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Indian Ocean island paradise with a diverse culture and landscape
Cast adrift in the Indian Ocean, where continents combine, Mauritius is a marvellous mix of African, Indian, European and Oriental influences. This spectacular island of white sand beaches, sugar cane fields and lush verdant mountains rises up from the crystal clear waters and offers some of the finest hotels in the world, as well as fabulous golfing and indulgent relaxation. It is little wonder that Mark Twain deemed this the prototype on which paradise was fashioned.
Larger than the ‘one resort’ islands of the Maldives but still not much bigger than Surrey, Mauritius is an Indian Ocean escape with something extra. East of Madagascar, this lush island is more than just white sands – although there’s no denying that these are some of the most stunning beaches in the world.
The island is surrounded by a huge reef sheltering the shallow lagoons, whose waters meet a shoreline of sugar white beaches. These lead to sugar cane plains, waterfall pools and forests of ebony and eucalyptus, before finally reaching the peaks of bare and broken rocks that make a moonscape of the mountains. Mauritius plays host to a number of world class hotels, as well as family-friendly resorts. Accommodation options are widespread around the coastline, though there are considerably less resorts on the island’s south coast.
Away from its beaches, Mauritius bursts with historic sights, cultural diversity and natural attractions. Take a dip beneath cascading waters at Tamarin Falls – a beautiful natural collection of waterfalls in southwest Mauritius, which, though awkward to get to, are well worth a visit. Black River Gorges is Mauritius’ sole national park – a wild area of thick indigenous forest in the central highlands that is home to over 300 plant species and rare bird life. Visit Pamplemousses Royal Botanical Gardens and stroll through lush vegetation including the unique collection of palms and the ‘Victoria Regia water lily’ which has leaves that grow to over two feet wide.
Offshore, the stunning island of Ile aux Cerfs to the east makes for a popular day trip. Much of the island belongs to Le Touessrok, offering watersports to its hotel guests. There is also a wonderful 18-hole Bernhard Langer golf course and a couple of open-air restaurants. In the southeast, the tiny coral island of Ile aux Aigrettes is owned by the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation, providing habitat for rare and endemic flora and fauna including the giant tortoise, the Mauritius kestrel and the pink pigeon.
Mauritius also offers fun activities for all ages. The golf here is world class, whilst the beaches and lagoons are havens for watersports. Get your adrenaline pumping on a quad bike ride, discover tranquil seascapes and hidden lagoons during a catamaran cruise or take an exhilarating deep-sea fishing expedition to catch marlin and shark. Or if it’s plain relaxation you’re seeking, the spas here are heavenly.
And the cities are a delight, too. The capital of Port Louis has an international atmosphere, with its bustling streets and intoxicating smell of spices and fresh tea leaves. Central Market is best for an exciting market experience, with hawkers representing all of the island's ethnic groups selling leather goods, meat, sweet foods, herbal teas, and an exotic array of fruit and vegetables. The market is open daily from 6am – and it’s advisable to get there early. Mahebourg is one of the main fishing villages on the island. Built on the magnificent Grand Port Bay, it was founded in 1804 by the French Governor Charles Decaën. The Monday markets are among the biggest on the island and are held right next to the main bus station. Grand Baie in the north is far more cosmopolitan and a popular option for eating, drinking and shopping.
For cultural entertainment, spend an evening entranced by the historically significant Sega – a rousing dance with vibrant flowing fabrics and uplifting music, originally sung by slaves. And the food here is divine, with the melting pot of cultures creating multi-cultural concoctions as well as local seafood dishes and palm heart salad.
It is testament to Mauritius and its hotels that you could easily spend a week here on an all inclusive holiday and not leave your resort; or you could venture out and explore somewhere new every day. Not least, the island is home to some of the friendliest people, so you can expect the very best in hospitality.
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This is a beautiful island. We drove across the island from coast to coast and saw sugar cane fields, historical fortresses and stunning sandy beaches and waterfalls. I recommend taking one of the catamaran cruises along the coast – you’ll see the island from a different perspective and it’s a great way to spend a day in the sun.