Home to three of the world’s rarest birds, the island of Mauritius is most famous for the one that didn’t get away: the dodo. In 1598, Dutch sailors arrived on the shores of uninhabited Mauritius to be greeted by a large, flightless bird. Dubbed the dodo, this unknown species was subjected to a lethal combination of hunting and habitat erosion. By 1681 the dodos were dead, now existing only as a symbol on the Mauritian coat of arms.
Today, Mauritius is a lively, vibrant and welcoming island nation which attracts visitors from all over the world to sample its white sand beaches and turquoise seas.
With a tiny 2,040 km² footprint on the Indian Ocean, Mauritian attractions only take a few days to explore, leaving time to relax on the island’s expanses of white sand.
On arrival at Plaisance Airport, head south along the coast through the port town of Souillac and inland towards Chamarel. Here you will find the seven-coloured dunes of Chameral – contrasting layers of rock formed from the weathering of volcanic lava. Nearby is the heart of the island at Trou Aux Cerfs, the crater created by a now-dormant volcano. At its 828 metre rim you will find Grand Bassin, a natural lake which now occupies the crater; the local Hindu population considers the lake to be the spiritual continuation of the Ganges.
Continue over the central plateau to the Curepipe Botanical Gardens, home to the world’s rarest palm tree, before heading west to the charmingly named Flic En Flac in the Black River district. This old fishing village has one of the most idyllic – and popular - beaches in Mauritius.
Finish your tour in the capital of Mauritius, Port Louis, where you can see fine colonial architecture such as Government House or skeletons of the extinct dodo at the Natural History Museum.
Even if you don’t perceive the diversity of Mauritius while exploring the island, you’ll notice it when dining out: in Mauritius, you can travel to all corners of the globe without leaving the table. Mauritian cooking occupies a class of its own, blending Indian, African, French, Chinese and Creole cultures and cooking traditions.
Mauritian cuisine caters for all budgets, and some of the tastiest delicacies are sold by street vendors or small restaurants everywhere from Mahébourg to Port Louis. Snack on Roti Dholl Pourri, an Indian-inspired wheat pancake stuffed with split peas and served with spicy tomato ‘rougaille’, or try the Gateaux Piments, a chilli bhaji. In the more upmarket areas such as Grand Baie, treat yourself to a ‘Millionaire’s Salad’ comprising locally-caught oysters, shrimps, crayfish, crabs and ‘Rosenbergi’ or freshwater prawns, served with a hearty splash of sauce ‘rougaille’.
Nightlife in Mauritius is excellent, and ranges from bars and pubs in Port Louis, to late night venues and nightclubs in Grand Baie. If you are looking for something different, catch some traditional Mauritian ‘Sega’ dancing at Rivière Noire, a lively Creole fishing district.
If you don’t mind another stamp in your passport, visit the French-governed Réunion, part of the same Mascarene Archipelago as Mauritius. Around 200 kilometres southwest of Mauritius, this mountainous island sits over the volcanic hotspot which created Mauritius, and is often referred to as a mini Hawaii. It is home to Piton de la Fournaise, one of the world’s most accessible active volcanoes and the island’s biggest tourist attraction.