TRAVEL: Mar 05, AU Edition

RPoutlook(no Palms).jpg
Mauritius is a relatively undiscovered jewel in the Indian Ocean – so get there before everyone else does
Forget the South Pacific or Caribbean: it’s the Indian Ocean that home to some of the world’s best island hotspots. And one of the greatest of them all is the Republic of Mauritius, a uniquely multicultural African island east of Madagascar. It is so beautiful that Mark Twain wrote upon arrival: “You gather the idea that Mauritius was made first and then heaven, and that heaven was copied after Mauritius.”
British, Indian and French influences make this destination a multicultural dream which sets Mauritius apart from other destinations – as does its bargain-basement vacation rates, which are more than fair for a true tropical paradise.
One heads to Mauritius to relax, enjoy the beach and all it has to offer, and direct flights from Perth and Sydney make getting there a relative breeze. Even better, travelers can get by on $10 to $20 a day for food, and $40 to $80 a day for lodging. When you consider what you get (the sun, beach, and aquatic activities) this really is a steal.
There are a wide variety of hotels and resorts to stay at, including those run by Beachcomber Hotels, providing a range of quality resort hotels with locations to match. Featuring superb accommodation, high standards of service, outstanding quality, plus a host of inclusions, spending time in any of these resorts is a pleasure. One can enjoy the thrill of water-skiing or windsurfing, work off some excess energy on the tennis or volleyball court, or marvel at the spectacular underwater world from a glass-bottom boat. And for a nominal fee golfers can enjoy a round on one of the most spectacular resort courses in the world, located at the Paradis resort.

To further tantalize you and provide a taste of all this country has to offer, I’ve prepared a packed three-day itinerary, for which all you need to bring is a bathing suit, suntan lotion and a relaxed attitude.
DAY 1: Grand Baie
At Mauritius’ most popular tourist center, you’ll be visually overloaded by the white sand and blue water. Some quick orientation: Grand Baie is about 18 kilometres north of Port Louis and easily accessible by the regular, albeit slow, Mauritian bus system.
In the late morning, after a breakfast of fresh juice and fruit, cruise the sheltered bay and you’ll feel the relaxed energy that makes a visit here a must. If you’ve done your research or picked up a brochure or two from your hotel’s lobby, you will be itching to do Grand Baie’s most renowned water-related activities.
Everything from yachting and snorkeling to water-skiing and simply swimming is available. The perfect weather (it is so regularly sunny, you can set your watch by it) allows for prime conditions for all these exci-ting opportunities, which come free of charge at
many resorts.
If you want a snapshot of the beautiful reefs without getting wet, take a ride on La Nessee, a semi-submersible boat that gets up close and personal with all forms of aquatic life. Other out-of-the-ordinary activities include an undersea walk, à la a Jules Verne novel. Wearing an astronaut-like helmet and lead boots, you can explore the Mauritian waters without having to swim up to the surface for air. Deep-sea fishing is also highly popular and available in the outlying areas of Grand Baie.
After outdoing yourself for a few hours enjoying one or more of these unique experiences, hit a restaurant to quell your hunger. Just outside of the beach area, you’ll see why Grand Baie is often called the Cote d’Azur of Mauritius – the shops and eateries reflect the trendy areas around them and are not tourist traps in any sense.
Dine at Sakura Restaurant for prime Japanese fare or Lotus of the Garden for original cuisine in an Indonesian setting. For true local Creole food, you’ll have to look at smaller, more intimate places around town.
Walk off the big meal by heading down Sunset Boulevard, a fashion center with unbeatable prices. After picking up new threads, head back to the restaurant area for some crafts and boutique shops which feature native art, Asian handicrafts and cheap jewelry. Drop off the loot back at your hotel (if you’re staying in Grand Baie) and then prepare for a night out on the town.
DAY 2: Ile aux Cerfs
For only 80 Mauritian rupees (just under $4) tourists and locals alike can experience a living, breathing paradise. This is how much the 20-minute ferry ride costs for you to travel from Pointe Maurice to Ile aux Cerfs, an islet on the east coast of Mauritius.
A disclaimer: if you are staying near Port Louis in the west, you’ll have to take a long bus ride to get here. Try and arrive as early in the morning as possible, since you need the whole day to enjoy the island.
Any effort to reach this slice of beauty is worth it. This will become evident once you set foot on the island’s sprawling beaches. From this vantage point, you can see the enticing lagoon waters, prime sunbathing spots and straw-roofed bars, restaurants and shops. Start out the day with what Mauritius is all about: relaxing on the beach. Pick an area (secluded spaces are available if you want to spend time looking) grab a book and just let time slip by.
The sun, sound of the surf and lazy atmosphere will make you forget about all your stress in an instant. Sleep has been known to set in for most of the sunbathers at Ile aux Cerfs.
When you do wake up from your slumber, sit back at Lor Brizan Bar with a traditional afternoon tea, or, if you want something that packs a little more punch, a Pina Colada. There is also a very convenient beach bar service as well.
Follow this up by taking a walk around the accessible section of the island’s coast (the whole walk takes 3 hours if you’re up to it) and the fact that there is heaven on earth will finally sink in – the view of the palm trees, ocean and sand is indescribable.
Grab an exotic sorbet from one of the beachside kiosks – but don’t savor it too long. The island’s last ferry ride out is at 5 p.m. and an overnight stay is prohibited.
DAY 3: Port Louis
Finish off your trip to tropical paradise with something a little different. Mauritius puts its history and many-layered culture out for all to see in the capital of Port Louis. A relatively large city, considering how small Mauritius is, a lot of interesting sight-seeing
opportunities await you here.
A good starting point is Place d’Armes in the oldest region of the city. Check out the interesting buildings here, as well as the St. James and St. Louis Cathedrals. The Port Louis Market is nearby and represents a good place to grab some lunch. It is a prime place to see Mauritians in their comfort zone, haggling for fruits, vegetables, fish, crafts, and spices.
The multiculturalism of the city is most obvious here, where people from all races and walks of life congregate daily. Remember that sellers can spot tourists a mile away and will not hesitate to quadruple prices for the souvenirs you want. To counteract this, make like locals and bargain like mad. You shouldn’t have trouble in English, since it is as widely spoken as Creole and French.
Return to Place d’Armes and find a bench or table to sit and munch at the exotic fruits bought back at the market. When that’s done, get more tastes of the varying cultures by visiting the Muslim quarter, centered around Muammar El Khadafi Square. Funny enough, the main mosque, Jummah, is not situated here. You’ll find it in the city’s bustling Chinatown area, another place worth taking a look at.
As evening comes along, you’ll find that most of the city closes down. The one shining star now is Le Caudan Waterfront, a bustling area with shops, restaurants and bars. If you want to drop more money on souvenirs, try Le Talipot or Macumba. As for dinner, ignore the fact that the area has become somewhat Americanized (there’s a Pizza Hut) and sit down at Grand Ocean City for Chinese or Kela Patta for Indian food. Though it rarely needs to prove itself, Mauritius is so much more than your typical island resort. You can be astounded by its beaches, beautiful people, relaxing opportunities, and diverse cultures all at once. Add to this string of pros the cheap cost of experiencing it all and there leaves little doubt that Mauritius is an ideal vacation spot. Take it all in, you won’t regret it. –
* Petty crime is an issue in Port Louis and the main tourists spots, so watch your wallet and valuables at all times.
* All travelers to Mauritius must already have a return ticket booked – proof of this is needed at the airport. The good news is, Australians don’t need a visa; just showing up with a passport lets you stay for thirty days.
* Don’t be limited only by the beaches mentioned here: Mauritius has many other great ones as well, including Belle Mare and Flic en Flacq.
* Tourism is increasing by 10% each year, so get on board before everyone else does!