Mauritius has long been a favourite holiday destination for affluent Europeans, especially from England and France. Most tourists use up their holidays sunbathing by the beach or pool at one of the many 5-star beach resorts. Truth be told, it’s very true that you can enjoy a fantastic holiday in Mauritius without ever leaving your resort, especially if it has direct access to the beach. In fact, staying at a resort is one of the best experiences you can have in Mauritius. However, there’s much more to my little island. Here are 10 things to do in Mauritius so you can maximize the $$$ you’ve spent going there.
What to do in Mauritius?
- Stay at a 5-star resort
No, seriously! Mauritius must have one of the best 5-star beach resort experiences in the world. The pristine beaches and lagoons no doubt help but the service and plethora of activity choices stand out too. And you can find a resort based on personal preference: golf (best golf destination in Africa and the middle East), water sports, kid’s club, romance, parties, you name it, Mauritius has it. Little wonder that the place is a celebrity favourite and has welcomed so many. Jason Isaacs (Lucius Malfoy!) who wrote a nice article about his experience, Prince Harry, Princess Caroline of Monaco, Jacques Chirac, Rafael Nadal, Kylie Minogue, Gwyneth Paltrow, Alain Delon, to name a few.
5-star resorts are certainly not cheap and you may not want to spend your entire stay at one. A weekend however would be perfect as they usually have special nights.
- Eat street food
Now that we’ve gotten past the obvious resort stay, let’s get down to business. One of the most basic and cheapest experiences you can enjoy in Mauritius is to indulge in the local fare. Hotels typically offer massive buffets with fancy dishes which is great, but in order to thoroughly appreciate local flavours, nothing beats our street food. You can ask your hotel for tips on where to find some tasty street food, very often at a local market. Once you dig into that paper bag full of Chili cakes (‘gâteaux piments’) or a nice hot yellow lentil pancake (‘dholl puri’), you’ll ask for seconds…and thirds. Go crazy! Try it all! You’re on holiday! I’ll have to write another about what to eat. In the meantime, you can refer to my favourite Mauritian recipe website, Recipes from Mauritius, for inspiration.
- Rent a car and explore Mauritius
Enjoying the beach is all good and fun, but there is so much more Mauritius has to offer. The biggest recommendation I can give is to rent a car and get lost. Yes, literally. Sometimes, the best moments are found when you least expect it. On my last trip to Mauritius, I did just that and surprised myself. I visited places I had never been to nor even knew existed before. But for the sake of proper planning, here are some suggested itineraries.
- Inland: Drive inland to Chamarel, the site of the seven-coloured earth. I don’t think it’s particularly breathtaking, but the journey there and around is. On the way there, swing by the spectacular Black River gorges national park. Why not do a short hike and have a picnic while you’re there? I looked online and MauritiusAttractions seems to have some good ideas about that. You can also go visit a rum distillery, The Rhumerie de Chamarel, which is nearby. They do have some great rums. Further south, you can explore La Vanille Nature Park, which is also home to my family tortoise Mingie.
- West-South coast: The coastal drive from Flic-en-flac in the West through Tamarin (popular for surf), Rivière Noire (popular for big game fishing, catamaran cruises), La Gaulette, a quick detour to Le Morne (a peninsula and UNESCO world heritage site), Baie du Cap, Riambel (Rivière des galets – a beach with polished rocks), Gris Gris (southernmost tip), La Roche Qui Pleure (Crying Rock) and Le Souffleur (a whistling rock off the beaten track) is picturesque and gives you an idea of what Mauritius would look like without coral reefs. Better still, do it in reverse and end up at Flic-en-Flac in time for sunset! After Flic-en-flac, I recommend a nice dinner at Domaine Anna, which is right in the middle of a sugar cane plantation.
- North coast: The North is pretty much flat but a trip to Grand-Baie can be fun. You can drive from Trou-aux-Biches to Pereybère to enjoy some nice beaches on the North coast with a stop at Grand-Baie for some grub. You may want to head down to Cap Malheureux to see the beautiful Cap Malheureux church by the sea.
- East coast: In the East, don’t miss the drive along Belle Mare beach which is the longest and arguably the best in Mauritius. If you start early (very early), you catch sunrise there. If you’re in Mauritius, you most definitely love beaches and lagoons. Then, you can’t miss Ile-aux-cerfs, an island off the East coast. Head on down for the best beach and calmest waters you’ll find on the island. You’ll have to park your car and take a boat there. A word of advice. Have a picnic there. The restaurants will charge you an exorbitant fee for mediocre food. And depending on the season, the place can get pretty crowded.
- Don’t drive? Join a reputed tour
Now, not all of us drive or want to drive while on holiday. Or perhaps some of us don’t want to be the designated driver for the entire day and not enjoy the wonderful local alcoholic beverages Mauritius has to offer. Well then, if that’s the case, my recommendation is to avoid taxis completely and instead opt for travel tours. The best alternative is to book it with a reputed agency with a strong online presence. I used Get Your Guide in a few countries before without any issues, so I’d recommend them. I used Viator before too. Otherwise, after some research, MauritiusAttractions seems to be a local operator which offers interesting packages. On top of the places I mentioned above, you may want to visit the Seven waterfalls and any cruises to remote islands off Mauritius (Ile aux bénitiers, Ile des deux cocos and Ile aux Aigrettes come to mind)
- Visit the Port-Louis market
This is an experience that even locals enjoy. I know I do! If there were ever a place where local street food should be sampled, it’s at the Port-Louis market or ‘Bazaar Port-Louis’ as we call it. Must-tries are ‘dholl puris’ and ‘aloodas’. You will also be able to walk through a wet market and a craft section. Don’t shy away from bargaining, but always with a smile. Below is what you can expect at the market.
- …and eat at Chinatown
Chinatown is up the road from Port-Louis market. So plan the two on the same day. Morning at the market, lunch at Chinatown. You absolutely have to try our Chinese food, which is somewhat uniquely Mauritian, perhaps because of the local ingredients used like choko. When I first came to Asia, I was expecting to be spoilt with the Chinese food that I were so used to and loved. But the flavours are very different. Must tries are our dim sum or ‘boulettes’, boiled noodles (‘mines bouillie’), fried noodles (‘mines frire’), buns (‘bao’), fried rolls (‘ha kien’), tofu (‘teo kon’), barbecued pork (‘char siv’) and dumpling soup (‘siu kiao’). You can find these all around the island, but nothing comes close to what you will find in Chinatown.
- Spend Saturday at the races
Our race course, Le Champ de Mars, is in Port-Louis within minutes from the Port-Louis market by car. Mauritians take their horse racing very seriously and it’s one of the hot topics of conversation during the week. As one would expect, it’s all about gambling and half the Mauritians you will meet on your trip are punters. At the races, you will also find some of the best street food in Mauritius, many of which are from the Port-Louis market.
- Take a side trip to Rodrigues
Our small island nation also includes a few other even smaller islands. Rodrigues is the closest, a 30-minute flight to the East. It is a relatively small island of approximately 108 sq km but with a pretty decent sized population of over 40,000 inhabitants. My one and only trip there when I was younger was pretty memorable. It’s a place for you to visit if you love nature and unspoiled beaches. I had a fun time cycling around the island and exploring the beaches.
- Dance to our sega
Sega is our local traditional music. Big resorts typically have special sega nights, but if yours doesn’t then you should totally ask around and head somewhere where they do. Mauritians love their sega and are very proud of it. It gives us a sense of identity along with our Creole. Plus it is beautiful! Below is a typical sega song and dance on the west coast.
Sega has modernized and you may find this commercial sega more to your liking.
- Give back to the community
While Mauritius is often regarded as a model of stability and economic success in Africa, there are still pockets of the population which suffer from poverty. Put your money to good use and donate to a charity of your choice. You can find a full list of approved charities on the official government website.
- Useful tips about Mauritius (before you depart)
- Local search site for restaurants
- Discounts on hotels, food and more (it applies only to locals but you can get a feel of which establishments are having promotions)
- Of all car rental companies in Mauritius, and there are many, Avis is probably the international brand which has been around the longest.