The tropical paradise island of Mauritius is best known for its sumptuous white-sand beaches, azure blue seas and luxury resorts, but this gorgeous teardrop-shaped island offers so much more beyond the sunbathing, swimming and watersports. Indeed there is a fascinating diversity of cultures and a plethora of historic sights to keep even the most beach-weary traveller intrigued (me included!)
Get your cultural bearings in the capital city of Port Louis
First discovered in the ninth century, Mauritius wasn’t actually settled until 1598 when the Dutch arrived. Rule by the French (1713) and then the British (1810) followed, with independence declared in 1968. This legacy lends the paradise island of Mauritius an incredible rich and varied cultural and historical landscape. And the best place to get your bearings is by starting your journey in the capital city of Port Louis, which is pictured below.
The French and British fought over Port Louis for decades, which has left a rich heritage of colonial monuments, buildings and sights. Don’t miss the UNESCO listed Aapravasi Ghat, where from 1834 the British rulers housed workers from India to tend the sugar plantations throughout the Mascarene Islands. Stop by the Blue Penny Stamp Museum, which is home to an incredibly rare blue penny stamp from 1847 and browse the small Chinatown area with traditional shops, restaurants and pharmacies. The various religious structures offer a fascinating insight into the history of this Indian Ocean Island: don’t miss the St Louis Cathedral and the Jummah Mosque which was built by the Tamils. Explore the Old Windmill museum of 1736 within the Caudan Waterfront complex.
Spot rare birdlife on Ile aux Aigrettes
Just a short hop over the turquoise Mauritian lagoons takes you to the pretty island of Ile aux Aigrettes, aka Island of Egrets. The Nature Reserve was set up by the Mauritius Wildlife Fund to protect the endangered species that reside here. Some of the rarest birds in the world have their habitat here, including the kestrel and the enigmatic Pink Pigeon. There are also green geckos and the impossibly huge Aldabra giant tortoise.
Try a spot of deep sea fishing
Head to Mauritius’ west coast for a spot of deep sea fishing, where you can test your fishing prowess. Depending on the season, yellow fin tuna, black marlin, bonito and sailfish are just a few of the species that inhabit the Indian Ocean waters. Top spot is Le Morne on the very south-western tip, thanks to its currents swirl and stunning backdrop of rugged mountains, which is the islands second UNESCO site. Le Morne is also something of a local windsurfing paradise!
Dive the pristine coral reefs of Blue-Bay
Southern Mauritius is less developed than the western coast and the lack of beaches has deterred the sun worshippers. What Blue-Bay really excels at however is scuba diving – thanks to the protected Marine Park which contains rare corals and unique plantlife. Enjoy a dive in the sheltered islet of Ile des Deux Cocos which spans some four hectares of prime scuba territory.
There are many other superb dive sites in the Indian Ocean gem of Mauritius, where brightly coloured fish and fascinating shipwrecks await, some dating back to the 18th century. The island is unique to many other dive locations in that the coral reef almost entirely encircles Mauritius and it remains unbleached. Try a dive from the Cathedral, at Flic en Flac, which is one of the most popular spots. Check out the submerged crater at Whale Rock close to Ile Ronde.
Hike and bike the Domaine du Chasseur Nature Park
Calling all wildlife enthusiasts! You couldn’t be further from the fly-and-flop lifestyle here at the Domaine du Chasseur Nature Preserve at Mahebourg. Nature-lovers can opt to walk or bike the 30km long trail that winds its way through the heart of the reserve, spotting boars, hares, monkeys and local birdlife.
Admire the Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam Botanical Gardens
Established in 1735, the SSR Botanical Gardens (so named after Mauritius’ first prime minister following independence in 1968) offer a fascinating insight into the plants, flowers and trees. Covering 37 hectares it’s the oldest gardens of its type within the southern hemisphere. It’s also one of the most popular tourist spots in Mauritius and is also home to giant tortoises, deer and fish. You’ll need a local guide to explain the largely unlabelled plants, although I hear the labelling has improved since my last visit.
Take in the view from La Citadelle
Perched atop a hill overlooking Port Louis is Fort Adelaide, aka La Citadelle, which was completed in 1840 by the British. Fort Adelaide was only ever used intermittently as a garrison. There is a vast underground tunnel system which links the Citadelle with the harbour, in case an emergency escape was needed. The fort itself offers a superb panoramic view over Port Louis below.
Explore the Eureka House at Moka
The Creole mansion of Eureka House was constructed in 1830 and is situated beside the Moka River. The elegant house is one of the biggest in Mauritius and has been owned by both British and French aristocrats. Explore the Eureka Mansion and gardens for a fascinating insight into past colonial life. The furniture, antiques and photos make this part-museum. Don’t miss the magnificently manicured gardens which are surrounded by the tumbling Moka waterfalls.
Experience the Salt Pans first-hand
The French introduced La Saline, aka Salt Pans, to Mauritius over 200 years ago and the traditional process has remained largely unchanged. Thus called as salt was made within ‘pans’: small square basins full of sea water. Located right next to the sea at Tamarin, Black River, the site covers some thirty hectares.
Haggle your heart out at Mahebourg Market
Traditional markets are commonplace across Mauritius, although the one held each Monday at Mahebourg is probably the least touristy. There are some real bargains to be had on traditional spices, clothing and toys. There are also a wide variety of authentic cuisines here: sample the delicious biryani, finished off with a cooling kulfi. Look out for the Independence Day themed festivals on and around the national day, each 12th of March.
One of the most cultural things to do in Mauritius includig spending a day in the southeast town of Mahebourg which stems from a small traditional fishing village. It was built around the magnificent Grand Port Bay in 1804 by Charles Decaën, a French Governor.