Just for a second, imagine paradise.
Do you see crystal blue waters, golden sands, a beautiful bounty of plants and trees and an abundance of tropical fruits?
If so, then your picture doesn’t wander too far from Mauritius – a small island situated in the southern Indian Ocean approximately 900 kilometres to the east of Madagascar.
It was loved that much by American author Mark Twain, that he wrote “Mauritius was made first, and then heaven; and that heaven was copied after Mauritius,” upon a visit there in 1896.
It is also a volcanic area, but its main crater – Trou aux Cerfs – is as extinct as the dodo bird itself – which is somewhat of a national treasure of history in that part of the world.
I was fortunate enough to get the chance to go back in 2007 for three weeks with my family.
Unlike most trips to the island we didn’t stay in a hotel or resort, but rather a beach house owned by our Mauritian neighbours.
We had no room service, no five-stars and only one English television channel – BBC World Service – to last the entire duration.
But it all worked in our favour. The beach house was quite big and was a cracking place to stay and only a stone’s throw away from the nearest beach, and we had our own swimming pool – which we made plenty of use of.
Plus, we made the most of the island, going on several day trips to the island’s main tourist attractions, unlike a family we spoke to who were staying in a nearby hotel, and had barely ventured more than a couple of hundred metres down the road.
Everywhere on the island is reachable by taxi. We had our own driver on the holiday, a relative of our neighbours, so we were able to not only be taken from A to B with ease, but also pick up recommendations of things that the average tourist wouldn't do.
What we did
La Vanille Nature Park – La Vanille is akin to a zoo in the United Kingdom, but takes on an element of safari-like discovery by allowing up-close and personal access to some of the park’s animals. Like this giant tortoise, for example:
Not only did we get to take a photo with them, but we also got to feed the tortoises leaves. There are plenty of animals to see here, and unlike at home it feels a lot less safe – as if health and safety isn’t all that great of a priority.
The tigers, for example, moved majestically in their cage and gave us onlookers a hearty roar to remember them by. But you could stand right by the structure and there was plenty of room between the bars to stick your limbs in which, obviously, is ill-advised. There were also opportunities to hold baby crocodiles and feed the larger ones, too, as well as see other animals, like the deer below.
But the increase in danger, relatively speaking, made for a unique and interesting experience.
Water Leisure Park – I love a good water park, and although this isn’t as good as some you’ll find in the United States and Europe, it was still extremely enjoyable.
Just don’t take food and drink in from the outside, because bags will be checked and they may well get confiscated.
They have big slides, chutes with inflatables, a lazy river, a kids area and all the things that a usual water park has.
Even at the expense of, again, health and safety, it’s still a fun place to go. My lasting memory of this place is the lifeguard, who didn’t look at the slide the whole time, telling me it was safe to go, resulting in me dropkicking a woman in the back on the way down and profusely apologising to her and her waiting family in what was a foreign language to them.
Port Louis – The country’s capital is a slice of urban living in the middle of a paradise-esque remote island.
It’s surprisingly built up and there’s a lot going on. We got an express bus to the city and it was chaos at the main bus station with all the children making their way to school.
There’s plenty to see and do, with lots of shops and museums, and a pirate ship-themed play area for kids. We also ate at a restaurant looking over the port, which was a really nice way to spend an hour of the afternoon.
Ile aux Cerfs – This was probably the best day of all, when we went on an excursion to Ile aux Cerfs – an island just off the east coast of the Mauritian mainland.
This is where the sea and sand is even more radiant than the images in the travel brochures, and is what most people could only ever read about.
We got there via speedboat, which was an unbelievable experience in of itself, with a driver with a penchant for extreme-angled turning and a need for speed. Not only did the boat take us to the island and back, but also around to the nearby waterfall.
We then spent the rest of the day on the island, where you can paraglide (I was too yound to do so, unfortunately) and get involved with water sports. A personal highlight was going to the bar and drinking freshly-squeezed lemon juice.
To top the day off there was a big barbecue that the organisers put on as the sun begins to set over the azure waters.
Seven Coloured Earths – The Seven Coloured Earths in the small town of Chamarel is one of the country’s main tourist attractions.
It may not be exciting for little ones, but to see the dunes comprised of seven different coloured sands (approximates red, brown, violet, green, blue, purple and yellow) is pretty cool. There’s also a viewing tower which you can get a better view from.
Ganga Talao – This is a crater lake and holy site situated in a secluded mountainous area in the Savanne region, considered to be the most sacred Hindu place in Mauritius. Hinduism is the religion in the country, with 48.5% of its populations followers.
We didn’t ask to go there, but our driver decided to take us one day, and it was an impressive place to visit.
We were initially greeted by a giant statue of Lord Shiva, who looks down from the mountain, and then went past that and saw the temple complex and the lake. It was a Sunday, so it was extremely busy, with many people bathing in the lake which one would assume is some sort of religious practice.
It is off the beaten track, but definitely worth the time.
Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam Botanical Garden – Named after famed Mauritian politician, former Prime Minister of Mauritius, statesman and philanthropist Seewoosagur Ramgoolam, the SSR Botanical Gardens are one of the most popular tourist attractions on the island.
They have some interesting plants and insects, and guided tours are offered, too. The main attraction, however, is the giant water lilies that lie on its long pond.
We flew with Emirates via Dubai – but there are plenty of other alternatives, with British Airways, Air France and Air Mauritius flying from the UK and operating with stopovers elsewhere. The flight time is roughly between 12 and 13 hours. Prices are in the £600-£1,000 range, depending on who you fly with and at what time of year.