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Ten amazing things to do in Mauritius

Kieran Meeke / 09 February 2017

If you still think Mauritius is all about lying on the beach by the Indian Ocean while sipping cocktails… Sorry, where were we? OK, here are some other exciting things to do if you can drag yourself away from that tropical vision.

Island of Mauritius

A refreshing blend of different cultures, Mauritius is a warm, inviting island with a heart of gold… discover Mauritius for yourself.

Dive in a submarine

Sea creature in Mauritius

Mauritius is one of only about a dozen places in the world where you can go underwater in a real civilian submarine. Taking up to ten passengers, with a pilot who is also a trained marine biologist and guide, the sub dives to around 100 feet.

Large individual portholes and the crystal clear water of the Indian Ocean make for good viewing as the sub glides along the sea bottom. It follows sea creatures such as turtles, explores coral reefs and passes by a shipwreck.

The trip ends with a certificate commemorating your dive underwater. The sub isn’t yellow, sadly, which seems to us to be missing a trick.

An alternative is a sea scooter that takes two people underwater under carefully controlled conditions. The depth is reassuringly limited to about ten feet but it’s perhaps even closer to scuba diving.

For non-swimmers, both options offer a unique way to see what they are missing underwater.

Walk in the rainforest

Rainforest in Mauritius

The Black River Gorges National Park is an area of mountains, thick indigenous rainforest and waterfalls. It’s a great place to go trekking, bird watching or take in the spectacular views over the Indian Ocean to the horizon.

The park gives you a taste of what the whole island might once have looked like. You can even hope to spot some wildlife, including the Mauritian flying fox.

There’s also wild boar, monkeys and deer, as well as lots of exotic bird species and thousands of fruit bats. Among the 300+ flora and nine species of birds are some found only here.

Several tour companies arrange day or half-day visits, or you can go by hire car and follow a self-guided walk.

You’ll need hiking shoes, the usual sunblock, hat and bug repellent, and spare clothes because there is a good chance of getting muddy and/or wet.

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See a Dodo

Extinct Dodo of Mauritius

The dodo’s memory is preserved inside the Mauritius Institute in Port Louis. The Natural History Museum there displays sketches, skeletons and a reconstruction that brings you to face to face with this legendary bird.

The dodo was a distant relative of the Asian pigeon but it evolved over the millennia into a huge bird standing about three foot tall. It became flightless because of the complete absence of predators on Mauritius, either man or animal.

Early Portuguese visitors gave it the name “doudo”, meaning "fool”, in part due to its odd appearance but also because it didn’t run away from hunters.

Later settlers cleared the forests to plant crops such as sugar cane, tobacco and citrus trees, destroying the dodo’s habitat.

The rats, dogs, cats, pigs and monkeys that also came with the ships, hastened its decline. These foreign invaders preyed on the dodo’s eggs and the young birds themselves.

The last sighting of a dodo was in 1688 and it was extinct by 1693, less than a century after the first settlers landed.

Visit an ancient tortoise

Giant tortoise, Mauritius

Domino is a giant tortoise who was born in 1910. He is among the largest giant tortoises in the world, weighing 42 stone.

You can find him at Vanille Réserve des Mascareignes in the south of Mauritius. This nature reserve also holds crocodiles, iguanas and monkeys, but the tortoises have the most interesting story to tell.

Both Seychelles and Mauritius were full of tortoises in past centuries but they were wiped out by visiting sailors as an excellent source of protein. Rats, pigs and other predators released from ships also preyed on the eggs.

In Parc Francois Leguat on Rodriguez the naive flora and fauna of the island as it was 300 years ago is being recreated. More than 40 tortoises have been reintroduced from La Vanille.

The concept is to have more than a thousand tortoises roaming the savannah, giving a vivid picture of what these islands might have looked like when first discovered by humans.

Wander through a Botanic Garden

Botanical Gardens, Mauritius

The Mauritius National Botanical Garden near Port-Louis was once the private garden of the French Governor but is now one of the island’s main visitor attractions. 

One of the oldest botanic gardens in the Southern Hemisphere, it is ranked as one of the world’s most important after Kew.

It has more than 600 species of plants, many indigenous, but its headline ones are the baobab trees and palms. There are more than 60 species of palm trees from all over the world.

It is well worth hiring a guide at the gate if you have even a passing interest in plants. They have golf buggies available if walking the vast area in the heat does not appeal.

One of the other highlights is the pond of Victoria amazonica water lilies, native to The Amazon. These giant lilies are at their best during the Mauritius summer.

The rich plant life of the gardens also supports an equally varied birdlife.

Take a dive

Sea creature, Mauritius

Mauritius has some of the world’s most unspoilt coral reefs, while its crystal clear waters make for excellent visibility. With the entire island surrounded by a reef, its offshore waters are a turquoise lagoon.

Most hotels offer introductory try-dives, so it’s easy to find out if diving is for you. From there you can progress to a full PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) course, a qualification recognised worldwide.

The best time to dive is in summer, when the water temperature peaks, although it is never less than warm year-round. However, the warmest months (November to March) see an influx of fish that make diving an even better experience.

Besides the fish, there are some 200 different coral species and hundreds of other species, such as sponges and sea anemones. Dive sites include cliffs, caves and 20 or more different wreck sites. 

Many of these are old Japanese fishing boats, deliberately sunk to create interesting dive destinations, although others date back as far as the 18th century. 

Splice the mainbrace

Rum plantation, Mauritius

Rhumerie de Chamarel in the south west of the island has won international recognition for its exotic rums. Flavours such as coffee and vanilla add an extra taste to this tropical favourite.

Tours take you through the operation to describe the distilling process and end with a tasting. 

A test flight takes you from light to dark rum and most people leave with a greater understanding of the subtlety of a much-misunderstood drink.

The eco-friendly distillery’s tropical setting amid large sugarcane plantations is part of its appeal. The building itself harmonies with nature through the use of natural materials such as stone and wood.

Its restaurant, L’Alchimiste, also indulges in some imaginative rum dishes, including an ever-popular chocolate rum cake. 

Its menu is based on produce grown on the estate itself and restaurant guests can enjoy a free distillery tour.

Take time for tea

Bois Cheri, Mauritius

Bois Chéri tea plantation is the oldest in Mauritius, dating back to 1892. As well as working plantation and factory, it now has a museum showing the history of tea on the island.

While the museum itself is a tad underwhelming, the noisy factory provides a fascinating look at how tea makes its way from leaf to tea bag. Tours finish with a chance to sample some of the tea, with biscuits of course, in Café Cheri.

The café is the place to then try more tea flavours, both as a drink and in surprising forms such as salads. Unusual flavours available in the shop are vanilla tea and herbal blends.

The views over the tea plantation and nearby lake in this verdant southern part of Mauritius are undoubtedly a highlight of any visit as well.

Lose your perspective

Chamarel Waterfall, Mauritius

The Curious Corner of Chamarel is a weird place that tries to mess with your head. Expect optical illusions, a mirror maze and an ever-changing set of playful mind-games.

Many of the 40 displays play with perspective and scale to give you fascinating photo opportunities. If you’ve ever wanted to have a picture of yourself lying on the ceiling, this is the place to go.

Another popular exhibit is the Laser Room where you can interact with the light beams to play music. While popular with families, it’s a treat for anyone still in touch with their inner child.

The shop continues the theme with an assortment of puzzles and mind-stretching games.

Other nearby attraction inside the Terres de 7 Couleurs, noted for its various colours of art, and the much-photographed Chamarel Waterfall.

Play in the green

La Domaine, Mauritius

The Domaine de L’Étoile is a former sugar estate that is now an eco-friendly adventure playground. It’s the place to ride a horse amid a herd of deer, or trek through a tropical forest.

Other activities include quad bikes and buggies rides, while this forest reserve also boasts “The longest zipline course in the world”. It stretches for a total of just over two miles.

Self-guided treks are a quieter way to enjoy some of the lush scenery and spectacular views of Mauritius. Guides also lead walks that will allow you to learn more about the island’s flora.

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.