Whilst the Shandrani Resort and Spa provides everything you need, Mauritius is a beautiful island so I would recommend tearing yourself away from the gorgeous beaches, pools, water sports and chocolate moose and taking in some of the sites. The hotel will prepare a wonderful little hamper for you so you can pause and picnic whenever you feel like it.
Having rented a car at the resort we set off in the morning heading for La Vanille Reserve, famous for its crocodiles and giant tortoises. The nature park is in the South of Mauritius, only a couple of hours drive from the hotel. The entire area is unspoilt and still has that feeling of old Mauritius, with many beautiful little villages dotted along the way. Each town has its own unique character, with multicoloured markets selling fruit, vegetables and gloriously loud saris. Everyone is dressed in a mix of jeans, saris and t-shirts, flashing colours everywhere, meandering along the roads past low buildings in various ramshackle states stacked together higgledy-piggledy. Temples appear frequently, spires rising from crenelated walls, highly decorated arches festooned with bright ribbons and statues depicting the various gods. Apart from the ubiquitous mobile phone shops, the towns look much as they did a hundred years ago, in contrast to the more modern feel in the north of the island.
Mauritius is covered in tropical rainforest, consisting mostly of Mauritius ebony, Ox tree, Bois de Latte, Manglier and palms. It is the scale that strikes you, there are tiny trees reminiscent of bonsai and infinitely tall looming trees, that look familiar at a distance until you approach and realise they tower above you, twisting and sinuous, with dramatic flowers of all shapes, sizes and hues. The rivers there are impressive too, we came across one that had carved its way along a vertiginous cliff held together only by the trees that clung and cascaded down its sides. The scenery has its own soundtrack, orchestrated by a constant litany of birds, appealing for attention with their twitters rising invisibly from the forest which accompany you as you explore the island.
La Vanilla Reserve is an unmissable experience. It is home to literally hundreds of giant tortoises and you can wander amongst them in the park. They are huge, weighing up to 265 kg and they wander freely around with slow, majestic grace. You can easily find yourself in the middle of twenty or more as they meander from pond to grasses, their heads darting swiftly for a leaf before their confreres beat them to it. Their eyes reflect a timeless wisdom as they potter about. The oldest there was born around 1910, but some of these sedate, armoured behemoths can live as much as three hundred years! These exceptional creatures are being carefully looked after with the aim of repopulating the island and recreating its flora and fauna heyday. The reserve is also home to large Nile crocodiles and caimans and feeding time is an eye opening experience, you really would not want to be caught napping by these antediluvian marvels. They also have geckos and even iguanas that scintillate with multiple jungle green hues and can grow as large as 2 metres plus a collection of tropical fish and fauna that is out of this world, with many species indigenous to the island.
Nearby to the park is the famous Charmarel waterfall, a chute that plunges over a verdant cliff down an eighty five metre drop and the Trou Au Cerfs, an extinct volcano dating back 700,000 years, both worth the small detour up in the hills, though the volcano is not easy to find so get directions before you go.
One place that should not be missed is the Ganga Taloa or Grand Bassin, a crater lake at eighteen hundred feet above sea level that is home to many of the Hindu gods. As you approach this sacred site, gigantic statues of Lord Shiva, Hanuman, Ganga and Ganesh appear on the horizon. These monuments tower up to thirty five metres high interspersed around the cool waters of the lake, encircled by the tropical rainforest. It is an awe inspiring vista and pilgrimage to many during the annual Maya Shivaratri celebrations.
The local inhabitants are grey temple monkeys reminiscent of the jungle book that will scamper around without fear, demanding nuts and other dietary tributes. Woe betide if you run out before all have had their fill. One tiny baby monkey was incandescent with rage at having missed out on his share of snacks and chastised my ten year old son until he apologised sufficiently to placate the hungry little chap. Monkeys aside, the sight of these vast ornate and colourful statues reflected on the waters of the lake is striking and it must be quite extraordinary during the religious festival when thousands flock here. Many of the smaller statues appear to float on the lake whilst incense and offerings are left at the small shrines that border the terrace by the waters.
Mauritius offers a wide selection of cultural riches, Beach resorts, fine cuisine, water sports, activities and luxury lifestyle. It is a fortunate fusion of aptly suited cultures who have picked the very best from each nation and created their very own island paradise. The international character that pervades the people and their lifestyle has created something unique and wonderful that appeals to a wide range of visitors, providing both the familiar and the exotic in equal measure. It is a place to discover paradise one step at a time, luxuriating in the warmth of the islanders, the passion for quality and the natural resources of this delightful island.