By Erin McQuilkin
Mauritius is an exotic, far off island drifting in the Indian Ocean. Past Mozambique, past Madagascar, keep going into the vast blue skies and endless sapphire sea, beyond the horizon until you reach this jade Shangri-la.
Floating 2000 kilometres from the African continent this oasis is a spicy melting pot of ethnicities, cultures and cuisines with one of the highest ratings in Africa on the Human Development Index and the Global Peace Index and a wild history of seafaring discoverers, colonial kingdoms and waves of immigration.
Remote, uninhabited by humans and undiscovered for centuries, Mauritius was “found” by Arab sailors in 900 AD before being colonised by many, it was once the playground of explorers. Mauritius is known today for its impeccable white sand beaches, ebony forest and cuisine that will ignite your taste buds. The local people are a delightful brew of French, Indian, Creole, European and Chinese who brought their traditions, religions and zesty food along with them.
Fire In The Streets
Mauritian street food is a fiery and delectable melange of Indian, African, Creole, Chinese and French seasonings come to dance across your palate. The dishes are as colourful as the history of the island, dominated by fresh seafood curries, tropical fruit and of course spices! Maurtian’s love fried foods and all kinds of fritters line food carts, begging to melt in your mouth.
Try chana puri, fritters stuffed with curried yellow split peas, but possibly the most venerated street food is dholl puri, a kind of pancake created from yellow split peas and wheat, filled with butter bean curry or rougaille. It is served with a sauce of sweet tomatoes, atchars (pickles) and a piquant chutney. You can also find fresh boulettes, Chinese-Mauritian dumplings, brimming with chicken, vegetables or seafood And don’t leave without indulging in one of the ambrosial local treats like gato patate, a Hindu speciality of sweet potato, shredded coconut and cinnamon.
From the cobalt blue waters and flawless beaches to the verdant forests of the interior, Mauritius will surely make you appreciate the natural world. One of the main draws is Saya Del Malha, one of the largest coral reefs on the planet, surrounding much of this tropical refuge. It is an undersea universe full of rainbow schools of fish and ocean vegetation, making this the perfect place for diving!
Expand beyond the beaches with a visit to Chamarel Village to find the seven coloured earth, a striking natural phenomenon of basaltic lava and clay minerals layered in seven bright segments, and the wilderness of Black River Gorges National Park. One of the most stunning places to visit is Le Morne Brabant, a powerful symbol of freedom as it was a hub for runaway slaves in the past.
Le Morne is a beautiful vista to trek, surf or dive these days. This islet houses a population of rare flora and fauna, such as the Mauritius Flying Fox, the Aldabra Giant Tortoise, hundreds of bird species like albatrosses and flamingos and one of the world’s oldest botanical gardens, Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam Botanic Garden also known as Pamplemousses Botanical Gardens.
The Undiscovered Outer Islands
The territory of Mauritius includes the nearby islands of Rodrigues, Agalega Islands and St Brandon. These lesser-known islands make a fabulous side trip. Rodrigues is a lovely place to start as it has a more secluded feel and plenty of ocean adventures like snorkelling and diving. The Agalegas are two picturesque gems filled with coconut plantations and simple, tranquil charms, perfect if you’re looking for solitude. While Saint Brandon’s is a collection of more than fifty idyllic minor islands with virginal coral reefs full of fish and fauna.
Rolling Tea Plantations and Aromatic Rum
Hire a driver or rent a car to reach Mauritius’s tea route and indulge yourself at the handsome tea plantations. Domaine des Aubineaux is a colonial house and museum for the history of Mauritian tea with an essential oil distillery and tea tastings.
Bois Cheri is a massive tea plantation, the oldest producer in Mauritius, serving excellent tea tastings and tours of the grounds. Finally, stop at Saint Aubin to imbibe in soothing tea tastings and another intoxicating libation—artisanal rum. Mauritius is a realm of sugar plantations, so inevitably they produce some incredible, naturally distilled rums which you can taste at both Rhumerie de Chamarel and Rhumerie de Saint Aubin.
You inevitably hear the word expensive in association with Mauritius, and not without reason. The island is home to posh four and five-star hotels, but this is not the only way to experience this mosaic country. If you adjust your travel to three-star guesthouses or below and eat local food, the experience can be much more affordable. In general daily costs can range from $50 USD to $100 a day with a budget double room, street food and dinner in a restaurant. Mid-level costs vary from $80 USD to $200 USD daily with higher-end hotels, restaurants and hiring a car.
Paradise At Sea
ScribeMark Twain supposedly gifted the island with these lines, “Mauritius was made first, and then heaven was copied after Mauritius”, but in his book, Following the Equator, A Journey Around The World, you discover, this quote actually came from the lips of a local Mauritian. It was simply recorded by Twain and thereafter misquoted. When you arrive on Mauritius’s finely powdered shores, you begin to understand this statement.
From Grand Baie’s buzzing streets and the capital of Port Louis to the vibrant green forests and refreshing waterfalls, the entire place throbs with the energy of this vibrant culture. If you want to unwind somewhere celestial, this alluring island might be the getaway you’ve been searching for.