Paradise in the Indian Ocean
Situated off the eastern coast of Africa, the island of Mauritius is inundated with an eclectic mix of cultures. Mauritius serves as a link between Europe, India, and Africa. The Portuguese were the first to take control of the island, but possession of the land was passed to the Dutch, the French, and finally the British. With its proximity to Africa and the slave trade from India these vastly different cultures intertwined, creating a distinct island paradise. Today, the people of Mauritius enjoy a stable democratic government with regular free elections making it one of Africa’s safest destinations. Serene, beautiful beaches surround the island while tropical forests and odd geological formations comprise the interior. Do not be deceived by the size of Mauritius – the island offers a wealth of things to keep anyone occupied.
White sand beaches border much of the island, and are naturally a main draw for many visitors to the island. I am always puzzled why the beaches of Mauritius are typically absent from those “world’s best beaches” lists. Turquoise water lapping on sparsely populated white sand definitely qualifies the island’s beaches as some of the best I have ever stepped foot on. The northern part of the island is the tourist hub, which includes the Grand Bay area. Hotels, restaurants, and much of Mauritius’ nightlife are located along the Grand Bay beaches allowing for daytime lounging with a plethora of evening activities. Flic en Flac beach is located more centrally on the island, easily accessible from Port Louis, but offers fewer choices for lodging and dining. Escaping to the southern section of the island, particularly Le Morne, offers those elusive secluded beaches. On the stretch of beach I occupied there were only two other people within sight for the entire day, that is my idea of the perfect beach.
Hiring a driver for the day, from a company like Solis, is an ideal way to gain access to land-based activities on Mauritius. Black River Gorges and Tamarind Falls offers a challenging hike, but one that can be completed in a day. My hike began at the edge of sugar cane fields which quickly transformed into tropical foliage. The initial descent onto the falls is rather steep, but most definitely does not require any hiking gear other than a sturdy sneaker. Numerous waterfalls provide a rather deep pool of water at one of the lowest levels, so make sure to bring clothing that can get wet. The pool is surrounded by large boulders that provide for good leverage to jump off into the cool water. A brief swim is great way to take a break from the tropical sun and humidity. Curepipe and Trou aux Cerfs are worth a visit while visiting this portion of the island. Trou aux Cerfs is one of the dormant volcanoes on Mauritius, and the small island town of Curepipe surrounds the summit. It is a free attraction and since you are already adventuring outdoors it is worth the visit.
Charming Chamarel is home to Coloured Earth, a fenced in geological attraction. Rising out of the ground is a mass of hardened volcanic remains that has magically taken on the pigments of purples, blues, and reds highlighted with hints of other colors. Coloured Earth would not be considered a time consuming activity, but the site is worth a visit and the Chamarel waterfalls add the area’s charm. Not far from Chamarel is Parc Adventure. Attempting the various ropes’ obstacles at the Parc Adventure provides not only a challenge, but several hours of entertainment. The ability to laugh at yourself and those traveling with you is key, since most of the rope obstacles test your balance and agility traversing the obstacles is not always as easy as it appears. Each group gets a guide for the first section of the course, whom seems to find humor in shaking all of the bridges the unsuspecting patrons are attempting to cross. Not only does your upper body get a nice workout, but your sense of humor does too.
Having a population of just about 1.2 million limits the nations ability to produce teeming cities, but Port Louis offers some traditional city perks. The Caudan Waterfront and Central Market offer shopping opportunities for those interested. Local food and produce are sold next to touristy goods, which provides a unique atmosphere to browse. The waterfront area is home to a casino, which I did not visit, and several restaurants whose cuisine ranges from French crepes to Chinese to traditional Mauritian dishes. Adjacent from the Central Market is a rather sizeable Chinatown, considering the size of the population.
Natural diversity and heavenly white sand beaches are Mauritius’ real draw, and are probably the reason many tourists visit the island. The traditional Sega dance will be performed alongside a meal of Chinese cuisine. This only serves to exemplify the way cultures have become blended on this small island. American travelers are not common to Mauritius so be mindful of the image you are portraying, one person can make a drastic difference in the minds of the islanders. Ernest Hemingway believed this place to be heaven, and I would have to agree with him.