Note: The blog below follows project management phases. Oh! Did I tell you I am a certified Project Management Professional (PMP) too?….LOL
The wanderlust had kicked in as it was quite some time since the last family holiday and an international one was in TDs mind for quite a while now. I along with my wife discussed possible options and then finally zeroed on to Mauritius. The reasons were many – We wanted to visit an island with shallow beautiful waters, a safe place as we were planning the holiday with our parents and about 2 year old kid, shorter flight time and most importantly it fitted in our budget.
We started planning for this trip quite in advance about 5 months. First we adopted the common approach of contacting some of the travel agents online. The packages we were offered by various agents were not very exciting as almost all of them offered the traditional package consisting of flight, stay, some basic water sports, north and south island tours etc. The reviews we read online were not very great of these traditional packages. We decided to discuss the Mauritius travel plan with few of our friends who had visited Mauritius in the past. The advice we got was very valuable and changed the entire thought process of planning the holiday. We did away with the traditional travel packages and started doing our own research for stay options and planning the local sight-seeing.
Flights: While we were evaluating various options for stay, we booked our direct Air Mauritius to and fro flights from New Delhi to Mauritius as the rates were increasing day by day. The flights for 4 adults and one infant costed us 1.65 lakh Indian rupees (approximately 2,400 USD). We were clearly not looking at a resort or hotel stay as that would mean we would again be going the traditional way, we wanted independent and flexible stay options so that we could cook food as and when required and do local sight-seeing on our own comfort.
Stay: After carefully evaluating various options we decided to go ahead with a property in Pointe Aux Piments (North-west of Mauritius) called White Oaks Villas. The villa costed us 78k Indian rupees (approximately 1,150 USD) for a 7 day 6 night stay. It is a very beautiful and well maintained villa property right on the beach and we highly recommend staying here. There are 12 villas in total and we chose villa 9B as it was closest to the beach. The villa was fully furnished with all amenities like fully functional kitchen, drawing, dinning, and a veranda facing the beach on the ground floor. The two bedrooms were on the first floor giving the far reaching view of the beautiful turquoise waters. Please visit the link for more details on the property – White Oaks Villas.
Conveyance: TD was happy as the Indian driving license is accepted as a valid license in Mauritius, which meant TD could now drive on the Mauritian roads :). We booked a Hyundai i20 Asta for 7 days which was to be delivered to us on the airport on arrival. The booking was inclusive of insurance, taxes and GPS (GPS is highly recommended). Tip: Do request for a child seat separately if you are travelling with a child. It is provided free of cost by the car rental company. The car costed us 15.5k Indian rupees (approximately 230 USD) for 7 days.
Local sight-seeing/Water sports: For me the idea of holiday is to relax and rejuvenate too. Hence I always try to limit sight-seeing and keep sufficient time for relaxing in between. We had planned to do local sight-seeing on alternate days and kept a day in between to just relax and experience the serenity of the vast ocean.
Forex: Basis the estimation we had done (approximately an expense of 500 USD per head for the entire trip) we got the Indian rupees converted to USDs before leaving from India itself. Tip: Do not convert Indian rupees to Mauritian rupees, instead carry USDs and convert need basis after landing at Mauritius. You will get good conversion rates from the Bank counters right before the exit at the airport. I only got around 700 USDs converted initially after landing. And another 500 USDs later on. Remaining USDs I bought back and used in future. I did basic Math and figured out that you get better rates even if you convert Indian rupees to USDs and then to Mauritian rupees than converting Indian rupees to Mauritian rupees directly.
Calling card: We inquired about the calling cards available in India and found them expensive especially for data usage. I also inquired about the Matrix card available at the airport in India. The charges quoted were around 3k Indian rupees and we thought that it was high for 60 min local calling and 1 GB 3G data connection for a week. Tip: We purchased the EMTEL SIM from an authorized outlet after landing in Mauritius for 200 MUR (approximately 400 Indian rupees) which gave us 87 rupees of airtime and 800 MB 3G data. This was sufficient for us to manage local calling and 3G data requirements. Passport is sufficient to get the SIM card and the pre-activated SIM is issued instantly. You can get to know the latest plans from this link – Mauritius Emtel Plans
Shopping: The moment we had booked our stay, we started shopping and bought lot of stuff. Some very important stuff I recommend carrying with you is ready to eat food more particularly if you are not going to stay in a resort/hotel, clothing suitable for beach/sun bathing, high intensity anti-tan crème SPF50+ Sunscreen (we had bought Biotique 50+ SPF ultra-soothing face lotion and it worked well), Hats/caps, Sunglasses, mosquito repellent and few common ailment medicines.
Please refer the entire checklist here – Checklist
Execution (Also includes Monitoring and Control: p)
Day 1: After a wait of long 5 months, finally the most awaited day came. We got up at 3 am in the morning. The flight was at 8 am from Indira Gandhi International Airport, Delhi. We left home at 4:30 am to reach the airport well in time. After completing the check-in and immigration formalities we explored the Terminal and bought few toys to keep our 2 year old busy in the flight.
The boarding stated timely at 7:15 am. But unfortunately or fortunately the pilot found a snag in the electronic flight instrument system even before the plan could hit the runway. It took about an hour to fix the issue and the flight took off with an hours delay at 9 am. We were to fly for next 8 hours covering a distance of 6660 kms mostly flying over the vast Indian Ocean at an altitude of 35000 feet. Even at that altitude we could occasionally spot islands and large ships below in the ocean. We were served Indian vegetarian food as requested in the flight, there were not much options though in the menu. The flight was also a bit cramped as the leg space was too less and the seats were not spacious enough. Obviously I and my wife were finding it difficult to manage with an infant kid, the flight staff observed our inconvenience and thankfully shifted us to another row which had all 5 seats empty. The rest of the journey was comfortable and we happily spent the next few hours eating, drinking and exploring the in-flight entertainment system. The entertainment system had reasonable collection of Hindi and English shows and movies including some choice of music and animated movies for the kids. Soon we could see glimpses of the turquoise waters and beaches of the mountain island – Mauritius. The view of the entire landscape from the top was just breath-taking.
The flight landed at 3 pm Mauritius time. Immigration formalities were done quickly and the luggage arrived timely too. We picked up some alcohol from the duty free and exchanged currency from the Bank at the Airport exit itself. There are many bank counters here and they offer competitive rates along with receipt. It took me some time to locate the self-driven car I had booked online as I was expecting a person carrying a placard with my name on it and waiting outside the airport. There was nobody with a placard and I was clueless for some time. After asking few people and roaming around for 15-20 min I could locate the Taxi office. I did the formalities quickly and soon the keys of the car were handed over to me. The guy at the taxi office helped us set the destination on the GPS and there was TD, driving on the smooth and beautiful scenic Mauritian roads. The distance from the airport to our Villa in Pointe Aux Piments was 60 kms and it took us just an hours’ time to reach. We checked-in at 5:30 pm in our abode for next 7 days – White Oaks Villas.
The villa was nothing less than a 5 star facility, very neat and clean with all amenities. It had two floors. Kitchen, drawing, dining, a spacious veranda facing the beach on the ground floor and 2 large bedrooms on the first floor. The window of the bedrooms opened towards the beach offering a view of the vast blue and breezy Indian Ocean.
We went to Chez Popo supermarket which was around 2 kms from the Villa and bought few groceries like Milk, water, stuffed frozen parathas, salads etc. Tip: It is important to know the area of your stay well. Be aware of the nearest Super markets, Medical shops, Re-charge shops etc. Surprisingly I did not see the concept of MRP and the local vendors sell stuff as per their own rates for e.g. one of the local vendor was selling packaged water bottle for 35 MUR and the same was available at in the Super market for 15 MUR.
We spent rest of the day relaxing and getting accustomed to the weather. Sitting in the veranda and sipping tea watching the sunset and waves hitting the serene beach. We all were very tired and decided to have early dinner at about 8 pm and went to bed soon after.
Day 2: We got up early the next day at about 6 am and went for a stroll on the beach. The water was pretty cold. Water had receded and small black rocks were now visible. We could see small fishes and crabs and some sea plants between the rocks. One of the local guy warned us about stepping on the sea urchins which are often mistaken for small rocks. Sea urchin sting is very painful and requires medication for cure. After spending an hour we went back to our villa. We had breakfast and then around 10 am we went to La cuvette beach. This is a smaller beach compared to other beaches in Mauritius but is quite beautiful and apt for sun bathing and swimming.
While returning back we went to Phoenix commercial centre to buy a local SIM card. After quick paperwork we got a pre-activated SIM card with internet. It was about 1 pm by now and we decided to grab something for lunch. My mom was craving for some freshly cooked Indian food so we decided to go to Happy Rajah Indian restaurant which is on the 1st floor in the same complex. The food had typical Indian taste and was tasty too. On the way back to Villa we stopped in Grand Bai to book Glass-bottom boat coral and sunset tour for the evening. It costed us 2500 MUR.
In the evening around 5:45 pm we boarded the glass bottom boat from Grand Bai beach. It was basically a covered speed boat fitted with a thick large glass at the bottom. The glass was clear and the corals and under water sea life was clearly visible. We sailed for around 45 minutes to reach the Sunset point. During the journey we spotted good variety of fishes including Star fish, Balloon fish, Angels, Zebra fish, Trumpet fish and many varieties and different colors of corals. After watching the sunset we headed back to the beach. Tip: The breeze gets cooler after the sunset and it is advised to carry some warm clothes. We were back in the villa by 7:30 pm.
The people of Mauritius are amazing – different races from Africa, Europe and South-east Asia have come over here and have been living here together for many decades now. As a result the culture we experience here is a bizarre blend. People look mix of African and Indian. They wear Indian and European attire for e.g. women wear Sarees but speak fluent French and also know Hindi and English.
Day 3: I went to Triolet to get some Farata from the famous outlet. After the breakfast we went to Mont Choisy beach. This is a curved white sand beach surrounded by dense cover of Pine trees which makes the beach look even more beautiful. The beach is shallow and is apt for swimming and sun bathing too. I enjoyed swimming with a Trumpet fish which could every now and then come close to me and then use to whisk away.
After a refreshing time at the beach we decided to grab some local food for lunch. We went to the beach adjacent to our Villa where we bought a few Faratta’s and Daal Vada from a local vendor. Faratta is basically a rolled chapatti with stuffed vegetables and variety of chutani’s. The preparation was pretty tasty. After out mini picnic at the beach we reached back our villa around 4 pm. We spent rest of the day at the Villa chit-chatting, browsing thru the photographs clicked, discussing our trip so far and the plan for next day.
So far our stay was pretty comfortable and relaxing, thanks to the way Mauritius is. A very tourist friendly country, driving is easy with the help of GPS and well maintained roads and sign boards. Local citizens are also very helpful and speak multiple languages. Weather was also apt. Almost daily there was drizzle early in the morning and the temperature stayed around 27-28 degrees during the day time with pleasant evenings.
Day 4: The plan was to visit Casela Nature Park today. We had ready to eat Poha, Eggs, Toast and Snacks in the breakfast. It was time for some long drive now as the park was around 37 kms from the Villa. We left around 11 am and reached Casela at 12:30 pm. It took us sometime to reach the park as we had to deal with the dense traffic of the city of Port Louis. But the country side drive was beautiful amidst sea on one side and mountains on the other side.
The Casela nature park is spread of 14 hectares and requires an entire day to be spent here to cover all attractions. The entry fee charged was 775 MUR per person which included Safari and Drive thru. The park has many activities to be done like interactions with animals including walk with the Lions, Ziplines, Safari, Big Cats drive through, Quad biking, Karting, 4D Cinema, Animal feeding, Canyon swing, Segway, Horse and Camel ride etc. Tip: Plan the activities to be done basis your interest and make prior bookings over internet to cover them otherwise you may miss on them due to shortage of time and non-availability of the attractions as these are first come basis.
We explored the large walk through aviary as we entered the park. It had many species of Birds most of which we had not seen earlier.
After the aviary we went to one of the park restaurants and had sumptuous pizza for lunch. Post the lunch we went for Big cats drive through. It was one of the best experiences of watching the Big cats. The Tigers and Lions came quite close to the safari vehicle but remained calm.
By the time was had finished Big cats drive through it was already 4 pm. We managed to get on the last trip of the day of Safari. There were various species of animals roaming around freely – Rhinos, Giraffes, Zebras, Deers and the very friendly Ostriches. We came out of the Safari at around 5:30 pm and it was closing time for the Park. We reached back to the villa at around 7:30 pm.
Day 5: It was another pleasant day and visiting the Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam Botanical Garden was on our mind. It’s also known as Pamplemousses Botanical Garden. The garden is named after Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam who was the first prime minister of Mauritius. It was not there in our original plan. However our kid fell sick and we had to drop Ile Aux Cerf island tour. The care taker – Rekha had suggested us to visit the Botanical garden. Rekha had also got for us a local cuisine called dholl puri for Brunch. It is the most popular street food in Mauritius. It is prepared by stuffing flour dough with ground boiled channa dal and roasted cumin, flattened and cooked on a hot pan to make a soft, delicious yellow flat bread. Rekha gave us lot of insights on the Mauritian demographics. Her family also belonged to India. 2 generations back they had shifted from Bihar state of India to Mauritius. She was happy to tell us that she has been to India twice and that she and many like her have still stuck to their roots. They celebrate all Indian festivals with the same enthusiasm and worship Indian gods.
We went to the Aquarium on the way first. This is a small aquarium and we thought the fee of MUR 300 per person was bit on the higher side. However the aquarium is well maintained and showcases some very rare and colourful under sea life. It is not possible to witness these during scuba or snorkelling unless it is done in deep sea. Tip: So I suggest including the visit to aquarium in your plan. There is a large water tank just before the exit which houses bigger species like Octopus, Sharks, Turtles, Snakes and Eels. After spending an hour in the aquarium we headed for the Botanical garden.
The garden was around 13 kms and we reached the garden around 2 pm. The entrance fee charged was MUR 200 per adult. We also hired a guide in MUR 50 to take us around. The guide was quite knowledgeable and told us that the garden was actually a dense forest till few centuries back. In 17th century the garden came into existence and measured about 40 hectares. He told us that only 3% of the plants we see in Mauritius today are native and rest was bought by different people from across the globe when they migrated to Mauritius. He told us that the garden has around 1000 different species of plants including giant water lilies and about 80 different varieties of Palm trees. There was a small lake in the garden also an enclosure for giant ancient tortoises.
We spent about 3 hours in the garden strolling around with the guide trying to grasp the many information which the guide was pouring upon us. We headed back to the villa at about 6 pm and spent rest of the evening in the villa itself.
Day 6: I got up around 8 am and looked out of the bedrooms window. I spotted an elderly man fishing. He seemed a local to me and I was waiting for such an opportunity. I quickly went down to the beach and tried to explain him in English that if I can borrow his fishing rod to strike a pose for a photograph. To my surprise he responded in Hindi saying – “Aap India se aaye hai yahan” (English translation – You have come here from India) and gave me his fishing rod. My wife clicked few photographs of me posing and holding a fish in my hand which the old man had caught. The fish slipped from my hand but the 75 year old man was pretty quick to put his foot on the jumping fish and caught it back. Yes, the man was 75 years old, he told me later once I struck a long conversation with him. He told me that his forefather had migrated from Bengal (A state in India) and belonged to Kolkata. He had also visited Kolkata and Delhi few years back. The man told me that he does fishing as a hobby twice a week for self-consumption. He spoke Bhojpuri, Hindi, English and French too. He told me that he is Indian Hindu and his wife is a South African Muslim. He said he had 3 children and the eldest one was 52 years old. He said that he is very proud of his country, people are free to do and become whatever they want and there are no boundations from the society, it is quite open. His son’s read Tamil, Sanskrit and Urdu along with Hindi and English in the school. They had read Ramayana, Bhagvatgeeta as well as Kuraan. He told me the people of Mauritius are happy even if they earn small but they are contented with their life. I was glad that I met this man as I got a different perspective about Mauritius!
My kiddo was still sick and we did not want to strain her with traveling. So I and my wife decided to go for underwater walk post lunch. Tip: Underwater is highly recommended specially for people who don’t know swimming. We went to Grand Bai and visited a travel agent. He quoted us MUR 1200 per person. We negotiated for MUR 1000 per person excluding video and photographs. They took us to La Cuvette beach from where we boarded a speed boat. We were on the speed boat for next 20 min. We were transferred to another bigger boat which had a platform with stairs going down under the sea. The captain gave us quick instructions and told us to just enjoy. He did mention that there are smaller species of Sharks and thankfully bigger sharks don’t come due to the coral reefs and shallow water.
My wife went down first, a big 45 kg glass helmet was placed on her shoulders which had oxygen supply in it. Good thing is you don’t need to wear any uncomfortable mask and no special training is required. You can breathe normally inside the water. The ears get clogged and slightly pain due to the pressure difference underwater. The water was very cold but once you immerse yourself completely the body quickly adjusts itself. There were 3 more people part of the crew who went underwater with us, 1 guy was clicking photographs and shooting video and gave us some pieces of bread to feed the fishes. 2 guys were holding my and my wife’s hand to guide us and help us walk on the sea bed. It’s not so easy in the starting as they take you around 5 meters down and it becomes difficult to balance with the 45 kg helmet. I was holding my wife’s hand and holding the helmet with another hand.
The feeling was just out of the world, we were surrounded by different species of colorful ethereal corals and 100’s of fishes and we were feeding them walking on the white sand on the seabed with sunlight percolating through the ocean. Fishes use to come close to helmet to grab the bread and then turned away quickly. We felt like we were part of the vast ocean and a different and absolutely sublime world altogether. We spent 20 minutes down under. These were the best 20 minutes spent so far on this trip. In all the entire activity takes about 2 hours. We were back by 5 pm and then went for a stroll on the beach with my parents.
We decided to go out for Dinner and also visit one of the Casino’s. We grabbed a bite from McDonald’s right opposite to the Phoenix commercial center. It was time to try our luck in the TI Vegas casino. We played few Sic Bo games and the luck was on our side. After doubling our money we decided to go back as it was already 10 pm.
Day 7: This was the last day of our trip in Mauritius and we wanted to make most of it. We decided to visit Black river gorges national park. We checked out from our Villa at 10 am and headed towards south of Mauritius. We entered the national park around 12 pm. The national park is huge and there are many locations to be explored. Tip: Keep sufficient fuel in the reserve as there are no fuel pumps inside the park and you will have to all the way go back to fill the fuel. For people interested in cycling/hiking – There are many designated points and routes throughout the national park with clearly laid out maps and signs. We reached Chamarel at about 2 pm. We headed straight to Chamarel – The seven colored earth. We stopped in between to visit the Chamarel waterfall. We unanimously decided to skip visiting the rum factory.
So far the experience of driving in a National park was unique for TD. Through-out the route we were looking for vegetarian dining options however we could not locate one. Tip: Carry some snacks and water. We reached Chamarel at 2 pm. The place is unique as nowhere on earth you can witness similar natural phenomena. Here also there is an enclosure of ancient giant tortoises.
We spent about an hour here and then decided to leave for Alexandra fall viewpoint. We reached the view point and was bit disappointed as there was very little water in the fall but the scenic beauty of this place was wonderful. It was 4 pm by now. We decided to leave for Airport as we were supposed to reach Airport by 6 pm. On the way to the Airport we spent some time to visit the Lord Shiva statue in Ganga talao. We also drove through the Bois Cheri tea gardens on the way to Airport. The drive was very pleasing due to the impressive natural scenery of the Tea gardens.
We got the fuel tank filled just before the airport as we were supposed to handover the car back at the airport with full tank. We checked-in around 6:30 pm and completed the immigration formalities by 7 pm. We were all very hungry by now as we had skipped lunch and grabbed some Pizza and sandwiches at the airport lounge.
The flight took off on time at 9 pm. Without an iota of doubt, this was a great family holiday which we will remember for life as wonderful memories. The trip had concluded well!