As promised in my previous post on Mauritius, which you can read here, I am back with more on the lovely island!
Mauritius is the ideal getaway for people who are looking to just relax and unwind without having to break the bank. The island offers accommodation to suit all budgets, public transport is readily available and is cheap, food and drinks in local places are not expensive and in general, the people are warm and welcoming.
A majority of the visitors to Mauritius usually end up spending most of their time, if not all, at the resort itself. And why not – a good beach front to lounge at all day, great food and drinks, daily entertainment in the evenings, availability of water sports and numerous other activities, ensure that guests do not get bored. But if you anything like K and me, with a bug in you that says I want to explore and see the rest of the island, then don’t be disheartened. There are lots of places to see and interesting things to do.
1) Grand Baie
Located quite close to our resort, it was short bus ride to this small coastal village in the north-west of the island. Buzzing with cafes, bars, clubs and numerous restaurants, Grand Baie is popular with the tourists as well as locals. The village also provides ample shopping opportunities but we found everything to be a little over priced, given that the place is frequented by tourists. Port Louis, the capital of Mauritius, is better suited for shopping.
The bars and clubs stay open till late in the night, and anyone looking for a good night out, should definitely head to Grand Baie. Since K and I were not looking at a night out, we decided to have a few drinks at The Beach House. The place has a lovely view and makes some really great cocktails. The restaurants in the area are also worth checking out.
The botanical gardens, also known as the Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam Botanical Garden, are located in the district of Pamplemousses in the north. Although not a must visit, its an enjoyable place nevertheless. We were particularly interested in the ponds of giant lilies and hence decided to visit the place. These gardens are supposed to be the oldest in the southern hemisphere and are home to several different varieties of palms, ebony and other trees. They also have several giant turtles in an enclosure.
Guides are available at the gate. We just wanted to wander on our own so did not get one. The entrance fee for non-Mauritians is higher and was around MUR 150 when we visited.
3) Rent a car and drive around
Hiring a chauffeured car or a taxi is easy and not very expensive in Mauritius when you come from the US, the UK or Europe. But we prefer to drive. It kinda gives you a better feel of the country. So K and I, frugal Indians that we are, rented a car from a local guy who had a shop just opposite our resort. So for MUR 1400 a day, we got ourselves a nice small comfy car. (This guy’s price was half the price of Hertz, Europcar and other rental companies).
Like most British Colonies, driving is on the left side of the road. Although there is a nice, broad highway connecting the different parts of the island, most inner roads are narrow but well-marked and in good condition. Driving in Mauritius is completely safe, with motorists obeying the road rules.
Most inner roads go through sugarcane plantations on either side and its lovely to drive through them. Instead of the insipid highway, driving along the coast, although longer and slower, is well worth it as the views are amazing.
4) Port Louis
Port Louis is the capital of Mauritius. Its a crowded and busy city, full of offices, markets, a port and a beautiful waterfront. Our main reason for going to the city was because we wanted to try some local cuisine and street food! Mauritian food has a great deal of Indian influence as a majority of indentured labourers brought to the island by the British to work on the plantations, were Indians! Hence, I was really excited about trying some of the food.
Parking in the city can be quite a nightmare so maybe getting a taxi this one time would help! However, after driving around for sometime, we finally hit the Caudan Waterfront where there was more than ample parking.
As the name suggests, Caudan Waterfront faces the harbour and is a trendy place full of shops, restaurants, cafes, a movie theatre, etc.
Still in search of some local food, we chanced upon this busy street market on the road opposite the waterfront. There were hundreds of people selling anything from cheap bags to T-shirts, sun glasses, caps, fake jewellery and household goods. Pushing through the crowds, we found a food market! There were tons of small shops selling the local delicacies I had read about – dhal puri, roti chaud, alouda, fried sweets and ‘breyani’! (For more on these goodies, read this great article).
Satiated, we headed back towards the waterfront to try some Mauritian fish curry (gluttons that we are!), in a small, quiet restaurant located right next to the windmill (built in 1736 to provide flour to dockworkers, this windmill was shut in the twentieth century and is now a museum).
Port Louis also has a very busy Chinatown, that we drove through but did not stop at, and if looking for some Chinese food, this is the place to go to.
Rum, which is made from sugarcane, is widely produced all over the island. Sugarcane was first introduced in Mauritius in 1638 by the Dutch. However, it was only when the French and the British came to the island, that sugarcane production was fully exploited and the concept of rum distillation was introduced in 1850.
Visiting a rhumerie hence, was on our list of things to do. Having read a great deal about Rhumerie de Charamel, we decided to check it out. Located in the south-west – it took us more than an hour to drive from Port Louis to Chamarel – the distillery is situated amidst beautifully landscaped gardens. A guided tour lasts about 30-40 mins and costs MUR 350 per person. This includes some rum tasting as well.
The rhumerie also houses a restaurant known to serve great food. Since we had had more than our fair share of eating, we did not try the restaurant. It’s open only for lunch.
Opening times: Monday till Saturday 9:30 am – 17:30 pm
Tours: Duration: 30 – 40 Minutes
Entrance: Adults MUR 350
6) Catamaran cruise to Ile aux Cerfs
Iles aux Cerfs means deer island in English, although there is no deer on this island anymore. Situated on the east coast of Mauritius, this is a small island owned by the five star resort, The Touessrok Hotel. Despite being privately owned, locals and tourists are allowed to visit this small paradise and make use of the facilities. The island houses a golf course and a few restaurants. A wide range of water sports are available here and the beautiful white sandy beaches makes for a perfect day out.
The island can be visited as a part of a tour or on your own. Local ferries leave at regular intervals from the east coast.
We chose to go with a tour rather than on our own for the following reasons:
a) Since we were in the north, a taxi all the way to the east and back would be quite expensive.
b) Renting a car would be cheaper, but the drive would be long and would involve getting lost now and then!
c) I wanted to spend the day on a catamaran! (you can choose to take a catamaran or a speed boat to the island)
The Iles aux Cerf tour is offered by all travel agents and companies. We found a big price difference in the tour offered by the local representatives of our South African tour company and that of a tour company situated in Grand Baie. Our company was asking for MUR 4000 per person while the local Grand Bay Travel and Tours charged us MUR 1800 per person! So be sure you shop around before booking.
A small minibus picked K and me up at 8:45am on the day of the tour. There was another couple and a family of four taking the same tour. The drive to Trou d’Eau Douce on the east coast took a little more than an hour. This was the he departure point of the catamaran. The tour included a bar-be-que lunch on board with unlimited refreshments, a taste of the traditional ‘sega‘ dance and a visit to a waterfall by a small boat.
Just after lunch, the catamaran docked at the island and we went off to explore the island for about two hours, before heading back to the mainland. We were dropped off at the hotel around 5:30pm. A complete hassle free tour of one of the most beautiful islands I have visited!
7) Water sports
There is an endless list of water sports that you can engage in while in Mauritius – snorkeling, swimming with the dolphins, underwater ocean walk, para sailing, banana boat rides, speed boat ride around the island, exploring an old sea wreck, etc. Most of these activities can be arranged for by your hotel or you can contact a local tour company.