Mauritius is a popular Indian Ocean island destination. There are lots of all-inclusive package tours departing from Delhi, Frankfurt or Dubai, which piqued our interest years ago. But it wasn’t until we were headed to the Seychelles that we decided a detour to Mauritius was in the cards as well. The bonus? Mauritius is affordable. Not budget, but definitely a reasonable place for dining out, partaking in a myriad of beach activities, or simply lounging around sun worshipping. We opted to explore Port Louis on our own, take in the highlights of the South West (to include the Hindu sacred Grand Bassin and the seven colored earths of Chamarel), cruise on a Dolphin catamaran excursion along Grande Riviere Noire, and detour up North to Ile Aux Cerfs (Deer Island) for some fun in the sun.
9 DEC: Mauritius immigrations is tough! After demanding to see our return tickets, we were drilled on the countries we had visited in the past year (why have you been to Pakistan? How long were you in Papua New Guinea?) before the immigration official finally relented and stamped off on our paperwork.
Becky had prebooked our hotel on the internet (www.ocean-villas.com)prior to arrival. Ocean Villas’ room rates were reasonable, and the three day excursion including airport pickup/drop off was the best deal as the roundtrip airport service was essentially free. Our guide was waiting for us at the pickup point and informed us that we had a 90 minute drive ahead of us. Fortunately, the majority of the ride was on the main highway linking the southern tip of the island to the north. Once we got up closer to Grand Baie, our driver took the back roads and we were instantly reminded of Sri Lanka. Sari draped women and colorful fruit made us long to explore outside our hotel, but we already knew that Grand Baie would cater more for tourists and probably lack any local flair.
After checking into our room, we immediately ditched our bags and decided to stroll into downtown Grand Baie. Ocean Villas is located a good 1.5 km from town, so it took at least twenty minutes to walk there. Sidewalks in Mauritius are scarce, so we had to dodge the bustling traffic rolling by, and try to squeeze up against the edge of Royal Road as much as possible. Definitely not a handicap friendly place! The sun was setting, so we took a detour towards the water to admire the different colors reflecting off the calm Indian ocean.
Dinner was at the lovely Chinese restaurant, Le Palais de Chine. We stuffed ourselves with appetizers, noodles, seafood and duck, topped off with beer and our bill was still under $20. Mauritius wins hands down as a food-lover’s paradise…without breaking the bank! After gorging ourselves on dinner, we laughed as dessert was offered. No way could we consume another morsel of food. So we wandered back to Ocean Villas where we decided to cool our heels for a bit before hitting the club at midnight.
Our original plan was to hit El Diablo, but the hotel guard told us it closed down. He recommended a discotheque called Les Enfants Terribles, located on Royal Road in Pointe aux Cannonniers. Fortunately for us, it was only a 2 minute walk from the hotel. The place was booming by the time we arrived, with bodies stuffed inside the main dance area. After a few drinks, we joined the pulsating bodies, and marveled at how much of a melting pot Mauritius really is. Dozens of nationalities and a mixture of different languages flowed from one corner of the club to another. It was quite a good mix of locals and tourists intermingling. We had a great time partying the night away, knowing we would pay for it in a few short hours.
10 DEC: After a delicious breakfast (fresh fruit, tea, coffee, crepes and omelets to order), we were all set for our snorkeling session. Ocean Villas offers several activities for free (snorkeling, water skiing, banana boat rides, etc) so we signed up and headed down to the beach to await our ride. Snorkeling right off of Gran Baie beach is nothing to write home about, but a short boat ride brought us to a fantastic reef. Two Africans joined us (we thought they were German from their accent, but found out they hailed from Namibia), and found out that they had loved their 2 week holiday in Mauritius. They had tried every conceivable water sport on offer (CPT Nemo’s underwater sea walk, scuba, snorkel, water skiing, banana boat riding, parasailing) and had a blast.
The water was a bit chilly when we hopped in, but we soon warmed up after thrusting and kicking our way across the reef. Colorful fish surrounded us, and we chased them for over an hour. If snorkeling was this good, we can only wonder what the diving is like! Mauritius is surrounded by plenty of reef, and the best scuba spot is supposed to be off Flic en Flac beach, but we only had a few days to explore this island, and decided to skip scuba diving on this trip.
It was still fairly early by the time we returned from snorkeling, so we decided to catch a public bus into Grand Baie, so that we could hop on an express bus to Port Louis. Unfortunately for us, no one told us that Sundays in Mauritius are a complete wash and we would have been better off just chilling at the hotel. Blissfully ignorant, we hopped into downtown Grand Baie (3 rupee bus ride) and waited in vain for over 45 minutes before being told that no express buses ran on Sunday. So we hopped on the slow bus, and arrived to Port Louis a sweltering 75 minutes later. It was freaking hot on the bus, even with the windows cranked open.
Port Louis was absolutely dead on a Sunday. Even the lively market region was ghostly…doors were locked and chained and not a creature was stirring. It was a bit disconcerting wandering the streets of an absolutely empty capital city. We took a break by the Caudan waterfront for some tasty Indian food, and then decided to wander the streets in an effort to orient ourselves around the city. The best view is from the hill-top fortification known at the Citadel, which offers a broad panorama overlooking the city.
Even though Port Louis was not the hustle bustle city we were expecting, we did enjoy getting lost in its many streets. We hopped on one of the last public buses back to Grand Baie and watched in amazement as the bus driver zoomed from stop to stop, even neglecting to stop for several waiting passengers at random intervals. Needless to say, we made it back to Grand Baie in record time. Since we had a late lunch, neither one of us was up for eating out, so we ended up catching up on some much needed sleep.
11 DEC: Today we embarked on a South West tour of Mauritius. After grabbing breakfast, we met up with several other travelers and loaded onto a large van. Our first stop was at the glass blowing factory in Phoenix. For anyone who has seen glass hand-blown before, this is a skip. The glass making process is minimal, cameras aren’t allowed, and the souvenir shop is twice as large as the museum! Our next stop at the Voiliers de L’Ocean in Curepipe was more interesting. The miniature ocean vessels were fascinating, complete with all the details. Painstaking work had gone into the creation of these ships, boats, and vessels…absolutely amazing (with a matching price to boot). We were content with taking photos as bringing home our own replica model would cost a pretty penny. Afterwards, we headed to Floreal Square, a duty free boutique complex where tourists are supposed to get good deals on high fashion. No bargains to be found here…we thought most items were overpriced. But then again, we don’t normally buy pure cashmere sweaters or designer bikinis.
A quick detour up to Trou aux Cerfs, an extinct volcano, was next on our agenda. A pineapple/mango fruit seller was briskly selling his ware, and we were glad we tried the mango…super sweet and a perfect snack! The extinct volcano was uninspiring, but the views from the lookout point were decent. Once we had our fill, everyone piled back into the van for a relatively short drive to Alexandra Falls, where we laughed at the trickle of water (not an impressive waterfall!) and wondered “is this it?” Our tour guide explained that the bigger waterfalls were later in the tour, so we shrugged our shoulders and drove on. At Alexandra Falls, there were some cheeky monkeys that were grabbing at food from the tourists. They were rather aggressive, so we recommend not encouraging them to view humans as a source of food! The Grand Bassin Hindu holy lake was much more impressive than Alexandra Falls, and we were astounded by the super long (and super creepy) eels. Since this area is considered a sacred spot, fishing is not allowed. The fish and the fresh water eels grow into uncanny large sizes, and we watched them zoom around unhindered and without fear. We had plenty of time to wander around the holy lake and were welcomed inside where devotees were worshipping.
Our stomachs were a-growling by the time we headed out. So our tour guide decided on a lunch stop on the way towards Chamarel. Lunch was OK but overpriced. We suspect that is how many of the tour companies compensate for cheap tours…taking us to a remote obscure restaurant where everything is overpriced. Next time we’ll simply pack a PB&J sandwich! After lunch, we rushed past mare aux vacoas (the largest reservoir in Mauritius), which our guide pointed out halfheartedly (he had obviously done this tour one too many times to feign interest). We had to pay a fee to enter the seven colored earths at Chamarel, where we first stopped at a very impressive waterfall. It was a picture postcard moment, with the water glistening in the sunlight and falling an impressive distance. The seven colored earth was amazing too, with its various hues and shades. After wandering around the complex, Becky got incensed when she saw an idiot Italian who had jumped into the tortoise pen and was whipping the tortoise to force it to pose in a photo. Robby had to physically remove her before she whipped that damn tourist. It put a damper on Chamarel as we really do hate to see animals mistreated.
Our guide was more concerned about being stuck in the bad afternoon traffic than honoring the SW afternoon tour agenda (“relax on Flic en Flac beach” or visit Casela bird park”) but it had been a long day and we were ready to head back. The sunset overlooking Grand Baie was absolutely fantastic, with gorgeous shades of pink and orange spattering the sky. Dinner was at Typhoons, a fancy Thai restaurant where we enjoyed another excellent meal.
12 DEC: We had an early morning wake up as today we had to link up with a tour operator who would drive us down to our catamaran cruise in search of dolphins. We didn’t realize that we were headed right back down to the SW coast near Crystal Rock and Benitiers Island. But we were used to the ride at this point. We were making good progress, but our tour operator had to stop to pick up additional passengers. At one of the ritzy 5 star hotels, we sat waiting on a couple for close to an hour. Our guide was debating whether to leave them behind…apparently he had been ordered to wait, but the couple was taking their sweet time getting down to the lobby and the rest of us were getting duly annoyed. When they finally showed up, we had to laugh at their utter inappropriate attire. Sweater and black jeans? For a catamaran cruise…simply great. No explanation was given as to why we had to swelter for over an hour for them, and when we pulled into the harbor to board the catamaran, we were shot dirty looks by our fellow passengers who had also been delayed by this one couple. However, they didn’t have the luxury to distinguish who exactly was responsible for the late departure, and we were unfortunately lumped into the “trouble maker” group.
We chose the front deck of the catamaran to sprawl out and catch a bit of sun. It didn’t take long to reach the dolphin lookout point, and what a letdown. There must have been half a dozen boats and catamarans, who simply revved up their engines to maneuver themselves atop the dolphins for a better look. It was pretty pathetic actually, and we hated how everyone was chasing the dolphins from point to point. As luck would have it, the dolphins surfaced right beside us and we suddenly had the prime seats on the cruise. We were glad when the catamaran headed back towards the snorkeling spot, as we didn’t really dig the entire dolphin spectacle. It just feels more natural to snorkel or scuba beside them…then it feels more like a present from mother nature to allow us to interact with these amazing creatures.
Snorkeling was much more fun, and we were handed bread to feed the fish. The fish seem to get a lot of visitors, as they weren’t so much interested in feeding than they were in darting in between us. We spent over an hour snorkeling around the reef here. Robby pointed out an interesting tan and black striped eel or sea snake. Pretty cool! On deck, the catamaran crew handed us a cold beer each and told us to dry off for our BBQ lunch. Several beers later, we were on deck enjoying a sumptuous BBQ lunch of lobster, sea urchin, fresh fish and salad…absolutely delicious. To cap it off, we each had a BBQ banana sprinkled with brown sugar…doesn’t sound like anything special but it was wonderful. We then headed towards an island where the staff said we could disembark for about an hour. The island was nothing spectacular…actually the beach was quite rough with broken sea shells and corals, making it a must to wear flip flops to protect our feet. Becky bought a seashell necklace from a Mauritian selling it off his surfboard, and we headed back to the catamaran to call it a day.
Overall, a relaxing and fun day cruising the coastline of Mauritius. When we returned back to Grand Baie, we were considering heading back into town for Chinese, but stopped at a restaurant that was highly recommended to us by the Slovakian couple. La Taniere is a Mauritian restaurant just a two minute walk from Ocean Villas, and it was awesome, thanks to the very friendly and quirky owner. He gave us free shots of his homemade brew, which he insisted was an aphrodisiac. Later on, he said he thought we were on honeymoon and he hoped his concoction would work on us! The food here was excellent, and completely affordable to boot. We made it a point to thank the Slovakians for their recommendation when we ran into them next.
13 DEC: Ile Aux Cerfs (Deer Island) is highly recommended by Lonely Planet as a Mauritian highlight. So we signed up for a full day excursion, and drove up along the north coast of Mauritius. We had a broad mix of fellow passengers. A couple and their young son, all hailing from Tallinn, Estonia (one of Becky’s favorite cities), a Norwegian couple, a young Indian family, and a French couple. We rounded out the group as the only Americans representing. After presenting our Ile Aux Cerfs tickets, the travel coordinator tried to get us signed up for extra activities such as parasailing (1 minute, 5 minute or 8 minute options), water skiing, or body boarding. We opted for the cheapie version and decided to forego the water activities and swim instead. Ile Aux Cerfs island is a nice hideaway, but dozens of other groups had also invaded the island, so it didn’t play out our Robinson Caruso fantasy. We snagged two sun chairs, but a waiter came along to shoo us away, claiming it was reserved for the VIP group. Thankfully, the Germans off to our side vouched for us and said we were in their group (we had never seen them before). We thanked them gratefully after we were granted permission to lounge in the VIP area…too funny!
The speedboat drivers must know what they are doing as we were speeding along from Deer Island towards a nearby river and waterfall. We were flying! Absolutely impossible to take any photos. As we neared the waterfalls, we were forewarned that the boys who jump from the top of the falls demand payment if their photos are taken. The waterfall and wading pool were a nice surprise, but to our dismay, the weather took a turn for the worse and began pouring heavily all around us. So we loaded back up for a quick trip back to the beach where our BBQ lunch of lobster, fish, and chicken was awaiting us. Just behind the beach picnic area was a golf course, and we watched in horror as one of the golfers tee’d off and accidentally hit a nearby onlooker. That made all of us a little jittery, and we edged as far away from the golf course as possible.
Lunch was delicious, but it was the alcohol that made everyone warm up to each other. A few hours later, and we were laughing and joking comfortably with what had been a boatful of complete strangers earlier in the day. After a quick dip in the water to cool down, we headed back towards Ocean Villas, where we checked our passport and airline tickets back out of the hotel safe, and coordinated for our early morning pickup for tomorrow morning.
Dinner was a fresh four cheese pizza from a nearby Italian eatery…and it was fantastic. We don’t think its possible to get bad food in Mauritius…every single meal was absolutely delicious! We packed our gear and were amazed that our vacation here had drawn to an end already.
14 DEC: Our early morning ride was right on time at 0645. We were joined by the Slovakian couple we had met on the South West tour. Even though it was an early morning pickup for a 1045 flight, we figured it was better to arrive too early than too late. Checking in at the Mauritius airport was relatively pain free, and we relaxed in the lounge until it was time for us to board our Air Mauritius fight back to the Seychelles.
Our overall impressions of Mauritius are that it is a nice island that has plenty of activities to offer. However, we were both spoilt with the fantastic beaches of the Seychelles, that Mauritius’ beaches paled in comparison. Food was definitely a highlight, as we sampled a blend of Chinese, Thai, Mauritian, and Indian cuisine and were never let down on any of our choices. With all the hype of designer clothes at bargain basement prices, we were a bit let down in that area, as we were expecting something similar to the outlets in Sri Lanka, where clothes are consolidated in a few main shopping areas at fabulous prices. In Mauritius, every mom and pop store had “designer” clothes for sale, and none of them were within our price range. Nevertheless, we are glad we visited Mauritius if just for a quick holiday getaway. The sun was warm, the waters clear, the snorkeling great, and the nightlife raucous. What else could we ask for?