Mauritius – Paradise Island

Mauritius – Paradise Island

“You gather the idea that Mauritius was made first, and then heaven; and that heaven was copied after Mauritius.” – Mark Twain

Aerial view of Mauritius

Mauritius, the “Pearl of the Indian Ocean“, was on my bucket list of “Must See” places since a long time and I finally got an opportunity to plan a vacation to this wonderful Island country, with my family in end October 2011. This was my first visit to an African country and to the Southern hemisphere, where you encounter opposite weather patterns. It was summer time at Mauritius while we were welcoming winter in India. The first experience of a country starts either with the Airline or the Airport. I was not disappointed by both although I had read horror stories of their National flag carrier – Air Mauritius.  I was pleasantly surprised by their service, on time arrival/departure and importantly the food. The flight from Bangalore to Mauritius is via Chennai and the 1 hour stopover was the only hitch. The journey time is approximately 8 hours while it is 6 hours on return since Bangalore is the first destination point. Mauritius is GMT + 4 hours and hence 1.5 hours behind India time. The weather was around 20-26 degrees Celsius in Mauritius, which is very pleasant except for high humidity. I took some snaps of the lovely Mauritius beaches, while the plane was descending (check the snap). I was eagerly looking forward to a memorable 7 days holiday to the Paradise Island called Mauritius!!  

The Sir Sewasagoor Ramagoolam International Airport is not something I can write in detail since a

Music based theme at the Airport

bigger and better terminal is expected to come up soon. The current Airport is cramped for space and reminded me of Indian airports in non Metro cities. However the Immigration folks were extremely friendly and the Officer dealing with me immediately started conversing in chaste Hindi. I was wondering whether I landed in North India. I could see fellow Indians everywhere and why not since the ethnic Indian population is close to 70% including 60% Hindus. In India we take pride in blindly following the West but in Mauritius I noticed that they respect the culture of their mother country whose great grandfathers immigrated into Mauritius as indentured labourers in mid 19th Century. How many young ladies wear a bindi in modern India? But in Mauritius the ladies proudly wear bindis on their forehead and whenever they get a chance to speak in Hindi, they do not lose the opportunity. However the language that is spoken widely is Mauritian Creole, which is French based. French is widely spoken than English at Mauritius. The number of tourists that arrive at Mauritius are mostly Europeans and Indians. Within Europeans, the French, German, Italians and English form the majority. The Mauritians worship their ex Premier, who got them freedom from the British in 1968, Sir Sewasagoor Ramagoolam or SSR as he is fondly called. He is their Father of the Nation and his statues can be seen at prominent locations. After his death in early Nineties, his son Naveen Ramagoolam took over the Premiership.

Mauritius Beach side

The taxi ride from the Airport (located at the extreme South) to our Resort (located at extreme North) was almost 60 kms and the route was through the capital city, Port Louis. On the way we also came across several sugar cane fields, which is Mauritius primary agricultural produce. It is also one of the highest sugar producing countries in the world. We were little tired after a long journey from home that started at 2am.  We received a warm welcome at the Casuarina Resort and again I was pleasantly surprised to see a majority of the staff being ethnic Indians. I liked the check in process which was very systematic and smooth. The guests who arrived in a batch, were given a detailed explanation of the Resort and its facilities. We were given a cottage that almost had a sea view. After some rest we enjoyed a swim and headed for Dinner. Since most of the Resorts offer half board packages at Mauritius, breakfast and dinner are both included in the package. This works since we always had lunch outside, when on Tours exploring the country. The Dinner had an Indian menu as expected. Dhall Poori is the local delicacy of Mauritius. We also had a choice of European or Creole cuisine. The hotel staff, was very friendly and warm. I never had a chance to complain or grudge during our entire stay of 7 days at this Resort, which is named after the Casuarina trees found in abundance here.

Mauritius beach side

Next day we were planned for a trip to Ile aux Cerfs, a true paradise island to the extreme East of Mauritius. Ile aux Cerfs tour offers a day of pure relaxation as you soak up the sun on the dazzling white sand and swim in the warm turquoise waters that fringe the beaches. The Ile aux Cerfs day tour starts with a boat transfer to Ile aux Cerfs Island, which is done in the comfortable motor boat and the boat trip takes about 15 minutes. I never sat in a motorboat that was driven at almost 100kmph. Wow that was an out of the world experience !! Once we reach the Island, we are given free time to spend on the beach, going for a stroll, swimming in the lagoon, snorkelling or just relaxation at the beach. There is an excellent Indian Restaurant named Masala that serves tasty and delectable Indian cuisine.  We tried the Under water sea walk and Parasailing at Ile aux Cerfs.

Snorkelling and Underwater Sea Walk

The Underwater Sea Walk is one of the most unique attractions that one must experience when visiting Mauritius. It is a true once in a life time experience for all the non divers, where we can enjoy a safe and fascinating underwater walk on the ocean bed (about 3-4 metres deep), and witness first hand the magnificent marine life of Mauritius, the beautiful fauna, corals, and a wide variety of fish, all in their natural habitat. Qualified experienced guides accompanied us while guaranteeing maximum safety. We could offer food to the fish while the guide clicked our photos. This was a wonderful experience. We are provided with a helmet with a transparent visor and a special apparatus allows normal breathing under the water through continuous supply of Oxygen. It was almost like walking on the moon

Parasailing at Mauritius

Next we encountered Parasailing, which offers a breathtaking bird’s eye view of Ile aux Cerfs Island, its beautiful beaches and the beautiful east coast lagoon, making it a truly memorable and a worthwhile experience. Parasailing begins with a short safety briefing after which we are taken by boat to the launch pad. At the launch pad, we are connected to a secured certified harness to the parasail. Only after the ground assistants check the rig and the flight harness, they will signal the boat driver to start the engine and gradually accelerate the boat. The para sailor then takes off from the launch pad for a flight above the beautiful lagoon. No steering is actually necessary as the sail follows the course of the boat. We also experienced the “touch and go”, which means that on the way down, instead of just reeling back onto the boat, you will fly for a while above the ocean and then be lowered down for a dip in the sea before going up again while enjoying a very refreshing plunge. Parasailing allows two people at a time. My wife was the Pilot while I did the guard duty at the back. This was an exhilarating experience not to be missed. The total duration of this excursion is of about 10-15 minutes only and I wished it lasted more.

Casuarina Resort, Mauritius

After enjoying these activities we headed back to the Resort listening to Bollywood songs played on almost all Radio FM channels in Mauritius. At the Resort, more than one Television channel had Indian program and the time slot is shared across various Indian languages. Most of the Bollywood films shot at Mauritius are shown on their local channels. You will never miss home. My only regret is missing the local Sega dance at the Resort, since it was not advertised enough to the guests. That day the Resort management invited all the guests for a Cocktail party wherein some of the staff members were felicitated for good service.

Mauritius National Botanical Garden

Next day we were planned for the North Tour. The highlight of this Tour was our trip to the Mauritius National Botanical Garden. The SSR Botanical garden is home to an incredible variety of tropical plants, many of them indigenous. The Botanical Garden is one of the most visited sights in Mauritius and it was first opened as a private garden by the French governor of Mauritius nearly 300 years ago. The botanical garden stretches over endless acres of land and it can take you more than a week to cover the whole garden. The Botanical Garden is populated with more than 650 varieties of plants among which are giant water lilies, dozens of medicinal plants,  different varieties of palms, a big spice garden and many more. We opted for the battery operated car to see the entire Garden. The guide was an ethnic Indian and he became emotional while telling us about his search for his ancestor’s village near Calcutta. 

Next we visited Port Louis, the capital of Mauritius, the largest city and the economic

Le Caudan Waterfront shopping complex

and administrative centre of the island. Right off the main square one can stroll besides the palm-lined Place d’Armes and see wonderful French colonial buildings, especially the Government House and the Municipal Theatre. We got free time to visit Port Louis Waterfront and the Le Caudan Waterfront shopping complex, where several Bollywood films have been shot. It also has a Casino and a Theatre that was showing the latest Hindi film RA1, which was sadly running to an empty house on day 2. The bustling Port Louis Waterfront offers exciting shopping and entertainment venues intermingle with world-class hotels and restaurants overlooking the Port Louis Harbour. From here we were shown the place where the first Indian immigrant landed at Mauritius in the 1830s known as Apravasi Ghat. The 16 steps where he first landed is a World Heritage site today.

View of Port Louis from Fort Adelaide

Just a few distance away is Fort Adelaide (also known as La Citadelle), built in a very strategic location on higher lands of Port Louis at 240 feet above sea level. The construction of Fort Adelaide started on 1830s and completed after almost ten years. Fort Adelaide offers a vast panorama on Port Louis and its harbour. The British built this fortress in fear of a civil war from the remaining French settlers on the island and also for the purpose of guarding the harbour against enemy attacks. A ride uphill to Fort Adelaide, guarantee breathtaking view of Port Louis and of the mountain range surrounding Port Louis. While moving around Port Louis especially near the Statue of Mother Mary, I could recollect scenes and songs from several Bollywood movies shot at this great location.

Road junction at Port Louis

I was very impressed by the traffic discipline on the roads and despite so many Indians, there is no honking at all. Wish we inculcated this habit from them. The people are very cleanliness conscious and strive to keep their city clean. I could hardly see any garbage dump anywhere. Even the drivers who came to pick us up ensured nobody ate inside the car or van or entered their vehicle with dirty shoes on. Most of the Mauritians use public transportation like Bus and hence the vehicular density is less. There were few two wheelers and thankfully no three wheelers. The Buses are imported from India and resembled those in Tier 2 cities in India albeit much cleaner and well maintained. It seems the Government discourages people from buying cars and private vehicles by levying high custom duties. Most of the cars seen on Mauritius roads are imported from India. Being a Commonwealth county people drive on the left, like in India.  The roads are very narrow and mostly single lane except the Highways which have 3 lanes each. Despite narrow roads, I did not see any chaotic traffic scenario. The roads are beautiful with a good view of the countryside on either side.

Trou Au Biches

Next day we had no Tour planned and hence we preferred to enjoy the local place around the Resort called Trou aux Biches. The Resort also offered many free activities within the private beach just across the road. Trou aux Biches and the surrounding area of Mont Choisy is a rapidly growing tourist destination in Northwest Mauritius. We took a ride on the glass bottom boat to see the corals and different varieties of fishes. This also offered Snorkelling facility once we were some 100-200 yards away from the beach. The Resort also provided other facilities like the Pedal boat, Kayaking and Water Skiing activity. As the lagoon is sheltered by Casuarina trees, the prevailing winds makes this beache perfect for swimming and abundance of marine life makes this beach an excellent place for Snorkelling and diving. However I saw that most of the corals were dead and hardly saw live ones. 

Grand Basin (also known as Ganga Talao)

On Day 5 we were planned for the South Tour. This took us more commuting time as we were located at the extreme North. The tour operator stopped at couple of places where we could buy local souvenirs like T Shirts etc ; “miniature” Ship making factory and the Diamond store. After shopping we were taken to the Rochester Waterfalls on the Savanne River. This area is full of natural beauty and interesting formations. We also saw the village of Gris-Gris at the Southern tip of Mauritius. Gris-Gris is well known for its sea cliff and this is definitely a sight worth seeing. An important destination is the Grand Basin (also known as Ganga Talao). Grand Basin is a lake situated in a secluded mountain area in the district of Savanne, deep in the heart of Mauritius. It is about 1800 feet above sea level. Grand Basin with its Hindu temple is a holy lake for Mauritians of Hindu faith. The lake rests in the crater of an extinct volcano. It is said that the water inside the lake communicates with the waters of the holy Ganges in India. The Hindus of Mauritius declared the Grand Basin as a
Holy lake. The Hindu community performs a pilgrimage every year on the Maha Shivaratri day to honour Lord Shiva. Beside the lake there is a temple dedicated to Lord Shiva and other Gods including Hanuman, Lakshmi, and others. Close to the temple is the Shiva statue, which is 108 feet tall and is the highest known statue in Mauritius (and one of the 50 highest statues in the world). In fact Maha Shivratri is a major festival at Mauritius and a National Holiday. It was Diwali time now and the local Indians celebrate this festival with pomp and splendour. Some of the Hotel staff members were given leave to enjoy the festival. This is the time when people light up their house, burn crackers, wear new clothes and wish each other with sweets.

Seven coloured earths of Chamarel

The other main highlight is the Chamarel Falls and the seven coloured earths of Chamarel. The earths are particularly unusual created by volcanic rocks that cooled at different temperatures. Sometimes the colours play tricks on you and appear to be shadows. Since the earth was first exposed, rains had carved beautiful patterns into the hillside, creating an effect of earthen meringue. At first I thought I noticed shadows on the hills, creating the illusion of different colours, but soon I realized that the colours were real and the shadows were the illusion. This is worth seeing. The tourists can also enjoy watching the turtles, which are close to 300 years old lying close to this location.

Zebras at Casella Park

The last day was the 6th day effectively and I was eagerly looking forward to this day since it was the “icing on the cake” visit to Casella Park. It is primarily a bird park which is home to Zebras, Ostriches, Lions and Tigers. This magnificent bird park has hundreds of species for us to interact and admire. Special enclosures which hold Lions and Tigers are available for viewing pleasure. Casella Park is a true animal’s sanctuary. This Park is home to 150 species of birds and about 1500 birds from 5 different continents, including the lovely long necked Pink Pigeons which until recently were threatened with extinction. The pink birds can be seen alongside hundreds of other exotic species from Asia, Australia, Africa and the Americas. Our first encounter was with the lovely peacocks out to woo the peahens around them. We were lucky to spot and take snaps of the peacocks with their opened feathers. If you are feeling adventurous, you could also walk and pet the Lions. What fun is a vacation without a hint of competition? Also available here are quad bikes for racing pleasure and zip lining adventure sports.

Zip lining at Casella

We started our adventurous journey with the Zipline hiking trip located deep in a sugar cane plantation within the Casella Park. Supported by strong cables and safety harnesses we can zip high and fast over the rushing river below us, giving us glimpses of rapids and waterfalls through the lush foliage. Every zip-line allows us to discover a unique landscape. The smallest zip-line measures 60 metres while the longest takes us to 250 metres across from the departure point. Altitudes vary from 20 metres to 40 metres but all zip-lines offers different sensations depending on their positioning. This was a truly memorable event for me since I never had such a rush of adrenalin before. Perhaps only the bungee jumping or para trooping could come closer to this.

Ostrich mingling with Tourists

Later we went for Quad biking adventure through the Yemen natural reserve park. The park is located on the West Coast of Mauritius near the Casella Park and it hosts two of the longest rivers of Mauritius – Rivière Rempart and Tamarin River and is a haven for all sorts of native wildlife. The actual size of the natural reserve is of around 4500 hectares. 

Today, it is a private nature reserve where luxurious fauna and flora can be admired. A visit to the Yemen Reserve is like stepping into the middle of the African Savannah. More than a quad bike outing, it is a trip through a real safari. During the quad biking trip it is possible to see deer, zebras, ostriches, African antelopes, wild boars and many more; this a very big added bonus to this activity.  We can enjoy this amazing experience in Mauritius as an individual or together with a partner since we have a choice between single-seat quad for 1 person and double-seat quad. The quad biking trip allows one to discover the safari park in Mauritius whilst observing the wild animals in their habitat. The group is led by experienced guides. After a last checking of this four-wheel drive, it takes a few minutes to initiate the quad drive. The course takes us up the park heels, down some valley, across rivers and all while enjoying the great surrounding. We can touch the

Ostrich egg (as big as a Coconut)

Zebras and the Ostriches on the way and even a ride on the back of a turtle!! The 45 minutes drive was really exhilarating although it took us through the dusty dirt tracks. My white T Shirt and shoes were unrecognizable after this experience.  Since it was a Sunday we could not enjoy another popular activity here called “Walking with lions” which is an adventurous activity suggested to those who wish to experience the wild side. People can walk alongside the Lions, pet them and take them for a walk as you would do with pet dogs!! This activity takes place on the banks of a River in a separate area of the Safari park. Somehow I did not find it too exciting walking with domesticated Lions perhaps drugged or too old for comfort to look ferocious.

Casuarina Resort

On the day of departure, we had ample time till 5pm since the flight was only at 9:30pm. Since we had to check out from the Resort at 11am, we had 6 hours to spend. Hence we decided to visit Grand Baie which is just 6 kms from the Resort. Grand Baie is a seaside village and a large tourist beach and also offers a large choice of fashion and craft shops, hotels and restaurants. Grand Baie is also known for its night-life as it hosts most of the island’s best bars and night-clubs. However our hunt for Indian cuisine went in vain as most Indian Restaurants opened after 6pm. Somehow I am not too adventurous in trying out local cuisine but I still made an attempt to taste local Creole cuisine called Poulet and Poisson items (chicken and fish respectively) as Starters offered at our Resort. Shopping at Mauritius is not advisable unless you are looking for souvenirs or mementos to take back home. Most of the items are exorbitantly priced when compared to India. We returned back to the Resort to do a quick and final check on the baggage and then bid a teary farewell to the wonderful Resort and the friendly staff. Who would not like to come back again and be their Guest…

Useful Tips 

  • Change the currency at the Airport itself since you have better chance of getting better rates  here than in the City. One Mauritian Rupee is equivalent to Indian Rupees 2.50. Naturally the Mauritian rupee is very strong against the Indian currency. The cost of living is also very high at Mauritius. Carry Euros which are more widely accepted than US$ or 1000 rupee Indian notes to change them to Mauritian Rupee or MUR.
  • Air Mauritius operates once in a week from Chennai/Bangalore on Tuesday and hence you need to plan a trip for one week only unless you want to return via Mumbai or Delhi
  • It is advisable to book through a reputed travel agent since you get better deals through them. I booked through Hammock Holidays, Bangalore, which offered me a package at a cost I could not resist
  • As mentioned, the cost of living is very high at Mauritius. Please pack some Indian food items or Ready to eat food items in your check-in baggage. Water is very expensive at Mauritius. Please stock up at a Supermarket and try not to buy at the Resort you are staying. Luckily there was Popo’s Supermarket some 1 mile away from the Resort.
  • In the Resort, everything is expensive. For example a half litre bottle of water costs MUR 70 or INR 170. The same goes with beverages like beer, wine etc.. If you want to cut down these expenses, just walk down to any supermarket nearby and buy bottled water, Beer cans or junk food.
  • Most of the Resorts offer Half Board packages that include Breakfast and Dinner. However for lunch you need to pay. Even if you try small Restaurants the cost of food is very expensive.
  • Carry sun protect lotion to avoid burning of skin. Also carry Sun glasses, a hat and beach slippers. During quad biking ensure you do not wear white or your best dress.
  • For all kind of water sports activities, gents can wear shorts and T-shirts. Swim Suit is not a must for water sports activities.
  • Most of the Resorts do not allow Gents to wear shorts or sleeveless T Shirts for dinner buffet or at the Lobby.
  • Wifi and Internet access is also expensive at the Resort (MUR 100 for 30 mins) and it is not free anywhere
  • Some people buy local SIM for making calls back to India. I felt using the International roaming facility is as much expensive as this SIM option
  • Direct tipping is not encouraged and the staff too do not expect any tips for the service rendered. However every Resort has a Tip Box at the Reception. You can drop your tips here.
  • People are very warm and friendly and try to speak with them in Hindi to elicit better response. Most of the people are ethnic Indians and have maintained their cultural identity. They love everything Bollywood.

Photographs: 

The photos can be viewed by clicking on this Link

Acknowledgements:

  • Hammock Holidays (www.hammockholidays.com) based out of Bangalore,for organizing my Tour and ensuring a great package at reasonable cost
  • Seaside Holidays (http://www.seasideholidaysltd.com) for making sure all our tours were perfectly arranged and providing us with Guides and Drivers with a great sense of humour
  • Casuarina Resorts (www.hotel-casuarina.com) for making my stay at Mauritius so pleasant with your friendly staff and great Indian cuisine. Will visit you again soon….

Date Visited: 25th October 2011 to 1st November 2011

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