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Mauritius is rightly famed for its sapphire-blue waters, powder-white beaches and, yes, luxury resorts that provide a front-row seat onto some of the most beautiful views in the Indian Ocean. These are places of the utmost refinement, of impeccable service, of facilities that range from pampering spas, designer rooms and extensive watersports options to dreamy swimming pools, expansive palm-strewn grounds and world-class restaurants. Your stay will live long in the memory and will have you dreaming of a return. Partly that’s because of the supreme levels of comfort and luxury. But it’s also thanks to the resorts’ discretion and warmth, and the unmistakable sense of being treated like royalty.
What to do, what to do? Lie on a beach all day? Or enjoy the wonderful range of activities on offer? Either way, you can’t really lose and there’s not much you can’t do here on the water – highlights include kitesurfing, boat excursions to the beautiful islands of the lagoon, and the full suite of paddling activities offered by hotels and beach operators. But the diving and snorkelling here is terrific, encircled as Mauritius is by shallow waters, a coral reef, sublime underwater topography and a dramatic ocean drop-off. On land, you’ll need to decide between fabulous hiking, horse riding and even championship-standard golf courses. Decisions, decisions…
Once thought to be the preserve of nearby Madagascar, wildlife tourism in Mauritius is rapidly gaining in popularity. And why wouldn’t it? Mauritius has saved more bird species from extinction than any other country on earth, with the result that you can now see two of the loveliest birds of the Indian Ocean – the pink pigeon and the Mauritian kestrel – at various places around the island. Giant tortoises – in captivity in their hundreds, or roaming free on Île aux Aigrettes – are another drawcard, while dolphins, whales and sharks are just three highlights of the island’s richly biodiverse marine environment.
The Mauritian Table
Foodies of the world, rejoice! Mauritius is winning plaudits for the excellence of its food, and that goes for fine-dining restaurants at five-star resorts as well as beachside shacks serving fish just off the boat. Curries, seafood and staples like the thankfully ubiquitous salade d’ourite (octopus salad) owe their presence to influences from Mauritius’ Indian, Chinese, French and Creole communities – less a melting pot than a wonderfully aromatic cooking pot. The charming tradition of the table d’hôte, the family table opened to all and covered with the signature dishes of Mauritian home cooking, captures the essence of the warm local welcome.
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Catamarans & Yacht Cruises
A catamaran day trip is one of the most popular activities in Mauritius and the excursions on offer get better with each passing year. Hundreds of tourists each day board boats to cruise around the azure lagoon and wavy seas or stop at offshore islets and shallow reefs. Many such excursions include barbecue lunches and/or time for snorkelling.
The most romantic option is the sunset cruise offered by most operators. If you're looking for something a bit more traditional, you'll find myriad fishers in Mahébourg and the surrounding beaches who have transformed their vessels into mini leisure crafts. Most operators include small buffet lunches, alcohol and snorkelling. Make sure to shop around before choosing your cruise – some catamarans are not licensed to land on any islands. Most cruises can be booked through tour agents and hotels.
The fisheries around Mauritius support large maritime predators such as marlin, wahoo and tuna, luring big-game anglers from around the world. Annual fishing competitions are held in Black River in November and February.
Game fishing has far less environmental impact than commercial fishing, but fish weights and the number of fish caught have shown a marked decline since game fishing's heyday in the 1970s. It's now rare to catch anything over 400kg. Practising 'tag and release' is an option for those who want the thrill without depriving the ocean of these magnificent creatures.
So, you want variety? Abundant marine life, dramatic seascapes, atmospheric wrecks – Mauritius has it all, not to mention well-established, high-quality dive operators. Mauritius is almost entirely surrounded by a barrier reef, within which turquoise lagoons provide great possibilities for snorkellers, swimmers and novice divers. And then there's the pièce de résistance: Rodrigues, which has virgin sites and outstanding fish life.
For those interested in more than the usual beach activities, Mauritius offers some attractive hikes, with the best selection in the west and the Central Plateau. As a general rule, when hiking you should pay attention to 'Entrée Interdit' (Entry Prohibited) signs – they may mean you're entering a hunting reserve. 'Chemin Privée' (Private Rd) signs are generally there for the benefit of motorists; most landowners won't object to the odd pedestrian. It's best to ask if you're unsure about where you should and shouldn't walk.
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It's hardly surprising that the Seychelles and Mauritius are choice destinations for honeymooners: here the world's most exclusive hotels compete with each other to attain ever-greater heights of luxury, from personal butlers and private lap pools to in-room massages and pillow menus – not to mention sensuous spas. But if this is not in your budget, don't let that dissuade you from buying a ticket to these destinations. Small, family-run hotels, bed and breakfasts and self-catering establishments offer a closer-to-the-culture experience at prices that won't require you to re-mortgage the house.
The biggest mistake anyone could make would be to assume that these islands are for beach holidays, nature and adrenaline only – there's so much more to each destination that any trip will be an unforgettable and exciting experience, whether it be exploring Mauritius' fascinating colonial past in its myriad mansions or museums, attending a music festival or a fire-walking ceremony, visiting an old sugar factory or a restored Creole villa, or simply soaking up the atmosphere of a picturesque village. One thing's for sure, culture buffs won't be disappointed.
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