At the heart of every travel junkie is a bucket list of destinations must-visit.
Having already received several recommendations from friends and high ratings in online reviews by other travellers, the mountainous island of Mauritius, famed for its beaches, lagoons and reefs, has always been at the top of my list.
So I thoroughly enjoyed my short but memorable trip to the island a fortnight ago.
After a four-hour flight from Nairobi, we arrived at the Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam International Airport shortly after 4pm to a warm welcome by water-cannon salute, and a performance by traditional dancers. They were welcoming the return of direct flights from Nairobi to the island after 39 years.
The clearance procedure at the airport was quick as there were few security procedures than at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, where we had to remove our shoes and pass through a full body scanner.
After a quick ribbon cutting ceremony officiated Mauritius Tourism Minister Joel Gentil, we went to our hotel, which was just a few kilometers from the airport.
We were staying at Shandrani Beachcomber Resort & Spa, a five star hotel surrounded by beautiful beaches.
The hotel had great food, strong WiFi and beautiful sunsets, but it was only until we went on our tour of the island the next morning that we discovered how truly magnificent Mauritius is.
Post-breakfast, we started by seeking blessings at the Sagar Shiv Mandir Hindu temple, believed to be the most sacred in Mauritius.
The temple stands on the bank of Ganga Talao (or Grand Bassin), a crater lake 550m above sea level in the mountainous southwest district of Savanne, which represents the Ganges river of India.
“Every February, 600,000 Mauritians walk here to join other Hindus from across the world for this very special event which happens here and in India,” Ajay, our tour guide, tells us.
While we were there, several cars and tourist vans stopped at the temple and people poured in; some to tour, and others to pray at the shrines by offering fruits or vegetables to the colourful statues.
Our next stop was the Chamarel waterfalls on the St Denis River, which plunges 83 metres down the cliff surrounded by thick vegetation to the pool at its base, creating an iconic sight, visible from both a lower and an upper viewpoint.
Tourists can watch the waterfalls from the upper deck of the Chamarel Seven Colored Earth reserve, or go down the trail to swim. We chose the former.
Surrounded by forest, the reserve is a relatively small area of sand dunes where the soils are spread out in seven distinct colours — red, brown, violet, green, blue, purple and yellow. The colours evolved through conversion of basaltic lava to clay minerals.
Not far from the reserve is the Alchimiste restaurant, where we enjoyed a lunch of seafood-heavy Mauritian cuisine.
We then visited the Rhumerie de Chamarel distillery where we had a step-by-step introduction to the rum production process, which involves distilling sugarcane juice as quickly as possible after it is crushed, and uses advanced fermentation techniques.
We tasted eight different types of rum.
Our tour of the “Paradise Island” could not end without experiencing the clear blue turquoise water and endless white beaches with coconut trees. We had a quick swim with the dolphins, cruised on jet skis and returned just in time to see the stunning Mauritian sunset.
Primary, secondary and tertiary education as well as medical services are free of charge for all 1.2 million Mauritian citizens.
“We try to make it the best place to live for our citizens, and a top tourism destination for travellers from all over the world,” said Seewooruthun Anandi Rye, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Tourism.