Off major shipping routes, Mauritius remained uninhabited until the 16th century, allowing it to develop into one of the world's biodiversity hotspots. It was favoured by pirates and occupied briefly by the Dutch before the French brought African slaves to work the sugar plantations. Captured by the British in 1810, Mauritius achieved independence in 1968.
Mauritius today is one of the wealthiest countries in Africa, a successful, multicultural society where the friendly co-existence of peoples and religions expresses itself in croissants for breakfast and curry for dinner, and brightly painted Indian temples sitting alongside French colonial mansions.
Things to see and do
Go for a swim at the northern beaches such as Trou aux Biches, shaded by casuarinas, Mont Choisy, a 2km (1.2-mile) narrow white stretch of sand curving north from there, and Péreybère, a little cove between Grand Baie and Cap Malheureux.
Black River Gorges National Park
Hike in the Black River Gorges National Park, a 6,794-hectare (16,788-acre) forest, to see indigenous plants, birds and wildlife. Black River Peak trail goes to Mauritius' highest mountain, while the Maccabee Trail starts nearby and plunges into the gorge to Black River.
Snorkel or take a glass bottom boat out to see the fish and coral in Blue Bay, Mauritius' only marine park. Or better still, take a luxury excursion to the private island just off the coast, Iles des Deux Cocos to explore it from there.
Casela Bird Park
Families should head to Casela Bird Park (www.caselayemen.mu) in the west. With 90 aviaries on 25 hectares (61 acres), it has more than 140 bird varieties, from five continents. The main attraction is the pink pigeon, one of the world's rarest birds.
Go souvenir shopping at Port Louis' bustling Central Market, the craft market at The Caudan Waterfront (www.caudan.com) or shopping centres around the island. Bargain hunt in Chinese and Indian shops in the inland towns.
Chamarel coloured earths
An extraodrinary natural phenmomenon, the famous coloured earths of Chamarel are believed to have been formed by various rock stratas cooling at different speeds following volcanic activity here millions of years ago. They’re certainly a beautiful sight, and the nearby waterfall is another reason to visit.
Climb Le Pouce
For a spectacular 360-degree view of Port Louis and the north, climb Le Pouce or 'the thumb', at 812m (2,664ft). It is an easy two-hour climb from the village of La Laura, and takes another two hours to walk into Port Louis.
Dine in Domaine du Chasseur
For an adventurous lunch of roasted wild boar, duck or deer curry with one of the best island views, try Domaine du Chasseur's alfresco Panoramour Restaurant. This domaine is the best place to glimpse the Mauritius kestrel in the wild.
Explore the islands by boat
Take a speedboat from Trou d'eau Douce to the popular island playground of Ile aux Cerfs for beaches, golf and watersports. Or, for a quieter day, a catamaran to the Northern Islands - Gabriel Island, Flat Island and Gunner's Quoin.
Go diving on the west coast around Flic-en-Flac or in the north, at Trou aux Biches or the Northern Islands from November to April. The Mauritius Scuba Diving Association (MSDA) can provide further information (www.msda.mu).
Head to Grand Baie, for watersports such as parasailing, an underwater walk, submarine and semi-submersible scooters, or to La Cuvette, a long silky beach with clear water between Grand Baie and Cap Malheureux, for sailing, windsurfing and waterskiing.
Follow the pilgrimage route to Grand Bassin, a natural crater lake and sacred Hindu site up on Plaine Champagne. A new 33m- (108ft-) high Shiva statue heralds the entrance to the few temples heaving with colour, incense and people at festival time.
Ile aux Aigrettes
This nature reserve (www.ile-aux-aigrettes.com) lies off the coast of Mauritius and is home to several species that you’ll find in the wild almost nowhere else in the world, including the pink pigeon, giant Aldabra tortoises and Telfair’s skink. 90 minute visits to the island leave daily from near Mahébourg.
Head to the untamed south coast to see unusual rock formations such as the blowhole at Le Souffleur, a natural rock bridge at Pont Naturel and at the wild clifftop of Gris Gris, near Souillac, a rock shaped like a witch.
Visit the most characterful town on the island, Mahébourg, and head to its new waterfront for gajaks (snacks) and a view across the bay of Grand Port, the site of the famous 1810 naval battle, to Lion Mountain.
Visit Mauritius Aquarium (www.mauritiusaquarium.com) in the north, populated by 200 species of fish, invertebrates, live coral and sponges originating from the waters around the island. It also has a touch pool for children.
National History Museum
Visit the National History Museum (www.mauritiusmuseums.org) in Mahébourg in the southeast to see the bell from the shipwreck of Le San Geran that inspired Mauritius' most famous romantic legend, Paul & Virginie, and rooms dedicated to the Dutch, French and British periods.
Stroll around Pamplemousses Gardens, the third oldest botanical gardens in the world, created in the 18th century. Its international collection of plants includes giant Amazon lilies and the talipot palm, which flowers once every 60 years, then dies.
Walk around the capital, Port Louis, to see fine colonial architecture such as Government House atop the palm-lined Place d'Armes. Gaze at one of the world's rarest stamps at the Blue Penny Museum or gawk at dodo skeletons in the Natural History Museum (www.mauritiusmuseums.org).
Tour the Moka mountains by quad bike, horse or 4-wheel drive at the accessible 1,500-hectare (3,700-acre) nature park of Domaine Les Pailles (www.domainelespailles.net). Travel to the sugar mill and rum distillery by train or horse-drawn carriage before dining in one of four restaurants.
Tiny, rugged, volcanic Rodrigues Island (www.rodrigues-island.org) lies 550km (340 miles) northeast of Mauritius and is known as the 'anti-stress' island. The capital, Port Mathurin, is only seven streets wide, with a Creole population. Rodrigues offers walking, diving, kitesurfing, deep sea fishing and fabulously empty white sand beaches.
The Crocodile Park
La Vanille Réserve des Mascareignes (www.lavanille-reserve.com) is commonly referred to as 'The Crocodile Park', for its thousands of Nile crocodiles. It is the only place worldwide to breed aldabra tortoises and also has deer, monkeys, boar and an insectarium.