“Welcome to Paradise” said the Captain as the plane touched down in Mauritius. One did not have to look far to discover the motivation for such a bold claim. Surrounded by the Indian Ocean, Mauritius is synonymous with postcard-like turquoise waters, white sandy beaches, palm trees and year-round sunshine.
Mauritius had been on my bucket list for years but somehow it had always eluded me. I was curious about the island although from what I’d heard – it was all about water sports – something I’m not personally interested in.
After spending the past week here, I have been bowled over by the natural beauty of Ile De Maurice (the French name for Mauritius), the colourful history, the friendly people, the relaxed island vibe and the myriad other activities to do here – and I’m already planning my next trip – with my children, this time.
1. Marvel at the seven-coloured earth at Chamarel
Mauritius is rich in natural phenomena. Chamarel is one of its wonders. The seven-coloured earth is an area of dunes made up of rainbow-coloured sand which has settled in separate layers. It is particularly striking against the green mountain backdrop. The park also boasts the highest waterfall in Mauriitus.
2. Discover how tea is made on the Tea Route
The Tea Route tour will give you great insight into Mauritian history and the importance of tea on the island. On the tour, we visited the “Domaine des Aubineaux”, a colonial house built in 1872, which is now a museum. Our second stop was the Bois Cheri tea factory, the largest tea producer in Mauritius which has been running since 1892. It exports tea around the world. We were given an in-depth tour of the tea factory and saw the fascinating process during which tea is made and packaged.
After the tour we did some tea tasting, which includes vanilla tea, a popular flavour in Mauritius - as well as cardamom tea, caramel tea and many other varieties. Our third stop was the Saint Aubin house. Built in 1819, it was the residence of several managers of the sugar estate. It is now an integral part of the country's heritage. We had a typical Mauritian meal here, with Creole fish curry and caramelised bananas.
3. See an extinct volcano crater
Trou aux Cerfs is a dormant volcano near the town of Curepipe. It is around 100 metres deep with a diameter of 350 metres. Unlike typical volcanic craters, it is surrounded by lush green forest. Although it has been dormant for 700000 years, it is believed that the volcano may erupt again.
4. Savour the views from the Maconde View Point
The Maconde View Point is one of the best view points (and Instagram spots) in Mauritius. It is a little rocky outcrop set on a hairpin bend on the coastal road between Le Morne and Baie du Cap village in the South of Mauritius. This area is known for its picturesque landscapes and seascapes. It is believed that it once served as a refuge for runaway slaves from the Makonde tribe of Mozambique, from whence it got its name.
There are some narrow stone steps to climb and once you’re at the top, you will be rewarded with stunning views of the rugged coastline, the nearby village, Macondé Rock, and the Savanne Mountains in the background. Sometimes, you may see local fishermen baiting fish or boats out at sea. The viewpoint starts attracting crowds from around 8 am in the morning so it is advisable to go there early in the morning. It can also get quite windy. We took a drive there from Bel Ombre.
5. Have dinner in a chateau
Heritage Le Chateau is a charming former sugar plantation house in Bel Ombre which was built in the 19th century. Flanked by stunning French gardens, it now serves as a gourmet restaurant with a single suite on the upper floor which can be booked for a special experience. The menu was conceived by a Michelin-starred chef and the haute cuisine encompasses farm-to-fork dining. We enjoyed a five-course dinner which included Rova Caviar from Madagascar, crab tartare and sea bass.
6. Marvel at the Giant Water Lilies
The Mauritius National Botanical Gardens in Pamplemousses were created over 300 years ago and are the oldest gardens in the Southern hemisphere. Also known as Sir Seewoosagur Botanical Gardens, they are known for their giant water lilies, although they have over 650 varieties of other plants. There are over 85 types of palm trees, a spice garden, many monuments and some wildlife. Guides are available to ensure you don't miss anything.
7. Enjoy the panoramic views from the Citadel
The Citadel, or Fort Adelaide, as it also known - was built in the 1830's by the British to accommodate a garrison. Perched on a hill, it offers panoramic views of Port Louis and the harbour. The fort is made from basalt blocks and features Moorish architecture. Multiple cannons dot the property.
8. Learn about Mauritius' past at Aapravasi Ghat
Mauritius was the first country in the modern world where large-scale indentured labour was used. More than 462000 people arrived between 1830 and 1910 to work on the British Colony’s sugar estates. Today, approximately 70 per cent of Mauritians are descendants of these indentured labourers. Aapravasi Ghat is one of the oldest surviving entry and transit points linked to indenture in the world. It has been declared a World Heritage Site.
There are a number of other museums in Port Louis too such as the Blue Penny Museum and the Natural History Museum.
9. Practice your bargaining skills at the Central Market
The Central Market comprises a cluster of vibrant markets including fish, meat, fruit and vegetables, clothing and souvenirs. You can pick up some great bargains here. Don't miss the indoor street food section - I loved the dhal roti and tamarind juice there. If you prefer more formal eateries and shopping, then go to the nearby Caudan Waterfront Shopping Mall.
10. The Caudan Waterfront
The Caudan Waterfront is the oldest shopping centre in Mauritius. It can be found along the edge of the harbour in Port Louis, the island’s capital city. Named after a Frenchman, Jean Dominique Michel de Caudan, who settled on the island, it was once a collection of unused warehouses. Now it houses restaurants, boutique shops, a cinema, a craft market, hotels and much more. The Blue Penny Museum, which is home to two of the rarest stamps in the world, the 1847 Blue Penny and the Red Penny, can also be found here. There are monuments and fountains, as well as play areas and a colourful train for children.
Old cannons, remnants of Mauritius’ past, look out to sea. Often you can see massive cruise ships docked here too. The Caudan Waterfront is a pleasant place to take a stroll, have lunch with friends or an ice -cream. It is also one of the most popular Instagram locations in Port Louis due to the umbrella-covered promenade which changes colours every now and then. The umbrellas provide shade as well as a pretty photo backdrop. When we visited, the colours were those of the French flag.
11. Adventure sports
Mauritius is a tropical playground. It's natural features form the perfect setting for many types of adventure sports. Ziplining, hiking, canyoning , mountain biking are just some of the adrenalin-pumping activities you can do around the island.
I don't know why it’s taken me so long but I've finally ticked Mauritius off my bucket list. I’ve discovered that it’s an idyllic family vacation destination with so much to do. If you still need more reasons to go - for South Africans, the flight is under 4 hours away and there is no visa required.
Mauritius is open to tourists. See the current entry requirements.
Join the Facebook group for South Africans who love to travel.
Have any questions or concerns about Mauritius? Comment below.
Have you been there? What are your favourite things to do in Mauritius ?
Disclosure: This trip was sponsored by the Mauritius Tourism Board but all opinions are my own. #mymauritius