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Mauritius family holidays

SeascapeSeascape© 2011 Mauritius Tourism Promotion Authority (MTPA)
Fisherman's hutFisherman's hut© 2011 Mauritius Tourism Promotion Authority (MTPA)
Boy fishing Boy fishing © 2011 Mauritius Tourism Promotion Authority (MTPA)
Port Louis, MauritiusPort Louis, Mauritius© 2011 Mauritius Tourism Promotion Authority (MTPA)
Dolphins Dolphins © 2011 Mauritius Tourism Promotion Authority (MTPA)
Market Market © 2011 Mauritius Tourism Promotion Authority (MTPA)
WindsurfingWindsurfing© 2011 Mauritius Tourism Promotion Authority (MTPA)
Quad bikingQuad biking© 2011 Mauritius Tourism Promotion Authority (MTPA)
Beach sceneBeach scene© 2011 Mauritius Tourism Promotion Authority (MTPA)
Capital City Port Louis
Flying Time 12hrs
Carbon Footprint 11.38 CO2
Timezone GMT +4
Currency Mauritian Rupee

Today

Overview

This paradisiacal little volcanic island is the best destination for family holidays in the Indian Ocean, with long, uncrowded beaches of crystalline white sand, blood-warm seas, astonishing and rare wildlife, and a thrilling landscape of dramatic mountains, waterfalls, sugarcane fields, lagoons, reefs and islets, dotted by towns replete with fascinating colonial history – the island has been Dutch, French and English. There’s also an incredibly diverse ethnic mix here, with large populations from India, Madagascar, continental Africa, China and elsewhere.

Added to that, Mauritius has some incredibly child-friendly hotels with fantastic service and great facilities, and gorgeous, varied food, served at many excellent restaurants that warmly welcome kids as well as cheap street stalls. English is the official language, and though Mauritian Creole and French are more widely spoken, everyone who works in tourism speaks a good level of English.

Things to do with kids in Mauritius

Tear yourself away from the beaches – though they are some of the world’s best – to snorkel, sail or take a catamaran out to see and even swim with dolphins. Catamarans take you on full-day outings to nearby islets, most notably the Ile aux Cerfs off the east coast, where you can swim, snorkel, water-ski and take a pedalo ride in turquoise seas and enjoy a fish BBQ beneath the coconut palms.

Walk on the seabed in Captain Nemo's Undersea Walk in Grande Baie, an attraction that lets you get up-close-and-personal with fish and corals at a depth of 3m in a tropical lagoon, wearing a special diving helmet.

Go on a Blue Safari in one of two submarines that descend to a depth of about 30m off the island’s north coast, piloted by marine biologists who can tell you all about the underwater life you see. Continue the marine theme at the Mauritius Aquarium at Pointe aux Piments.

Explore the Domaine d’Anse Jonchée nature park, hidden away in the mountains, where luxuriant rainforest conceals stags, Javan deer, wild boar, monkeys, hares and windhover kestrels that you might encounter as you follow nature trails past indigenous trees and spice plants. The restaurant serves roasted wild boar, duck and deer curry amidst some of the island’s best views.

Explore the Black River Gorges National Park in the south-west, shortlisted for UNESCO World Heritage status, with information centres, picnic areas and 60km of trails. Endemic plants and animals here include the Mauritian flying fox, parakeet and cuckoo-shrike.

Alternatively, take an eco-tour of the Ile aux Aigrettes nature reserve with its endangered birds, animals and plants (it’s set in the coastal ebony forest that once housed the famously extinct dodo), run by the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation. You might see kestrels, pink pigeons, day geckos, giant Aldabra tortoises and rare orchids in full bloom.

Take in views of the whole island from the rim of Trou-aux-Cerfs, an extinct volcanic crater now filled with woods. Or venture to the sacred lake of Ganga Talao in the mountains, occupying another crater. This Hindu place of pilgrimage has temples to Lord Shiva and other gods, plus a huge statue of Shiva, on its banks. Water from the Ganges was added to the lake water, hence the name. You can feed giant eels that live in the lake and enjoy beautiful views.

Float around the beautiful southern part of Mauritius, admiring its waterfalls (with rockpools for swimming), mountains, gorges, tea and sugar plantations and gorgeous beaches. At Rivières des Anguilles, visit the Vanilla Crocodile & Tortoise Park, set in a tropical forest in a former vanilla-growing area, with not only Nile crocs and giant tortoises but also large Madagascan lizards, bats, wild pigs and an insectarium, plus a restaurant, Le Crocodile Affamé, where the unsentimental can dine on croc meat. Alternatively, head for the Casela Bird Park in the Rivière Noire district, with more than 140 bird species from all five continents, plus tigers, lemurs, fish and other animals, orchids and a playground.

Investigate the Domaine de Bel Air, a sugar estate with a little train ride through the tropical vegetation and vanilla plantations of Paradise Valley, complete with ostriches, turkeys and guinea fowl, Java deer and wild boar. Or discover the Domaine Les Pailles, a national park with an 18th-century ox-driven sugarmill that still produces tropical cane sugar and an 18th-century distillery where rum continues to be made, plus a mini-train, horse-and-carriage rides, a mask museum, a spice garden, 4x4 rides through tropical forest and the Moka mountains, mini-golf, a swimming pool, crafts huts and restaurants.

Find out more about the island’s sugar production at L'Aventure du Sucre, a museum in a former sugar factory, with two mascots (a mynah bird and a mongoose) encouraging kids to take an interest, and lots of modern interactive displays. August sees a sugarcane festival, while 2009 saw the venue’s first chocolate festival.

Visit a local market for a glimpse of local life and a chance to stock up on wonderful island produce – Flacq has the island’s largest and most colourful open-air market. Spend some time getting to know the island’s capital, Port-Louis, with markets galore, plus temples, a Chinatown complete with pagodas, and designer shopping. Near Port Louis, discover the tropical spices and exotic plants at the botanical Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam Botanical Garden, better known as a the Jardins de Pamplemousse, including giant waterlilies.

Indulge in some tacky thrills at the Waterpark & Leisure Village, on the east coast, with amusement rides and aquatic attactions, including a kids’ pool with slides. At the Parc Aventure Chamarel there’s a treetop acrobatics course and a tamer botanical walk along footbridges.

Most of the hotels on the island have super-friendly and helpful staff who will advise you on all of the below and give directions, and in many cases book excursions for you to enjoy on family holidays. Other activities worth asking about include trekking, mountain-biking, horse-riding, canyoning (abseiling under a waterfall), rock-climbing, sea-kayaking, para-sailing and helicopter flights over the island.

Eat

Mauritius’ ethnic mix means a wide choice of food is available to those on family holidays here, from French to Chinese and Indian. Local favourites are curries with rice, chapattis, puris or rotis (parathas), biryani and dal flavoured with cardamom, cloves and curry leaves, and Indian sweets such as gulab hamun and rasgulla. Street food can be delicious (and cheap) but spicy – gâteaux piments or ‘chili cakes’ (like Indian vadai), samosas and octopus curry in bread. Rougaille, a local version of French ragout, with tomato, onion and either corned beef or salted snoek fish, is an everyday dish.

Fish is good here, but be wary of coral or reef fish (sea bass, snapper, mullet, grouper), which may have fed on toxic algae on the reefs. Especially when combined with peanuts or alcohol, they can have a nasty effect.

Parents should sample the local cane rum, which goes well with both cola and with coconut water and lime, or the local Phoenix or Black Eagle beers. Children and pregnant women should avoid tapwater (bring anti-diarrhoea medication just in case).

When to go to Mauritius

The weather here is fabulous year-round, with little variation between winter and summer, although there’s a short wet season from January to March. Low season falls in our summertime, while Christmas and Easter are busiest and thus most expensive. The prime time for family holidays in Mauritius is April, with temperatures of about 30°C and the first deals appearing.

You’ll need to take precaution against mosquitos (repellent, nets and children’s bracelets available locally), who cause chikungunya fever (usually lasting about a week) but not malaria. And though they’re not a problem at big hotels, wear plastic shoes on other beaches in case of sea urchins.

For up-to-date advice on vaccinations and other travel health issues, see the National Travel Health Network and Centre website, nathnac.org.

How to get to Mauritius

Mauritius is 12hrs from the UK, with regular flights by Air Mauritius, British Airways and others. Outbound flights are overnight, inbound usually daytime, and with Mauritius 5hrs ahead in winter and 3hrs in summer, jetlag is unlikely.  

It’s best to hire a car or open-sided mini-moke for family holidays, although buses are cheap and plentiful.

Cost

Mauritius is not a cheap option for family holidays, though you may get a good deal outside Christmas and Easter. A week’s full board in a hotel, including flights and transfers, starts at around £1000 outside high season, or from £700 for pre-teens. A sample price on a good six-person villa at Easter is £2000/wk.

By Zannah Ingraham

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