This 720-square-mile Indian Ocean outpost located east of Madagascar and the coast of southern Africa exudes mystery and romance. The sway of sweet-smelling sugarcane fields is punctuated by dramatic mountains and hemmed by soft beaches, colorful wooden boats, and swaying Casuarina trees.
Located below the equator, Mauritius enjoys seasons opposite those of the United States. If you're planning a two-week trip, consider connecting via one of many European gateways -- Paris and London offer the most flights. Spend the first week in a cultural capital and the second on a beach in Mauritius. Another option: Spend a week on safari in Africa before a week in Mauritius for an unforgettable and exotic experience.
Before You Go: Need-to-know info
Passport, return ticket
English, French, Creole
Mauritius Rupee (Rs)
4 hours from Johannesburg; 12 hours from London and Paris; 21 hours from NYC; 27 hours from LA
When To Go: Mauritius at its best
June to October. December to March is best for diving; June to August is best for surfing; and October to March is best for big-game fishing
Late April through July
Cavadi, which involves fire-walking ceremonies, plus (not for the squeamish) Tamil Hindus pierce their tongues and cheeks with needles and pins in an act of penance, in January or February; the firecracker-happy Chinese Spring Festival near the end of January or beginning of February; Holi or "Festival of Colors," during which Hindus squirt colored powder and water at each other in February or March; and Ganesh Chaturthi, to celebrate the birthday of Ganesha, the God of wisdom in August or September
What To Do
Drive around this peaceful island and you're likely to see a Christian church, Muslim mosque, and Hindu or Buddhist temple -- all on the same street. Approximately 70% of the population is Indian and the remaining 30% includes those of Chinese, Creole, and European descent. Volcanic in origin and history, this island once served as a place of exile (lucky folks!) and has been occupied by the Dutch, French and, most recently, British. The melting pot of people creates an array of festivals, cuisines, languages, and traditions.
Hit the beach:
You’ll love the sandy strands of Grand Bay, Pereybere, and Cap Malheureux on the northern coast; and Belle Mare on the east coast and Blue Bay on the south coast. Boating, water sports, and diving spots are abundant. Non-divers can take a ride in the Blue Safari Submarine or semi-submersible Le Nessee
, both located near Grand Bay.
Take a hike:
Many nature and animal parks dot the island, including Domaine les Pailles near the capital city of Port Louis, where you can take a horse-drawn carriage ride and visit a number of attractions and restaurants. Hike to Alexandra Falls or Black River Peak -- one of the island's highest vantages -- at Black River Gorges National Park, or discover the huge water lilies and palm tree species at Pamplemousses Garden; the blue, green, red, and yellow tiers of earth at a site called Chamarel (the colors are believed to have been caused by natural weathering); and the 140 bird species, including the rare Pink Pigeon, at Casela Bird Park.
Taste the local flavor:
Taste buds, start your engines: This is seafood and spice country. Mauritian food blends fresh fish with Indian, Chinese, and European spices and techniques for intensely flavorful food. Counter too much curry with a yogurt drink or Phoenix pilsner. Finish your meal with a cup of spicy, milky Indian Chai or the island's homegrown vanilla tea.
Dance the Sega:
Resembling a combination of swirling island dervishes and Hawaiian hula dancers, the soulful dance of Sega was invented by slaves. Sega pivots on hip swiveling and is accentuated by brightly colored skirts and the beat of a drum. The sexy Sega is best watched and danced on the beach -- under the moonlight, as it was originally performed -- or visitors can catch an indoor show at their hotels.
Enjoy the view:
Nestled in lush, terraced hills on the eastern coast, Le Domaine du Chasseur is a park and estate that grows exotic fruits. Hike one of several circuits to a symphony of bird song. Hungry? Make a beeline to Le Panoramour ("View of Love") for lunch, where you'll find a great restaurant with a sweeping view of the verdant valley and ocean beyond.
-- Lori Seto