A Mauritius holiday is probably what many of us are dreaming of right now – winter sun, sandy beaches, rum cocktails and luxury hotels being the perfect antidote to lockdowns, Brexit and freezing temperatures. While travel out of the UK is restricted right now there’s no reason we can’t start planning our next holidays and this Indian Ocean island nation has to be high on the wish list.
An early lockdown and strict quarantine measures means Mauritius remained almost Covid-free throughout 2020 and once you get through the mandatory 14-days quarantine for all arrivals (see the end of this article for details), you’ll find an island open and ready to receive visitors. Hotels, bars, restaurants and many attractions are open and eager to welcome you after a year in which tourist traffic all but vanished, and a new free one-year Premium Visa means that the Government is keen to welcome longer-term visitors, whether digital nomads, remote workers, second homers or retirees.
My fortnight in Mauritius last month
I was lucky to spend last month in Mauritius due to work and after surviving quarantine (this was no hardship in a luxury hotel) I had a fortnight to explore the country, including a weekend trip to the neighbouring island of Rodrigues (which has never had any Covid at all). Here’s what I got up to in an amazing trip – and why I can’t wait to go back there again!
Those stunning beaches
Mauritius is surrounded by golden, sandy beaches from the north to the south and I never tired of soaking up the amazing views. When the sun got too hot (temperatures were in the high 20s/low 30s when I was there) a plunge in the ocean was the perfect way to cool off. All the beaches in Mauritius are public beaches and at the weekends families would gather all day to chat, eat food, play music and generally chill in the open air. Mauritians work hard during the week but the weekends are strictly family time.
Staying in some excellent hotels
Mauritius isn’t short of luxury hotels and many of them are located either in the north (near Grand Baie), east (near the pretty town of Trou d’Eau Douce) or on the west coast (around Le Morne or Flic en Flac) where you are assured of glorious sunsets. All the hotels I stayed into during my two weeks are listed in more detail in a separate post, but here’s a sneak preview of some of the highlights:
Street food tour in the capital, Port Louis…
Street food tours are a great way to experience not only the local food but to hear all about the history of a place, and so it proved with TasteBuddies.com food tour. My guide, Dada, was not only fun and friendly but full of information about Mauritius and Port Louis and was happy to go at my pace. The tour lasts for three hours with eight food stops and included some really tasty options, from banana cakes to roti, rougaille (fresh tomato with oil, salt and chili) and steamed boulettes dumplings and ended with fresh lychees in the main market at Port Louis. Definitely arrive hungry as there’s a lot to get through!
… and trying as much Mauritian food as possible
Lunch seems to be the biggest meal of the day in Mauritius and is taken very seriously. If you’re a visitor to the island then I’d recommend heading beyond the hotel restaurants and following the locals to their favourite spots. Eating local food in any nation is a treat and so it proved in Mauritius, with their love of fresh fish, epic noodle dishes and the fabulously bonkers-looking bol renverse (upside bowl). Just be prepared to need a post-lunch snooze…
Rum-tasting at the Chamarel distillery
It’s pretty hard to visit Mauritius without trying a rum cocktail or two (I was very taken with the Ti Punch cocktail which was a delicious and powerful mix of rum, sugar syrup and lemons or limes) and it was fascinating to go to the source and find out exactly rum is made, all the way from the sugar cane harvest to distillation. Best of all, there were eight rums to taste after the tour – and then an expertly-made pina colada.
Learning about sugar and the history of slavery on the island
It’s called L’Aventure du Sucre (The Sugar Adventure) but this fascinating museum near the north of the island is about so much more than sugar. Housed in a former sugar factory (complete with a 33 metre-high chimney stack), L’Aventure du Sucre reveals not only the sugar cane industry which was so crucial to the industrial growth of Mauritius but also its colonial history and the slave trade which grew alongside it. If you want to understand the history of Mauritius then this is a must-visit – and at the end you can enjoy a sugar and rum-tasting and some amazing chocolate cake at the on-site restaurant.
Visiting the Bois Cheri tea plantation
Mauritians are crazy about tea and Bois Cheri is the island’s largest tea producer. Even if you’re not a tea aficianado then you’ll find a tour around the working factory fascinating, from watching the bags full of freshly-picked tea arrive ready to be dried, chopped and crushed, to the museum showing the history of tea in Mauritius, to the beautiful tea planation where deer and monkeys freely wander around. Afterwards there’s a tea-tasting and you could visit the panoramic restaurant with great view of the island – or even stay overnight in one of Bois Cheri’s luxury Bubble Lodges.
Swimming with dolphins
Getting up at 5.30am is definitely worth it when it means you can enjoy some magical moments swimming with some very friendly wild dolphins. The west coast of Mauritius is well-known for being on the route of wild dolphins and when our little boat saw a school of several dozen playing in the water, it was incredibly exciting to don a snorkel mask and flippers and join in the fun. There’s no feeding or interaction and the boat kept its distance (although the dolphins did enjoy swimming up to us to say hello) and joining these wonderful creatures in the water will stay with me forever. Next time I need to bring a GoPro to record the incredible sight of them swimming towards me!
Hiking along the coast and through the mountains
Hiking is an extremely popular activity in Mauritius as, unlike its Indian Ocean island neighbour The Maldives, there are plenty of mountains and hills to get the heart rate going.
From the Black River Gorges national park to the vertiginous heights of Le Morne there are plenty of hiking trails so you can explore the island and discover its varied wildlife and indigenous plants. For the more active, there are more extreme options such as zip-lining, mountain biking, kite-surfing and even parasailing – perfect if you really want to get to know the island inside and out.
Horse-riding on the beach
One of my last activities was a horse ride along the beach and it seemed a fitting way to end an amazing fortnight on this incredible island. The Centre Equestre de Riambel has been operating for 20 years and has around a dozen horses including several ex-racehorses. It caters for all standards, from beginner to advanced, and offers everything from sunset rides and beach tours to swimming with your horse. I didn’t swim with mine but we went for a good old plodge in the lagoon and along the deserted Riambel beach for a very chilled and relaxing hour.
A weekend in the neighbouring island of Rodrigues
Just a 90-minute flight due east of Mauritius, the island of Rodrigues is just 42 square miles in size but is entirely surrounded by coral reefs – which cover an area more than twice that – which make it an ideal destination for diving and snorkelling or just soaking up the stunning scenery. It’s where Mauritians themselves come to relax and is known for its tranquillity, its lack of development and its beautiful wildlife as well as the beaches and islands which rival anything Mauritius has to offer. With few large hotels but a vast choice of excellent guesthouses (some of which are more like luxury boutique hotels) a trip to Rodrigues is a great way to break up a Mauritian holiday.
Being a digital nomad in Mauritius
If you want to relocate to Mauritius to work, retire or be a digital nomad (and let’s face it, why wouldn’t you?) then there’s a new, free, one-year Premium Visa just for you. Check out www.edbmauritius.org/premium-visa for all the requirements and you could be working on a beach, just like I was… what a glorious office!
Getting to Mauritius
Armed with a recent negative Covid test and proof of my return flight and quarantine accommodation, I caught an Emirates flight from London Heathrow to Mauritius, with a two-hour transfer at Dubai. Masks were worn throughout and there was antibac available everywhere. On arriving at Mauritius, I had an immediate Covid test at the airport and was then directed by a host of masked policemen to a minibus… where I sat for the next two and a half hours! That was possibly the most tedious part of the whole process, coming as it did after a long journey, but thankfully you could get out for fresh air and use the airport facilities. Finally, after the whole plane had been processed, we were off, three minibuses in convey – with police outriders stopped the traffic around us – for the hour-long journey across Mauritius to the Trou aux Biches Beachcomber hotel. There check-in was mercifully short and before long me and my luggage was deposited at the door of my hotel room – my home for the next two weeks.
What is quarantine like in Mauritius?
While no-one wants to spend 14 days stuck in one hotel room, there were definite advantages to a Mauritius quarantine compared to many I’ve heard or read about around the world – namely, staying in a luxury hotel for the duration. My room was one of the largest I stayed in during my entire time on the island, with a spacious bedroom (perfect for doing exercise videos), a large balcony for fresh air, big bathroom with bath and stand-alone shower, and, best of all for a WFH (working from hotel) situation, a desk and working area tucked between the bed and the hotel room door, which meant I could have a separate working environment for the two weeks. My commute was just a couple of metres, but psychologically I think it was great to have a separation between the two. I could also prop open my hotel room door (there were steps leading up to it from the outside pathway so I was nowhere near my nearest neighbours) and enjoy the sense of extra space and a through breeze.
Meals were delivered three times a day and I had a menu to choose from for each meal (I would get a phone call the day before to make my selection) and the only problem (if a nice problem to have) was the sheer quantity of food compared with how much exercise I was doing. I soon learned to just request fresh fruit for breakfast, (rather than fruit, and pastries, and cheese, and omelette, and eggs, and bacon…) and I requested no afternoon tea after turning down a vast selection of cakes every afternoon at 4pm. I was given a litre of water with every meal and alcoholic drinks could be ordered and paid for at the end of my stay.
I soon settled into a routine of yoga on the balcony every morning until the knock on the door to show that breakfast had arrived, and then I’d make coffee (having been warned in advance to bring my own cafeterie and real coffee) and eat on the balcony accompanied by a host of colourful and friendly little birds. I’d then work in my home office until lunchtime and then do the same for most of the afternoon, finishing at 5 when I’d fit in a workout with a fitness app or set up a walking route around the office with the hope of keeping my step count up as much as possible. I was temperature-tested daily and had two Covid tests, one on day 7 and one on day 14. With fresh air, work, exercise and Netflix I was able to almost enjoy it (being in the winter warmth rather than in rainy England helped) and the prospect of exploring Mauritius kept my spirits up. The toughest day was day 14 when I was woken up at 6.30am for the test and not set free until 5pm. I’ve never been so fidgety…or left a hotel room so quickly!
Restrictions in and out of the UK and Mauritius are subject to frequent changes to do check gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/mauritius for the latest rules.
Have you been to Mauritius and have any recommendations for my next trip? Send me your top tips in the comments or at [email protected] and safe travels! #traveltomorrow
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