Sooner or later, everyone desires to fly to a tropical island and spend some time laying on golden beaches and swimming in clear waters … Mauritius is that kind of dream destination: an escape from the bustle of modern life and from the greyness of winter. The interesting fact is that Mauritius offers much more than just sun & beaches and it’s well equipped to accommodate independent travellers as well. There’s no reason not to go on a self-made journey in this pearl of the Indian Ocean!
As I think back to the most memorable landscapes of Mauritius, my mind goes to the 3 days spent in Rivière Noire, Le Morne and Black River Gorges National Park. We are in the south-western part of the island, about an hour far from Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam international airport. Here your trip will be full of unforgettable places, all of them characterized by a common element: the presence of water.
Clear waters for swimming and diving
I’d like to mention 3 places with beautiful beaches & sea in the district of Rivière Noire:
- In Flic en Flac you can find a long stretch of sand that extends as far as the eye can see in front of a great blue sea. This place could be quite crowded near the village, but if you go further, you’ll find quieter areas and larger spaces.
- Between Black River and La Preneuse there is a stretch of sea with crystal clear waters. Look for La Tour Martello (a massive defensive tower built by the British in 1830 – today it’s a small museum): the beach nearby is a little bit wild, but the sea looks like a pool.
- In Le Morne peninsula there’s a lovely beach with turquoise waters lapping the white sand and many Casuarina trees that provide shade when it’s too hot.
Behind Le Morne beach a spectacular 550 meters-high rock rises. This place brings with it a sad story, actually. It is said that at the beginning of the 1800s some fugitive slaves took refuge on Le Morne wild promontory. When a group of soldiers arrived, they feared to be captured and preferred to die throwing themselves into the void. Today Le Morne is an important symbol for Mauritians people and has become a World Heritage Site.
The last piece of tropical forest
Only a small part of Mauritius is covered by forests and the landscape is mainly characterized by large sugar cane fields (sugar from Mauritius is sold almost everywhere in the world and is widely used in the production of local rum). The Black River Gorges National Park today is the most important protected area of Mauritius as it is its last endemic forest. An excursion in this area is highly recommended!
We plan a one-day panoramic trip. We leave from Grande Rivière Noire and follow the B9 to Case Noyale, then we turn left to Chamarel. The road becomes winding and we enter the Black River Gorges National Park. The first stop is at Gorges Viewpoint: the view is absolutely amazing! A succession of rolling hills goes towards the sea and hills are covered with lush vegetation.
The second stop is 4 km ahead at Alexandra Falls viewpoint. A tree-lined road leads to the viewpoint but once there we find a vegetation so high and thick that we barely see the fall (probably some maintenance was scheduled short time after our visit…). Then the plan is to reach Le Pétrin Information Center and take the Macchabée Loop, a 3-hour hike in the forest. While driving there, dark clouds appear in the sky. Bad sign. Unfortunately, when we get to Le Pétrin heavy rain is coming down. We wait for a while and look around: there seems to be no hikers today on the path and the rain doesn’t stop. After a while we decide to drop our plan and head to a new destination: let’s turn right and go to the Grand Bassin.
The Grand Bassin holy lake
The sacred site of Grand Bassin (known also with the name of Ganga Talao) is situated 2 km far from the B102 intersection. It’s an important pilgrimage destination for the citizens of Mauritius (who mainly have Indian origin and follow Hindu religion). Every year during the Maha Shivaratri celebrations, between February and March, half a million Mauritians comes here to honor the Lord Shiva.
The first thing we notice is the width of the road – a sort of six-lane highway – and the towering statue of Shiva (33 m high) which welcomes the visitors. Besides the lake a modern temple arises and here a small crowd of pilgrims prays, meditate, brings gifts to the Lords and lights incenses. Other colorful statues of Gods emerge from the lake’s waters. The rituals of the people around me spread a sense of peace and tranquility. I observe these religious gestures and (trying not to disturb) I take some pictures that I jealously bring home.
After leaving the Grand Bassin lake we take the B102 northwards. As we drive away from the mountains the rain decreases. It comes to my mind that the Tamarin Falls are not far, why not to go there? We follow the maps indications and in proximity of Glen Park we turn left in Henrietta Branch Rd. While approaching the destination we realize that the map is rough and there are no signs along the road.
We look around us, trying to understand where to go as a man appears. He’s tall, thin, not so young. He wears a long raincoat and a pair of shabby canvas shoes. He nods to us. At first, we ignore him, then we understand: he offers to bring us to the falls (he asks to be paid, of course). Usually I don’t like this kind of situations, but we are curious, and we decide to hire that man and follow him. We enter a narrow path in the forest and walk downhill, the trail becomes more and more difficult. Our “guide” is surprisingly agile on the muddy ground. I find it hard to keep up with him, he’s so fast with his smooth-soled canvas shoes. The soil is slippery, and I hope to get out of it with my ankles intact.
After around half an hour we reach the river: the Tamarin Falls are formed by a sequence of 7 jumps, what an incredible view! The path runs along the river and passes behind one of the waterfalls. At a certain point it becomes too difficult and it is quite impossible to follow it further. Adding the fact that it’s quite late, we decide to walk back. Once again, I limp behind our agile guide who perhaps is not so old. We exit the bush wet and sweaty, and with a lot of mud on our trousers, but with the satisfaction of having found the seven falls!
An easier excursion is the one to the 7 Coloured Earth Geopark which is ten minutes away from the village of Chamarel (admission is subject to a charge). From the ticket office an easy paved road leads to a panoramic viewpoint: here you can admire in the distance the beautiful Chamarel waterfall that makes a jump of 95 meters into the tropical forest.
Inside the park you’ll find the 7 Coloured Earth (or Terres de 7 Couleurs): a small area made of sand dunes surrounded by lush green vegetation. Here the sand gets the shades of red, brown, violet, green, blue, purple and yellow, all due to a geological oddity. For curious visitors this is another peculiar place to see before continuing the journey around the charming island of Mauritius!
- Many companies fly to Mauritius (we booked with Emirates).
- Local car rentals are cheaper (this is the one I chose). Keep in mind that driving is on the left.
- Hotels & accommodations are everywhere and for all budgets. I booked my hotels before leaving home, and in Rivière Noire we stayed at Marlin Creek Residence.
- Sports and excursions: you can easily ask for information at the reception of your hotel. If you go to the Tamarin Falls, I recommend to book an excursion (don’t improvise like we did).
- Culinary experiences are an essential part of a trip: Chamarel is well known for its many excellent restaurants!
- English and French are fluently spoken everywhere.
- While relaxing on the beaches you’ll probably be approached by some nice ladies who will try to sell you some souvenirs. Decline the offer if you’re not interested.