The ultimate low-impact guide to exploring Mauritius
It’s best known for its turquoise seas and crystalline beaches, but Mauritius has so much more to offer travellers looking for an authentic, sustainable travel experience on the island. And I’m not just talking about waterfall lookouts. Whether you’re planning a honeymoon or you're on a backpacking budget, here’s how to craft the perfect trip that takes in the best of the Indian Ocean island’s incredible (and largely unknown) sustainable tourism experiences run by small local businesses.
Planning your trip
While Mauritius is a relatively small island, a hire car is essential for exploring its many attractions as catching local buses can be tricky and taxis are notoriously expensive. Grand Baie in the north is the closest thing Mauritius has to a tourist centre, but it's by no means 'the' place to stay. Rather, it's best to split your accommodations between several destinations you plan to visit to avoid long drives each day. Ten days is an optimum amount of time to explore the island, but you can pack a lot into a week if time or funds are tight.I explored the island with support from Mauritius Conscious, the only travel agency of its kind in the country specialising in individually tailored, self-guided itineraries including car hire, eco-friendly accommodation, and a range of activities – from conservation projects to food tours – run by small local businesses with big hearts. It’s not impossible to plan a trip like this yourself, but in my experience, it’s difficult to figure out where to stay, and seek out genuinely sustainable activity operators and accommodations, without this kind of local intel.
What to do
Read on for a region-by-region wrap-up of the country's best low-impact experiences. There's not a lot going on in the centre of the island, but it's well worth stopping by the Takamaka Boutique Winery in the central west, which makes plonk out of lychees!
Traditional and slow-paced, the south is the least developed area of the island for tourism, attracting fans of secluded beaches (many great for kitesurfing) and ramshackle Hindu-dominated villages. The airport is in the island’s southeast, close to the faded port town of Mahébourg, so if you’re self-driving this area will be your introduction to the island. There aren’t too many hotels or restaurants down this way, and the beaches can be a bit wild and windy, prompting many visitors (especially those with kids in tow) to explore the area on day trips instead.
Don’t miss: Rochester Falls, public beaches, Bois Cheri tea plantation (a lovely spot for a cuppa or a gourmet lunch), the Hindu temples around Grand-Bassin, St Aubin Rum Distillery (which also has a restaurant), cruising the coastal road.
Best avoided: La Vanille Nature Park offers wildlife ‘shows’, which animal welfare experts claim can be harmful for wildlife.
The Black River district on the island’s southwest coast is the best base for exploring Black River Gorges National Park, a wild expanse of forested mountains laced with more than 50km of hiking trails. Most tourists simply visit Chamarel Falls and the Seven Coloured Earths geological formation (Rs300 entry for both), but there is so much more to do here, with popular hikes including Piton de la Petite Rivière Noire (828m), the highest peak in Mauritius, and the multiples cascades of Tamarin Falls. Other ecotourism options include mountain biking and abseiling, while on the coast you can SUP, kitesurf, and even surf when the swell is up. There are a handful of good restaurants along the main road through Black River, and a big London way supermarket for self-catering.
Don’t miss: Hiking in Black River Gorges National Park, a guided SUP tour down Tamarin River, scuba diving off Tamarin, hanging out at the café in Vanilla Village.
Best avoided: Wild dolphin swimming tours (also offered in the north) can see up to 30 boats at a time chase dolphins around the bay. Not cool. Further north towards Port Louis, the Casela theme park offers highly unsustainable (and potentially dangerous) wildlife experiences such as walking with lions.
With its clear, calm lagoons sheltered by a coral reef barrier, the north is particularly appealing for families and scuba dives. As the most touristy area of the island housing the bulk of Mauritius’ holiday apartments and more affordable resorts, however, the beaches can get very busy, and aren’t as relaxing as those in other parts of the island. On the plus side, dining options are plentiful. Grand Baie is also the closest thing you'll find to a nightlife hub in Mauritius.
Don’t miss: Sampling local cuisine on a street food tour of Port Louis, relaxing at Trou aux Biches beach, scuba diving, picking up accessories made by local artisans at Imiloa on the main road between Mont Chosy Beach and Grand Baie, visiting Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam Botanical Garden, touring traditional fishing villages.
Best avoided: Mass-market island and watersport tours flogged in beachside kiosks.
The east’s long, white beaches framed by ancient black lava rocks are the stuff of honeymoon brochures. Indeed, big resorts dominate much of the coastline, but there are still a handful of beautiful, quiet beaches open to the public. The serpentine B28 coast road is a beautiful drive, taking you south towards traditional, slow-paced villages full of Hindu temples. Keep in mind that there aren’t loads of places to eat or cheap places to stay in this area – most visitors dine at their hotels.
Don’t miss: Taking a tour of lle aux Aigrettes (arguably the nation’s best conservation success story), relaxing on Palmar public beach, cruising the coastal road, learning to kitesurf or aquafoil (it's far less crowded here than in the southwest).
Best avoided: Ile aux Cerfs is a popular day trip spot, but I personally found it too crowded and commercial. Keep in mind that watersport boats leak oil into the ocean.
Aside from the activities mentioned above, there are many more incredible cultural experiences across the island. Mauritius Conscious can hook you up with everything from cooking classes to basket weaving classes, traditional village visits to an introduction to Sega Tipik, a vibrant, Unesco-listed performing art emblematic of the Creole community.
Where to eat
Flavoured by centuries of immigration, Mauritian cuisine is a delicious fusion of Indian, French, Creole, Cantonese (and more!) influences. Among my favourite finds across the island were Chez Rosy in Gris Gris on the south coast, Pasta Marin and Vanilla Café in Black River on the southwest coast, a no-name Chinese noodle and dumpling stall opposite Trou aux Biches beach on the northwest coast, the no-name roti stall pictured above, and the street food of Port Louis. Top dishes to try include fish vindaye (curry), stuffed roti, prawn rougaille (spicy Creole sauce), dholl puri (like Indian flatbred) and roti chaud (warm roti typically stuffed with curry).Several of Mauritius heritage plantation homesteads also house Mauritian fine-dining restaurants; try Le Demeure Saint Antoine in the north. Some big hotels also have excellent restaurants, but prepare to pay top dollar. For budget travellers, supermarkets are handy for self-catering – you can always find fresh baguettes and French cheese. Keep in mind that many shops and some restaurants close on Sundays and Mondays.
Where to stay
Mauritius’ big beachfront hotels are clustered in three main areas: the east, the southwest, and the northwest. If you have your heart set on staying in one, check its sustainability policy first (read this to learn more about why that matters).There are a handful of smaller, more sustainable options in these areas, but in my opinion the islands’ best accommodations tend to be tucked away from the beach in local villages. I stayed in two Mauritius Conscious partners – Vanilla House guesthouse in Black River and ultra eco-conscious glamping outfit Otentic River on the east coast – and absolutely loved both. I also stayed in Mauritius Conscious CEO Romina’s Airbnb in Trou aux Biches in the northeast, which was handy for sampling street food, arranging diving excursions, and catching the bus to Port Louis for a food tour.
Need to know
Daily budget: Mauritius isn’t cheap, but that’s not to say it’s incredibly expensive, either. Factor on around Rs3000 per night for a nice B&B, from Rs1300 per day for a hire car, around Rs100 for a street stall or supermarket lunch and Rs$300 for dinner at a cheap local restaurant. Local Phoenix beers cost Rs40 in supermarkets. A 10-day itinerary crafted by Mauritius Conscious including car hire, B&B accommodation and five activities costs around €1300 per person (They even throw in an Aethic reef-friendly sunscreen!)
Getting to and from the airport: For more than two people, a taxi can cost similar to an airport shuttle (around Rs2000 from the northern beaches). Picking up and dropping off your hire car at the airport is the easiest (and sometimes more affordable) option.
Language: Despite its 158 years of British rule, French remains the national language. However, English is widely spoken. Some locals only speak Hindu, and others only Creole, but everyone does their best to communicate.
Nightlife: Aside from the string of bars in Grand Baie, the island is pretty quiet after dinner.
Tipping: Tipping is discretionary in Mauritius, though it is polite to tip around 10% for excellent service.
Water: Tap water in Mauritius is technically safe to drink, but most locals prefer to drink filtered water, and avoid tap water at all costs if it has been raining heavily. I travel with a Grayl filtration bottle and a SteriPen to treat water wherever I go (check out the other sustainable travel essentials I never leave home without here).
What to wear: Like all beach destinations, it’s considerate to put a shirt on when you step off the beach. It’s also polite to cover your arms and legs when visiting Hindu temples.
When to go: High season runs from around mid-October to April, though the island can get incredibly hot and humid around Christmas. I visited in the September shoulder season, which was uncrowded and very pleasant temperature-wise, albeit a little windy in the southeast of the island.
Top tip: Most street food is served in polystyrene containers, so it’s ideal to have a reusable plate (along with your reusable carry bag) handy. Also, avoid driving through Port Louis unless you absolutely have to. The traffic can be hellish.
Thanks to Mauritius Conscious for supporting my visit to Mauritius.