It was Mark Twain who first waxed lyrical about Mauritius, describing it as a paradise so perfect, heaven must have been made in its image. Fast-forward to today, and not much has changed.
Adrift in the Indian Ocean, some 200 kilometres off the south-east coast of Africa, this tropical island nation boasts dramatic mountain ranges, powder-white sand beaches, blissfully blue lagoons and an impressive collection of luxury resorts.
Nature lovers can scale lofty peaks, zipline through lush rainforest and hike shady trails to thunderous falls – or take to the water in a kayak, stand-up paddleboard or kite surf.
Discovered by the Portuguese, and colonised by the Dutch and French, before the English staked their claim, Mauritius is a harmonious (and delicious) blend of culture and cuisine. English is the official language, but the delightful and ever-smiling locals readily speak both French and Creole.
1. Feel the sand between your toes
Head to Belle Mare, on the east coast of Mauritius, for soft white sands, warm tropical waters and the chance to see the first rays of dawn break over the Indian Ocean. This pristine lagoon is blessed with gusty sea breezes, making it a popular spot for sailing and kite surfing adventures.
An hour’s drive south-east is the protected Blue Bay Marine Park, and some of the island’s best underwater scenery close to shore. Glass bottom boat trips and organised snorkelling excursions leave daily from the public beach, but intrepid snorkelers only need launch themselves from the coast guard’s office for dazzling views of the coral.
2. Eat local flavours
The bustling Flacq market is a good starting point for Mauritian foodie adventures. Twice weekly, on Wednesday and Sunday, this large east coast market is a seductive flurry of exotic sounds, flavours and smells – where visitors can sample sun-kissed tropical fruits, sip fresh baby coconut juice, or hunt out sweet vanilla pods and spices.
In the capital of Port Louis and the colourful village of Mahebourg, on the south-east coast, Taste Buddies take people on an aromatic food journey – a moveable feast of Indian, Chinese, Creole and African flavours. The three-hour tour is a melting pot of history and cuisine – with stops at street stalls, markets, cafes and restaurants peppered with local history. The gateau piment (chilli poppers) is not to be missed.
3. Luxury stays that won’t break the bank
One of Mauritius’ newest lodgings, SALT of Palmar is also the island’s first eco-hotel – a plastic-free haven perched on the white sands of Belle Mare with bright, eye-catching interiors by French artist Camille Walala and bespoke pieces from local artisans.
Just 59 guest rooms horseshoe a chic courtyard and pool with jaunty black and white umbrellas and geometric splashes of emerald green, yellow, burnt orange and royal blue. There is no buffet. Instead, the hotel bakery displays fresh bread and pastries daily, and guests order from a menu of local flavours where raw and healthy dishes shine.
Daily diversions include yoga and meditation, horse-rides on the beach, glass-bottom kayaks, snorkelling, sunset rooftop drinks, and rejuvenating treatments in the spa and salt room. There are e-bikes and cars for guests to explore the island at their own pace; as well as immersive local-led excursions and one-on-one artisan experiences.
4. Get a digital detox in paradise
Formed when a big shield volcano erupted some eight million years ago, Mauritius is filled with epic mountain ranges and dramatic landscapes. Nowhere is this more evident than the Black River Gorges National Park, a vast pocket of wilderness in the hilly south-west of the island. There are dozens of hiking trails to explore and more than 300 unique species of plants, birds and wildlife, including wild boar and macaque monkeys. From here, it’s a half-hour drive south-west to the hulking mass of Le Morne Brabant. Declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 2008, the popular climbing spot rewards those who make the two-hour ascent with eye-popping panoramic island views.
5. Immerse yourself in local culture and traditions
Many visitors to Mauritius check in to their resort and never leave – drifting between spa treatments, fine food and palm-fringed beaches where uniformed staff cater to every whim. But there are plenty of reasons to venture out. At Lux* Grand Gaube, a stunning beachfront hotel in the north, guests can explore colourful villages and the coastline by bike, stopping at private backwaters where barracuda stalk and hundred-year old tortoises reside.
On the east coast, SALT guests can meet local artisans, like 78-year old Raotee, a basket weaver whose raffia bags grace guest rooms, or join Mirella and her family for a typical Mauritian night of rum, local food and traditional sega dance to the beat of the ravanne, a large goatskin drum.
Belinda Luksic travelled to Mauritius as a guest of SALT Resorts and of LUX Resorts & Hotels.