Lying 800km east of Madagascar, Mauritius is part of the Mascarene Islands, a volcanic chain extending as far as the Seychelles. Fringed by 160km of sandy beaches and an azure sea, with a backdrop of rugged peaks and shimmering sugar cane, this pear-shaped tropical island is a dream holiday destination. An islander once told Mark Twain that “Mauritius was made first and then heaven; and heaven was copied after Mauritius”.
Thanks to year-round sunshine, the island’s beaches are its key selling point, many lined with world-class hotels, top-notch spas, championship golf courses and gourmet restaurants. But the “pearl of the ocean” is no longer the preserve of the jet set, with an ever-expanding range of accommodation and activities for all tastes and budgets. Watersports are a particular highlight: it’s possible to swim with dolphins in the morning and then go diving, kitesurfing or paddleboarding in the afternoon.
At 45km by 65km, nowhere in the island’s interior is more than 45 minutes’ drive from the sea, and gone are the days when no one ventured more than a mile from their sunlounger. Among the three main mountain ranges surrounding the central plateau – Moka, Black River Chain and Grand Port, the remains of volcanic activity which started thirteen million years ago – there are now numerous outdoor adventures and eco-trails. Then there’s tiny Rodrigues, an eco-paradise scattered with forested ravines, secluded beaches and sandy islands.
Isolated and uninhabited for thousands of years, Mauritius has developed a unique flora and fauna – the most famous of which is the dodo, which helped put this speck in the Indian Ocean on the world map – and it remains one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots. The island is surrounded by the world’s third largest coral reef, which shelters a rich marine life, some of the rarest birds fly over ebony trees in the forested interior, and endemic species survive on offshore islands. Mauritius’s national flower, Trochetia boutoniana (Boucle d’Oreille) grows just on a single mountaintop, Le Morne Brabant. Tortoises, which once roamed in their thousands before being loaded onto ships by sailors, have also recently been successfully reintroduced onto Rodrigues.
Diversity is found in Mauritius’s cultural landscape too. Almost four centuries of colonization have left the island with a rich multicultural mosaic of Indian, African, Chinese and French heritage. You’ll find this exotic mix expressed in riotous Indian temples, historic colonial mansions and the hip-wiggling séga.