The Mascarene Islands (principally Mauritius, Rodrigues and Reunion), located in the Indian Ocean 400–500 miles east of Madagascar, initially benefited from remoteness. For millennia they evolved untouched by humans. When European nations set their sights on colonial expansion in Asia, the islands suddenly became strategically vital.
Modern Mauritius (which also includes Rodrigues and many smaller islands) is defined by that contested history. Through turbulent centuries it was ruled by the Portuguese, the Dutch, the French and then, from 1810 until independence in 1968, the British. These waves of settlers introduced their own flora and fauna; and unique local species, including the dodo, were wiped out.
At the same time, a distinct Mauritian identity emerged, with a population imported by the colonial powers from India, China and Africa. These diverse influences forged a language, Mauritian Creole, and a cuisine incorporating French specialties, curries, Chinese-style noodles and African root vegetables.
The main island of Mauritius measures approximately 40 miles long and 30 miles wide, covering an area of 790 square miles. You can see almost the entire island from the summit of Le Pouce (The Thumb), a mountain located immediately behind the capital city, Port Louis. The ascent follows along well-marked trails and proves relatively gentle until the last section, the so-called thumb. From the base of the thumb to the top is a strenuous 20-minute climb with sheer drops on both sides, but it provides the reward of a 360-degree panorama.
Port Louis sits on the west coast of Mauritius, while the airport lies on the southeast, with tourist resorts scattered all around the island’s circumference. The majority of tourists never set foot in the capital city, though it is not without its attractions. The Central Market offers the perfect place to experience the island’s cultural kaleidoscope of color and aroma. At Blue Penny Museum you can view two of the world’s most valuable stamps, the Mauritius orange-red and deep-blue, displayed for just 10 minutes every half-hour to limit their exposure to light.
The Natural History Museum provides an insight into the island’s original wildlife, including skeletons and reconstructions of the extinct dodo. Much of Mauritius is now given over to sugarcane plantations, but the 66-acre Île aux Aigrettes off the east coast provides an impression of what the main island used to be. The rare Mauritian pink pigeon thrives here, while introduced giant tortoises help to restore the natural habitat (extinct Mauritian giant tortoises played an important role in the germination of some plants and trees). You can also see the dodo here, albeit as a life-sized statue.
Beach holidays remain Mauritius’s biggest draw. Coral reefs protect much of the coast, providing excellent diving. The sheltered waters prove perfect for sailing and other watersports, while the palm-shaded, white-sand beaches offer the archetypal vision of paradise.
The north coast, the liveliest area, centers on Grand Baie and offers plenty to do, day and night. The town of Flic en Flac, boasting one of the best beaches, is an emerging tourist center and a popular Airbnb base. The upscale resorts of the east coast have a more get-away-from-it-all ambience. Despite centuries of human habitation and decades as a tourist destination, at heart Mauritius remains what it has always been: a remote island in the Indian Ocean.
Bubble Lodge Bois Chéri
Escape to this futuristic, partially transparent eco-dome resort situated on a tea plantation, set beside a lake in a forest inhabited by deer. No WiFi; connect with nature instead.
Domaine de Bois Chéri, Bois Chéri, Mauritius $$$
One&Only Le Saint Géran
Located in a magical location on a spit of land with beaches on both sides, this was the island’s first luxury hotel and remains one of the best.
Pointe de Flacq, Poste de Flacq, Belle Mare, Mauritius $$$$
SALT of Palmar
The Mauritian influence comes through in this boldly designed (by French artist Camile Walala), adults-only boutique resort perched on the island’s east coast.
Coastal Road, Palmar, Belle Mare, Mauritius $$$
Le Bois Chéri Restaurant
Situated on the same tea estate as the Bubble Lodge, the restaurant offers sustainable fine dining, serving vegetarian and vegan options and only local meat (no beef, which must be imported).
Domaine de Bois Chéri, Bois Chéri, Mauritius $$$
Château Mon Désir
Occupying a colonial-style mansion north of Port Louis, this tony, special-occasion venue offers French cuisine with a Mauritian twist.
Martim Resort & Spa, Turtle Bay, Balaclava, Terre Rouge, Mauritius
Serving Manze Lacaze (“genuine home cooking”), this family-run restaurant south of Port Louis is the perfect place to sample Mauritius’ eclectic cuisine. Lunch only.
B46 Bois Chéri Road, Moka, Mauritius $$$
INFO TO GO
International flights arrive at Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam International Airport, located on the southeast coast of Mauritius, on the opposite side of the island from the capital, Port Louis. Many resorts offer direct transfers. Car rental is available (Mauritians drive on the left).
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