After eighteen months of closure, the paradise island of Mauritius last month opened its borders again to international tourists, and with 25 per cent of the population directly employed by the tourism industry, suffice it to say that for many residents of this island nation, it’s been a long time coming.
With careful measures now in place to ensure travellers feel safe when visiting the island, its economy – and its people – are slowly but surely beginning to recover from the effects of what has been a trying time for all. Mask-wearing remains mandatory in public areas, and a negative PCR test is required within 72 hours of departure from your place of origin, with further lateral flow tests taken in Mauritius on days one and five. Nevertheless, it’s a small price to pay for admission to this paradise Indian Ocean island.
Located off the eastern coast of Africa and nestled close to the neighbouring island of Madagascar, Mauritius is relatively small, at just 2,040km squared in area. Home to a total population of just over 1.2 million, it has earned itself a global reputation thanks to its breath-taking, white-sand beaches and calm, clear, turquoise waters. But beyond its swaying palm trees and luxurious five-star resorts, there is much more to it than first meets the eye, and a rich and diverse natural and cultural experience awaits.
Just days after the official reopening of Mauritian borders to tourism, I joined ethical, tailor-made travel company Pure Breaks on the island to see how it was recovering as it moves forward from recent events, and to experience first-hand how the forward-thinking travel brand is using tourism as a force for good to aid the process.
Chief operating officer Darren Taylor believes that we should all be supporting island nations like Mauritius, which rely heavily on tourism to drive the economy, in our travel choices now that international destinations are accessible to us once more, and that by thinking a little more carefully about where we choose to go, we can make a real difference to local individuals and communities alike.
Pure Breaks encourages travellers not just to visit resorts and hotels and luxuriate on paradise beaches, but to fully immerse themselves in a destination’s culture and natural world, doing so in an ethical and responsible way that positively impacts a destination.
“Our focus is on working with accommodations and local tour operators that employ responsible operations, supporting local communities and actively contributing to environmental conservation practices – all whilst providing a memorable cultural experience that will stay with our customers for life. We strongly believe that when done right and responsibly, everyone can benefit from travel,” says Darren.
We began our journey in the south-east, landing at Mauritius’ Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam International Airport weary from the long-haul flight but eager to begin our expedition in paradise. We were pleasantly surprised from the off, receiving a warm welcome even before leaving the airport from a group of the island’s finest sega dancers, who put on a rousing performance for us outside the entrance in a heart-warming display that made it immediately clear just how meaningful this moment was for Mauritius.
Having reopened to international tourism just days earlier, it marked an end to eighteen months of ongoing restrictions, and the relief and the joy of it all was written in the smiles of the dancers and the airport staff, who were elated to be able to finally return to work.
Pausing a while to take it all in, it was impossible not to feel a little emotional when considering all that the island had to endure, and despite the jet-lag, a sense of warmth and happiness came over me at being able to both witness and be a part of their return to normality.
We were met at the airport by local tour company Coquille Bonheur – an ethical operator hand-selected by Pure Breaks for its aligned values and its ethos of providing incredible and immersive experiences in a more sustainable and conscious way. With us every step of the way throughout our Mauritian journey of discovery, our knowledgeable, passionate and all-round charismatic guide, Marie, would go on to play a fundamental role in facilitating a truly memorable experience, giving us an enchanting insight into Mauritian life and the history of the island, as well as all that is being done here today to work towards a more sustainable future.
In just a short ten-minute drive, we had arrived at the breath-taking Preskil Island Resort, where unbelievably clear waters lap the white sand, palm-tree lined shore, and were greeted enthusiastically with cool towels and drinks. Although the skies had clouded over for a brief moment of rain, it certainly didn’t put a dampener on the moment, and there were smiles all round as we began to get the first few glimpses of this magical resort and prepare to settle into island life.
But first, Covid-19 tests. One of the measures implemented by the Mauritian government to ensure that tourists feel safe during travel to the island is rapid antigen testing on days one and five after arrival, and we were happy to oblige, relieved when the results came back negative just a short while later to know that we were free to go ahead and immerse ourselves in all that the next week had in store for us.
Rooms at the Preskil Island Resort are bright, airy and spacious, with a minimalistic feel and an uplifting white and teal colour scheme, with rustic wood and rattan details giving them a stylish yet laid-back vibe. My deluxe room, on the first floor, opened out onto a secluded private balcony with breath-taking sea views. One glance at the bright turquoise of the ocean as gentle waves lapped the golden sands of the beach below, and I remembered that I was truly in paradise.
Heading straight down to the beach after a quick refresh, we were treated to a rum-tasting session which enabled us to acquaint ourselves with some of Mauritius’ finest spirits.
Sugar cane was once the country’s lifeblood, occupying a prominent position in the island’s economy since it was introduced to the island during the Dutch occupation around three centuries ago. Today, it remains an important contributor to the country’s economy, as well as a significant piece of Mauritius’ history, culture, heritage and pride – with sugar exports still representing around 19 percent of foreign exchange earnings, despite having been overtaken by tourism as a leading economic driver. And of course, on an island that is so rich in this sweet-tasting natural resource, it is only fitting that excellent rums are in plentiful supply.
After mixing up and tasting our own delicious rum cocktails, which went down a treat after a long day of travel, we retired for a long and leisurely lunch at the hotel’s beachfront 1810 restaurant, where freshly caught seafood and mouth-watering flavours were the orders of the day. Then, it was all aboard a small boat out into the nearby Blue Bay Maritime National Park to indulge in some snorkelling, where we took in a plethora of pretty corals and colourful fish.
Blue Bay was declared a national park back in 1997, before becoming a designated wetland site under the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands in 2008. The marine park is famed for its beautiful coral garden, where hundreds of varieties can be found of its abundant fauna, and thanks to its convenient location close to the coastline, it is also a haven for snorkelers and divers, with a rich biodiversity and calm, clear waters.
On our return, it was back to our rooms to get some rest and take in all that we had seen and experienced so far. After such a wonderful introduction to the island, I knew that we were in for a treat over the coming days – and the experience had only just begun.
Cocktails, canapes and a decadent three-course dinner at Preskil Island Resort’s Mosaic – which serves up tasty Mediterranean a la carte fare served in pots, combining traditional ingredients with western cooking methods – rounded off the evening in style, and we retired early to bed, eager to see what was in store for us on our first full day on Mauritius. We were ready to begin to get a real taste of what the island had to offer beyond its beaches alone.
After a good night’s sleep, we woke early for a hearty breakfast at Rendez-vous – the resort’s extensive buffet restaurant – before being met by Marie – our warm and enthusiastic tour guide for the week from Coquille Bonheur. We were whisked away a short boat ride over to the nearby Ile Aux Aigrettes, in Mahebourg Bay, with Rose – a knowledgeable conservationist from the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation on hand to educate us about the small island’s endemic flora and fauna and the impressive work that is being done here to conserve and replenish it.
Unlike the mainland, which is of volcanic origin, Ile aux Aigrettes is made up of coralline limestone. Home to the last remnants of dry coastal forest, once found around most of Mauritius, it has sadly been affected by logging and land clearance over the years, with the introduction of exotic animal and plant species also coming close to destroying the native flora and fauna. But after eventually being declared a nature reserve in 1965, there have been intensive efforts to restore Ile Aux Aigrettes back to its former glory, reforesting it and reintroducing some of the rare species that had disappeared from the island long ago.
Today, it’s possible to spot all sorts of endemic species on the island, perhaps most notably of which, the Aldabra Giant Tortoise. In 2000, 20 Aldabra tortoises were released on the island, and by the end of 2004, were allowed to roam completely freely. These animals have an important role to play in the island’s regeneration, eating the fruit from Ile Aux Aigrettes’ ebony trees and dispersing the seeds around the island in their droppings, thus encouraging these rare trees to naturally flourish. And, with an ongoing breeding programme producing new tortoises every year, babies are taken to the Gerald Durrell Endemic Wildlife Sanctuary, where they are reared in a safe environment before later being released back into the wild.
After an informative and eye-opening morning that demonstrated Mauritius’ admirable dedication to conserving its natural environment, we made our way to the unique Otentic Eco Tented Lodge, which is nestled in verdant countryside in the small village of Deux Feres and enjoys a privileged and picturesque riverside location.
One of only two eco tented glamping sites on the east coast, and in fact, all of Mauritius – both under the Otentic umbrella – it offers alternative luxury for those looking for something a little different, with spacious, safari-style tents, comfortable beds and private living areas – with two of Mauritius’ most beautiful beaches – Ile Aux Cerfs and Îlot Mangenie, just a 30-minute boat ride away, and a second sister site set in the nearby mountainous of Beau Site.
At the riverside, we were treated to a mouth-watering lunch of local Creole cuisine prepared by talented head chef Christelle, using fresh produce and herbs grown in the garden – a chance to sample some flavourful local delights, and one that certainly went down a treat after a busy morning.
This tranquil location is the perfect accommodation choice for those looking to immerse themselves in nature and to simply switch off and get away from it all, and is an optional inclusion in Pure Breaks’ bespoke Mauritian Island Discovery Itinerary.
After lunch, we made our way to the north of the island to enjoy its pristine beaches and settle into our accommodation for the night – the Lagoon Attitude Hotel, in Anse La Raie.
Located on the edge of the immense Anse la Raie lagoon on the north coast of Mauritius, the four-star Lagoon Attitude hotel is leading the way for sustainable tourism on the island.
One of seven hotels in the Attitude Hotels group on Mauritius, its efforts in environmental and social responsibility have seen it honoured with Travelife Gold status, which it has held since 2017, and it’s truly impressive to see the commitment to sustainable tourism that is so evident across the property.
The first hotel on the island to introduce a ‘bulk shop’, the hotel has turned away from placing endless sachets of tea, coffee and sugar in customers’ rooms in a bid to reduce single-use plastics, instead encouraging them to refill reusable glass jars with supplies as and when they need them.
Examples of upcycling can be seen across the resort, and the ‘blue nets’ programme for litter picking, alongside a zero single-use plastic policy, makes the hotel an impressive example that the Attitude team hope that others will eventually follow. And the Marine Discovery Centre, which is dedicated to the preservation of the marine ecosystem, educates guests on the importance of ocean-friendly behaviours, encouraging them to swim and snorkel responsibly, use reef safe sunscreen and remain aware of their overall impact on the ocean.
It’s easy to see why Pure Breaks have chosen to work with this impressive trail-blazer; the two are perfectly aligned in their dedication to sustainable tourism. And, with the hotel set on a breath-taking white sand beach, with swaying palms and opportunities for kitesurfing and windsurfing – not to mention the impressive snorkel trail, which after a short trip on a glass-bottomed boat, guides hotel guests on an exploration of the spectacular and colourful protected coral reef – it’s almost impossible not to fall in love with it.
The next morning, after heading out just after sunrise to experience the snorkel trail first hand, it was time to do some more exploring, so we made our way to the Pamplemousses Botanical Garden. One of the most visited attractions in Mauritius and located close to Mauritian capital Port Louis, in the district of Pamplemousse, this sprawling tropical garden comprises palm-lined walkways, verdant forest and picturesque lakes, and offers another chance to see and learn more about Mauritius’ endemic and non-endemic plant life.
After an informative stroll around the gardens with our dedicated guide, we made our way to the stunning Solana Beach Resort – a sister property of Preskil Island Resort and one that is under the Southern Cross Hotels umbrella – for a decadent lunch and massages overlooking one of the most breath-taking beaches on the island. It was then time to head to the lavish Constance Belle Mare Plage – an opulent five-star hotel where we would check in for an overnight stay.
If you’re looking for pristine, white sand beaches and crystal clear waters – which, let’s face it, is what Mauritius is best known for – then the north-eastern resort of Belle Mare ticks all the right boxes and more.
The Constance Belle Mare Plage – which belongs to the Constance Hotels and Resorts group – offers five-star beachfront luxury by the bucket-load, with a 1.2km private stretch of sand for guests to luxuriate in the utmost of seclusion and tranquility and a total of seven restaurants and six bars to choose from during your stay. Add to that a championship golf course, a fully-equipped fitness centre and an opulent spa, and here, you have everything you could possibly need for the perfect stay in paradise.
Set in almost 15 hectares of lush, tropical gardens, this idyllic hideaway encourages marine life conservation and supports the clean-up of the marine and coastal environment, ensuring water waste is not discharged into the ocean and working to replant coral to restore its offshore reef.
And its beautiful Prestige rooms, which are equipped with luxury furnishings and amenities, open straight out onto the beach, each enjoying its own private terrace that provides the perfect spot in which to enjoy a sunrise coffee or a sunset glass of wine, sitting back and taking it all in in a moment of peace.
After a relaxing overnight stay and a long and leisurely dinner at the hotel’s impressively extensive buffet restaurant, which serves up a mouth-watering array of flavours from all over the world, we were ready to hit the road again and find out what else Mauritius had in store.
First on the day’s agenda was a visit to the Bois Chéri tea plantation, which dates all the way back to 1892 and is the largest producer of tea in Mauritius. Featuring an informative museum and a tea room enjoying sweeping views of the lake below, it’s the perfect place to pause and sample a cup or two of the various different blends available – and of course, stock up on some of your favourites to take away with you.
Next, the secluded crater-lake of Grand Bassin – or as it’s locally known, Ganga Talao – which can be found nestled in a breath-taking mountainous area of the district of Savanne, in the heart of Mauritius and around 550 metres above sea level. Sacred to Hindus, who believe it was formed when god Shiva spilt drops of water from the Ganges river in India, the Hindu temple here, fronted by candy-coloured statues of Hindu gods, sees the arrival of more than half a million Hindus making a pilgrimage each year during the religious celebration of Maha Shivaratri, which takes place in February or March. Grand Bassin, you see, is the holiest place on the island of Mauritius, and hosts one of the largest Hindu celebrations outside of India.
If you’re lucky, you might even spot a macaw monkey or two outside – we were lucky enough to encounter one munching on a banana.
En route to our accommodation for the night – the Heritage Le Telfair Golf and Wellness Resort, in Bel Ombre – we were invited to enjoy lunch at the spectacular Heritage Le Château – an enchanting Anglo-Indian, colonial-style 19th century family mansion that belongs to the resort and was honoured for its excellent gastronomy with the TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence in 2019, just before the island closed its borders to tourism due to the pandemic.
Enjoying afternoon tea on the first floor, overlooking the property’s gardens, it had a very ‘English country garden’ feel about it, with pristine, well-tended gardens and perfectly manicured lawns. Here, guests at the Heritage Le Telfair and sister resort, the Heritage Awali, can enjoy romantic private dinners, and the venue also serves as a backdrop for some of the island’s most beautiful destination weddings.
After luxuriating over a decadent selection of finger food, it was onto the opulent, colonial-inspired Heritage Le Telfair to check in and enjoy an afternoon of spa treatments at the hotel’s private Seven Colours Wellness Pavilion – just what was needed after a busy few days exploring the island. Here, we were treated to relaxing massages and learned about using breathing techniques to improve health and wellbeing, allowing us to truly unwind and appreciate the beauty of the Mauritian island that surrounded us in a moment of serenity and calm.
Rooms at the Heritage Le Telfair are something very special indeed, and my beachfront prestige room comprised an enormous four-poster bed, free-standing claw-foot bath tub and spacious shower, with a separate living space, walk-in wardrobe and dressing room and a private balcony with stunning views of the beach and the ocean below. It was one of those rooms that it almost pains you to leave, with every detail considered and exuding a luxurious feel at every turn. But, when in Mauritius, it’s quite simply rude to stay indoors for too long, on an island as spectacular as this.
That evening, Pan-Asian fusion restaurant Gin’Ja – one of the resort’s proudest culinary offerings – served us up a show-stopping dinner to remember, with a selection of sushi dishes served up on long stone plates that stretched for the entire length of the table and a seemingly endless supply of wine and champagne to wash it all down with. Suffice it to say that the food was divine, and the beachfront setting, with the ocean lapping the sand just behind us, made for a perfectly magical evening all round.
Heritage Le Telfair is truly a stand-out resort in every single way, and those looking for a lavish and luxurious experience without any hint of pretension will love every second of any stay here.
Waking up to the sound of the Indian Ocean lapping the shore is something I could get used to, and it’s also something that you’ll never tire of in Mauritius. Opening the doors of my beachfront room to take in views of the spectacular stretch of golden sand below, I was reminded once again that I was in paradise, and paused to enjoy a peaceful cup of coffee and be present in a quiet moment as the sun rose, before getting ready for the day.
Today was all about R&R, and after a morning visit to the Heritage nature reserve for an immersion in the local flora and fauna, I took some time out to explore the property, wandering along the beach and discovering the neighbouring sister property of the Heritage Awali Golf and Spa Resort, where we would enjoy lunch a little later on. The two resorts stand side by side on a breath-taking stretch of sand, with a selection of restaurants and bars dotted along the way, and out at sea, the waves roar against the reef, while close to the shore, the ocean is still, calm and perfect for a late morning dip.
In the afternoon, it was time to journey west for the final leg of our Mauritian adventure. But first, Le Morne.
Le Morne is home to an unmissable UNESCO World Heritage Site – a rugged mountain that juts into the Indian Ocean in the southwest of the island and towers high into the sky, with its summit an impressive 556 metres above sea level. It was once used as a shelter by runaway slaves through the 18th and early 19th centuries, when they formed small settlements that were protected by the mountain’s isolated and almost inaccessible cliffs, and today, Le Morne is seen as a symbol of the slaves’ suffering, sacrifice and fight for freedom, making for a humbling sight that it feels important to take a moment to pause and absorb.
On arrival in Flic en Flac, on the west coast of Mauritius, we checked in at the luxury five-star Maradiva Villas Resort and Spa, which would be our base for the next two nights. This privately-owned resort comprises 65 thatched roof villas on 27 acres of land, and is a prime spot for those looking for an extra layer of privacy and seclusion during a stay on the island, and each villa features its own private patio, plunge pool and day bed along with luxurious touches including an outdoor shower, a huge walk-in wardrobe, a free-standing bathtub, Hermes toiletries and private butler service.
In the morning, we set off for the village of Chamarel and the Ebony Forest Reserve, pausing en route to visit the Black River Gorge Nature Park. Home to many endangered species of plants and birds, the park comprises the largest protected forest in Mauritius, and features over 50 kilometres of scenic hiking trails – but with a busy day ahead of us, we were satisfied with stopping at a viewing point to take in a breath-taking vista of the Alexandra waterfalls and the forest below.
It was the first of the day’s ‘wow’ moments, and from here, just a short drive to Chamarel.
At the Ebony Forest, we were met by our knowledgeable guide – Jean-Françoise Laboudeuse – to learn how the island’s geological and colonial history has shaped the surrounding landscapes, and to gain an understanding of the significance of the forest restoration and conservation work that is currently underway within the forest.
Since 2006, the Ebony Forest’s team of conservationists have been working to reverse the impacts of habitat degradation and invasive species in order to create a sanctuary for the island’s unique and rich biodiversity, and today, its eco-tourism activities help to generate funds for its projects, education, training and volunteer programmes.
Home to a range of endemic birds and plants, the reserve features several hiking trails for all abilities – and a stroll here would be the perfect way to spend a relaxing afternoon at one with nature.
Hitching a ride by jeep up to the highest point in the park, some 462 metres above sea level, we were blown away to be met by one of the most breath-taking viewpoints in all of Mauritius. Taking in 360-degree vistas of Le Morne Brabant, Tourelle du Tamarin and the Black River Gorge against a backdrop of the island’s serene turquoise waters below, it was quite simply stunning, and a special moment that will stay in my mind forever.
After pausing a while to marvel at the island’s spectacular beauty and ponder life, it was on to Chamarel to see the famous Seven-Coloured Earth – a popular tourist attraction comprising sand dunes of seven distinct colours, ranging from red, brown and violet to green, blue, purple and yellow. This impressive natural phenomenon is a result of the evolution of basaltic lava to clay minerals, and is an essential photo stop, quite unlike anything I’ve ever seen before.
Pure Breaks offers a range of accommodation options for those who prefer to immerse themselves in the peace and tranquillity of the Mauritian countryside, and the Lakaz Chamarel Exclusive Lodge, nestled within a wooded valley inside the Black River Gorge National Park, is a haven of serenity.
Featuring a range of bespoke luxury lodges, each offering the utmost in privacy and seclusion, this magical hideaway is managed like a guest-house but with the full, five-star service of a hotel and from the hand-crafted furniture and open air rain showers to the private splash pools, it’s a unique boutique hotel that also happens to be known as the leading ecotourism hotel in Mauritius. So, if you fancy a break from Mauritius’ beautiful beaches for a night or two, then be sure to have it added to your itinerary.
After a busy week that had seen us explore every corner of the island and immerse ourselves in local culture, uncover incredible sights and enjoy some truly unforgettable experiences, we were all ready for some rest, relaxation and some time to take it all in. It’s certainly true that Mauritius is about so much more than just its beaches, but let’s face it – they are pretty special. And no trip to the island would be complete without taking a little time out to luxuriate on its powdery white sands, swim in its crystalline waters and sip from a fresh coconut or two beneath the palms.
Pure Breaks itineraries are completely customisable, which means that you can add as many extra beach days as you’d like to your holiday. So, you’ll have every opportunity to fully enjoy your time at each resort between excursions – or book out a full week or more to relax with a good book, indulge in some water sports, play a round of golf or check yourself in at the spa.
Indulging in a lunchtime cooking lesson at the Maradiva Villas Resort and Spa, we learned how to whip up an authentic and delicious Mauritian curry using fresh ingredients grown in the garden. Then, it was time for us to check out – and make the very short journey along the beach to sister resort, the Sands Suite Resort and Spa. Our final destination in Mauritius before flying home, we took the opportunity to swim in its sprawling infinity pool and take in some more incredible views of Le Morne – which sits directly opposite – indulge in a spot of sunbathing, and thoroughly relax and unwind.
The Sands Suites, although a four-star resort, exudes the kind of opulence and luxury you’d expect from a five star, with impeccable and attentive service ensuring that your every need is met at all times. The hotel offers three restaurants serving up decadent cuisine overlooking the beach, with the Tamarind Terrace – the main buffet restaurant – dishing out range of international cuisines ranging from Indian and Chinese to traditional Mauritian. Add to that the exotic Spices restaurant and the Pink Peppercorn, which features a menu packed with tasty and freshly-caught seafood, and foodies certainly won’t go hungry here.
On the final day, I awoke with a feeling of sadness that our journey of Mauritian adventure had almost come to an end, and knowing that we would have to board our international flights back to the UK – and the autumnal British weather – that evening, I was determined to get the most out of the time we had left.
After a hearty breakfast, I made a beeline for the spa for an indulgent Ayurvedic massage, before taking advantage of some of the resort’s water sports offerings and heading out in a kayak around the bay. We are told it is often possible to spot dolphins, but sadly, not today. Nevertheless, the views of the bay from out on the water were magical, offering a different perspective of Flic en Flac.
Back on the shore, it was an afternoon of lying back and relaxing on my sun-lounger with a mojito as the sun went down – the perfect way to round off a truly incredible week of discovery on this very special island.
If there is one thing that this entire experience reaffirmed to me, it’s that what makes for a magical and meaningful travel experience isn’t just beautiful beaches and lavish resorts – although they, of course, are all part of the fun. It’s about cultural immersion, getting off the beaten track, and above all, knowing that all the while, your presence is part of a wider force for good – with your experience serving to support the natural environment and the incredible people you meet along the way for a more sustainable future for all.
And with Pure Breaks, you can do just that.