Lying inland in the mountains of the southwest of the island is Grand Bassin or Ganga Talao, a crater lake sacred to Hindus who believe it was formed when Shiva spilled drops of water from the Ganges River in India.
The largest natural lake in Mauritius, Grand Bassin, is surrounded by candy-colored statues of gods and Hindu temples.
During Maha Shivaratri, which takes place at the end of February or beginning of March each year, half a million Hindus make a pilgrimage to the lake, the holiest site on the island.
If you travel to Mauritius during this time, don’t miss this spectacular festival, which is one of the biggest Hindu celebrations outside of India.
Grand Bassin is close to many natural attractions and exciting places to visit, including the wildest place on the island, Black River Gorges National Park.
Grand Bassin is definitely worth exploring for a few hours. Take a stroll around the pretty lake and up to the top of the peak for spectacular views, and take time to see the statues and temple.
It’s a good idea to go with a guide who can give you a background on all the gods depicted on the statues.
Black River Gorges National Park, the largest reserve on the island, is a world of rolling hills and dense emerald-green rainforests that extends over 6000 hectares and conserves more than 300 species of native and endemic flowering plants and bird species unique to Mauritius.
Hiking is the best way to explore this last corner of island rainforest, and there are 50km (31mi) of trails you can walk on your own or with a guide.
Animals to look out for include the Mauritian Flying Fox and the island’s endangered birds: Mauritius Kestrel, Pink Pigeon, Mauritius Parakeet, Mauritius Olive White-eye, Mauritius Bulbul, Mauritius Cuckoo-Shrike, Mauritius Fody, and the Mauritius Grey White-eye.
A short drive from Grand Bassin, the mountain village of Chamarel is a delightful place to visit and makes for a great alternative to coastal tourist towns.
A big highlight of Chamarel is its dining scene, especially its tables d’hôtes – small, family-run restaurants serving authentic Mauritian cuisine.
On top of a towering hill overlooking the ocean far below, Le Chamarel Restaurant has one of the best panoramas on the whole island: a great view to go with delicious Mauritian eats such as gateau piments (the Mauritian version of falafel), fish curry and octopus vindaille (a flavorful curry).
A short distance from the waterfall, the Chamarel Seven Coloured Earths (Terres de 7 Couleurs) are worth a stop for the famous multi-colored sands – a natural phenomenon of dunes in beautiful shades of blues, purples, and reds.
With a playground and some giant tortoises to see, it’s a great family attraction. Right next to the Seven Coloured Earths is the newly opened Ebony Forest. This fifty-hectare conservation area protects a pocket of indigenous forest and one of the last stands of original ebony trees.
Explore the beautiful forest on safari jeep tours or guided walks, or take your own walk along marked trails and on raised walkways that take you into the canopy.
Look out for fruit bats, the Mauritius Bulbul, and the Mauritius Paradise Flycatcher along the way. For the best views, hike up to the top of Pitot Canot.
Mauritian artisanal rum making is a recent trend, and now there are several artisanal distilleries on the island producing some excellent rums.
If you only have time to visit one distillery on your trip, it should be Rhumerie de Chamarel, which has won multiple awards for its rums.
Take an interesting tour of the distillery and then do a tasting of the oak-matured and fruit-infused rums before having lunch at the excellent restaurant, L’Alchimiste, where dishes (such as indulgently rich chocolate pudding) come laced with rum.
Be conscious that Grand Bassin is a holy site for Hindus. Always be respectful in the temples by wearing modest clothing and removing your shoes before entering.
There are two entrances to Black River Gorges National Park, and at each, there’s a visitor center where you can ask about trails and pick up maps. If you want to head off the main hiking trails in Black River Gorges National Park, hiring a guide is a good idea.
The main trails take between three and four hours. If you’re a botany buff, plan your trip between September and January, when it’s the flowering season in Black River Gorges National Park.
Because of its proximity to natural attractions such as Black River Gorges National Park, Grand Bassin is great for adventure travelers who would like to experience Mauritius’ wilder side by hiking, abseiling, and canyoning in the region’s waterfalls, forests, and rivers.
Family-friendly holiday activities are also plentiful in the area around Grand Bassin. If you’re traveling with kids, you’ll find lots to do, from seeing the tortoises at the Seven Coloured Earths and the interactive displays at the Curious Corner of Chamarel to guided walks in Black River Gorges National Park and the canopy walkways in the Ebony Forest.