Mauritius sometimes feels like the forgotten island of the Indian ocean, and I quite like it that way.
It’s not yet too touristy and you can easily still find untouched beaches along the vast coastline. Unlike the Maldives, Mauritius is suited to those who want more than just watersports and lazy days under a palm tree.
Yes, it’s got some of the most remarkable wildlife (more on that later), but it’s home to not one, but five majestic mountain ranges with Piton de la Petite Rivière Noire exceeding 800m.
There’s a busy working harbour, multiple unique areas across the island that all have something different to offer, and endless hiking trails. It’s also only a short flight from Joberg, so makes the perfect ending to a Kruger based safari.
We chose to spend two weeks exploring the islands back in November (their most reliable month in terms of the weather), starting on the north-west, then heading over to the One & Only Saint Geran in the east.
if you’re unsure on where to stay, go west for your base to the mountains, trips to Le Mourne and access to Port Louis, then drive approximately 90 minutes to the north-east for pure relaxation and pampering with the island’s best hotels.
After a few relaxing days on the beach, it was time to head inland to explore the mountains.
You’ll know by now that I do my absolute best to avoid tourist traps and try to find the hidden gems. Thankfully on this occasion, the research paid off.
I managed to hear about a lesser known hiking trail that promised incredible views and waterfalls, but also warned of the need for proper scrambling and possible encounters with the resident monkeys. We jumped into a taxi at 7am and arrived at the base of Cascade 500 about 45 minutes later.
There are four different routes you can take, and Clem was somewhat alarmed when I confirmed that our trail didn’t even have a sign. Add that there wasn’t a single other person in site at the base ‘carpark’ (code for a bit of cleared field), and you can’t help but feel a little unsure.
However, multiple hiking websites said that this was ‘the’ hike to do if you wanted to avoid the crowds…nothing was going to deter me.
It took us around two hours across very varied terrain and multiple stream crossings to get the the top of this mega waterfall. I’ll let the photos do the talking, but it was without a doubt worth it.
On a sidenote, we also visited the well-known Chamarel falls after receiving several recommendations. While beautiful, it was not in the same league as Alexandra Falls & the Cascade 500 trail. Grappling for a spot on the viewpoint with a very tame walk couldn’t possibly compare to having a whole mountain to yourself.
Earlier I mentioned the unrivalled wildlife of Mauritius, and I wasn’t joking. As divers, we are incredibly conscious about eco-tourism and will only ever support guides and business who put the welfare of the animals first.
After several google searches, delves into the PADI website and hours of scouring on Instagram, we stumbled across Vitamin Sea in Tamarind Bay. I honestly cannot speak more highly of this company. It’s not cheap at £750 for the day, but that ensures your own private boat with a free-diving guide.
A 4.30am start meant we were out at sea just after 5 o’clock to witness the sunrise. With the engines on full throttle, we pelted past Le Mourne (tourist hell), around the southern tip of the island to open water. It only took a matter of minutes to start seeing the fins of both bottlenose and spinner dolphins…and it was just us! Total paradise.
After confirming we were strong swimmers with diving experience, and thus a good knowledge of sharks and dolphins, we spent the next two hours free diving with these magical mammals. The spinners are quick and tend to stay deeper, but the bottlenose’s (think Flipper) are incredibly curious.
They would stay close to us as we cut through the waves until we tired out and returned for a hot coffee on the boat. This beautiful routine was then repeated until lunch approached.
We were due to then head further out to sea to swim with sperm whales (Mauritius is one of three places in the world this is possible).
However, on the way, a humpback and her calf popped up beside the boat…it was a once in a lifetime opportunity. We slid into the water and spent time with both mum and calf at our side, a true privilege.
I must stress that it is illegal to swim with whales without a licence – the fines are hefty and rightly so. Never opt for a cheap tour to see these beautiful animals. It’s harmful and can be incredibly dangerous.
In terms of hotels in Mauritius, there’s really no competition. The One & Only Saint Geran is iconic and as soon as you arrive, it’s easy to see why.
The One & Only was the first luxurious hotel on the island, built in 1975, and it underwent a multimillion-dollar transformation in 2017. It occupies its own private peninsula where you can do as much or as little as you like.
Picture-perfect white sand lines the ocean-side, while the lagoon side plays home to the island’s best watersports. You can never, ever, get bored at Saint Geran!
From complimentary snorkelling trips to sushi making, live music to water skiing, paddle to yoga by some of the most well-respected teachers, the One & Only is a true sanctuary.
Need to pop to the other side of the island in a hurry…absolutely, there’s a helipad a few steps away. A private boat to an unknown dive site? They will make it happen with a flick of a magic wand.
Whatever you could possibly desire, it’s available and the staff will only be more than happy to help turn your dreams into a reality.
We were also unable to find any other first-timers during our trip which is always a good sign.
I haven’t even got onto the food yet…I have simply never witnessed the quality and variety at any other beach hotel. Michelin star french food – check. Fancy award winning sushi overlooking the lake and sunset – check. Fresh lobster or beef wellington? It’s available daily in the buffet (of all places).
The Saint Geran is the ‘dame’ of Mauritian hotels and I cannot speak more highly of it. I quite literally cannot fault the experience from start to finish.
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