Dreaming of freedom in Mauritius

By Lesley Stones

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I have a lovely garden. I’m very glad about that because I’ve spent most of the last unbearably long and lonely year locked down with it. Admiring the birds. Tending the roses. Watching the grass grow. Yep, I love my garden. But enough already – let me out now!!

I’m done with the soil and the hadedas. I want to feel some silken sand between my toes, then wade into the ocean and snorkel with rainbow-coloured fish. I long to order Pina Colada and dance the Sega. To cycle through sugar canes and hike up forest trails to gaze over stunning valleys. I want to be in Mauritius.

Luckily the Mauritians want us to be there too, so this gorgeous island just a four-hour flight away is looking forward to welcoming South Africans back as the Covid restrictions ease.

Mauritius is seen as the typical sun, sea and sand destination, which sounds intoxicating after the frustration over our own beach bans. But there’s a lot more to the place than swaying palms and azure oceans.
If you can afford it, a wonderfully relaxing option is to stay in an upmarket beach resort where water sports and other activities are free and the all-inclusive fee covers your meals and bar bill. You can save money upfront by booking a no-drinks package, but unless you teetotal, the exorbitant cost of booze will make you wish you’d chosen the inclusive option.

Two compelling choices are the Club Med resorts, La Pointe aux Canonniers and La Plantation d’Albion, with a full menu of daily activities, organised entertainment for kids and teenagers, and a disco in the evenings. I used to hate the idea of all that enforced jollity, with out-of-shape people clogging up the pool for aqua-aerobics and music blaring out all day. I reckoned they were fine for families with young kids to amuse, or for alcoholics bingeing on the all-inclusive bar tab. But I became a convert when I realised I could take as many water-skiing lessons as I liked for free, try Zumba classes without embarrassing myself at the local gym, and finally learn how to play poker properly in the evening sessions.

A cheaper and more adventurous option is to live like a local, by finding some affordable accommodation in the towns and villages strung around the island, and hiring a car to get around. There are plenty of public beaches, well-stocked supermarkets and lots of cafés and restaurants in the more touristy areas.

The north of the island has some excellent beaches with calm, sheltered lagoons, so it’s become the most developed region. The coastline here is great for waterskiing, windsurfing, sailing, deep-sea fishing and parasailing.

The Grand Baie district makes a good base, with shops, hotels and galleries, and numerous bars and restaurants for the nightlife. Péreybère claims to be the best beach on the island, Choisy beach is one of the longest, and the nearby Cap Malheureux is a fishing village with spectacular views and a popular spot for kite surfing.

Trou aux Biches is where you’ll find Blue Safari, which offers submarine trips to the reef, ocean-bed walks wearing a diving helmet, or a trip on an underwater scooter, where you chug along safely enclosed in a plastic bubble. It’s daft and absolutely delightful!

The north also has the most beautiful diving sites, suitable for beginners as well as experienced divers. While the waters here are sheltered from strong winds by the mountains, the jagged rocks around Cap Malheureux (Cape Misfortune) have left numerous shipwrecks that divers can explore.
A short drive away is Pointe aux Piments, where the big attraction is swimming with turtles. An aquarium here has 200 species of sea creatures including sharks, and a pool where you can touch some of the harmless inhabitants.

The south coast is wilder, with year-round winds that make the waves more robust. Basaltic cliffs tumbling into the ocean create gorgeous views, and if you want to swim there are safe beaches like Blue Bay, in a protected marine park.

Long sandy beaches line the east coast, including the popular Belle Mare, but it’s another windy region, especially in winter. A little further south is Ile aux Cerfs, an island that’s very popular for day trips and easily reached thanks to a crew of local boat operators.

The west and south-west of Mauritius have a warm, drier climate thanks to the protection of some mountains. That makes it a popular choice for kitesurfing, surfing or deep-sea fishing. It’s also a hiking and biking paradise. Le Morne beach sits at the foot of Le Morne mountain, a UNESCO World Heritage site that rewards hikers with fabulous views. Slightly inland is Black River Gorges National Park, with various forest trails to follow and waterfalls to aim for, and a challenging hike to the peak of Piton de la Petite Riviere Noire, the island’s highest mountain at 821m.

Nearby is the unusual attraction of Chamarel Seven-Coloured Earth, where the sand dunes come in seven different colours thanks to volcanic activity. Go on a clear day, because when I went during a heavy rainstorm the sands all looked a very similar, well, sandy, sort of colour.
A tastier trip is to Chamarel Distillery, one of the main producers of rum, which along with sugar was once a mainstay of the economy. It’s wise to start your visit to the distillery with lunch at its Alchemy restaurant, where fine French food will line your stomach and ready you for the generous samples you’ll quaff during the guided tour. If tea is more your tipple, the Bois Cheri Tea Factory offers tours of its factory and tea plantation. The two attractions are 21km apart along a scenic mountain road that twists through some hairpin bends. Definitely not to be tackled after the rum tasting.

No matter which part of the island you choose, every region has attractions to amuse, educate or delight you, including grand plantation houses, rum, sugar and tea museums and nature parks. There are some stunning golf courses, and upmarket spas promising to pummel, massage, scrub, wax and beautify you in a dozen different ways. There’s a growing medical tourism trade too, where you can get various body parts sliced and diced before you recuperate on the beach. So if a bald friend announces he’s off to Mauritius for a spot of golf, don’t be surprised if he returns with a spot of extra hair.

The capital, Port Louis, is on the northwest coast and has several historic sites. Its old market hall hums with a lively hustle and bustle, but you’re never hassled as you look at souvenirs of shark jaws and cheap cotton clothes, or shop for meats and exotic fruits with the locals.
Around the market are some narrow paved streets dating from the 18th century when Mauritius was under French rule. You’ll find the street food here like chili cakes, noodles and dumplings, reflecting the mix of French, Creole and Indian cultures who blended to form today’s population. Keep walking and you’ll reach the Caudan Waterfront, a modern complex of shops, restaurants and a cinema.

The Natural History Museum tells the story of the island, while the Photography Museum and Blue Penny Museum will delight the photographically and philatelically inclined.

To take in all the sites that Port Louis has to offer in one lovely panorama, visit Fort Adelaide, built when the British came to rule.

Not far from the capital is Pamplemousses Botanical Garden, dating from 1770 and the oldest in the southern hemisphere. It’s lovely to lose track of time among the baobabs, medicinal plants, giant water lilies and a scattering of wild deer and giant tortoises. Even after a year of endless attention, my own garden can’t compete.

Mauritius has mild to toasty temperatures all year, with an average of 25˚C. The Indian Ocean is always warm enough to swim. April to June or September to December usually deliver the best weather. Temperatures peak from December to February, along with high humidity, while the heaviest rains hit in February and March. July and August are the windiest and best for surfing.

Covid Constraints

At the time of writing, anyone landing in Mauritius has to show a negative Covid test result. You also need to spend 14 days in quarantine in a hotel room. The government is monitoring the situation and will ease the restrictions when it’s safe to do so.

Since that currently makes short holidays impossible, a new Premium Visa valid for a year has been introduced to encourage longer stays. That will let you take a year out to immerse yourself in island life, or pack your laptop and go there to work remotely if you’re bored of being at home. Mauritius positively welcomes new immigrants, so a Premium Visa will also let you test the water ahead of a permanent move. Seriously, I’ve already downloaded the application form…

More Details
For the latest travel updates and Covid rules, go to:
https://www.mymauritius.travel/mauritius-travel-alerts
If the Premium Visa option is tempting you to rethink your future, go to: https://mauritiusnow.com/premium-visa/


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