According to novelist, Mark Twain, Mauritius “was made first and then heaven; and heaven was copied after Mauritius”. The tiny island, which is only 800km east of Madagascar and which rather dramatically rises from the depths of the Indian Ocean, has the “tropical island” part nailed down. Mauritius is fringed by 160km of pearly white beaches, an azure sea that’s clear enough to revel at magnificent coral reefs, and a rugged core flipping between deafening waterfalls, silent forests, expansive gorges and hundreds of unique wildlife. There are many historical, cultural and once-in-a-lifetime things to do in Mauritius, from helicopter rides to view “underwater” waterfalls to African safaris; glass bottom boat rides to exploring sacred religious temples. If you fancy exploring this “pearl of the ocean”, then read on to discover my highlights of Mauritius.
A Brief History of Mauritius
The island of Mauritius was uninhabited and isolated for thousands of years, allowing rare flora and fauna to flourish. Of the 600 indigenous species, the most notable throughout history is the dodo, a flightless bird that many believe Charles Darwin discovered. The truth is that around 1598, Dutch sailors landed on the island and first recorded the birds. Unfortunately, the dodo was extinct by 1681. Today, Mauritius is surrounded by the world’s third largest coral reef with a rich marine life and its national flower, Trochetia boutoniana (Boucle d’Oreillie) which now only grows on a single mountaintop. Like its wildlife and plants, Mauritius’ people have had a varied and complicated past. The island of Mauritius was first a Dutch colony, beginning in the 17th century, before becoming French and then coming under British control until 1968 when the islanders gained independence. Due to its multi-national and multi-cultured past, the island boasts a diverse mosaic of different cultures, highlighted in the abundance of French, Indian, Dutch, English, and Mauritian foods, religions and festivals.
Key Information about Mauritius
The island of Mauritius forms only a small section of the Mascarene Islands – a volcanic chain reaching as far as the Seychelles – and as a result, it’s known for being one of the best winter sun destinations. It’s also a sublime location for an island holiday, leaving many who visit content to lounge by the sea and soak up the sun all day. As I said, the island is great for some winter sun, and the best time to visit Mauritius is between October and December as the weather averages 30 degrees celcius and the rainfall is low. As for currency, you’ll need to get some Mauritian Rupee which is used throughout the country, and the best way to explore the island is to rent a car. However, public transport is frequent and transport to and from the airport can often be arranged via your hotel’s concierge.
Where to Stay in Mauritius
While we were holidaying in Mauritius, we stayed in Sofitel Mauritius L’Imperial Resort & Spa, but there are many hotels in Mauritius to choose from. Most of these hotels are world-class with gourmet restaurants, golf courses and top-notch spas. Best of all, they sit directly on Mauritius’ beaches. As for Sofitel Mauritius L’Imperial, we think of it as paradise on Earth. It has the most indulgent and luxurious spa, which is operated in collaboration with L’Occitane, and there are several pools – including an infinity pool – a gym, a plethora of watersport activities and diving courses. But the hotel’s two best features were its spacious rooms – which are more like mini apartments with sea views – and the numerous restaurants serving Indian, French, Japanese, Chinese, and British cuisines.
My Top things to do in Mauritius
While Mauritius used to be an exclusive destination for the well-to-do, it now has an ever-expanding range of activities and accommodations for all types of budgets. Yet, it still feels uber luxurious and, as a result, Mauritius is one of the best places to explore for those wanting to experience affordable luxury travel. For more tips on how to achieve affordable luxury travel, please click here. There are many things to do in Mauritius, including watersports like swimming with dolphins, diving, paddleboarding and more. The island’s rugged interior is no more than 45 minutes drive from the sea, with mountain ranges created by volcanic activity thirteen million years ago. Our trip focused on the west and south of the island, so here are my selections of the best things to do in Mauritius’ lesser-known regions.
1. Swimming and Snorkelling
As I said before, Mauritius is blessed with a 720-mile coastline and the west and south of the island are often windier and wilder. As a result, these regions of Mauritius’ beaches are best for watersports and photography (there’s something quite magnificent and spellbinding about relaxing on a beach surrounded by dense jungles and skyscraper mountains). On the west coast, Flic en Flac is known for being one of the longest beaches in Mauritius with exquisite snorkelling opportunities. It’s likewise known for its reef-protected lagoon and epic sunsets. Tamrin Beach is popular with locals and with the absence of any reef protection, it’s the best spot for surfing. On the southwest coast lies the two-and-a-half-mile stretch of Le Morne peninsula which is backed by Le Morne Brabant peak – a Unesco World Heritage Site. Due to its location, Le Morne has the most wind, and therefore, is excellent for kitesurfers.
2. Glass-bottom Boat Trips
Consider for a moment, the exhilarating sensation of cruising the gentle turquoise oceans with the wind coursing through your hair. Sounds intoxicating right? Now, imagine yourself in a glass-bottom boat, where you can see an abundance of marine life and exotic coral reefs below your feet. Oftentimes, you’ll also discover objects and shipwrecks dating to the 18th and 19th centuries. Make sure to look out for the vibrant butterflyfish, octopi, mantis shrimps, peacock flounders, starfish and endemic angelfish. The panoramic views of Mauritius are also awe-inspiring.
3. Island Hop around Mauritius
One of the best things to do in Mauritius is to embark on a luxury catamaran or speed boat and hop around the wild, isolated and untouched offshore islands. These boat trips are the best examples travellers today have to see what the 16th-century explorers encountered when they first landed in Mauritius. Depending on which company you sail with, activities vary from snorkelling, dolphin watching and enjoying a barbecue on deserted shorelines. But one thing is for sure, these islands are where endemic species survive and are the most private areas to enjoy the winter sun.
4. The Black River Gorges National Park
In the southwestern part of Mauritius is a 16,680 acres national park where over 300 native species and endemic flowering plants reside. The Black River Gorges National Park is the island’s last protected jungle and is largely left as nature intended. It is known for having over 50km of exhilarating hiking trails and along the way, you’ll find nine endemic avian species, three endangered birds – the Mauritius kestrel, the pink pigeon and the echo parakeet – and 4000 types of fruit bat. Deeper into the Black River Gorges National Park, a canopy of ancient trees, spectacular waterfalls, snaking rivers and cavernous valleys present themselves to you. There is no shop here, so make sure to take your own supplies.
5. Chamarel Waterfall
When you visit Mauritius, you cannot miss seeing Chamarel Waterfall which is known locally as Cascade Chamarel. It’s the highest waterfall on the island of Mauritius with a 100-metre drop and over 10 million years of history. Indeed, the waterfall is evidence of Mauritius’s volcanic days, gathering its water from two rivers: Viande Salèe and St Denis. Due to its size, the spray of the fall rises to half the height of the actual waterfall, and abseiling is a popular watersport here.
There’s a lookout point for visitors, and the view here is unparalleled – a striking waterfall overhanging a steep basalt cliff with a dense jungle as a backdrop. For the adventurous, you can trek down to the waterfall’s base, following a route for roughly three hours.
6. Seven Coloured Earths
One of the most unusual things to do in Mauritius is to marvel at the other-worldly, volcanic, geological phenomenon. This caused seven different colours of the earth to form in undulating waves. This tourist attraction is not far from Chamarel Waterfall and is known to locals as Terres de 7 Couleurs. It spans 7,500 metres and was formed 3.5 million – 1.9 million years ago by the decomposition of volcanic rock. The island’s humid and hot weather eroded the basaltic rock, leaving behind deposits of iron and aluminium oxide. These came in seven distinctive colours – green, violet, yellow, red, brown, purple and blue.
7. Helicopter Ride over Mauritius
It’s one thing to drive through Mauritius’s thick jungles and along its expansive coastline. But it’s an entirely different experience to take a helicopter ride over these. It’s a truly once-in-a-lifetime, matchless journey where you get to have a birdseye view of the Chamarel Waterfall, the Seven Coloured Earths and areas of the island few get to discover. Troux aux Cerfs – a dormant volcano with a crater and cone – is one such place, as is flying over Le Morne Brabant. The latter is a UNESCO World Heritage Site where Mauritius’s world-famous illusionary underwater waterfall can be seen! This is definitely best viewed from the sky!
8. Casela Nature Park
If you’re driving around the island of Mauritius, there is a good chance you’ll spot one or two of its native monkeys. But, at Casela Nature Park, you’ll discover the country’s more dynamic and impressive feathered and furry residents. The nature park, which doubles as an adventure park with an extra-long zip line running over canyons, spans 350 acres and also features an animal sanctuary. Here, you can pet baby goats, embark on horse or camel rides, or go on a bumpy ride with one of their African safaris. On the safari, you can discover eager ostriches, rhinos and zebras. For those who love big cats, the Predator Kingdom has activities like walking with lions or entering their domains.
9. “King Kong” Mountain
As I’ve said before, the island of Mauritius was formed after volcanic activity in the Indian Ocean. As a result, Mauritius’s rugged interior has many hiking trails that render even the most skilled climber doubtful as to their success at climbing its mountains. One landscape, known locally as the “King Kong” mountain is particularly challenging. It’s named the “King Kong” mountain because, from a particular angle, the mountain has the profile of this dangerous creature. Others have nicknamed it the “mini-Matterhorn”, after Switzerland’s highest alps. Please note, some sections of this hike require scrambling and trust in a rather tenuous hanging bridge. But at the end of the day, the views are spectacular! If you’re a novice hiker, I’d recommend not trying this particular route and opting for hiking through the Black River Gorges National Park.
10. Ganga Talao
One of the best things to do in Mauritius is to witness the island’s diverse religious culture. Ganga Talao – also known as Grand Bassin – is considered the most sacred Hindu place in Mauritius, sitting on a crater lake 550 metres above sea level. Here, you’ll find an assortment of shrines and temples dedicated to Lord Shiva and the enormous statue at the entrance – 108 feet high – is also dedicated to this supreme god. This is the tallest statue in Mauritius (pictured below, next to the gold lion). Every year, between the end of February and the beginning of March, thousands of pilgrims descend upon this lake to celebrate the festival of Shivaratri. They walk barefoot with hand-made shrines to the water’s edge, at which point they carry out private prayers. At quieter times, there are several walks around Ganga Talao, but there is a strict no-fishing policy.
I was blown away by the culture, beauty and diverse activities on the island of Mauritius! Whether you’re looking for a quiet beach to enjoy the warm winter sun or want to try once-in-a-lifetime experiences like private helicopter rides, there is something for everyone in Mauritius.
Have you ever been to Mauritius? If so, what are some of your favourite things to do on the island? If not, are there any activities on the island of Mauritius that you’d like to try?
For more guides, check out my top 10 things to do in Egypt or my full guide to Falmouth, Cornwall.