Mauritius – so much more than beaches

Riambel beach, southern Mauritius
Riambel beach, southern Mauritius

Exploring Chamarel and the Black River Gorges National Park

We went to Mauritius and didn’t go to the beach!

I’m guessing not many people can say that. After all, Mauritius is a tropical island paradise in the Indian Ocean, famous for it’s golden sands and watersports.

Ok, so that might be a slight exaggeration. We did stop the car twice for about 5 minutes to take a photos of Riambel and Le Morne, but that was it. Instead we were there to explore the area of Chamarel, and the Black River Gorges National Park. Jungle beats beach any day!

It wasn’t exactly a planned trip. Hubbie and I were flying with Emirates (yeah baby!) to South Africa and as always I was curious to see if there was anywhere we could stop off on the way. Mauritius was only a ‘slight’ detour and minimal extra expense, so with visions of snorkelling and hammocks we thought what the hell and booked the tickets.

So this is what being spontaneous is all about.

It was only when I did a bit of research that I discovered Mauritius wasn’t quite the powder white sands and swaying coconut palms of the Seychelles or Maldives. I read in horror about the resorts, sun-loungers and jet skis and wondered how on earth we could salvage what was apparently a huge mistake.

Then I spotted a photograph of the Chamarel Waterfall and breathed a sigh of relief.

Chamarel Waterfall, Mauritius
Jungle dreaminess at Chamarel Waterfall

This, I could cope with!

The south west of Mauritius is all about impenetrable jungle, roaring waterfalls, plunging cliffs and bottomless gorges, and is understandably the wettest part of the island. Who goes to tropical islands for sun anyway? Whilst the package tourists are frolicking away over in the warm waters of the north and east, the coast here is lined with fishing villages rather than resorts as the sea currents are unpredictable and dangerous. No-one swims here, but it’s a grown-up playground for competent kite surfers.

Riambel beach, southern Mauritius
The roaring current rushes by just a few feet from Riambel beach in southern Mauritius

Chamarel and Black River Gorges National Park

Famous for it’s waterfalls, hikes and panoramic views, at over 6,700 hectares the Black River Gorges is the largest national park on the island. The area is probably reminiscent of how Mauritius used to look before the settlers arrived and began clearing the jungle. Located inland in the central highlands area, it is cooler than the rest of Mauritius, but no less exotic. The rare forest is home to more than 300 species of endemic flowering plants as well as 9 bird species found only in Mauritius. They even have flying foxes!

The verdant foliage carpeting almost every square inch of this area feels as ancient as the island itself, giving it a slightly mysterious Jurassic World ambience. If you’re looking for immersion in nature, then this is it!

Black River Gorges National Park, Mauritius
More green than black – the Black River Gorges National Park

The village of Chamarel is a great place to base yourself for a few days exploration, relaxation and hiding away from the world. We stayed at Lakaz Chamarel, a luxurious eco retreat tucked away in a private tropical paradise boasting numerous pools and palm trees for relaxing under.

And not a beach in sight!

Lakaz Chamarel, Mauritius
The tropical view from our private veranda at Lakaz Chamarel

Chamarel Waterfall

Just a few minutes drive out of the village are the Cascades Chamarel and the famous Seven Coloured Earths. A combined entrance ticket costs R200 (less than £4) per person and is worth every rupee! First up are the twin falls, where the St Denis River plunges 295ft over a dramatic precipitous cliff, emerging majestic from the steaming jungle, it’s droplets often creating hazy rainbows over the pool below.

I’ve seen a lot of waterfalls and have to say this is my favourite! It’s a bit of a shame that it is so easy to reach (you can drive right up to the viewpoint) as the experience lacks the sense of achievement and discovery that comes with a little effort. Yet it does allow for some fabulous photos and if you’re up for a bit more of an adventure, you can always try abseiling down the falls with Vertical World.

A keen photographer can easily spend half an hour here!

Chamarel Waterfall, Mauritius
Blending in with nature at the Chamarel Waterfall

Seven Coloured Earths

This place is just bonkers! More suited to the other-worldly landscapes of outer space, the undulating Earths are in fact sand dunes formed from the conversion of volcanic basalt rock into mineral rich clay. The molten rocks cooled at different temperatures causing the multicoloured iron and aluminium oxides to settle in separate layers of reds, browns, yellows, purples, violets, greens and sometimes even blues.

Seven Coloured Earths, Chamarel, Mauritius
How many colours can you count? Chamarel Seven Coloured Earths

Interesting fact – take a handful of the sand and mix the different colours together and they’ll eventually separate into a smaller-scale layered spectrum!

The sand is actually quite hard and doesn’t become eroded by rain. Good job since the island experiences a fair bit of that. There is a walkway around the edge of the 1 hectare dune area but you can’t walk on the sand itself. It would appear that feet would conquer where rain fails.

The Earths are a 5 minute walk from the parking area, and if they’re not enough to keep you amused, there is also a giant tortoise park (‘giant’ alludes to the tortoises, not the park!) and small gift shop.

Black River Gorges Viewpoint

Driving east from Chamarel on the B103 Plaine Champagne Road is one of the most scenic routes on the island, with several viewpoints along the way. The most spectacular has to be the Black River Gorges Viewpoint, located right next to the main road and very easy to find. Unless like us you’re far too keen, end up stopping too soon and take an unexpected hike through dense humid undergrowth with no viewpoints or waterfalls in sight.

Black River Gorges National Park, Mauritius
Getting lost in Black River Gorges National Park

Instead the trail undulated steeply through tall forests and soon had us sweating buckets. Yet on the map the waterfall looked close. To be fair, it wasn’t the most accurate of maps but we were lured on, convinced the photo opportunity was just around the next corner. Stupidly we didn’t even have any water, having believed we’d only be ‘popping’ out of the car for a few minutes. Some while later we were becoming unsure of our navigational prowess and even resorted to trying to load Google Maps to assist us in our search. The attempt failed, and cost us £30 for the privilege.

Black River Gorges National Park, Mauritius
Pretending not to be lost in Black River Gorges National Park

After 45 minutes we finally came across a couple of scantily-clad trail runners who assured us there were no views of waterfalls (or anything else for that matter) and in fact we were climbing Piton de la Petite Rivière Noire (Black River Peak), the highest mountain on the island!

So feeling rather embarrassed we about-turned (something hubbie hates doing), and grumpily tramped back to the car. All in all a ridiculous waste of an afternoon! Driving on, a mere 10 seconds around the corner was a huge view point complete with coach park, ice-cream van (selling water and crisps rather than ice-cream), souvenir stalls (wooden dodos are in!), monkeys in trees, and…a waterfall! We’d clearly been too impatient and jumped out too early!

Riviere Noire Falls, Black River Gorges National Park, Mauritius
Black River Gorges Viewpoint, finally! A jungle view of Riviere Noire Falls.

Alexandra Falls Viewpoint

A few miles further along the road to the right is the Alexandra Falls Viewpoint, although it is more difficult to actually see the waterfalls from here, even though they are 500ft! Again there is ample parking with all the trimmings and the panorama is just a 5 minute walk from the car. A wooden platform allows you to climb up for views out towards the south east coast, although it was rather hazy when we were there so we remained true to our sans beach trip theme.

Alexandra Falls, Black River Gorges National Park, Mauritius
Alexandra Falls, Black River Gorges National Park

Rhumerie de Chamarel

If you’re interested in how the local tipple is made, and fancy sampling some yourself, the Rhumerie de Chamarel does great little tours of the factory, including tastings at the end. We really enjoyed becoming rum connoisseurs for the afternoon, and I’ve written a separate post about our experiences here.

Rum tasting at Rhumerie de Chamarel, Mauritius
Discovering why the rum is always gone…mmmm!

Trou aux Cerfs

It’s not often you can walk up a volcano in the middle of a town, but in Curepipe (just north of the national park) that’s precisely what you can do. Trou aux Cerfs volcano is dormant but could erupt any time…within the next 1000 years! So your chances are pretty good!

Looking into the crater at Trou aux Cerfs, Mauritius
Looking into the crater at Trou aux Cerfs

You can drive up to the rim and walk around the entire circumference in about 30 minutes. The inner slopes are forested, giving only glimpses of the marshy pool at the bottom and I have to admit I was slightly disappointed at what was essentially an overgrown muddy puddle. Yet the 2130ft high crater has superb 360 degree views of the whole island. On a clear day you can even see the neighbouring island of Réunion. We didn’t have a clear day, but it still wasn’t bad…

View from Trou aux Cerfs, Mauritius
View from Trou aux Cerfs, Mauritius

Entrance to Trou aux Cerfs is free, and there are toilets (for a small charge) in the car park.

Le Morne Brabant Peninsula

You know that iconic aerial shot of Mauritius with the imposing mountain plateau right next to the turquoise ocean? Well Le Morne is exactly that. So we couldn’t go all that way and not check it out. Whilst we enjoyed driving right up to the shore and going for a 2 minute paddle at Pointe Corail de la Prairie on the south coast (the water was as warm as a bath!) the actual beach on the peninsula itself was crowded with people and parasols, lined with hotels and golf resorts, and had no views except out to sea.

Definitely one of those places better experienced from afar.

Le Morne Brabant, Mauritius
You can park right on the beach all over Mauritius…loved the view here of the famous Le Morne Brabant

We spent 3 days exploring the south west of Mauritius, and that was just the right amount of time. The island is undoubtedly one of the gems of the Indian ocean, yet for all the rugged wilderness and dramatic landscapes, it just all felt a little too easy. Despite being one of the most geographically remote nations in the world, Mauritius for us lacked the key ingredient as defined by it’s co-ordinates. It didn’t feel at all remote.

Next time perhaps we’ll try Réunion, although I’m sure hubbie would have a thing or two to say about having a stop-over within a stop-over!

Mauritius from above
Mauritius from above, the best place to view the beaches!

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Best places to visit in Mauritius - discover the Black River Gorges National Park, Seven Coloured Earths and Chamarel Waterfall. #mauritius #chamarel #chameralwaterfall #rhumerie

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  1. says: Charles McCool

    Nice to know that there is much more to do in Mauritius than simply go to the beach. Although the beaches look gorgeous.

  2. says: The Adventure Ahead

    National Parks are some of our favorite travel destinations. Always lots to see, and space for the kiddos to run around. This looks like one to add to our bucket list 🙂

  3. says: Rachel W

    It’s really interesting to hear what you have to say about Mauritius, and I too thought it would be like the Maldives. We’re not keen on resorts either, and would be disappointed had we turned up without knowing what you’ve said.

  4. says: Tom L

    I had a chance to visit Mauritius with a local family and I saw all the places mentioned in your post. And I must agree, it’s so much more than beaches! 7-colored Earth, Gris-Gris, Chamarel waterfal and the National Parks – I loved it. I also was lucky enough to sleep in a local house and not in the boring resorts 🙂

    1. says: Heather Cole

      What a wonderful experience to actually stay with the locals, I’d love to try this next time too! Another one for the anti-resort club, yeay! 🙂

  5. says: Frank

    That’s funny. We’re leaving for South Africa at the end of October for 3 months, We’re slow travellers so that’s what we do. Thing is that we decided to advance it because our 1st and 2nd plans didn’t quite pan out. So 3 months in SA and by end Jan we have to get out…and I was thinking a month in Mauritius would be fun. Can’t stand resorts and of course can’t stay in one a month. Maybe get an Airbnb somewhere on the island and explore the mountains and waterfalls? I’ve got it in mind. Or maybe go to Madagascar. Any ideas?
    Frank (bbqboy)

    1. says: Heather Cole

      I’d give my right arm for 3 months in SA! We’ve had a few weeks there and totally fell in love with those amazing landscapes (and don’t even mention the safaris, drool). You’re going to have so much fun.
      Personally I think a month in Mauritius would be too long for me, but then I can’t sit still for long and if you’re spending part of that time just ‘being’ and working/writing etc then you could do it. The island is a lot smaller than you think, but there’s still plenty to do (especially in the interior). For that definitely base yourself in the SW. There are some airbnb’s around which are very reasonable considering the hotels are pretty expensive. Since you’re there I’d definitely combine it with a trip to Reunion island (or even Rodrigues) – the interior there is even more spectacular and it’s not far. Now Madagascar, you could probably spend a year there and not see it all, I’d love to go!
      Do let me know what you decide!!

  6. says: Hishaam

    Hi there. Glad you enjoyed Mauritius. Loved the post. Next time do visit Rochester falls, it’s magical. I’m Mauritian myself and this post made me think twice if I want to be abroad. Definitely made me miss Mauritius. 🙂

    1. says: Heather Cole

      We really wanted to do Rochester Falls this trip, but just didn’t have time. Looks so much fun though for next time – but I’ll leave the jumping in to the locals 🙂 You come from a stunning country, hope you get to go visit again soon!

      1. says: Hishaam

        You should let the hubbie try the jumping part. It would be fun :). I left Mauritius like 5 years back for studies and all. Now I feel like it’s time to go back. 🙂 I do go on holidays but hey I guess that’s not enough. Thanks for your post once again. One last thing I hope you did try the local food ( dal puri etc) ..

        1. says: Heather Cole

          Ha ha, I bet he’d enjoy it!! And we did enjoy our first every taste of dal puri, I keep meaning to try and recreate it back here at home. And I guess even if you don’t live there at the moment it’s still amazing to be able to go back for the holidays, but I can see why you would miss it. It usually takes us travelling far away to appreciate what we have here at home (for us it’s the English Lake District, one of Britain’s top tourist destinations!)

  7. says: Julien

    Dear Heather,

    Glad you enjoyed Mauritius! Thank you for this awesome review. I spend most of my off days in the Black River Gorges running and hiking and reading your review I’ve rediscovered the beauty of that place and the treasures of the South. It is commonly said that people go to Reunion Island for the mountains and to Mauritius for the beaches. It’s true that the mountain landscape in Reunion Island is quite dramatic but we do have some awesome hiking trails in Mauritius.

    By the way, the Black River Peak is only 60 minutes from Plaine Champagne so you were not very far from the peak. May be next time!

    1. says: Heather Cole

      Hi Julien, thanks for stopping by! You live in a fabulous part of the world, I’m really rather jealous that this is your ‘back yard’!

      I really wanted to go to Reunion instead of Mauritius (for the mountains) but we just couldn’t fit it in time wise, and I’m glad. Because there really is more to Mauritius than beaches if you make the effort, and it was so worth it. And next time, yes, we will ‘conquer’ that peak 🙂 Happy hiking!

  8. says: Menka

    Hey there. I’m from Mauritius and just wanted to comment about something..

    Yes you’re right about the south west of the country and the beautiful views you may have from there. But I would slightly disagree about the beaches. Maybe you were disappointed because the most beautiful ones are not found there! Most of the beaches in the south west of the country have dangerous swimming warnings. The best ones (with the resorts and jet-skis you expected) are found mostly in the north of the island.

    I would definitely recommend the beach lovers to drop by Pereybere or Mon Choisy next time they come to Mauritius. I can guarantee you will fall in love with the island!

    1. says: Heather Cole

      Hey Menka, thanks for stopping by!

      I appreciate the ‘better’ beaches for swimming, sunbathing, activities are not in the south west, but for us the presence of the resorts and jet-skis etc in the north would totally detract from even the most pristine and gorgeously tropical beach, and we would indeed prefer the uncrowded undeveloped beaches in the south west despite not being able to swim. I did do a huge amount of research into the beaches before we went, and came to the conclusion our ideal beach didn’t exist on the island. But it’s a personal thing, and I know lots of people who would love to visit the beaches you mention.

      Still, we managed to fall in love with island despite not doing the beach, so I guess that’s still a pretty huge thumbs up 🙂