Mauritius has long been considered one of the best destinations in the world for beach getaways; tropical climate, undisturbed coastline, calm and clear waters, and some thoroughly spoiling hotels. And while this is all true, there is so much to this Indian Ocean gem beyond the (admittedly spectacular) beach. Having been colonised at one time or another by the Arabs, Portuguese, Dutch, French and English (finally becoming independent in 1968), the mish-mash of cultures and peoples co-existing on the island makes for a fascinating mix, evident in everything from the infrastructure to the language (of which there are 33). Then there's its lush, verdant landscape, Asian-French fusion foodie scene and an alluring penchant for rum. Having recently returned from a research trip to Mauritius, here are my favourite things to do beyond the beach...
Who can forget Roger Moore's iconic boat chase in Live and Let Die, where he performs a rather spectacular leap over two cop cars and a curmudgeonly-looking policeman? Well, that was the scene I had in mind as I revved the engine on my Seakart speedboat (a cross between a go-kart and jet ski)... fortunately for everyone involved I didn't find a suitable looking piece of land to propel myself over but I did give it my best James Bond impression as I careered across the ocean in the shadow of Mount Le Morne on the south coast. An hour or two spent speeding and slalom-ing through the waves in a Seakart is an exercise in pure, unadulterated, high-octane fun.
If you can get past the tongue-twister title: the Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam Botanical Gardens in Pamplemousses then not only do you get an award but you will also enjoy a blissful couple of hours exploring some of the world's most weird and wonderful plants in the much-appreciated shadow of some equally weird and wonderful trees, from the Tahina Spectabilis, a vast palm tree that only flowers once in its lifetime and then dies (it was flowering while I was there) to the garden's iconic pond of giant waterlilies and a vast collection of herbs and spices. To make the most of these beautiful gardens, have a guide take you round who will be able to explain all about the array of flora and fauna (hint: that's where we come in).
Visit a Rum Distillery
We've all heard about the Caribbean's rum, but did you know that Mauritius produces, and consumes, a serious amount of it too? You will hardly make it through a meal (apart from maybe breakfast) without being offered a shot of rum. Mauritians particularly enjoy it infused with other flavours; cinnamon; coconut; lemon; coffee - you name it, chances are there's a rum for it. But don't fool yourself, it doesn't make it any weaker - a more accurate approximation would be to call it infused rocket fuel... It's only right, then, that you see what all the fuss is about by going to a rum distillery. We toured the Chamarel distillery which not only gives an insight into the manufacturing process, but to rum's cultural and historical significance on the island, having first been brought over by the Dutch in the late 1500s.
Climb Mount Le Morne
Mauritius's volcanic and verdant topography makes it the perfect destination for walkers and hikers; the north of the island is fairly built up and cosmopolitan, while the south is more rugged, wild and unspoilt. Which is exactly where you can find the iconic Mount le Morne. Get up early to avoid the heat and reach the top in time to see the sunrise. Don't say I didn't warn you, though, the climb is not for the fainthearted and you may find yourself clinging to a muddy slope wondering what on earth you've got yourself into... and then you reach the peak and see the view. Two words: worth it. You'll be greeted with spectacular views down the lush mountain towards a strip of white sand beach and out across crystal clear ocean. And the best part? Stay at the beautiful Lux* Le Morne and not only will you be provided with a delicious packed breakfast to see you through the climb, but there is no better place to recover from all that adventure than in the hotel's fabulous spa.
Take a day tour aboard a luxury catamaran and explore Mauritius from a different perspective. As you cruise around the coast you will pass local fishermen in their boats, glide by magnificent mangroves and find secret waterfalls. Your captain will also know all the best spots for snorkelling. Mauritius island is surrounded almost entirely by a coral reef, meaning the water between the reef and land is exceptionally calm and clear - ideal swimming and snorkelling conditions. Or if that sounds too energetic, simply turn up the music and feel the wind in your hair as you enjoy a beer or three looking out across the beautiful island. Heaven.