Sapphire waters and powder-white beaches have long made it a hit with honeymooners, but the Indian Ocean island is much more than just a fly-and-flop destination.

Sapphire waters and powder-white beaches have made it a hit with honeymooners, but Mauritius is much more than just a fly-and flop destination. Discover an island that is diverse in both landscape and culture.

The natural world
A nature reserve on an island just offshore, Île aux Aigrettes preserves very rare remnants of the coastal forests of Mauritius and shelters unique wildlife, such as ebony trees, wild flora, endangered pink pigeons and Aldabra giant tortoises. There are frequent tours every day, leaving from the mainland. Book in advance (admission from £16).

Some of the best dive sites on the island can be found just beyond the village of Flic en Flac, where shallow waters suddenly give way to the deep. The most popular site is La Cathédrale, with its stone arches and cavern. Also nearby is the Rempart Serpent, a sinuous strip of submerged rock that attracts scorpion fish, moray eels and lionfish. Top local operator Sun Divers offers dives every day (dives from £35 with equipment).

Once mainly a gathering place for surfers, Tamarin Beach is now better known for its daily visits from friendly pods of bottlenose and spinner dolphins. There are lots of tours offering the chance to travel out of this sandy cove by boat and swim with the gentle beasts, but be sure to choose a sustainable operator. JP Henry Charters offers highly recommended 1½-hour dolphin trips on either speedboat or catamaran (tours £30).

Mauritius’s capital, Port Louis can feel overwhelming with its honking horns and cajoling vendors, but its alleyways conceal some of the island’s best places to eat. The Central Market is full of stalls peddling street food such as gâteaux piments (chilli cakes) and dhal puri (thin pancakes served with spicy sauce), while a portion of honey-glazed pork can be had for around 60p in Chinatown.

Tables d’hôtes – privately hosted meals at guesthouses – offer a unique insight into local life and cuisine. Les Lataniers Bleus offers island hospitality at its finest. The communal evening meal takes place on the veranda, where charming host Josette Marchal- Vexlard serves up excellent seafood and fine conversation. Call on the morning of your visit, as residential guests are given priority (Black River; Mon–Fri; three course meal with aperitif £16).

There are many opportunities to dine by the sea in Mauritius, Fish and Rhum Shack is one of the best, and far from humble. This beachside barbecue is held one or two evenings a week at the luxurious Shanti Maurice resort. Island fish, game and meat are grilled on request and served with salads and herbs picked from the hotel’s garden, alongside local beer and cocktails made with Mauritian rum (Bel Ombre; dinner £85, excluding drinks).

Beautiful stretches of sandy beach have made Pointe D’Esny and Blue Bay a favoured spot for private villas and chambres d’hôtes (b&bs). At weekends Blue Bay beach can be crowded with picnicking locals, but during the week it is alluringly quiet. Blue Bay has been given marine park status to protect its corals, which means high-speed watercraft are banned.

Shaped like a hammerhead shark, Le Morne has some of the island’s best beaches and a particular resonance in Mauritian culture. According to legend, in the early 19th century a group of escaped slaves – ignorant of the fact that slavery had recently been abolished – jumped to their death when they spotted a group of soldiers making their way up the cliff. Hence ‘Le Morne’ (the mournful one).

The good-looking offshore island, Île aux Cerfs  was once populated mostly by stags, imported for hunting from Java, but now it lures plenty of visitors. However, with more than 2½ miles of sand to choose from, there’s room for everyone to find their own patch of beach. Lots of boat operators in mainland Trou d’Eau Douce offer a water-taxi service for £7 a round-trip (your hotel can book one, or try Bateaux Vicky on 00 230 754 5597).

By far the easiest way to get around under your own steam is to hire a car (from £35 per day). There’s also a fairly reliable bus network – the National Transport Authority has details of routes (fares from 30p).

Where to stay
Pointe d’Esny has a great selection of guesthouses, and L’Oiseau du Paradis is the pick of the bunch. Rooms are painted in a tropical palette and feature an eclectic mix of traditional wooden furniture. Guests have access to the nearby beach via the owner’s private villa over the road (Pointe d’Esny; from £45).

Wickedly stylish without the attendant price tag, the Récif Attitude gives on to a relatively undeveloped stretch of beach, and has plenty of pillow-strewn nooks for lounging away from the sand (Pointe aux Piments; from £100).

La Pirogue is a cluster of hut-villas arranged along 500m of sandy beach. Rooms open out onto a palm-filled grove, and the seaside restaurant hosts regular seafood barbecues and lobster nights (Flic en Flac; from £230 half-board).

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