course, facing the sea, so we could enjoy the beautiful sunsets and fishermen setting off in the early mornings. The main complex is designed spaciously, so you are not overlooked by adjoining rooms and is set on two-storeys only. There was security throughout the complex, which was reassuring as historically there have been some reported incidents.
This was probably the best element of my vacation, as the spa is decorated beautifully with staff well-trained in their craft, and dedicated to your relaxation. The spa therapy takes place in a spacious room with a table for massage and wraps, as well as a rainfall shower to enjoy after your treatment.
There is a wide range of therapies available on the spa menu, with absolutely 'delicious' ingredients. I say that in that I had a delightful coconut scrub and milk treatment, which left my skin feeling and looking completely renewed. Even my fellow travellers commented that they could visibly see the difference in my skin after the treatment.
Outside the spa is a relaxation area where you can lie in the warmth of shaded sunshine with a pot of tea, after your treatment and simply chill. There is no rush to leave the spa area afterwards, and indeed, the last thing you want to do is undo the luxurious treatment and relaxation.
The resort has several dining locations, so you can select the cuisine and ambience that you prefer with relative ease. The food was a delight and half-board was perfectly adequate for our stay, as we did not always want a meal in the middle the day, plus if you venture out then the chances are, that you will eat on location anyway.
Well, the wonderful thing about this island is the mixed culture and choice of foods, so I think a tourist from almost anywhere around the world would be able to find their comfort foods available, if not directly in their own resort complex, somewhere relatively close-by.
My favourite was definitely the French and Indian cuisine, as I have keen tastebuds eager for rich, spicy foods. Of course, it is equally a delight to enjoy croissants for breakfast!
Most things can be sourced, and if you want something special, then staff are keen to please and will try to accommodate your wildest desires!
Mauritius was once a British colony, and has influences from many countries including Dutch, Chinese and those others mentioned already above. The island offers an eclectic mix of locations to visit.
1. L'Aventure au Sucre (+230 243 7900)
Sugar, and in particular, sugar cane has a rich history in Mauritius including slavery and rum production. This museum is a great place to tour and understand the history of the the rum trade, which dates back to when the original factory opened in 1797. Production only ceased in 1999, so some factory workers are still on site to explain the workings of the equipment and their craft. It is possible to actually cut the sugar cane, however this would need to be arranged at an extra cost. Many people do not realise raw sugar cane is the key ingredient to rum, so it is fascinating to understand the processing of sugar cane, to the finished bottled rum.
Refreshments are available on site, as well as learning and interactive materials for children. It is mostly in French however, but there are some great activity books which can be downloaded in advance to ensure children are kept busy during their visit.
2. Maison Eureka (+230 269 1000)
This is a colonial house dating back to 1830, when it was built adjoining of the river of Moka. It has gardens which are packed with unusual plants and stunning, natural waterfalls. The house was restored as a museum in 1986 to showcase its French and British aristocratic history.
The river banks showcase some stunning lilies, and expect to see rare, endemic plants like:
Bois pipe, Bois colophane Bâtard, Bois en Poudre, Makak, Manglier vert, Bois de Rivière, Bois Puant, Bois de Clou, Bois de Pomme, Bois de Fer, Liane à Gratter, Mapou.
There are also several indigenous plants to discover like:
Ougères Adiantum Hispidulum, Bois Mozambique, Bois Sureau, Bois de Chandelle, Bois Bouquet Banané, Bois de Merle, Bois à trois Feuilles, Bois Chenille, Ebenier, Tatamaka.
You will want to visit the souvenir shop, but probably most delightful is The Old Kitchen, or 'Maison Eureka' restaurant which offers a creole lunch as a sample of Mauritian cuisine.
3. Pamplemousses Botanical Gardens (+230 243 9401)
These gardens are in the north of the Island, and although fondly known as "Pamplemousses", were renamed the Sir Seewoosagar Ramgoolam Botanic Gardens, after the death of SSR on 18 September 1985 whilst in office. He had served as First Chief Minister and Prime Minister, bringing free healthcare, pensions and other benefits to the citizens. Therefore, two years after his death and in memory of this man, known as 'Father of the Nation" in Mauritius, many streets and indeed the botanic gardens were renamed in his honour.
There are a number of notable monuments within the gardens, namely the Old Sugar Mill Model and Chateau De Mon Plaisir, as well as the Medicinal and Spice corners which features many medicinal and spice species.
4. La Vanille Nature Park (+230 626 2503)
One of the most interesting aspects of the island, is the giant tortoises which reside in this park. I was informed that some of the tortoises are extremely old - one of them was apparently pushing 100 tortoise years. Of course, I am not sure this is accurate, but he did look pretty old......and slower than the rest!
The nature reserve has a nice complement of animals, including monkeys, lemurs, an aquarium, insectarium, Dodo museum, Echo Parakeets and most impressively, the crocodiles. The reserve is very active in its conservation effort and as part of a joint programme, has restored numbers of the Echo Parakeet from 20 to 700 in about 37 years. The crocodile breeding programme is very impressive, as you can see the transition from baby to adult crocodiles, and actively interact by feeding them.
The Nature Park team are also active in conservation efforts in the surrounding islands of Rodrigues and Madagascar.
5. Black River Gorges National Park
This is the perfect place for hiking, a picnic and even jogging. There are many entrances and different treks to take, if you prefer to be solitary. You will find a picnic area with wooden seating, a kiosk, the Black River itself and a waterfall as you adventure through the park.
The park covers approximately 2% of the island's surface area, and is just under 6800 hectares in size. You will find rainforest areas with hidden waterfalls, littered with unusual plants and rare birds.
It is often easy to forget that Mauritius is a volcanic island, however trekking is a great way to discover it's unique and almost prehistoric landscape.
6. The Statue of Shiva (Mangal Mahadev)
This is a copy of the Hindu statue of Lord Shiva in Gujurat, India. Lord Shiva is the Hindu God of Destruction, but his statue stands 550 metres above sea level, with a gigantic smile. Located in the south of the island, in Grand Bassin. This lake has since been declared a holy site by the Hindu community. Once a year during Maha Shivaratri (or the "Great Night of Lord Shiva"), the local Hindu community take a barefoot pilgrimage to the lake to pray to Lord Shiva. There is of course fasting, with some observing the fast even throughout the Maha Shivaratri. There is also a special diet of foods and drinks observed by devoted pilgrims.
7. Frederica Nature Reserve (+230 623 5615)
We have yet another nature reserve, but this one is located in the south-west of the island, and may be described as the ideal place for exploring biodiversity in a tranquil setting. It is an area of outstanding beauty, where you can swim in a natural waterfall or quad bike on the rugged terrain.
8. Seven Coloured Earths of Chamarel (+230 483 4298)
This area is simply breathtaking, and is an absolute must-see place in Mauritius. The Geo-Park is stunning, and makes you question the impact of man on the planet as you view the stunning landscape created by nature. You will be literally left in awe by the magnitude of this bizarre, and yet highly impressive phenomenon.
The strange composition of the sand dunes is believed to be as a result of continental drifts, volcanic activity and weather over millions of years. There are deposits of ferric oxide which account for the red, brown shades of sand, and also aluminium oxides which produce more vibrant blue and violet-blue shades in the sand.
9. Rhumerie de Charmarel (+230 483 4980)
Probably most impressive is the furtive plantations of sugar cane and pineapples, which pave the roadside drive to the Rhumerie de Charmarel, which is an old-fashioned rum distillery. The distillery is still working and you can enjoy a guided tour with a complete explanation of the ageing and flavouring processes for the various rums.
There is an opulent restaurant on site, so if you time things perfectly, you can enjoy a cocktail and delicious lunch after the tour.
10. Chamerel Falls
With the nearby Black Gorges Nature Park and the Seven Coloured Earth, it does not take any imagination to realise the waterfalls are going to be spectacular - and they are!
The surrounding area is full of arabica coffee plantations and palm salad trees, as well as sugar cane and pineapples. The falls cascade naturally against the rocks with a backdrop of green vegetation in the distance. I think you will be seeing how this island is living up to Oscar Wilde's comparison with heaven.
11. Helicopter Tour of the Island (+230 603 3754)
The flights costs are not crazy, so a private aerial helicopter tour is an amazing way to view the island. This is a definite must if your budget will stretch to this, and if you really want to push the boat out, you can use a helicopter for your hotel transfers.
Another absolute must-see is the Underwater Waterfall, which although an optical illusion of the sand and silt, is very impressive via helicopter.
12. Isle aux Aigrettes (+230 631 2396)
This island is part of Mauritian Wildlife Foundation, and is situated about 850 metres off the south east coast of Mauritius. Unlike Mauritius which is volcanic, this island is made up of coraline limestone.
There has been an enormous effort since 1965 to revive this island by restoring the forest and introducing many wildlife species. The island is now a flourishing nature reserve, which you can visit on a day tour, with an ecotour of the exotic birds and wildlife species. This island is a magnet for wildlife photographers who love to capture colourful species up, close and personal. Please note however that because the island is still fragile, no alcoholic drinks, food or smoking is permitted during tours to the island.
13. Ile Aux Cerfs (+230 402 7720)
Travel across from the jetty in a 24-seat boat from Pointe Maurice to the main activity hub of Mauritius. Visitors can spend the day enjoying a variety of activities from golf at the 18-hole championship course to other land-based activities like 'accrobranching' and zip lining. There are several water-based sports too, like water skiing, parasailing, wakeboarding and speed boat rides.
There are a variety of restaurants on this island, where you can enjoy traditional dining, a grill or barbecue of Indian, Asian or Mauritian cuisine.
14. Ganga Talao (or Grand Bassin)
This is a stunning crater lake, which sits 1800 feet above sea level. It is of course, the location of Lord Shiva, but more importantly is a scared place of prayer and meditation to local pilgrims and Hindu worshippers. The name is very symbolic as it links the local replica to the river Ganges in India.
15. Central Market
This market is located in the capital city of Port Louis, and is the meeting place of many cultures, with its stall allotted on a lottery basis. Expect the unexpected as there is everything from fruit, vegetables, spices, herbs, rum, textiles, artisan goods, preserves and every so often fond mentions of the popular dodo bird.
You can enjoy takeaway delicacies like Mauritian dumplings, roti with curry and spicy noodle dishes. The tastebuds are driven wild by the local cuisine, especially if savoured with fresh coconut water or any of the local drinks.
16. Flic en Flac Beach
Well, Flic-en-Flac is a beautiful seaside town on the west side of Mauritius with probably the longest beach on the island. However, the beauty does not end there, as the beach is flat with distinct white sand. Its lagoon is surrounded by coral reefs, making it again an amazingly beautiful place to visit.
This beach is so breathtaking, that it is simply a place that must be discovered and enjoyed.
This was a massive plus point to this resort as there was plenty to do, including boat trips to view the marine life. There was a booking agent available in the hotel to arrange a much more personalized itinerary for you.
Needless to say we took full advantage and hired a driver for a couple of days to visit the many sites on this luxurious island. This is a brilliant idea, especially if you have children as you can make impromptu stops, if you see anything random along the route. Another benefit is that you get to see the island from the viewpoint of a local person, who will know unique things about the locations and show you the non-tourist sites. We found that the local residents were more relaxed with us, as the driver would make our introductions and it was less formal than the usual group trips.
There were two trips which sit up there at the top of my best adventures whilst in Mauritius. The first was the breathtaking helicopter tour of the island, and this is not to be missed. I sat at in the front with the pilot of the Air Mauritius flight, for which you check in as per normal flight procedures at the airport, but then walk to your helicopter. You really appreciate the beauty of the island from the aerial views, as you see the coves, powder white beaches, coral reefs and turquoise rippled shades of seawater.
My other favourite was seeing the giant tortoises in La Vanille Nature Park, some of which were over 100 years old. This is great fun for children as they are able to interact by touching the tortoises. Of course, there are many other species of wildlife in the park, like the baby reptiles which are being bred as part of a conservation programme. Mauritius and the many tiny, uninhabited surrounding islands were once home to many rare reptiles, like Durrell's Night Gecko and the burrowing Boa. Collaborations have been in place with the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation, Durrell's Wildlife Conservation and the National Parks and Conservation Service since 2006.
This nature park is fascinating as you can interact with the wildlife, as well as observe the reptiles at particular stages of life.
The island of Mauritius is a wonderful holiday destination, and it will not disappoint even the most demanding of travellers. The climate offers a comfortable heat, but of course, this will vary with the time of year chosen.
Probably the most remarkable element about Mauritius, which also references the Mark Twain quote, is how with all the cultural and religious influences in a relatively small island, there is a wonderful sense of harmony. The people are very friendly and eager to please, so they generously share their piece of heaven with the many travellers who cross their shores.