An international family holiday was in TDs mind for quite a while. I and my wife discussed possible options and 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 my parents and our two year old kid, shorter flight time, and most importantly – fitting our budget.
We started planning for this trip quite in advance by about 5 months. First, the common approach of contacting few travel agents online was attempted. The packages offered didn’t excite as these routinely consisted of flight, stay, some basic water sports, north and south island tour etc. Their online reviews were also not very great. Next, we discussed the travel plan with few of our friends who visited Mauritius in the past. They informed that excellent fully furnished villas are available at very competitive rates and one can hire a vehicle and drive there since Indian driving license is valid in Mauritius. This advice was indeed invaluable. It changed the very thought process of our holiday plan. We entirely dropped the idea of taking traditional travel package and started doing our own research for stay, transport and sight-seeing.
Flights: While evaluating various options for stay, we booked Air Mauritius to and fro direct flights from New Delhi to Mauritius as the rates were shooting up day by day. The to and fro flights for 4 adults and one infant cost us 165k Indian rupees (approximately 2,400 USD).
Stay: We were clearly not looking for a resort or hotel as this would have meant going the traditional way. We wanted independent and flexible stay option so that we could also cook food as and when convenient and do local sight-seeing as per our own comfort. After carefully evaluating various options, we narrowed down on Pointe Aux Piments (North-west of Mauritius) called “White Oaks Villas” for 5 day 6 night stay at a total cost of 80k Indian rupee (approx. 1200 USD). It is a beautiful well maintained villa property right on the beach consisting of 12 villas. The caretakers are excellent. We highly recommend staying here. We chose villa no. 9B as its rear sit-out veranda was opening directly into expansive view of the sea beach. The villa is fully furnished with all amenities like functional kitchen, spacious drawing-cum-dinning hall, and two tastefully furnished bed rooms. The bedrooms are on the first floor with full width windows towards the beach embracing far reaching view of the beautiful turquoise-blue sea water. Please visit the link for more details on the property – White Oaks Villas.
Conveyance: TD was happy as the Indian driving license is valid in Mauritius. Hence, TD could 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 cost us 15.5k Indian rupees (approximately 230 USD) for 7 days (excluding fuel).
Forex: On the basis of our estimation (approximately 500 USD per head for the entire trip), we converted Indian rupees (INR) to USDs before leaving India. Tip: Do not directly convert Indian rupees to Mauritian rupees (MUR).Instead, carry USDs and convert need based at Mauritius. One gets better overall conversion rate even when first converting INR to USD and then exchange USD for MUR from the counters right before Mauritius checkout exit. I exchanged only 700 USDs after landing and another 500 USDs later (thus saving 800 USDs).
Calling card: The calling cards available in India are found expensive. The Matrix card at IGI airport (India) costs about 3k INR for 60 min local calling and 1 GB 3G data for a week. Tip: We purchased the EMTEL SIM from an authorized outlet in Mauritius for just 200 Mauritian rupees (approximately 400 Indian rupees). It gave us 87 rupees of airtime and 800 MB 3G data (almost 25% of cost compared to buying in India). 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
Local Sight-seeing/Water sports: For me, the idea of holiday is to relax as well as rejuvenate. Hence, I try to limit sight-seeing and keep sufficient time for relaxing. We planned local sight-seeing on alternate days keeping the day in between to simply relax and experience the serenity of the vast ocean.
Items to carry: The moment we booked our stay, we bought lot of items in India. Some important stuff I recommend carrying from India are: (i) ready to eat/cook food, more particularly if you are not going to stay in a resort/hotel. The rates of such items are nearly double in Mauritius. (ii) clothing suitable for beach/sun bathing (iii) high intensity anti-tan crème SPF 50+ 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
Onwards On Wings
Day 1: After a wait of five long months, finally, the most awaited day came. Our flight was at 8 am from Indira Gandhi International Airport, Delhi. 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 sailing below in the ocean. The aircraft was a bit cramped as the leg space was quite 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 noticed our inconvenience and thankfully, shifted us to another row with all five seats empty. The rest of the journey was comfortable. We happily spent the next few hours eating, drinking and exploring the in-flight entertainment system. The entertainment system had 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. We exchanged currency from one of the counters before exiting from the checkout area. Several exchange counters were available there offering competitive rates. It took me some time to locate the self-driven car I had booked online as I was expecting a person at the exit with a placard of my name. But, there was nobody and I was clueless for some time. After asking few people and roaming around for 15-20 minutes, 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. It took us just an hour 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 has two floors – kitchen, drawing, dining, a spacious veranda facing the beach on the ground floor and two spacious bedrooms on the first floor. The window of both the bedrooms opened towards the beach offering a stunning view of the vast blue and breezy Indian Ocean.
We went to Chez Popo supermarket which was about 2 km from the Villa and bought 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 e.g. one of the local vendor was selling packaged water bottle for 35 Mauritian rupees (MUR). The same was available in the Popo supermarket for 15 MUR. We spent rest of the day relaxing, sitting in the veranda sipping tea, watching the sunset and waves hitting the serene beach. We took early dinner and went to sleep.
Day 2: La cuvette beach, Phoenix Centre & Glass-bottom-boat coral tour
We got up early at about 6 am and went for a stroll on the beach. The water had receded and small black rocks were 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 villa, had breakfast and went to La cuvette beach at around 10 am. This is a small but beautiful beach and apt for sun bathing & swimming.
While returning back, we went to nearby Phoenix Centre to buy a local SIM card. After quick paperwork, we got a pre-activated SIM card with internet. It was about 1 pm and my mom was craving for some freshly cooked Indian food so we decided to go to Happy Rajah Indian restaurant on the 1st floor in the same complex. The food had typical Indian taste and was tasty too. On the way back, we stopped at Grand Bai to book Glass-bottom-boat coral & sunset tour for the evening. It cost us 2500 MUR.
At around 5:45 pm, we boarded the glass bottom boat from Grand Bai beach. It was a speed boat fitted with thick large glass at the bottom. The corals and underwater sea life was clearly visible through the glass. We sailed for around 1½ hour and spotted good many varieties of fishes including Star fish, Balloon fish, Angels, Zebra fish, Trumpet fish as well as many different colours 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.
Day 3: Mont Choisy beach
I went to a nearby place called Triolet to bring “Farattas” for breakfast. Faratta is basically a rolled chapatti with stuffed vegetables and variety of chuttneys. After breakfast, we went to Mont Choisy beach. This is a sparkling white-sand beach in the shape of an arc and surrounded by dense cover of Pine trees. This makes the beach look mesmerizingly beautiful – the best beach visited by us in our life. 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 whisk away.
After a refreshing time at the beach, we went to another beach adjacent to our villa where we again bought Faratta’s and Daal-Vada from a local vendor. The preparation was pretty tasty. After mini picnic at beach, we returned to villa and spent rest of the day chit-chatting, browsing images clicked by us, discussing the trip so far and plan for the next day.
So far, our stay was pretty comfortable and relaxing, thanks to the way Mauritius is – A very tourist friendly country. Almost daily, it drizzled early in the morning and temperature stayed around 27-28 deg. during the day with pleasant evenings. Driving was easy with the help of GPS, well maintained roads and sign boards. The people are amazing – different races from Africa, Europe and South-east Asia have converged and live 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 e.g. women wear “Saree”. Local citizens are very helpful and speak multiple languages i.e. fluent French and also Hindi as well as English.
Day 4: Casela Nature Park
The Casela Nature Park today is around 37 kms from the Villa. We prepared Poha, Eggs, Toast and snacks in the breakfast. We left around 11 am and reached Casela at 12:30 pm driving through the dense traffic of Port Louis city. But the country side drive was pleasurable amidst sea on one side and mountains on the other side. The Casela nature park is spread in 14 hectares and requires an entire day to cover all attractions. The entry fee was 775 MUR per person including Safari and Drive-thru. The park has many activities 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 as per your interest and make prior bookings over internet for them otherwise you may miss either due to shortage of time or non-availability due to “first come first serve policy”. 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-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 we finished Big Cats drive it was already 4 pm. We managed to get on the last trip of the day for Safari. There were various species of animals roaming around freely – Rhinos, Giraffes, Zebras, Deers and the very friendly Ostriches. We finished Safari at around 5:30 pm – the closing time for the Park. By far, It was the most enjoyable and fun-filled day of our trip.
Day 5: Aquarium & Botanical Garden
My daughter developed cold so we dropped Ile Aux Cerf island tour. We decided to visit Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam Botanical Garden, also known as Pamplemousses (Seewoosagur Ramgoolam was the first prime minister of Mauritius). This place was recommended by caretaker – Rekha. Rekha also fetched a local cuisine called dholl puri for our 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. Two generations back, they had shifted from Bihar state of India to Mauritius. She and many like her have still stuck to their roots. They celebrate all Indian festivals with great enthusiasm and worship Indian Gods. We first visited the Aquarium close to our villa. This is a small aquarium and we thought the fee of MUR 300 per person was a 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: 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 km away and we reached there at about 2 pm. The entrance fee charged was MUR 200 per adult. We 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 are bought by different people from across the globe when they migrated to Mauritius. The garden has around 1000 different species of plants including giant water lilies, as many as 80 different varieties of Palm trees and also an enclosure for giant ancient tortoises.
We spent about 3 hours in the garden strolling around with the guide. We returned back to the villa at about 6 pm and spent rest of the evening relaxing in the villa itself.
Day 6: Underwater Sea-walk & TI Vegas Casino
I got up at around 8 am and looked out of the bedroom window. I spotted an elderly man fishing in the sea. He seemed a local to me. I was waiting for such an opportunity. I quickly went down and tried to explain him in english that I wanted to borrow his fishing rod to strike a pose for photograph. To my surprise, he responded in Hindi – “Aap India se aaye hai yahan” (You have come here from India) and gave his fishing rod. My wife clicked photographs of me 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 to catch it back. Yes, the man was 75 years old as he told me later once I struck a long conversation with him. 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 could speak Bhojpuri, Hindi, English and French too. His wife is a South African Muslim with three children, eldest being 52 years old. He said that he is very proud of his country. It is quite open and people are free to become whatever they want do in life. There are no restrictions from the society. His sons 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 that the people of Mauritius are happy even if they earn less as they are contented with their life. I was glad that I met this man as I got a different perspective about Mauritius!
My daughter was still unwell so I and my wife decided to leave her with my parents and 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 who quoted MUR 1200 per person but finally agreed at MUR 1000 per person excluding video and photographs. We boarded a speed boat from La Cuvette beach and after 20 min., transferred to another bigger boat which had a platform with stairs going down under the sea. A big 45 kg glass helmet was placed on our shoulders having oxygen supply in it. Good thing is that 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. Though the water was very cold, the body quickly adjusted itself. One guy was clicking photographs and shooting video and gave us some pieces of bread to feed the fishes. Two guys were holding my and my wife’s hand to guide and help us walk on the sea bed. It’s not easy at the beginning as one has to balance the 45 kg helmet. I was holding my wife’s hand with one and helmet with another hand. The feeling was just out of the world. We were surrounded by different species of colorful ethereal corals and hundreds of fishes whom we were feeding while walking on the white seabed sand with sunlight percolating through the ocean. We felt like we were part of the vast ocean in a different and absolutely sublime world. We spent 20 minutes down under. These were the best 20 minutes spent so far on this trip.
In the evening, we visited TI Vegas Casino at Phoenix Center and tried our luck. We played few Sic Bo games. We played small stakes and luck was on our side. After doubling our money, returned to villa back as it was already 10 pm.
Day 7: Black river gorges National Park, Seven Coloured Earth & Alexandra Waterfall
We checked out from villa at 10 am and headed towards south of Mauritius to enter national park at about 12 pm. The national park is huge with 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 go back all the way to fill 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 and headed straight to the seven coloured earth stopping in between to view Chamarel waterfall. The place is unique as nowhere on earth, one can witness similar natural phenomena.
So far, the experience of driving in a National park was unique for TD. Tip: Eateries are expensive inside. Carry snacks and water. We spent about an hour here and then left for Alexandra Fall viewpoint.
There was very little water in the fall but the scenic beauty of the place was charming. It was 4 pm by then so we left for airport. Enroute, we stopped at the Lord Shiva statue in Ganga talao. The Bois Cheri tea garden is also on the way to airport. The drive thru the tea gardens was very pleasing due to the impressive natural scenery.
We got the fuel tank filled just before airport as we were to handover the car back with full tank. We checked-in at around 6:30 pm and after completing immigration formalities, grabbed pizzas 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 with pleasant and wonderful experiences. The trip had concluded well. We will cherish its sweet memories for our entire life.