MAIN ATTRACTIONS OF MAURITIUS
Mauritius is a sparkling jewel set in the brilliant turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean. Sun-kissed beaches, stunning mountains, calm lagoons, bustling villages, patchwork sugar cane fields and swaying palm trees - Mauritius is a tropical island of colourful contrasts where the welcoming smiles of the people reveal the true magic of this enchanting land.
Mauritius has a rich and varied past. Settled by the Dutch and colonised by both the French and the British over the centuries, the cosmopolitan population is now a fascinating mix of Indian, Chinese, African and European origin, creating a kaleidoscope of customs and religions. This marvellous blend of cultures is best reflected in the island's cuisine - a delicious fusion of vibrant tastes and subtle aromas.
Mauritius offers the classic tropical holiday pastimes - relaxing on sun-kissed beaches, sailing to beautiful deserted islands, exploring the wonders of the coral reefs. The island abounds with places of interest to amaze and entrance the visitors.
A capital city brimming with life, visit the bustling market, the museum displaying the famous Dodo, the Caudan and Port Louis Waterfronts bursting with restaurants and shops and the busy streets teeming with exotic foods and merchandise.
At the north-western end of the island, against a backdrop of mountains, is Port Louis, the island's main city. With a population of just 138,211 inhabitants, Port Louis is a flourishing capital complete with an established infrastructure, markets selling fruit, vegetables and spices, and is the island's only port. The commercial hub of the nation, Port Louis gives the visitor a scintillating introduction into this melting pot of cultures.
As the sun sets, you can hear the cries of the muezzin summoning the citizens to prayer, and the sounds of people having fun at the Le Caudan Waterfront, where you will find a casino, cinemas, shops and restaurants.
Spend a day perusing the vibrant markets found on Farquhar Street, and experience an array of sights, sounds and smells. Sections of the market are divided into fruits and vegetables, meats and fish, souvenirs, crafts, clothing and spices. Here you will find precious and unusual trinkets to take home - but keep an eye on your pockets, as nimble, uninvited fingers have been known to dip into them occasionally.
A trip to the past
Anchored at Le Caudan Waterfront, you will be able to see ships from all over the world.
Not far away is La Bourdonnais Square. Here stands the statue of Mauritius' most eminent French governor, Mahé de la Bourdonnais, amid tall palms. A little way up the tree-lined road is Parliament House, with a statue of Queen Victoria at the entrance. In summer, the distinguished lady is surrounded by scarlet flame trees.
Don't miss a trip to Fort Adelaide overlooking Port Louis. It's well worth the climb involved to get there as the views are out of this world.
For a taste of Islamic architecture, visit Port Louis' Jummah Mosque, built in the 1850's, in the middle of Chinatown. Remember to remove your shoes before you enter, and dress appropriately.
Eating in Port Louis is a gastronomical adventure. Stir-fried Chinese delights, piquant Indian curries and briyanis, seafood and other exotic cuisine are all available. A bonus is that most of the restaurants, particularly at the Le Caudan Waterfront, are open until late. For entertainment, there's a cinema and casino. You can obtain details on these and other nightlife highlights from the Tourist Information office in Air Mauritius Centre.
Just 12kms south of Port Louis, but worlds apart in ambience, is the town of Moka, blessed with forested landscapes, towering mountains and impressive manor houses. Here, the University of Mauritius and the Mahatma Gandhi Institute are two centres of the island's academic community.
The Mahatma Gandhi Institute's Folk Museum of Indian Immigration houses about 2000 volumes of Indian archives, dating from 1842 to 1910, as well as a small collection of artefacts, such as jewellery, musical instruments, books and household knick-knacks.
Just outside of Moka is Le Reduit (the Refuge), a former governor's mansion built in 1874.
Eureka House, also near Moka, was opened as a museum in 1986. Built in the 1830s, it is dedicated to music, art, antique maps, Chinese and Indian household items and old-fashioned bric-a-brac, such as a shower from colonial times. Also worth a visit are the nearby stone cottages and gardens. Le Reduit and Eureka are best reached by a combination of bus and foot.
Life on an island
Curepipe, the third largest urban area with 80 554 citizens, is renowned for its model ship builders, tea industry and the nearby dormant crater of Trou aux Cerfs, which offers breathtaking panoramas of the island's landscape.
Here, you can view a statue of the fictitious lovers, Paul and Virginie, from Bernadin de St Pierre's 1788 novel of the same name. Also of interest are the local botanical gardens and the Tamarind Falls, which require transportation and hiking boots but are well worth the effort. At the bottom of this series of seven falls, you can take a plunge in the deep waters.
Tamarind gets its name from the sour fruit that grows on large local trees called tamarinds. The bay is best known as an international surfing spot, especially in June and July, thanks to the gentle play of southeast trade winds on the water.
The road from Curepipe leads to Mahébourg on the south-eastern tip of Mauritius. Although it is closest to the Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam Airport, this small town with just 17 031 inhabitants does not see all that many tourists. Its biggest attractions are the silks, saris and other materials on sale. There are also lovely sea views of three small islands, one of which boasts an old disused lighthouse that stands guard over the seas.
The island's largest fishing fleet is based in Mahébourg, and it was in the mansion that now houses the Naval Museum that the French and British admirals, both injured in the Battle of Grand Port, were treated in the same room according to legend. Pirate stories abound, of course, and apparently, there are more ghosts in this town than in Port Louis!
In the north of Mauritius are the pristine white beaches that make the island famous. Surrounded by turquoise seas, a number of stunning resorts dot the coast. This area is also a water sports lover's paradise.
The first resort you will come across is the Maritim Hotel, which has 221 rooms, free water sports and the best sunsets. It's also possible to see traditional Sega dancing, the national dance that originated in the days of slavery.
Further north is Trou aux Biches, situated on the bus routes from Port Louis. Like the Maritim, Trou aux Biches Hotel offers a vast array of watersports, wholesome food, and sublime rum cocktails. If you like fishing, the locals are usually amenable to visitors accompanying them on their fishing trips, but you will have to be on the beach very early. Usually there's no charge, but check on this before boarding their tiny boats. One of the best ways to explore this area and the nearby Grand Bay is on hired bicycles, which are readily available.
Just for the tourists
Grand Baie, home to the five-star Royal Palm Hotel, is possibly 'the capital' of the tourist industry. Many of the hotel's guests arrive by helicopter from the airport to be offered every luxury, from a sauna to masseurs, windsurfing instructors, restaurants and boutiques. The Merville is slightly less fancy, but is also luxurious. Apart from the hotels, Grand Baie has lovely restaurants, clubs and bars to entertain those looking for some excitement. Day excursions by bicycle are a good option as the bay is exquisite.
Away from the coast, and almost directly south of Grand Baie, is the place where, in 1767, Pierre Poivre created the Pamplemousses Gardens, also known as the Royal Botanical Gardens. They started as a vegetable garden in 1735, to service the then governor's Mon Plaisir Château. Pamplemousses stretches for four hectares, and features plants from all over the world - wild bananas, camphor trees, clove and nutmeg trees from Manila and huge water lilies, known locally as 'flan tins' as well as a number of palms. There is also an art gallery and a cemetery.
Several hotels on the East coast are worth a mention. Le St. Géran was once voted the world's best resort hotel - it offers a romantic destination with sheltered white beaches, watersport facilities, nine-hole golf course, Sega dancing and Creole and French cuisine as well as a casino. Belle Mare plage has four restaurants, an eighteen-hole golf course and a world class casino.
ILE AUX CERFS
Crystal clear waters and white sand beaches shaded by casuarina and palm trees surround this tiny island which caters for those seeking peace and solitude or the thrills of para-sailing and other watersports.
World-famous for a unique collection of indigenous and exotic plants, the gardens offer a peaceful haven in which to stroll and admire the giant lily pond, the beautiful Chateau Mon Plaisir, the lumbering giant tortoises and the replica of a 19th century sugar mill.
THE COLOURED EARTHS
These multi-coloured mounds of earth, ranging from ochre through to various shades of purple and red, are the extraordinary result of long-distant volcanic activity and provide a truly amazing spectacle.
BLACK RIVER GORGES
A trip into the mountains will reveal the lush green and unspoilt beauty of this National Park. You may be lucky enough to spot a kestrel or straw-tailed tropic bird as you gaze towards the far-distant ocean and enjoy the calm beauty of the surrounding countryside.