Mauritius is a little island nation 700 miles off the coast of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean, belonging to the continent of Africa. To be honest, we hadn’t even heard of Mauritius before we started trip planning.
10,500+ miles away from home in Seattle, it is likely one of the farthest destinations we could have chosen. It was well worth the distance, as it turned out to be one of our favorite countries yet. Mauritius is a picture-perfect island paradise, with all of our favorite things – crystal clear water, white sandy beaches, enchanting waterfalls, delicious food, and friendly locals. We knew it wasn’t the most popular place for Americans to vacation, simply due to distance, but were still surprised when we met a welcoming local on the beach who shared the last time she had seen an American in Mauritius was 3 years ago!
Mauritius kept popping up in our online searches of “best places in the world to visit in October,” which first peaked our interest.
Room to pack more than just the essentials with SWISSGEAR.
The combination of traveling as SWISSGEAR’s Travel Ambassadors and flying with Emirates meant we did not have to skimp when packing, as we were allowed two checked bags each. I understand that bikinis and flip-flops don’t take up that much room, but I didn’t want to have to leave my giant pineapple floatie at home! 🙂
I selected SWISSGEAR’s sleek new 7788 XX Hard Case set in black in 28 inches and 20 inches with the new SWISSGEAR X backpack. To keep my luggage secure during air travel (a 14 hour flight from Seattle to Dubai, followed by a 6.5 hour flight from Dubai to Mauritius), I used the SWISSGEAR Travel Sentry 3-Dial Combination Lock. I also attached SWISSGEAR’s Jumbo Luggage Tags in pink to help identify and personalize my gear, which made it easy to spot at baggage claim. With free WIFI at Mauritius’s modern airport, we were able to download Maki Car Rental’s app for seamless communication to pick-up our rental car. Mauritius is a relatively small island of only 788 square miles, so it was helpful to explore with our own set of wheels. This also allowed us to maximize our time on the island without waiting around for public buses or taxis.
Checking into paradise.
We hit the highway and drove up to “The North” (yes, street signs on the highway literally say “The North”), where we checked into La Residence, one of the three Horizon Holidays properties we stayed in over our weeklong stay. All my pineapple floatie dreams came to life in the gorgeous pool, surrounded by coconut bearing palm trees. It was lovely to have all the amenities of our own spacious apartment with the luxuries of a hotel (hello daily cleaning service). The first floor of our apartment opened right up to our private patio facing the pool and the balcony from our second story master suite was shielded by a giant palm tree. I especially loved the massive walk-in closet, where I was able to unpack quickly and easily thanks to being well organized with my SWISSGEAR Packing Cubes.
Crossing the street to a sandy pathway, we found ourselves at a secluded beach and our first opportunity to stick our toes in the Indian Ocean. The ocean felt cold at first, but after walking in it along the beach, the water felt wonderful. The water was so clear that Matt was able to spot a little Electric Ray (also known as a Torpedo Fish), that wiggled out from the sand after he nearly stepped on it, and then swam out further into the ocean.
In the early evening we sat on the beach, fighting to keep our eyes open after our long journey but awestruck by the sight before us. We watched as the sun filtered in and out of clouds as it sank towards the horizon. At one point, the sun shined brightly through a small break in the clouds, sending brilliant golden rays across the sky. We scrambled up to take a quick photo to capture the magic before it passed. Our inability to stay up much longer after sunset and an 11-hour time difference had us up early the next morning, and we awoke in the dark to make our way back to the beach for sunrise. The sun rose behind us over the island, turning the clouds a soft pink. Having this view to ourselves was definitely a perk of jetlag.
Taste of Mauritius.
For the best way to familiarize ourselves with the local history, culture and (our favorite) food, we took a street food tour in Mauritius’ capitol, Port Louis, with Taste Buddies Mauritius. One of the owners, Nic, a local Mauritian accompanied us on our tour. We learned about all the different waves of immigration in Mauritius while tasting how each new arrival effected the culture and food, while maintaining a Mauritian flair.
We learned Mauritius was first colonized by the Dutch in 1638, although the island was known by Arab and Swahili sailors before the 1500’s and was visited by Portuguese explorers the following century. The Dutch brought sugarcane and a small number of African slaves to maintain the crops until the Dutch abandoned the island in the eighteenth century. On our tour, we tasted sugarcane juice flavored with local fruits. In 1715 shortly after the Dutch left, Mauritius was claimed by the French, followed by the British. We visited a French patisserie, tucked away into a charming little street, to taste the French influence intermixed with Mauritian culture in a delicious banana pastry.
We discovered that in 1835 when slavery was abolished in Mauritius, the majority of the population was made up of slaves who in turn fled the plantations. This major loss of workers caused plantation owners to seek labor from elsewhere, with India becoming the main source of indentured laborers. Immigrants from China and other countries in Asia also came in search of work, although Indians accounted for the biggest wave of immigration, growing to account for nearly one third of the country’s population. We tasted many Mauritian dishes with Indian influences along our tour, from Mauritian Aka Roti (a flat bread that was filled with veggies), to Dhail Puri Mimosa (similar to roti but thinner and with a salsa-like filling) and Pani Puri (a round hollow fried crisp filled with chili water, chick peas, potato, and tamarind). We especially loved the Pani Puri, which had a little kick from the chili water. We then visited Chinatown and ate various dumplings and desserts made from rice flour filled with lentil paste, intertwining Chinese culture with Mauritian influence.
The tour began and ended near the casino at the waterfront, which has a modern and upscale vibe geared to tourists. My SWISSGEAR 2703 Laptop Backpack was perfect for exploring the capitol and the muted okre added a fun pop of color that perfectly captures Mauritius’ island vibes while feeling equally as appropriate to rock in a city. In the midst of the waterfront we came across a colorful umbrella street art installation. Umbrellas in every color of the rainbow were strung above the street in neat color coordinated rows, casting their octagon shadows below the hot afternoon sun. We had searched for an umbrella street around the globe after seeing pictures online and were excited to come across our first one in Mauritius. With full bellies, we headed to enjoy our first afternoon at the beach.
The first beach on our list was Trou-aux-Biches on the west coast. We avoided the crowded parking lot and drove further down, finding street parking by a grocery store and walking through a sandy walkway between oceanfront properties to reach the beach. We plopped our beach towels down on the white sand and immediately waded out to our hips in the Indian Ocean to cool off. Upon returning to our towels to sunscreen up, our plans to swim were foiled by the long naps we took on the beach, fueled by our satisfied stomachs post food tour and jetlag from our long travel day before.
Our plans to swim in the Indian Ocean came to fruition later at Bain Boeuf Beach in the north, just across from our Horizon Hotels property, Cape Bay. With a view of Gunner’s Quoin (a unique island shaped similarly to a whale) off in the distance, this beach became one of our favorites in Mauritius. We splashed around in the sea and made friends with the friendly local dogs that roamed the beach.
A short drive from Bain Boeuf Beach stands the most famous church in Mauritius, the Notre Dame Auxiliatrice Chapel. The white church boasts a red roof (although I’d argue that it is hot pink), which contrasts beautifully with the turquoise water in behind it. The Roman Catholic Church draws tourists from all over the island.
Catamaran Cruise to Ile Aux Cerfs
What better way to experience Mauritius than out on the water? One of our favorite days in paradise was spent on a catamaran cruise to Ile Aux Cerfs, a little island off the east coast of Mauritius. The cruise embarked from a bay on the east coast where we took a speed boat to meet the catamaran out on the Indian Ocean.
Upon arrival to the catamaran, we were welcomed with a “Mauritian coffee” – the local rum mixed with Pepsi.
We anchored at a shallow spot with crystal clear teal water with time to splash around and snorkel. Parasailers flew by overhead, we were given the option to parasail (for an additional fee) but since this was an activity we had both done before, we didn’t feel the need to do it in Mauritius. A crewmember grilled chicken and fish on a BBQ on the back of the boat while other crewmembers were generous bartenders.
The sail was raised and we coasted back toward the island, 50’s music playing over the speakers from Elvis to Buddy Holly. We lounged on the front of the catamaran, enjoying the old school tunes, sunshine, and salty breeze, while soaking in the glorious mountain views of Mauritius ahead of us.
We sailed inland to check out the Grand River South East waterfall. Everyone disembarked our catamaran and got on a smaller skipper, Matt and I grabbed seats at the front. The captain maneuvered the boat around big rocks and pointed out large Mauritian bats hanging from the trees. It was odd to see bats out in the sunshine in the middle of the day. The captain steered the boat right up to the base of the waterfall, causing the water to spray us in the front of the boat, which felt glorious in the heat of the afternoon. We made our way back to the catamaran to enjoy a delicious lunch of BBQ chicken, grilled fish, a local rice mix (with strong hints of cinnamon), and an assortment of salads. More drinks were poured and the meal was complete with a grilled and caramelized banana (I happily accepted seconds!).
After lunch we arrived at our main destination, Ile Aux Cerfs, where we had time to explore and enjoy the island. The weather was perfect and Matt and I decided to lay out on the beach and fly our drone to admire the postcard views we had witnessed of the island. The beauty was easy to capture from the sky, with the shallow lagoon appearing to split the white sandy isle in two. Ile Aux Cerfs boasts a couple beach bars, a restaurant, and apparently an 18-hole golf course. Before getting back on the catamaran we browsed the little souvenir stands, selling handcrafted goods, hats, sunglasses, and t-shirts.
On our cruise back, the female crew member had changed into local dress, a red and black cropped top with one strap and a matching red full-length flowy skirt. Another crew member began to play a drum and sang local songs while the woman danced. She pulled as many people as she could out onto the deck, which turned into a dance floor. I didn’t take much convincing, as I love to dance, while Matt enjoyed being a spectator and captured photos and videos of the experience. Everyone dancing tried to imitate her traditional moves, which were repetitive and involved a lot of hip swaying. When the local woman twirled, her skirt would hang in the air and appear to levitate as she spun. The sight was mesmerizing! She organized a dance circle, where everyone dancing had their own time in the center to bust a move. We were sad to see the catamaran return to the bay, and disembarked to a smaller boat to head our separate ways on land.
Seeking Adventure in Black River Gorges National Park
Mauritius is home to beautiful waterfalls, so one morning we awoke before sunrise to head south in order to chase them without crowds. The drive to Black River Gorges National Park was nothing short of scenic – we passed alongside dramatic mountain peaks and an assortment of agricultural fields. We drove through lush green forests, which felt distinctly different from the tropical vibes we had grown accustom to at this point in our stay. The entrance to the visitor’s center for Alexandra Falls was lined with eucalyptus trees and the ground was dotted with purple wildflowers. The early morning light appeared to dance through the trees as we drove in, making for an enchanting entrance. When we pulled into an empty parking lot at 8 a.m., we were surprised to find a family of monkeys scavenging the trash bins. We were instantly giddy with excitement, previously unaware there were monkeys in Mauritius. We didn’t know if they were friendly or not, so we kept our distance and snapped a few photos from afar.
We followed a short-paved pathway to a viewpoint that looked out across the island to the sea in the distance. Peering over the railing back toward the direction we came from offered an obstructed view through foliage of the top of Alexandra Falls. We decided to explore to see if we could find a better view and found a pathway that looped around past the top of the falls, and continued onward. The dirt path was marked on our offline maps app, Maps.me, so we followed it for a while, originally thinking we were heading to the bottom of Alexandra Falls, but the further we went we realized we were heading too far away. As we continued onward, we began to hear the sound of running water and realized we were getting close to another waterfall. The path took us across a river, that we crossed by leaping from boulder to boulder. We finally came to a clearing, and realized we were at the very top of another waterfall, labeled Cascade des Galets on our maps app.
The view from the top of the waterfall was expansive and took our breath away. From the brown rocks at the edge of the mountain where we were perched, the land stretched out in front of us covered in greenery until the green collided into white sand that faded into the bright blue ocean along the horizon. With no railings or safety measures in place at the edge of the cliff face, we were very precautious to get our own glimpse of the waterfall we were standing on top of.
We tactfully made our way to the farthest edge from the waterfall, to a spot where the earth jutted out from the cliff so we could see the water fall and crash below us. Being out there alone was exhilarating as well as admittingly frightening, and we decided to keep our distance from the edge after that. We let our drone do the dangerous work of getting a better view. Our drone was able to help us grasp the sheer size and beauty of the massive falls we stood on top of. Matt’s SWISSGEAR 6758 Scansmart TSA Laptop Backpack easily carried our drone and other camera gear, along with sunscreen, water, and snacks for our adventure. We spent over an hour soaking up the views, completely uninterrupted before making the journey back to our car. We only crossed paths with only one group of people on the trail on our way back until we reached the original Alexandra Falls viewpoint. It was now flooded with people funneling in from tour buses in the late morning, unaware of the raw beauty that was just a short hike away from them.
La Vallee Des Colores Nature Park
Our next stop was La Vallee Des Colores Nature Park. The park offers a range of activities from zip lining to quad biking. We opted to cross the Nepalese bridge, which at 350m long is the longest in the Indian Ocean. We were given harnesses and then hopped into a Land Rover without doors, feeling like we were in our own African safari with the wind blowing in our hair as we gained elevation on our way up to the bridge. At the base of the bridge, our harnesses were secured onto a cable above the narrow bridge. The bridge was wobbly and it felt like walking on a plank, with enough room for the width of one foot. The bridge was flanked by two cables that we could grip during our crossing. I enjoyed testing my balance by keeping my arms spread wide while crossing, reveling in the breeze coming up from the ocean through the valley. Matt was more comfortable keeping a hand on the ropes and was tasked with documenting the bridge crossing with our GoPro®. We were rewarded with marvelous views of the lush foliage below us in the valley that stretched all the way to the Indian Ocean.
After crossing the Nepalese bridge, we returned to the visitor center and strolled along the river pathway. La Vallee Des Colores Nature Park is also home to several waterfalls so naturally we wanted to check them out. On our way to the first waterfall, we passed Mauritius’ famous 7 colored earth, which is natural geological formation on a small area of sand dunes with distinctly different colored sands. After snapping a quick photo, we continued on to Vacoas waterfall. The sunlight filtered in from above the waterfall through trees, casting bright pockets of light across the falls and small pool of water in front of us.
We enjoyed a few moments of solitude before tour groups filtered in and out of the viewing area. We then made our way onward to The Chamouzé waterfall. This one was much taller (although nothing would compare to the size of the first massive waterfall we stood on earlier that morning). We watched as a zipline tour ziplined from what seemed out of nowhere to the top of the waterfall, and then all ziplined down to a platform below the waterfall.
Catamaran Cruise to Crystal Bay
After cruising on the east coast earlier in the week, we knew we couldn’t miss the west coast, which is famous for dolphins and Crystal Bay. From the Angler’s Club in Tamarin, we embarked straight onto our catamaran in search of dolphins. The captain introduced himself and told us we weren’t guaranteed to see dolphins but he would do his best to guide us where ever they might be. We headed up north and shortly after we were surrounded by a pod of spinner dolphins. They swam under and around the boat, other boats followed. Next we headed to a snorkel spot, which was much deeper, darker blue, and home to more fish than the spot we had snorkeled at on our previous cruise. We jumped from the top of the boat and then swam with the fish.
The catamaran had a signature “jungle juice” that could be prepared with or without alcohol that was the colors of the Mauritian flag (red, yellow, and green) minus the blue (which is accounted for in the ocean). The bartender warned us if we had five or six, we would start to see lions and tigers, so we made sure to limit ourselves at a few. We enjoyed a delicious buffet lunch of grilled fish and chicken and an assortment of salads.
Our principal destination was Crystal Bay and Ile Aux Benitiers. The first speedboat to the island filled up, so we hung back and I sprawled out on the front of the catamaran, soaking up the sun and falling asleep in the netting. The speed boat returned and we hopped on with another couple. The speedboat took us right to the famous Crystal Rock, which juts out of the shallow crystal-clear water. We were then left to explore the little island with several stands selling drinks, food, and souvenirs. I spent most of my time floating in the sea while Matt sent up the drone from the beach. Then speed boat took us back to the catamaran and we slowly cruised back to where we began our day.
Iconic Mauritius Surf Spot
We couldn’t leave Mauritius without visiting the iconic Le Morne beach, which is backed by a brilliant mountain of the same name. On our last morning, we drove south to Le Morne as the sun rose and laid out our towels on the beach. Unknown to us beforehand, this spot is popular for surfers. We saw at least a dozen surfers paddling out on their boards, while others were loading up in little boats, preparing to head out to the reef break in the morning. Surfing is something we would love to come back for!
Out past the reef in the Indian Oean lies Mauritius’ famous underwater waterfall. The waterfall effect is only visible by helicopter but that didn’t stop us from sending up our drone to see if we could get glimpse. We were close to being able to see it, but weren’t able to fly our drone far or high enough. Seeing the underwater waterfall from a helicopter is another reason for us to come back to Mauritius! We took one final dip in the Indian Ocean before heading back to pack up our SWISSGEAR bags to go to the airport, and continue on to our next destination.
After a marvelous week soaking up the glorious African sun and enjoying the white sandy beaches on the Indian Ocean, we bid farewell to the tropical island paradise of Mauritius. Stay tuned to read about our next destination, the UAE, which was in sharp contrast to Mauritius with its massive metropolises sprawling out of the desert.
After a marvelous week soaking up the glorious African sun and enjoying the white sandy beaches on the Indian Ocean, we bid farewell to the tropical island paradise of Mauritius.