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Its very name of conjures up images of tropical luxury and stupendous extravagance. While in many destinations famed for cobalt-blue seas, white sandy beaches and luxury hotels, you may eventually find yourself wishing for something to do besides sunbathing and swimming, it’s often hard to know what to do next in Mauritius. The island is loaded with historic sights, cultural diversity, geographic variation and almost limitless activities to distract you from the daily grind of beach and pool. But perhaps its single biggest asset is the relaxed charm of its warm and welcoming people.
The smells, noises and bustle of the mercantile capital Port Louis, Africa’s wealthiest city, are never far away, while the busy garment markets in the Central Plateau towns of Quatre Bornes and Curepipe and Black River Gorges National Park's dramatic virgin forests give the lie to Mauritius being just another beach destination. But what beaches! From the stunning sand-rimmed lagoons and popular wide public beaches to the picturesque islands off the country’s coastline, there’s truly something for everyone here. Add to this the joys of Chinese, Indian, French and African cuisine, the rousing beat of séga music and the infectious party spirit of the locals, and you soon understand why Mauritius really is so many people’s idea of paradise on earth.
Ringed by some of Africa’s best coral beaches and blessed with one of the most mellifluous names in the world, Zanzibar (Unguja) is the archipelago’s main island. Sitting at its centre is Stone Town with its quasi-medieval medina, balconied merchants houses and grand House of Wonders.
Drive out of town through the avenue of mango trees – said to be planted over the bodies of past lovers of a 19th-century sultan’s daughter – and there’s plenty else to explore. To the south, the road cuts through the primeval Jozani forest, home to the rare, red colobus monkey and tiny aders’ duiker. Off Kizimkazi pods of dolphin play, and shoals of luminous fish graze over Chumbe Island’s pristine coral garden, while to the east rural villages snake up the coastline from community-minded Jambiani through the surf-and-party hub of Paje to traditional Matemwe, where locals harvest seaweed (most abundant from December to February) and dhows set sail with divers for the lambent coral reef of Mnemba.
At the northern tip of Unguja, Nungwi and Kendwa are the epicenter of tourist activity. Flanked by long, sandy beaches they are well supplied with burgeoning budget and luxury accommodation, restaurants, bars and dance-til-dawn full-moon parties. While there’s no denying their buzz or picturesque beauty you’ll want to choose your spot carefully here as increasing development threatens to mar the area’s ineluctable magic and overwhelm fragile community resources.