Sugar cane fields, vanilla plantations and a dash of rum sweeten any stay on Mauritius. I had my first real taste of holidaying at a resort, when I visited the west and east coast of this Indian Ocean island. I was very excited, as it’s something an avid traveller should tick off the bucket list before turning 30. I’ll write more about the resorts in another post, though I was happy to realise that there’s so much more of this tropical island to explore, beyond the resorts.
This post is the first in a three-part series, similar to my series on the Seychelles.
“It’ll take you a day to drive around Mauritius along the coastal roads,” says our driver Vishal Beekun on our hour-long drive from Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam International Airport in the south east of the island to Sun Resorts’ Sugar Beach Golf and Spa Resort in the west.
Since the sun has already submerged itself into the Indian Ocean, the mountains outline the jagged landscape that’s so characteristic of this volcanic island. Soon after arriving, I realise that Mauritians are infused with a laid back sense of humour that island life is known for; they have nicknamed some of the most prominent mountains according to their size or shape: God greets us, Lion enthralls us, we leave Sleeping Lady to be, and King Kong’s profile is unmistakeably similar to the film poster.
It’s over Green Island rum-based cocktails on the wooden beach deck that Viren Govinda Chetty – a former lecturer of economics at the University of Mauritius and now resort manager at Sugar Beach – narrates the story of the island’s most famous mountain, Le Morne Brabant, which we can see at the end of the beach. This UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site, which you can hike, is written into the country’s timeline.
The oral history goes something like this: Escaped slaves (mostly from India, Madagascar, Africa and southeast Asia) used the rugged mountain as a shelter in the 18th and 19th centuries. They settled in caves and on the summit, which were protected by wooded cliffs and hard to access. Today, it remains a symbol of their plight for freedom.
Over a buffet breakfast the following morning, overlooking the pool and with views of the waves beyond, Sugar Beach GM Nicolas de Chalain, whose family has for generations owned the land where Le Morne dives into the Indian Ocean, brushes it off as a larger-than-life legend. And those of some of the intricacies of travelling – it’s important to hear both sides of every story and realise that there’s probably a bit of truth in each. And no matter which version you choose to believe, the Mauritian landscape, its vegetation, culture and history will captivate you.
While it took me three decades to finally stay at a resort, I learn quickly that there’s no reason to leave once you’re there. There’s no chance of getting bored, unless you chose to, and everything you need is at your fingertips, from a range of epicurean restaurants, bars, dance floors and entertainment, to spas, saunas, gyms and sports clubs with tennis courts, beach volleyball and the French pastime of boulles. And there are a number of sports and activities on offer, from golf to kayaking, paragliding, deep sea fishing, snorkelling and scuba diving.
I qualified for my open water diver’s license two days before arriving in Mauritius and it was the best gift I gave myself last year. (Read more about scuba diving in the Seychelles). Mauritius is also one of the best places to qualify with its warm, calm waters. I submerge myself into the great blue depths of the ocean with Sun Divers at La Pirogue, the oldest diving school on the island. In the 30-odd years since opening they have discovered over 20 interesting dive sites – Cathedral, Snake Reef and Tug 2 are the most popular.
I see three white-tipped sharks at Suisse dive site (my first shark sighting), but Mauritius surpasses expectations like that and you’re almost guaranteed to see them as they sleep in a cave during the day. I also tick off lionfish, sweetlips, porcupinefish, pufferfish and porcelain crab from my list, as well as the usual inhabitants of tropical waters – Moorish Idol, butterfish, angelfish and clownfish. Snorkelling is just as exciting as giant starfish are scattered across the ocean floor.
I dry off on a beach lounger as I watch a yoga class. Then I drag it into the shade of the palm trees. Later, I try really hard to work up an appetite in the swimming in the pool, because I have learned that resort-life is all about indulgence. There barely seems to be enough time between the buffet breakfasts, lunches, sundowners and dinners. Mauritian food is scrumptious, it’s a mix of Creole and international flavours, as well as an array of the many nationalities that influence Mauritian culture. And the seafood is as fresh as it gets.
Beyond the resorts
We spend an entire day at Sun Resorts’ Ile aux Cerfs Island, only a short drive and boat ride from Long Beach Golf and Spa Resort on the east coast of the island. It is one of Mauritius’ most visited attractions and for good reason. This leisure island with its cerulean waters and white beaches attracts day visitors with its many activities. We tee off at the 18-hole, 72-par golf course designed by Bernhard Langer for a golf initiation. With its beachside greens and ocean views, it’s no surprise why this is one of the world’s most beautiful. Though I realise I will never make my fortune from golfing and instead turn to something I am much better at doing: indulging in a hearty seafood lunch on the beach. This is followed by a swim among tropical fish . I dry off in the sun on the loungers as surfing kites and parachutes flirt with the clouds, while speed boats bounce between waves.
Water sports are a highlight on any island and Mauritius is no exception. For a different kind of thrill, we try seakarting from Tamarina Bay the following day. Though the sky threatened to burst, the rubber dingie with an engine and steering wheel, which reaches speeds of up to 75km/hour, left the rain clouds behind. If you go in the early morning you’ll mostly likely spot the resident school of dolphins. You’ll see them glide through the water between the surfers.
Back on land, we’re enthralled by the colours of Chamarel La Terre Des Couleurs, called the seven-coloured earth. The colourful sand is a result of the uneven cooling of molten rock. Though it was much smaller than I expected, comparing to the photographs I’d seen, it was exciting to photograph. We also met the giant tortoises for which the island is famed, and climb a nearby lookout point for a view of the 95-metre-high Chamarel Waterfall that pours into the valley below.
Then it’s off to Chamarel Rum Distillery, which is encircled by sugarcane fields, because what would an island visit be without a taste of their traditional tipple. There are many rum distilleries to visit across the island. Like school children we listen intently during the tour. Our attention to the history and tradition of rum distilling in Mauritius is rewarded with a taste of each of their 12 rums and liqueurs. My favourites were the firey spices rum and the vanilla liqueur.
Nothing’s as it seems at the Curious Corner: a magical house of optical illusions and brain teasers, where I must think outside the box to make my way through the museum. I suspend my disbelief to solve conundrums along the 40 exhibits spread across 5 000 square metres. I stand on the ceiling in the Upside Down room and the infinite reflections of the mirror maze makes it seem I’ll be trapped in this fantastical world forever.
Mauritius surpasses its reputation as merely a honeymoon and beach resort destination with its landscape, cultural diversity, giant tortoises, water sports and rum! “I’m coming back,” I tell Beekun as he drops us off at the airport, “to do that road trip”.
Have you ever been to Mauritius? How did it compare to other Indian Ocean Islands? Please tell me in the comments below.
I was hosted by World Leisure Holidays, which offers holiday packages at 24 hotels and resorts on Mauritius (ranging from three- to five-star) for couples or families. I retain full editorial control of everything published on this website, but you already know that! ;) Some photographs are used with permission from Sun Resorts.