Life's a beach in Mauritius

One family wasn't sure what to expect from a Mauritius resort holiday, but now they can’t wait to go back
By Nick Dall

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Before my wife and I had children, we scoffed at the idea of mundane Mauritius and chose instead to holiday in exotic, edgy places like Bolivia, Vietnam and Peru. When our eldest daughter turned two we finally came to our senses and realised that real holidays should be all about sun, sea, sand and sleep.
 
We booked an all-inclusive package to a resort that was both smallish and newish and started to stock up on swim nappies and sunblock. When the big day finally arrived we were in definite need of a holiday. Fortunately, the five-hour flight was a breeze as Madam spent most of her time entranced by the mermaid stickers in the Air Mauritius goodie bag. With that out of the way, we could finally get onto the serious business of relaxation.
 
The resort was everything we had hoped it would be. Lush gardens, a large peaceful pool and a distinct lack of loudspeakers, bingo halls and super-tubes. The best part was that our ground floor room actually opened directly onto the beach.
 
Decisions, decisions
Sometimes it can take a while to get into holiday mode, but the combo of short flight, lovely hotel and ample food and drink, meant that by the time we woke up the next morning we were undeniably on “island time”. Poached or fried? Pool or beach? Lager or pilsner? These were the kind of nerve-wracking decisions we were faced with on an almost hourly basis.
 
The beach was absolutely perfect for toddlers – waveless, warm and generally knee-deep – and we all spent a lot of time in the water. Whenever the sun got a bit much, we would order a fresh coconut and three straws – the ultimate hydration fluid and a lot more exciting to drink than watered down rooibos tea.
 
The restaurant was also great. The combination of buffet and made-to-order food remained interesting to us adults for (almost) the entire duration of our stay, and there was always something to tempt our picky two-year-old.
 
Spreading our wings
Blissful though our routine of sleeping, eating, swimming and sleeping was, we did eventually feel the need to explore the island a bit more. A trip on the hotel’s glass-bottomed boat was a real hit and I also went on a snorkelling excursion, which would have been really amazing with older children.
 
We were staying in a fairly remote corner of the island, and after looking into taxi prices we soon decided that the best way to see more of Mauritius would be to rent a car. After one very short phone call we’d arranged a car (with a baby-seat) for the following morning. Because Mauritius is such a small place, distances are short, maps are easy to read, and you won’t have to worry about running out of petrol. They also drive on the same side of the road as we do.
 
We had the car for a couple of days and were amazed by the diversity of the island. The coast road from Belle Mare to Grande Baie passed some amazing beaches and mangrove swamps, while the sugar cane fields and forests in the hilly centre of the island were also very picturesque. The tourist epicentre of Grand Baie was pleasant enough, but seeing a Spur and a Sharks Supporters Club definitely vindicated our decision not to stay there. We’re diehard Province fans…
 
The real highlight of our self-drive escapade was the Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam Botanical Gardens – or Pamplemousses as it’s known locally. The gardens are some of the best in the world, and their eye-catching centrepiece is the pond of giant lilies with leaves as big as family-sized pizzas. Botanists also get very excited about the gardens’ dazzling array of palms, but toddlers seem more partial to the giant Aldabra tortoises and rather forlorn-looking deer.
 
The little things
By the time our seventh night came we were very seriously considering extending our stay, so we must have had a good time. As is generally the case with children, it’s the most random things that have stuck in Madam’s head. To this day she’ll be able to tell you our hotel room number (1121) and she’ll also never forget which movie we watched on “outdoor cinema evening” (Despicable Me). She still refers to the travel pram we bought especially for the trip as “my Mauritius pram” and she often tells friends in the school playground “I’m just going to Ile Maurice now.”
 
When our flight home was delayed by four hours we both assumed the wheels would finally have to fall off. But Madam fell so in love with a plastic jungle gym in the departure lounge, that hours passed like minutes and soon enough we were being jumped on by two very excited dogs and ignored by one rather cheesed off cat.
 
Now that our second daughter is nearly two we can hear Mauritius calling our names again.
 
Travel tips
  • When choosing a resort, it makes sense to research the different regions of the island. We opted for the quieter eastern side, but there are several other options and all have their merits.
  • Once you’ve zeroed in on a region, you’ll likely be presented with a number of deals. We used Trip Advisor to separate the wheat from the chaff.
  • Renting a car was cheap, easy and highly recommended. Driving on the island wasn’t too hair-raising either.
  • The full board option (all meals, most drinks and free activities) was great as it eliminated nasty surprises at checkout.
  • Because our daughter was so young we didn’t make much use of the resort’s childcare centre, but it did seem like a great service with caring staff and loads of fun activities for all ages.
  • Packing isn’t rocket science, but we were really glad we took a stretchy swimming hat for our daughter. Beach shoes are also a good idea as some beaches can have quite a lot of coral.
  • South African passport holders don’t need a visa to enter Mauritius.
  • The only vaccines recommended are tetanus and Hepatitis A. But always speak to your healthcare practitioner first.

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