Mauritius may be small but it takes time to travel across the island – worth bearing in mind when choosing where to stay. Each region has its own vibe, landscape and local weather, and a particular set of activities and attractions. Yet even in the most touristed areas of the country, an off-the-beaten-track gem usually lies nearby.

If you’re looking for buzz, nightlife and plenty of excursions, the tourism hub Grand Baie, or little “St Trop”, in the north is likely to be just the ticket. It has the greatest concentration of hotels, beaches, restaurants and entertainment, and activities ranging from diving to parasailing. For a change of pace, look to nearby, quieter Cap Malheureux, the uninhabited northern islands, or head inland for a stroll through the lovely Pamplemousses Gardens.

The island’s bustling capital, Port Louis, is arguably the “real” Mauritius, with historic buildings and the island’s oldest market squeezed in alongside modern shopping complexes and offices. There are just two hotels here, so few visitors stay overnight, but the slew of restaurants and street-food vendors at lunchtime make it an attractive day-trip.

The east coast is traditionally the island’s most glamorous, with arguably the best white-sand beaches near the villages of Belle Mare and Trou d’Eau Douce. To the south, Lion Mountain overlooks historic Vieux Grand Port, where the French and British once battled for control of the island. Today this coast is a mecca for watersports enthusiasts, while outdoor and eco-adventures can be found inland in the Bambous Mountains or along Grande Rivière Sud Est (GRSE).

By contrast, the rustic south gives a taste of times gone by. From the ancient Dutch capital of Mahébourg to the sleepy fishing village of Baie du Cap, this stretch of coastline is Mauritius’s least developed, with a scattering of hip hotels, unusual rock formations and island-hopping trips that compensate for the lack of good swimming beaches. This is also one of the best places to see Mauritian wildlife, either on a snorkeling trip in the pristine Blue Bay Marine Park or on Île aux Aigrettes, where you can encounter giant Aldabra tortoises and the pink pigeon.

Young families tend to enjoy the calm, shallow beaches of the west coast, particularly around Flic en Flac and Wolmar, where there are plenty of activities and sights nearby. This part of the country has a large Creole community, and as you head south you’ll feel a noted Creole presence around Rivière Noire and Le Morne village. On the island’s southwestern tip, the exclusive Le Morne Peninsula is known for its luxurious hotels and perfect kitesurfing conditions – a contrast to the iconic Le Morne Brabant mountain, one of the island’s two UNESCO World Heritage Sites and a poignant reminder of its slave history.

Central Mauritius has a different flavour again. The towns sprawling across the central plateau have little appeal beyond their shops, but explore further and you’ll find hiking opportunities in the lofty Moka Mountains and canyoning at Tamarin Falls. To the southwest is the island’s unmissable nature reserve, Black River Gorges National Park, where hiking trails introduce you to a range of endemic flora and fauna.

Those looking to get away from it all need to head to beautiful Rodrigues, Mauritius’s tiny sister island. Under 20km long and with just one real town, its laidback atmosphere and Creole-style hospitality make for a relaxing break. The island is an off-the-beaten-track paradise for trekkers and the diving is superb, too, with three dive centres offering packages for everyone from beginners to pros.

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