Mauritius has long been a fixture on the travel itineraries of wealthy Europeans, Indians, and South Africans, and now it’s increasingly attracting sun worshipers from the United States and Canada who dig the glamour of its super-luxurious resorts. When you arrive in Mauritius, the chances are good that you’ll spend your first day or two lazing on the sugar-sand beach immediately adjacent to your pad. That’s perfectly understandable: This fabulous Indian Ocean island, some 1,200 miles east of Mozambique, is blessed with numerous gorgeous, bone-white beaches framed by palm trees.
Sooner or later, however, you’ll want to roust yourself from that comfy cabana—after all, you didn’t fly 12 hours from London just to sit on a beach, did you? To fully appreciate the tropical leisure paradise that is Mauritius, make some excursions around this diverse island. Here we outline the top five “bucket list” experiences offered during your travel to Mauritius: deep sea fishing for big marlin, a trip to the island’s largest Hindu temple and exotic gardens, a cruise to Ile aux Cerfs and its blue lagoon, a dive at the Cathedral off the west coast, and a visit to the giant tortoises and rare kestrels at Ile aux Aigrettes. To get started, just talk to the concierge at your resort. You can rent a car and drive to the jumping-off spots for these tours, or join an organized tour to any or all of the five gorgeous day excursions.
1. Chasing the Big Boys
If you’ve ever fancied yourself a deep-sea angler, now is the time to engage in that fantasy and engage in combat with some of the large game fish off the west coast of Mauritius. Sport fishing is best on this stretch of coast, as currents ebb around the base of Le Morne, a windswept peninsula and village justly famous for its surfing (both board and kite) and paragliding. The currents equate to a marine environment perfect for small bait fish, which in turn attract the larger boys you’re after on this excursion. Select between a half-day or full-day trip; boats can usually fit up to five anglers, and meals and all fishing equipment are usually provided.
The best season for blue and black marlin is from October through April but, depending on the time of year, you can do emotional and physical battle with bonito, dogtooth and yellow-fin tuna, dolphinfish, sailfish, and wahoo—even blue, hammerhead, and mako sharks! Large runs of wahoo (said to be the fastest-running fish around) commence in September, but rest assured that something will be biting throughout the year. Mauritius not only has types of game fish not found elsewhere, but is also a magnet for bonito, dorado, and other fish that can be spectacularly large.
2. Gardens and Temples of the North
The first garden of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere, the Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam (SSR) Botanical Garden is a great introduction to the flora of this tropical isle. Also known as the Pamplemousses Garden, this 60-acre site crisscrossed with huge banyan trees has fabulous collections of both indigenous and exotic plants. Don’t miss the enormous Victoria water lilies and the talipot palms, which can grow eight stories high before flowering a single time.
Cap off the day with a trip to nearby Triolet Shivala, home to the largest Hindu temple on the island. Interesting, slightly more than half the nation adheres to Hinduism, making Mauritius the sole country in Africa with Hinduism as the principal religion. This particular temple, the Maheswarnath, was built in1819, and its brightly painted colors are picturesque, particularly at sunset.
3. Sail to Ile aux Cerfs
For such a densely populated space—more than 1 million people live on this island the size of Maui—it’s easy to escape to an offshore pristine wilderness. And not surprisingly, the best excursions revolve around water, including a boat trip to Ile aux Cerfs (Deer Island), a tiny isle frequented by chic travelers in search of great seafood. Catamarans, yachts, and other fancy boats leave often from Trou-d’Eau Douce village, on the east coast.
The daylong excursion should also include a spin to the plunging waterfalls at Grande Rivière Sud-Est and to Eau Bleue, the prettiest blue grotto this side of Capri. While on Ile aux Cerfs, you’ll find the stunning Le Touessrok resort. Stop by its Safran restaurant for a dinner of tandoori lobster and lychee sorbet, or at the very least a bento box and sake at the Sega Bar, then watch the sky turn flamingo pink.
4. Scuba off Flic en Flac
The west coast of Mauritius may not have the chicest scene on the island, but it does deliver when it comes to scenery of the geographic variety. Check out the talcum-soft beach at Wolmar, then continue to nearby Flic-en-Flac, where you can take a horseback ride in the surf and snorkel in the translucent lagoon alongside cobalt and magenta fish. This stretch of coast has some of the island’s best dive sites, particularly the descent known as the Cathedral, where you’re almost guaranteed to see boxfish, damselfish, Mauritian scorpionfish, and other flashy specimens. Note that the optimal time to go scuba diving is from November to April, when there is usually excellent water visibility.
Afterward, swing by Port Louis, the capital of Mauritius, for shopping on the waterfront and a great meal at any number of eateries. You’ll notice that Port Louis has a distinctly Caribbean/Creole atmosphere, particularly at the Central Market, where merchants sell fish, spices, and other exotic goods at a frenetic pace.
5. A Marine Tour Extraordinaire
Begin with a tour to Blue Bay Marine Park on the southeast coast—this protected area is home to all sorts of beautiful fish and flora, including coral and mangroves. Take one of the glass-bottom boat tours (you can snorkel alongside the boat if you want), and spy on butterfly fish, trumpet fish, and their colorful companions.
After lunch at Le Preskil, a nearby resort, or in Mahebourg, head out on a short boat ride to Ile aux Aigrettes, a wee coral island that’s home to a spectacular animal sanctuary run by the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation. Your guide will point out flora and fauna indigenous to Mauritius, as well as endangered and rare species like the pink pigeon, Mauritius kestrel, and the island’s well-known giant tortoises.