You may think that Mauritius is all about the beach, but on and under the water there’s everything from diving, snorkelling and kitesurfing to kayaking, deep-sea fishing and stand-up paddling. Away from the water’s edge there’s terrific hiking, excellent horse riding and world-class golfing to be enjoyed.

Catamarans & Yacht Cruises

A catamaran day trip is one of the most popular activities in Mauritius and the excursions on offer get better with each passing year. Hundreds of tourists each day board boats to cruise around the azure lagoon and wavy seas, or stop at offshore islets and shallow reefs. Many such excursions include barbecue lunches and/or time for snorkelling.

The most romantic option is the sunset cruise offered by most operators. If you're looking for something a bit more traditional, you'll find myriad fishers in Mahébourg and the surrounding beaches who have transformed their vessels into mini leisure crafts. Most operators include small buffet lunches, alcohol and snorkelling. Make sure to shop around before choosing your cruise – some catamarans are not licensed to land on any islands. Most cruises can be booked through tour agents and hotels. Check out www.catamarancruisesmauritius.com for more information.

Some of the more popular excursions:

  • Île aux Cerfs A stunning island off Trou d'Eau Douce on the east coast. Departures are also possible from Mahébourg and elsewhere. Île aux Cerfs is a good option for those who suffer from motion sickness as the boat never leaves the calm lagoon waters.
  • Îlot Gabriel and Île Plate Grand Baie is a major hub of cruise activity, with dozens of vessels heading for the wee islands in the north. These are probably our pick of the cruising options as the reefs are pristine and the beaches quiet, and competition keeps prices less inflated.
  • Île aux Bénitiers On the island's western side, this popular cruising option is a half- or full-day trip with the possibility of dolphin watching.

Deep-sea Fishing

The fisheries around Mauritius support large maritime predators such as marlin, wahoo and tuna, luring big-game anglers from around the world. Annual fishing competitions are held in Black River in November and February.

Game fishing has far less environmental impact than commercial fishing, but fish weights and the number of fish caught have shown a marked decline since game fishing's heyday in the 1970s. It's now rare to catch anything weighing more than 400kg. Practising 'tag and release' is an option for those who want the thrill without depriving the ocean of these magnificent creatures, but you'll need to make your intention clear to the boat operator when making the booking.

If you're not tagging and releasing, you get to take home a trophy such as the marlin's nose spike, or a couple of fillets, but the day's catch belongs to the operator, who sells it to be served up at local restaurants.

Most of the big hotels run boats, and there are several private operators based at Black River, Trou aux Biches and Grand Baie. Most outfits have a minimum hire time of around six hours, and each boat can normally take three anglers and three guests. Expect to pay upwards of Rs 20,000 per day per boat.

Diving

So you want variety? Abundant marine life, dramatic seascapes, atmospheric wrecks – Mauritius has it all, not to mention well-established, high-quality dive operators. Mauritius is almost entirely surrounded by a barrier reef, creating turquoise lagoons that provide great possibilities for snorkellers, swimmers and novice divers. And then there's the pièce de résistance: Rodrigues, which has virgin sites and outstanding fish life.

Dive Sites

The North

The north coast is a magnet for divers of all levels, and it's no wonder: there's a good combination of thrilling dives, wrecks, drop-offs and easy dives.

The islands off the coast (Île Plate, Coin de Mire) are the main highlights, with splendid sites and diverse marine life – not to mention a sense of wilderness. To the northwest, Trou aux Biches is the main jumping-off point for a variety of superb dives.

La Fosse aux Requins Iconic site famous for its congregations of blacktip reef sharks.

The Wall Dramatic underwater cliff.

Djabeda Atmospheric wreck dive.

Holt's Rock Domes and boulders in 25m of water.

Tombant de la Pointe aux Canonniers Has an exhilarating drop-off to about 60m.

Kingfish Drift diving down to 28m.

Waterlily & Emily Good wreck diving for beginners.

Stella Maru A not-to-be-missed wreck in 25m of water.

The West

The Flic en Flac area ranks among the best in Mauritius for diving. Conditions are optimal year-round – it's protected from the prevailing winds – and visibility is usually excellent.

Along the southwest coast, the area between Le Morne Peninsula and Black River (Rivière Noire) has a few diving hotspots, but they lack the wow factor, with average visibility and fairly dull topography.

Rempart Serpent Sinuous rock in 25m, attracting a huge number of fish.

La Cathédrale A scenic, memorable seascape.

Couline Bambou Less crowded than La Cathédrale; a kaleidoscope of changing scenery.

Manioc A deep, atmospheric dive beloved by seasoned divers.

Kei Sei 113 Good wreck diving for experienced divers.

Tug II Good wreck diving with brilliant fish life.

Passe St Jacques One of Mauritius' best drift-dive sites, with depths of 3m to 30m.

The Southeast

Off the southeast coast it's the dramatic underwater terrain that impresses more than anything, making for unique profiles. You'll be rewarded with a profusion of caves, tunnels and giant arches – it's very scenic – as well as large numbers of pelagics thrown in for good measure. The hitch? From June to August most sites are exposed to the prevailing winds – expect choppy seas in rough weather.

Colorado A 400m-long canyon pocked with chasms and crevices.

Roches Zozo Like Colorado, which it's close to, this is another must-dive site.

Grotte Langouste A cave brimming with lobsters.

Sirius Great for wreck buffs.

Blue Bay A safe, lovely spot to learn to dive, with a parade of reef fish to be observed.

The East

The east is not known for its diving, but there are two standout sites if you don't fancy a trip elsewhere on the island.

Belmar Pass Stunning seascapes and a good chance to see grey reef or bull sharks because of the strong currents.

Passe de Trou d'Eau Douce Worth visiting, though less spectacular than Belmar.

Rodrigues

This is the Indian Ocean at its best. A true gem, Rodrigues boasts numerous untouched sites for those willing to experience something different. There's a profusion of coral that you won't see anywhere else in Mauritius, and the density of fish life is astounding. The underwater scenery is another pull, with a smorgasbord of canyons, arches and caves.

La Passe St François A 1km-long channel down to 30m, offering the full gamut of reef species.

Le Canyon A truly atmospheric site: a canyon that runs under the reef.

La Basilique Tunnels, caves and some fabulous underwater topography.

Karlanne Dense marine life and healthy coral formations.

La Grande Passe Considered by many dive instructors to be among the best medium-depth reefs in the area.

Practicalities

Diving Conditions

Although Mauritius is diveable year-round, the most favourable periods are October to December, March and April (January and February are peak months for cyclone activity). During July and August, when the southeastern trade winds are at their strongest, the seas are too rough and murky for diving all along the south and east coasts and around Rodrigues. Visibility is heavily dependent on weather and thus varies a lot – from a low of 10m at certain sites at certain periods to 40m at others.

Current conditions vary greatly, from imperceptible to powerful. Water temperatures range from a low of 22°C in August to a high of 28°C between December and February.

Dive Operators

There are at least 40 professional dive centres in Mauritius. Most belong to the Mauritius Scuba Diving Association, which is affiliated with the Confédération Mondiale des Activités Subaquatiques (CMAS) and makes regular and rigorous checks. Most dive centres are also affiliated with one or more of the internationally recognised certifying agencies, usually Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) or CMAS.

Many dive centres in Mauritius are hotel-based, but all welcome walk-in clients. In general you can expect well-maintained equipment, good facilities and professional staff, but standards may vary from one centre to another, so it pays to shop around.

Golf

No island paradise would be complete without a handful of world-class golf courses, and Mauritius has some fine examples of the genre, many of which are situated on five-star resorts. Our favourite fairways:

Hiking

For those interested in more than the usual beach activities, Mauritius offers some attractive hikes, with the best selection in the west and the Central Plateau.

Hiking Operators

There are four main outdoor outfits on the island. Otherwise ask at your hotel for local hiking guides.

  • Yemaya Adventures Hikes through Black River Gorges National Park.
  • Yanature The only company that has permission to ascend Le Morne, but also goes elsewhere.
  • Vertical World Black River Gorges and elsewhere in the west.
  • Otélair Black River Gorges National Park.

Hiking: Signage

As a general rule, when hiking you should pay attention to 'Entrée Interdit' (Entry Prohibited) signs – they may mean you're entering a hunting reserve. 'Chemin Privée' (Private Road) signs are generally there for the benefit of motorists; most landowners won't object to the odd pedestrian. It's best to ask if you're unsure about where you should and shouldn't walk.

Resources

A fabulous resource for independent hikers, Fitsy (https://fitsy.com) is an outstanding website with detailed GPS and satellite imagery that maps out the course of each trail. We recommend, however, hiring a guide for any of the island's major hikes. Apart from making sure you stay on the right trail, a knowledgeable guide provides invaluable insight into the region's flora and fauna.

Where to Hike

Most trails are in the areas where the Central Plateau meets the coastal plains. Many of the domaines (estates) in the southeastern part of the island offer beautiful trails through the island's oldest forests.

Otherwise, our favourite hikes in Mauritius are the following:

Horseback Riding

Mauritius has some lovely rambling countryside that's perfect for riding excursions. There are heaps of equestrian outfits throughout the island – you'll find a couple of ranches in the west, an interesting farm in the south and several operators in the north. Our pick of the possibilities:

Mountain Biking

Yemaya Adventures is one of the few operators that offers mountain biking in Mauritius. It uses a number of trails, including in Bras d'Eau National Park in the northeast, Albion, Black River Gorges National Park and along the south coast cliffs. It can cater for beginners and more experienced riders, and can arrange bike rental.

Kitesurfing & Windsurfing

The kitesurfing and windsurfing movements have grown in leaps and bounds over the last decade – you'll find hundreds of wave hunters gathered along the southwest coast, off Le Morne, while Rodrigues is another spot increasingly beloved by kitesurfers in the know – the island hosts the Rodrigues International Kitesurfing Festival in late June or early July.

Our pick of the kitesurfing and windsurfing locations:

  • Le Morne South of the headland for experts, west at Kite Lagoon for beginners; good kitesurfing schools.
  • Rodrigues At least two good kitesurfing schools and its very own festival.
  • Cap Malheureux In the north; has a highly regarded kitesurfing school.

Snorkelling

If the idea of total immersion doesn't appeal to you, snorkelling is possible in many places. It's a great way to explore the underwater world with minimal equipment and without the costs associated with diving. Even the shallowest reefs are home to many colourful marine creatures. Rental gear is widely available from dive centres, boat operators and hotels.

Companies running trips on glass-bottomed boats will often include snorkelling in the deal.

Snorkelling Sites

Top snorkelling spots include the marine park at Blue Bay and along the west coast off Flic en Flac and Trou aux Biches, not forgetting the lagoon around Rodrigues.

Surfing

A small scene led by Australian and South African surfers built up in the 1970s around Tamarin on the west coast (the surf movie The Forgotten Island of Santosha was made here), but the wave crashed during the 1980s.

These days the scene around Tamarin comprises a small community of local and Réunionnais surfers. You can plug into what's happening and rent boards from one of the old-school establishments in Tamarin.

Le Morne is the pick of the surf spots these days, with the season beginning in July. One Eye, so named because (so the legend goes) surfers will see a small hole (or 'eye') appear in Le Morne's rock face when they are at the exact spot in the sea to catch the perfect wave, is considered to be the ultimate surfing spot in all of Mauritius.