Sunday, January 15, 2012

Mauritius Island. A Piece of Paradise

You know that sensation that you get when you step off the plane and that warm, humid air instantly wraps around you and warms your whole body. That sensation gets me every time. I love it. I don't remember much from my first trip to Mauritius more than 16 years ago so my anticipation to re-experience the magic of the island was high. 

The island is truly beautiful. It is small enough to give you that small, tropical island feel but big enough to offer some adventure and exploring opportunities; everything from climbing mountains (once volcanoes) and exploring waterfalls to walking on deserted beaches to shopping at bussling, local craft markets in the capital city, Port Louis.

The North
Many patches of the Mauritian coastline are ridden with resorts, especially in the North. The resorts may be beautiful but the untouched island feeling definitely disappears to a certain extent. After all, this piece if paradise was discovered as far back as 1598 and neither the Dutch, nor the French could keep it a secret - the island is so beautiful, it simply had to be shared with the world. Hence, the tourists started arriving and they keep coming. Worth a mention is that all Mauritian beaches are public by law and one thing i definitely enjoyed is that the Mauritian people make the beach culture a staple of their day-to-day living. Understandably as you wouldn't be able to resist if you lived there.

The South Coast
For all of those in search of a less crowded vacation, Mauritius is still your place! The south is still wild, where you will drive for long distances without seeing any hotels. You'll drive through plenty of sugar cane fields and past many open grassy areas overlooking the coves and beaches which are perfect for picnics and camping. You'll drive through quaint, small fishing villages where you can take endless pictures of colourful fishing boats sprawled out in the bays, which hug the coastline. You'll stumble across old-school ice cream vans and the odd resort which will bring you back to reality. Le Morne is a beautiful patch in the Southwest. It attracts the kite surfers to a large extent as it offers a world class and world renowned kitesurfing spot - The One Eye. If the budget allows for it, a dream resort to check out is The Pavillions in Le Morne. Beautiful luxury.

The West
We stayed on the West coast, in Flic en Flac. Close to Tamarin Bay, where you will find the best wave surfing spot on the island, Flic en Flac is well located and there is plenty to do. The long stretch of white sandy beach is home to a few big resorts (Hilton, Sugar Beach to name a few) but the atmosphere is calm and peaceful. Since the ocean temperatures compare to those of a bathtub, swimming and water sports are a daily must, as with anywhere on the island really. Best part about the West coast? You get amazing sunsets!!

For anyone interested in or planning a Mauritius trip, here are a few tips/hints that may be helpful :

·         Recommend renting a car as soon as you arrive because:
a)      Island is easy to navigate around as there aren’t many roads (ask for a map) and the roads are generally good quality, although a little narrow (they drive on the left due to period of British rule after the French)
b)      Taxi from the airport is extremely expensive and there are no buses if your hotel does not have a pick-up service ($60-$100 USD depending where you need to go!)
c)       Car hire is quite cheap (negotiate a price with the locals when you arrive, even if you reserved online)

·         There are a few landmarks and attractions that are quite unique and worth seeing:
a)      Sitting on the beach and watching kite surfers on Le Morne lagoon
b)      Visiting the Tamarin falls (7 cascades). Do not just stop at the view point, drive through the cane fields and park at the top of the cliff and hike down to experience the amazing view from the upper pool. Note: you do not need a guide for this so do not feel the need to pay one of the guys in the carpark
c)       Port Louis central markets. Go before 2pm to ensure the fresh food market is still open. Beware the smooth talking Salim who tries to sell you ‘family made’ spices at prices 10 -20 times more expensive than the local corner store that sells the exact same brand !! Be sure to bargain hard for all your purchases. Should be able to get 30-50% off all prices they first quote you. Buy lunch from the small street vendors, the samosa’s are delish
d)      Buy fresh vanilla bean pods so you can make your own endless supply of vanilla essence (100gr of raw sugar for every 10 bean pods and leave in an air tight glass jar) as they are grown on the island and much cheaper than on the mainland
e)      Stop at  the road side fruit stands and buy local, farm-picked, fresh fruits. All the amazing summer fruits are sold and cheap (lychees from Nov-Jan)

·         The climate between the North and South of the island is completely different. The North experiences far more sunshine throughout the year due to the mountains which block most of the rain clouds that move from south to north. The wind is also a bit lighter in the north compared to the south.

·         It is still possible to do Mauritius on a budget. There are camping grounds with amenities at all the main beaches (literally right on the beach). You could spend your holidays camping your way around the island, using the abundant public bus transport, camping in the various beach parks. Food at the local street stalls is cheap and tasty. Shopping at the super markets is cheaper than Europe, Oz and South Africa.

·         Everyone speaks good English and French so a good place to practice both

·         Investigate renting a private house or bungalow if you are more likely to explore and do your own thing rather than just booking your entire stay at a beachside resort

·         If you book at a resort make sure you make the most of the free activities like wake boarding on one of the many bays, swimming with wild dolphins in Tamarin Bay, sail hobby-cats around the lagoon, snorkeling, tennis, cooking classes etc.

·         Mauritius is a mix of Indian (Hindu), African, Malaysian, Chinese and French nationalities, living in harmony. Hence you find all types of amazing foods and combinations of all these foods.

·         Be prepared for 15% VAT to be added to all your purchases and food bills.

I hope you found this helpful and I hope you get a taster of this island yourself soon, if you havent already. Its quite special.

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