How Mauritius is bouncing back

The warm glow of an African sunset sweeps the skies of Indian Ocean gem Mauritius.

Sitting on the beach at the Sands Suites Resort on the island’s west coast, it is easy to get distracted by the dipping sun’s reflection off the clear, calm ocean water.

A beautiful backdrop of mountains, accompanied by the soothing sounds of birdsong and gentle waves help any traveller forget about two years of relentless restrictions on our freedoms.

But the island republic takes the pandemic as seriously as any other country, with government-enforced face masks being worn indoors and outdoors by the vast majority of locals – and indeed, tourists.

When I arrive into the country, a traditional welcoming Sega dance performance immediately uplifts my spirits. Bright blue costumes and lively chants instantly quash any hesitancy I might have had about visiting the island during a pandemic.

Mauritius had been eagerly anticipating the reopening of its borders to travellers on 1 October, with many islanders telling me that tourism was their only form of income before the pandemic kicked in.

Not too long ago, the thought of travelling halfway around the world to catch a glimpse of some winter sun seemed like a far-fetched dream.

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But the collective goal of Mauritian hoteliers is that tourists will feel safe at their sites and that’s certainly the case at Preskil Island Resort in the southeast of the island.

I’m greeted by white-suited hotel staff in surgical face masks, who immediately take my temperature and whisk me off into a private medical clinic for a COVID test, which the government has made mandatory for days one and five of a tourist’s trip.

With the health admin taken care of, I can take the winding path towards my room, with birdsong greeting my every step and the endless wall-climbing plants instantly confirming my arrival at a tropical paradise.

My arrival at Preskil is a small taste of what’s to come as almost every hotel, market and shopping centre hints at constant temperature-gun checks becoming the new normal.

But the beaming smile of the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation tour guide, Rose Marie Pierre, tells us all we need to know about how happy locals are to see tourists return to popular sites such as southeast coast wildlife haven Ile aux Aigrettes.

“COVID was a big problem,” she says. “We were scared to lose our jobs, lose our income. But we are so happy that people can come here again.”

The breath-taking sights of a critically endangered songbird, the Mauritian fody, and a 110-year-old Aldabra giant tortoise on Ile aux Aigrettes lure me in to the magical world of incredible wildlife scattered all over the country.

There’s plenty to see underwater, too. I have never been snorkelling, but my first experience in the Blue Bay Marine Park makes me wonder why it has taken me so long.

As I dip my head below the surface, a vibrant array of tropical fish emerges from the coral reefs, which are clearly visible in the turquoise waters surrounding the island.

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Ile aux Aigrettes and snorkelling in Blue Bay Marine Park are just two examples of the variety of activities on offer to complement a luxury beach holiday.

As I make my way around, it becomes clear the pandemic has hit the island harder than most places. Tourism is an important source of income for the country and many businesses have suffered financial losses.

But some have used the downtime constructively. Lagoon Attitude hotel in the northern village of Cap Malhereux has invested money in becoming a sustainable, plastic-free site without compromising on luxury.

“It’s an investment,” general manager Rubens Maureemootoo acknowledges. “We want to promote responsible tourism, and reduce the negative effect tourism can have on the environment.”

Mr Maureemootoo says he felt it was his “responsibility” to help protect an island, where the effects of climate change are acutely felt through fluctuating rainfall, rising sea levels, and an unpredictable anticyclone season.

The island boasts a population of over one million people, embracing different religions, cultures and nationalities – something that is clearly conveyed through the food.

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Curries, seafood and barbecues are all on the menu at luxury hotels – but perhaps the most surprising offerings are all-you-can-eat buffets. I assumed buffets were a thing of the past, but the Constance Belle Mare Plage hotel reminds visitors of pre-COVID times – with Indian, Mediterranean, Asian and locally sourced seafood all on offer.

As I continue my travels, it becomes clear golfers received the memo about the country opening its borders before other tourists.

Every other hotel guest I come across at both Constance Belle Mare Plage on the east coast, and Heritage Le Telfair on the southwest coast, appears to be carrying clubs on their backs.

It’s easy to see why though, with almost all the luxury hotels boasting their own custom-designed 18 holes.

With the gentle breeze rustling through the palm trees and the sun beaming down on the first tee at Heritage Le Telfair’s main course, I’m pleasantly surprised to only lose two balls in the impressive water hazards.

Even for an amateur golfer, it is easily one of the most enjoyable rounds I have ever had – although I’m sure the weather and the magnificent tropical backdrop play a major part in that.

Other than the sandy beaches all around the island, any tourist’s head would be turned by the jaw-dropping mountainous views at the Ebony Forest Reserve, the colourful volcanic sands of Chamarel and the spectacular Black River Gorges National Park.

It has been a difficult 18 months for Mauritian communities, but they have found a potentially profitable new focus in eco-tourism.

Trying the taste bud-tingling food, exploring the wonderful wildlife the country has to offer, and speaking to the incredibly welcoming Mauritian people can turn a great holiday into a truly memorable experience.

Does reading articles such as this one make you feel more positive about future travel? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

– With PA

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YourLifeChoices Writers
YourLifeChoices Writers
YourLifeChoices' team of writers specialise in content that helps Australian over-50s make better decisions about wealth, health, travel and life. It's all in the name. For 22 years, we've been helping older Australians live their best lives.
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