Mauritius had no native population until it was discovered by European colonisers in the 16th century (although the dodo was resident). Since then, Hindus, Africans, Chinese and Europeans have made their mark on the island’s culture and cuisine. Historic towns and tropical forests await beyond the coastal resorts.

Port Louis has survived plague epidemics, fires and tropical storms since its foundation in the 17th century. Today, the capital is divided between the sanitised waterfront and more colourful old town – head here to bargain hard at the Central Market, a feature of city life since Victorian times.

Black River Gorges National Park is best explored by its trails. Look out for the pink pigeon – a bird unique to the island that was rescued from extinction in the 1990s. Get advice on hiking routes from the information centre at Le Pétrin (; closed Sun).

Claiming the island’s most beautiful beaches, Le Morne Peninsula is named after a basalt rock that has a special resonance. Folklore tells of escaped slaves hiding out on top of it. Unaware slavery had been abolished since their escape, they panicked on seeing some soldiers and jumped, believing they would be captured.

Rodrigues is a tiny mountainous island with a fraction of the inhabitants of its bigger cousin. Its beaches count among the best in the country, and development tends to be more sympathetic and small-scale than back on the mainland (flights from Mauritius £170;

A preserved Creole mansion outside Moka, Maison Euréka is a beacon of tropical construction. The name is said to have been coined when the second owner won a bidding war to buy the place at auction (; admission £7).

If the adage that the best Chinese restaurants are busy with Chinese diners applies, First Restaurant is a winner. Full of local families feasting on Cantonese cooking, it has a good range of dim sum (00 230 212 0685; corner of Royal and Corderie Sts; mains from £3).

Le Capitaine is an unpretentious and popular harbourside restaurant. Try whole crab cooked in white wine or lobster ravioli with mushroom and cucumber quenelles. Evening reservations are essential (; Royal Rd; mains from £6).

Les Copains d’Abord looks out to the site of the Royal Navy’s biggest defeat in the Napoleonic wars. Napoleon himself would be pleased to see this specialist seafood restaurant mixing Med and Mauritian influences (Rue Shivananda; mains from £7).

Set in attractive gardens, La Langouste Grisée (or ‘the tipsy lobster’) has an ambitious Franco-Mauritian menu including pan-fried scallops with cream of asparagus and white truffle foam. Steak with juniper berries also makes a surprising appearance for such a seafood-centric island (; Royal Rd; mains from £9).

With chic décor and a terrace overlooking fishing boats bobbing in the waters off Trou aux Biches, Le Pescatore is often vaunted as one of the best restaurants in northern Mauritius. Superior dishes include lobster in ginger and sake sauce (00 230 265 6337; Mont Choisy; mains from £15).

Auberge de la Montagne in Rodrigues is a much-loved guesthouse where many rooms have balconies overlooking the countryside. The host is an author of a Rodriguan cookbook; accordingly, dinners are a crash course in Creole cooking. Try the octopus curry (; from £40).

A budget guesthouse that’s big on charm, Chez Vaco is a real find and a welcome addition to Grand Baie’s accommodation scene. The small, delightful rooms have an air of cosy minimalism and there’s a garden decorated with local art. The hotel also offers a free speedboat transfer across the lagoon to Grand Baie from a beach nearby (; from £70).

A charming family-run b&b, rooms at Les Lataniers Bleus are divided between the main house and villas scattered around verdant grounds. Evening meals (open to residents only) take in traditional Mauritian dishes, while the beautiful lagoon in front of the hotel is perfect for swimming (; from £100).

As well as being a historic attraction, Maison Euréka has three cottages next to the main mansion. These are individually decorated with mini-verandahs backing on to tidy gardens, and chances are you’ll be the only people staying there (; from £140).

A Moroccan-style boutique hotel, La Palmeraie is a somewhat incongruous, kasbah-like structure standing on a beach in eastern Mauritius. The colourful rooms come decorated with all manner of Arabesque arches, rugs and draped fabrics, and the Moorish theme extends to the hotel spa (; Belle Mare; from £180).

Getting around
Car hire is available at Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam International airport (from £37 per day; and the island is served by a bus network – the National Transport Authority has details of companies and routes (; fares from £1).

When to go
Temperatures are high year round, but cyclones in January and February can bring rain. Hardly a week goes by without a festival – highlights include Hindu and Tamil firewalking ceremonies of Teemeedee in December and January, and the Chinese New Year.

How to go
Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam International airport is mainland Mauritius’s only airport. BA flies from Gatwick (from £950) while Air Mauritius flies from Heathrow (from £740). Island taxis are available from the airport (

The article 'Mini guide to Mauritius' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet Magazine.