One of the most popular beach destinations in the Indian Ocean, its tropical climate, shallow coasts, spectacular beaches, and luxury hotels are some of the country’s major draws. However, there’s more to Mauritius than just its beaches. For starters, it has a very unique culture that stems from its colonisation at one time or another by the Arabs, Portuguese, Dutch, French and English, creating a true melting pot of cultures and peoples who’ve come from Africa, India, China, and Europe. Today the majority of the population are Indo-Mauritians (of Indian descent), in addition to Creoles (of African or mixed race) and Sino-Mauritians from China’s Hakka-speaking regions.
After becoming independent in 1968 it’s kept French as its official language, although there are dozens of languages spoken amongst its population. Its food is also influenced by its mélange of inhabitants, although dholl puri – a thin crepe stuffed with ground yellow split peas – is ubiquitous. Mauritians eat a lot of curries (including octopus curry) and mazavaroo (chilli paste) with rice at almost every meal. While many holidaymakers tend to gravitate towards the beach, there are plenty of things to see and do in Mauritius’ hinterland, from hiking to rum-tasting and kitesurfing.
CLIMB MOUNT LE MORNE
The rugged and iconic Mount le Morne on the Le Morne Brabant Peninsula was once a hideaway for runaway slaves (marooners) thanks to its fort-like structure: it features vertical cliff walls, steep slopes intersected by ravines, and a flat plateau accessible only via a deep gorge called the V-Gap (referred to as the key of the mountain).
Mauritius was once part of the global slave trade during the French colonial
era; escaped slaves would make the journey up this treacherous mountain,
but if they were caught, punishments ranged from ear-cutting to skin branding and death.
After the British abolished slavery in 1835, a group of soldiers went to Le Morne to let runaway slaves know that they were finally free. But the slaves
feared that they were being recaptured, so they threw themselves off the cliff rather than face the horrors of dehumanisation.
Today, the Slave Route Monument, at the foot of Le Morne, is in clear view of the sheer drop into what’s since been called the “Valley of Bones.” There is a popular hiking trail (6km, 3-4 hours) that takes you up to Le Morne; it starts with an easy hike along well-maintained forestry trail to a plateau with a viewpoint. From here, a mountain path continues up to a small summit where a white iron cross is planted, although the portion up to the cross is officially closed due to repair works on the ropes that assist you up
the loose, rocky trail. Start as early as possible, as the mountain is very
exposed. From the top, you’ll be greeted with spectacular views down the lush mountain, the white sand beach and crystal clear ocean.
Nearby is the *LUX Le Morne, a beachside resort overlooking the mountain.
If you’ve got a morning spare, drop by Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam Botanical Gardens (or ‘Pamplemousses’ to the locals) for a quiet stroll through the southern hemisphere’s oldest botanical gardens. Built in 1770, the grounds include gigantic palm trees like the Tahina Spectabilis which only flowers once in its lifetime and then dies, as well as the iconic pond of giant Amazonian waterlilies (Victoria amazonica), the leaves of which can grow to an average diameter of 2-3m.
Mauritius has plenty of shallow lagoons protected from crashing waves, and due to the favourable east/southeast winds, most of the kitesurfing areas are located on island’s south. The most exciting time for kitesurfing is during winter (May to November), when the winds from the east reach 15-30 knots. This is also when most resorts are in ‘low season’. When it comes to the best kitesurfing spot, most Mauritians will point to Le Morne. The large, shallow lagoon has a white sandy bottom, with a water level that varies from ankle- to chest-deep. There is plenty of space for beginners to practise in the Le Morne Lagoon, with world-class waves just beyond the reef for more experienced kiters. Bel Ombre, on the island’s south, has a shallow lagoon that extends 500m to the reef, making it ideal for beginners. The reef breaks are only for experts, with waves getting up
to 4m in height. The annual Kiteival (23-30 July 2017) is a week-long kitesurfing event that allows every level of rider to kite on the best spots on the island alongside some professional kiters.
HIKING BLACK RVER GORGES
With a wild expanse of rolling hills and gorges, the Black River Gorges National Park is the country’s biggest park, and the last indigenous forest where endemic bird species still survive, including the Mauritius kestrel, echo parakeet, Mauritius cuckoo shrike, and pink pigeon.
Most of the park is designated for hikers, with 60km of hiking trails varying in length and difficulty snaking through the landscape. The board-
walk near Le Petrin visitor centre leads you deep into marshy, plant-
rich heathland; from Alexandra Falls, a trail leads into a dwarf forest that is the habitat of the lime-green echo parakeet; and the easy Macchabees Trail (10km) leads to a viewpoint overlooking the gorges and Tamarin Bay.
You can also climb 9km to the top of Black River Peak (Petite Rivière Noire), the highest point in Mauritius, where you’ll be rewarded with an amazing panorama, with L’ile aux Benitier island on the horizon.
VISIT A RUM DISTILLERY
Mauritius is one of a few countries that produce both industrial rum (made with molasses) and agricultural rum (made with fresh cane juice). The latter is appreciated much like whisky, with a number of boutique distilleries also producing an ‘island recipe rum’ which includes infusions of coconut, vanilla, or coffee. Mauritius is currently home to 6 distilleries (the oldest dates back to 1926), of which Rhumerie de Chamarel, Rhumerie de Mascareignes, and St Aubin are authorised to produce agricultural rum. All three offer distillery tours and tasting; Chamarel is a newly-built facility,
while both St Aubin and Rhumerie de Mascareignes feature 19th century family-owned plantation houses.
Air Mauritius (www.airmauritius.com) flies direct from Singapore, with a flight time of about 7 hours. It will be celebrating its 50th anniversary this June, with promos including a 5D3N package to Mauritius starting from S$1,238 (book by 12 June, travel by 26 June). Local operator Kreola has numerous itineraries and can assist with accommodation at resorts like Club Med.