Surrounded by the Indian Ocean on the southeast coast of Africa is Mauritius. Lagoons, coral reefs, and clean beaches are enough to attract the attention of many vacationers, but it’s the pockets of history and gifts of nature within the mountains that enthral the keen adventurer.
To get the groove of the island and its culture, it’s smart to visit the Blue Penny Museum first in the island’s capital of Port Louis. The star of this small museum is the Blue and Red Penny stamps, bought by a local bank for a whopping $2 million in 1993. To preserve the original stamps, the museum only turns on the stamps’ display light for about a minute every 10 to 15 minutes, so make sure that you are on time.
Mauritius is home to two UNESCO World Heritage Sites. On the Southwest of the island is the Le Morne Brabant, a basaltic monolith that served as a fortress for escaped slaves during the 19th century. The runaways lived in caves until slavery was abolished in 1835. Le Morne Brabant’s summit is 556 metres above sea level, you have to hike for about three to four hours before you reach it. It is a challenging ascent where you will see caves, many wooded areas, and dangerous cliffs, which made it a good stronghold back in the days.
Hindus, which make a big part of the island’s population, often make their pilgrimage to the Grand Bassin, a lake located in the mountains about 550 metres above sea level. It was initially the crater of a volcano whose eruption created the island. It is believed that its water is holy and came from the River Ganges in India, making the area a sacred place. A temple of Lord Shiva was erected for the Hindus to worship. Another climb that will pump your adrenaline is the Chamarel Waterfall, the island’s highest at 100 metres. The Chamarel Waterfall is also on route to the Seven Coloured Earths, a small range of sand dunes with different dazzling colours that seem to change throughout the day. Along the road to the Seven Coloured Earth, you’ll come across the Ebony Forest Chamarel, a vast forest reserve home to the last black ebony trees. It is a conservation project that aims to restore 50 hectares of the forest. Ebony trees used to grow in abundance in the island, but now there are only less than 2 percent of these native species remaining.
The Black River Gorges National Park was once a prime hunting area and is now the habitat of the Mauritius kestrel, the echo parakeet, and the pink pigeon, three species endemic to the island. Sightings of wild boar, monkeys, and deer running around are regular occurrence. Back in the capital is the Pamplemousses Botanical Garden famous for its long pond of humongous water lilies and lakes populated by different fish and giant turtles. You can also place your bets in the Champs de Mars Racecourse, the second oldest race track in the world, dating back to 1812. Constance Le Prince Maurice, set on the white sand beach of Post de Flacq, with its lush green tropical gardens and blue lagoon are the perfect base when exploring the island. ◼