Best sustainable adventures beyond the beach in Mauritius
Tourism in Mauritius is an overwhelmingly commercial beast, but there are some incredible low-impact experiences to be had across the island. Mauritius Conscious – the country’s first dedicated sustainable travel agency – kindly hooked me up with some of the best options during my recent visit. In this follow-up post to my low-impact guide to Mauritius, here are five of my fave ways to spend a day beyond the island’s glorious beaches.
Eat your way around Port Louis
Most visitors to Mauritius skip the traffic-logged capital, but this is a mistake, for the compact, walkable CBD (which is crying out for one of its crumbling colonial buildings to be morphed into a small boutique hotel) is an incredibly vibrant mishmash of architecture, cultures and cuisines. You could easily spend a couple of days working your way around Port Louis’ many street food stalls and hole-in-the-wall eateries, but you’d be lucky to find the best spots without the help of My Moris (Moris is creole for Mauritius) which offers a culinary tour of Port Louis combining a great primer on local history and culture with some of the best street food you’ll ever taste, from roti chaud to Chinese sweets. My husband and I stayed on for a few hours to order more food from our favourite spots and explore the city’s emerging street art scene before catching the rickety local bus (another essential local experience) back to our Airbnb up north.
Be a conservationist for a day on Ile aux Aigrettes
Spending a day sunbathing, snorkelling and boozing on Ile aux Cerfs (Deer Island) off the east coast of the mainland is one of the most popular ways to spend a day in Mauritius. If you prefer the sound of a more active, sustainable island adventure, Mauritius Conscious can book you in for a ‘Conservationist for a Day’ experience on Ile aux Aigrettes (Egret Island). A five-minute boat ride from Mahebourg, near the island’s airport, Ile aux Aigrettes is arguably the country’s greatest conservation success story. Managed by the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation, the island reserve is the last home of the critically endangered olive white-eye songbird, and houses a breeding centre for Aldabra giant tortoises, which have been introduced by the Seychelles to take over the important ecological role played by the now-extinct Mascarene giant tortoises that once roamed the islands of Mauritius and Reunion. Feeding the baby tortoises, learning about the island’s endemic wildlife from resident biologists at the island’s research station, and digging up ebony saplings to be replanted on the mainland (where the hardwood is almost extinct) was loads of fun, and it felt great to support such a fantastic initiative.
Escape the crowds in the west coast wilderness areas
A visit Black River Gorges National Park, the largest protected area in Mauritius, factors into most visitors’ island itineraries, yet few make it beyond the uber-Instagramable Chamarel Waterfall and the Seven-Coloured Earths, an attractive geological formation showcasing different coloured sands. If you prefer to avoid the crowds (and entry fees), there are more than 50km of hiking trails to be explored in the national park. From the Black River park entrance, I spent a glorious three hours hiking the Mare aux Joncs waterfall trail. We passed only four other hikers in the way, and had the waterfall at the end all to ourselves. If I had more time up my sleeve I definitely would have tackled the Tamarin Falls hike (also known as the Seven Cascades), too.
If you’re not much of a hiker but love a jungle adventure, consider a SUP tour on Tamarin River (just ten minutes north of the national park) with Real Mauritius, which also offers SUP rentals from its store in Vanilla Village (they deliver), which sells some awesome upcycled accessories such as surfboard fins crafted from plastic waste and toiletries bags made from windsurf sails.
Visit a traditional Mauritian village
Despite the majority of the island’s coastline ringed by beach resorts, dozens of traditional fishing villages remain blissfully untouched by tourism. At first glance, most of these villages don’t appear to offer much (to tourists, at least). On a guided tour with My Moris, however, you will learn fascinating stories behind these villages – such as the mystery behind the naming of Poudre D’or (Gold Dust) – interact with traditional fisherman, drink vanilla tea with locals, and sample local snacks from no-name stalls you’d easily miss exploring on your own. It’s arguably the most ‘Mauritian’ experience you will have on the island.
Kayak – or bike – off the beaten track
Most watersports in Mauritius involve noisy boats and big crowds. For a more organic experience on the water, sign up for a paddle through the mangroves of ile d’Ambre (Amber Island), a tranquil islet off the quiet northeast coast of the mainland, followed by a picnic lunch and a swim at Ilot Bernache, a tiny isle off ile d’Ambre, with Yemaya Adventures. The Mauritius Conscious partner also offers a fantastic mountain biking adventure in Bras d’Eau National Park, which includes a visit to the island’s little-visited lava caves en route.
Thanks to Mauritius Conscious for supporting my visit to Mauritius.