For South Africans, escaping winter isn’t very difficult thanks to the fact that we experience a relatively warm winter season compared to most countries.
While there are abundant events, activities and experiences in SA to help you forget about the winter chills, being located at the tip of Africa – and between two oceans – has many benefits for a seasonal getaway to somewhere a bit warmer.
One of the destinations that’s close enough to fly to in less than four hours, yet far enough for a unique experience in a totally different climate – while also being visa-free for South Africans – is exotic Mauritius.
SEE: Quick guide to Mauritius: Visa-free travel for South Africans
The laid-back vibes of the island, coupled with its beautiful beaches, culture and people are the drawcard for thousands of South Africans year after year. In fact, the island is so popular with South Africans - especially those seeking a romantic getaway - that in January 2018, South African Airways increased its seat capacity to Mauritius, which is the airline's most popular regional route.
With the distance from north to south being about 80km, and west to east approximately 60kms, if you plan your trip smartly, it’s possible to explore the whole island in a week.
ALSO SEE: Tourist arrivals to Mauritius tops 1.3million, surpassing its population size
The island boasts an amalgamation of French, Indian, Asian and African languages, cultures, food and traditions.
While northern Mauritius dominates with an influx of tourists to its pristine beaches and luxury resorts, the entire island has a piece of paradise to offer locals and visitors.
To get an authentic experience of Mauritian culture and heritage, the best place to start in Île Maurice - as the French call it – is in the south-east, around the areas of Blue Bay, Pointe d’Esny and Mahebourg.
In fact, the south-east is considered the “cradle of the nation” according to Compagnie de Beau Vallon - which has a number of projects underway to sustainably grow tourism in the region.
Here are 6 experiences to discover the authentic side to south-eastern Mauritius:
Delve deep into Mauritian culture in this small town while visiting fresh food markets, street food stalls, traditional clothing shops and the odd restaurant in between. While walking the narrow streets of this quaint old town you will also come across a number of places of worship, and historical and cultural sites.
Walk through Mahebourg and explore its markets. (Photo: Kavitha Pillay)
There’s nothing quite like shopping at local markets and malls when in a different country – it’s the best way to learn about its unique foods as well as get an idea of the local cultural clothing and fashion.
Grab a taxi or shuttle from your hotel and venture on a stroll through this bustling town during the day, where you can buy everything from vanilla pods and a variety of spices, to traditional Indian clothing and fabrics to make your own garments.
Traveller tip: The island is a producer of vanilla, which can be bought at a much cheaper price at the market than in SA, so be sure to bring home some pods and paste for your pantry.
Best of all is the fresh fruit and vegetables on sale, with vegetables that are bigger than usual, as well as number of produce that you cannot get in SA.
Buy local food and clothing at the markets. (Photo: Kavitha Pillay)
Go on a gastronomic, local food journey
Mauritian cuisine is a medley of Indian, Chinese, Creole and French-inspired flavours and techniques, with seafood dishes a must-try in any part of the island.
From fish curries cooked in banana leaves and seafood cocktails and gratins, to biscuits made from cassava roots and traditional Mauritian biscuits called napolitaines, there's no shortage of local delicacies to indulge in.
Fish curry prepared in a banana leaf must be on your Mauritian menu. (Photo: Kavitha Pillay)
Local favourite foods to try includes dhall puri, which is like a small roti stuffed with dhall (lentil paste) and served with a tomato-chilli sauce. This can be bought at the street food stalls and markets, and together with a variety of other street foods – such as Mauritian versions of chilli bites and vetkoeks – this makes an inexpensive and delicious meal for lunch on the go.
When it comes to beverages, you have try out bois cheri tea which is a Mauritian favourite (we recommend giving the vanilla flavour a try), as well as local rum and even litchi wine. Yes, wine made from litchi!
ALSO SEE: Mauritius: A Foodie's Paradise!
Tour a unique biscuit factory
The south-east of Mauritius is home to a family-owned biscuit factory that makes one-of-a-kind biscuits that are made nowhere else in the world.
Biscuiterie H Rault uses a 140-year-old traditional method to produce unique biscuits that use no flour or traditional biscuit ingredients. The main ingredient of these biscuits is cassava.
Using a number of sustainable methods, cassava (also known as tapioca flour) is ground into a powdered form and mixed with unique flavours such as cinnamon, sesame and star anise to make these delicious (and slightly healthier than most) biscuits. The biscuits are hand-packed and are not exported – so be sure to buy a few boxes to bring back home.
After going on the tour to find out more about the region and how the treats are made, you can also enjoy some of these biscuits with local bois cheri tea at the factory.
Fancy a cassava biscuit and local vanilla tea? (Photo: Kavitha Pillay)
Beach vibes and boat rides
While simply lying on the beach and soaking in the sunshine is a must-do activity when visiting a tropical island, when in Mauritius, one must dive into the pristine blue waters and explore its underwater natural heritage.
Take a boat ride from Pointe d’Esny’s Le Preskil Beach Resort to see the island from a different view. Your boat driver will take you to a spot that’s ideal for swimming and snorkelling, and there are a number of water sports to choose from too which can be booked ahead of your trip or through the resort you’re staying at.
Whether you are on the island or in a boat, the views are scenic and the vibes are chilled. (Photo: Kavitha Pillay)
Snorkel in the south-east’s Blu Bay, a marine protected bay boasting rich coral, including fuchsia mushroom coral, and abundant undersea life.
After water-based activities – which also include windsurfing, water skiing, kayaking and more – you can enjoy a secluded escape and stunning ocean views, while sipping on a glass of local brew at Astroea Beach Hotel.
Sip on a cold one while taking in the beach vibes. (Photo: Kavitha Pillay)
ALSO SEE: Fifty magical years of freedom in Mauritius
Tour a coral island
One of the unique experiences to have in south-east Mauritius is touring Ile aux Aigrettes, an island nature reserve that is uninhabited by humans.
Run by the World Wildlife Fund, this tiny coral island is only a short boat ride from Le Preskil Beach Resort. A guided tour, which takes less than two hours will allow visitors to see plants and animals that are unique to Mauritius - some of which are endangered, such as the pink pigeon.
Tour this coral island to see protected Mauritian wildlife in this unique ecosystem. (Photo: Kavitha Pillay)
Make the most of your resort
While there are many experiences to enjoy across south-east Mauritius, you’re on holiday after all, so be sure to make the most of your well-spent Rands by relaxing at the resort and making the most of what it offers right there.
MUST-SEE: Luxury escapes await in undiscovered south-east Mauritius
At Le Preskil Resort, you can walk straight from your veranda to the beach, enjoy the resort’s pools, a spa, live music and shows, catamaran cruises, and even go for Creole lessons. You may also enjoy local cuisine at your resort – many of which boast romantic secluded settings on the beachfront, overlooking the Indian ocean.
No holiday is complete without taking time to enjoy the comforts at your beach resort. (Photo: Kavitha Pillay)
WATCH: The top spots to add to your tropical Mauritius Escape
*Disclaimer: Traveller24 content producer, Kavitha Pillay, was hosted by Compagnie de Beau Vallon and Barnes International Realty.
Find Your Escape with our Traveller24 Weekly Newsletter – Subscribe here. Or download the News24 App here, to receive expertly curated travel wanderlust directly to your mobile.