Trip Report: Waterfalls, Temples and Lions on Mauritius
This summer I went to Spain and Mauritius using miles and I just realized the other day that I never actually blogged about my experience in Mauritius outside of the hotels. (See my experience at the Intercontinental Mauritius as a Royal Ambassador and as an SPG Platinum member at the Grand Mauritian).
When I got back to the Intercontinental for my second stay, I decided to book a tour of the island for a day so I could see all the natural splendors that I’d heard about. I had briefly considered doing a self-drive, but I had already rented a yellow Mini-Cooper for a day, and that was exorbitant, plus the island roads aren’t the easiest to navigate, so I thought I’d make it easy on myself and book a driver.
The Intercontinental has several tour operators in the lobby and one of them was able to get me booked with no issues for the next day. The cost would be about 3,300 rupees (just about $400) for a full day of driving, tours and activities. The one drawback? I had to pay in cash since using my credit card would have incurred a 15% surcharge (seriously!). I sort of felt swindled, but there was nothing else to do.
The only thing is, ATM’s aren’t exactly easy to come by on a tropical island in the middle of the Indian Ocean, and there wasn’t one at the hotel, so I had to go back to my room and scramble to get enough cash, eventually cobbling together the sum in a combination of rupees, dollars and euros. Plus, it turns out that I could have paid for some things during my outing itself, like walking with the lions and tigers at the Casela Nature and Leisure Park (more on that later), so I was kind of annoyed, but I still wanted my day out, so I paid up. I was 9,300 miles from home - might as well do it up!
The tour I scheduled was to be a five-hour drive to various sights around the island. I set off in the morning with my driver. He was a very nice Mauritian man, but he didn’t talk much because he was too busy hacking up a lung. I was actually pretty concerned about him because he was constantly coughing and heaving like he had advanced emphysema. Of course, that didn’t stop him from smoking whenever we got out of the car to see something. I also got worried for myself because we were careening at high speeds along the island’s roads, and he would be hunched over the steering wheel coughing and wheezing.
We made it to our first stop safely, though, a famous crater called the Trou aux Cerfs (or “Deer Hole”) on Mauritius’ south coast. The south coast of the island was much different than the northwest where my hotels were. It was a lot more humid and muggy, and the landscape was much more mountainous. The crater itself was cool, but not terribly dramatic, so we continued on.
Our second stop was a cultural one. About half of Mauritius’ population is Hindu, and every year the faithful do a two-day walking pilgrimage across the island to worship at the Temple of Grand Bassin (also called Ganga Talao). The Temple is located on a beautiful little lake said to be connected to the waters of the River Ganges, and pay homage at a huge statue of Shiva that is 108 feet tall. The temple itself was very ornate and beautiful, and I removed my shoes so I could take a look inside. It was a rainy, cloudy morning, so it was a bit somber, but I had the place mostly to myself and it was great to get a taste of Hindu culture on the island.
After Grand Bassin, we drove to an area called Chamarel to see two more of the island’s special geological features: the seven-colored earth and the Chamarel Waterfall. The colors of the undulating seven-colored earth were created by ancient volcanic flows cooling at different temperatures and preserving different layers of rock. The Waterfall, which actually was three streams of water, was also very pretty and sort of reminded me of Paradise Falls in the movie “Up,” but after seeing Iguazu last year, they weren’t too remarkable.
So that was the end of my five-hour tour … only it had just lasted about 90 minutes. I know I might come off as blasé, but I didn’t rush through anything, and I took my time looking around - I just think these tours are scheduled with larger groups in mind, so going as a single person or even couples, you might finish faster than you think.
Luckily, I also had a “Walk with the Lions and Tigers” at Casela Nature and Leisure Park to look forward to. Because we got there early, I was in time to hop on their hour-long quad bike tour with a few other visitors. This was a lot of fun, and though it was a pretty gentle and easily paced tour without off-roading, we got to see a lot of stunning views of the grounds and enjoyed close encounters with the animals roaming around like zebras and ostriches.
By far the coolest activity of the day was the walk with lions and tigers. The normal tour just focuses on visiting with the young lions, but for an extra $20 you could hang out with the park’s Bengal tigers as well - and I thought to myself, “How many times in life do you get a Bengal tiger upgrade option?” so I went for it.
Now, I’m an animal lover and I’m pretty wary about going to zoos in places like this, but from what I saw, the park looked very nicely run, the animals were healthy and seemed happy frolicking around, and it was basically like watching a group of huge overgrown kittens (the cats were just under a year old) playing around in front of you. They’re very well fed and used to human company, so they didn’t feel dangerous at all, and the ten tourists I was with were supervised with three trainers. We each had a special stick to carry as well which the cats are trained to obey, so we could even get close enough to walk alongside them (that was definitely an awesome, “holy crap!” moment). By the end of an hour, I was completely at ease, and then it was time to go.
I was still riding on my high when I got back to the Intercontinental, and all I wanted was a long shower to wash the heat and stickiness of the day off me, but I discovered there was no hot water in my room - and there wouldn’t be any until the next day. But I already covered that debacle in my trip report on that hotel, so I’ll just leave it there and say that my day out really gave me a good sense of the things to see and do on Mauritius, and if you’re thinking of getting out on the island, consider hiring a driver instead of driving yourself, because you’ll save a lot of time and hassle if not money. Check below for my full gallery.