So many people rush off on their festive season break, only to end up shoulder-to-shoulder with everyone else, but the smart holidaymakers wait a bit...
Why? Because if they can hold back until the New Year, they'll benefit from great deals, less crowding and more relaxation - like with these two special Mauritius offers from Thompsons Holidays:
3* Casuarina Resort - self-catering bungalows for minimum 4 adults sharing: At R9225 per person sharing, this package includes return flights from Johannesburg on Air Mauritius, return airport to hotel transfers, 7 nights' accommodation in a two-bedroom bungalow with lounge/dining room and fully-equipped kitchen, as well as a shaded veranda. Guests have the full use of the facilities at the Casuarina Hotel, situated on the island's north-west coast, and you'll be given an exclusively chosen gift on arrival. This offer is valid from 15 January to 22 March (high season supplements apply from 15 to 26 February). Ref: 30253
5* Le Cardinal Exclusive Resort: At R17 885 per person sharing, this package includes return flights from Johannesburg on Air Mauritius, return airport to hotel transfers, 7 nights' accommodation at this boutique hotel situated on a magnificent beach on the north-west coast at Trou aux Biches. Breakfast and dinner daily are included. Bonus: this package also includes a romantic candlelight dinner on the deck of the beach bar + 30 minutes duo massage for the couple. This offer is valid from 9 January to 22 March (high season supplements apply from 15 to 26 February). Ref: 29892
"It's great to get away over the Christmas holiday period, but invariably everybody else has as well," says Thompsons Holidays CEO Joanne Adolphe.
"By deferring your festive season break until the New Year, you're getting exactly the same holiday... but without the crowds - and that at prices that just can't be beaten."
And, she adds, there's plenty to do in Mauritius - a unique cultural, historical and natural melting pot - besides suntanning and cocktails. Here are several suggestions to take you off the beach and allow you to immerse yourself in the real Mauritius, the one all too often not seen in holiday brochures:
Get your bearings
Luxury resorts are clustered around the west, north and east coasts of the island; the south coast is more rugged. The capital, Port Louis, is located in the north-west, diametrically opposite the island's airport, and is the epicentre of the country's heritage.
The hub of Port Louis is Government House, a handsome colonial building fronted with a stern statue of Queen Victoria. She faces the tall palm trees of the Place d'Armes and beyond it (and the motorway), the harbour.
On the waterfront
In Port Louis, the rejuvenated Caudan Waterfront is a great place to visit. An elegant and comparatively new addition to the Port Louis cityscape, it's a favourite among locals and tourists, and boasts shopping, entertainment, art, gambling, banks and restaurants.
Take a view
Fort Adelaide Citadel, on a hill east of the city, is ugly on the outside and a shambles inside, but it presents an excellent panorama of the city and the surrounding hills. The most notable sight is the Champs de Mars racecourse, created nearly two centuries ago and one of the oldest in the Southern Hemisphere.
Take a hike
From the fort walk down Jummah Mosque Street, revealing a cross-section of the city: you pass homes and schools, shops and workshops, occupied by a mix of creeds and cultures. Cross Royal Street, the main commercial thoroughfare; on your right is the imposing arch marking the entrance to Port Louis's modest Chinatown. Pass the large, elegant mosque and then turn left along Queen Street - ideally, clutching a Rs200 note, which bears a picture of the wrought-iron gates of the central market between Queen and Farquhar Streets.
The central market is the closest Mauritius gets to frenetic. You can buy herbs claiming to cure gout, constipation or cellulite; yards of textiles; and mountains of fresh fruit and vegetables. The market keeps long hours - 5.30am-5.30pm daily (until 11.30am on Sundays) - but standard shopping hours in Port Louis are not especially generous: 9.30am-5pm Monday to Friday, and 9am-noon on Saturdays.
Lunch on the run
The food court of the central market is an excellent place to eat: you can choose from Chinese, Tamil or Creole cuisines; the easiest takeaway snack is bhel puree, a spicy chick-pea pancake. For something more substantial, La Bonne Marmite on Sir William Newton Street offers a mélange of cuisines.
The Natural History Museum occupies a beautiful colonial building on Chaussee Street. The displays are somewhat fusty and old-fashioned - but fascinating, given the island's unique animal life. A stuffed dodo is all that remains of the overgrown, flightless pigeon that thrived on the island until man (and his eternal companion, the rat) arrived in Mauritius. The museum opens at 9am daily except Wednesday, and closes at noon at weekends and 4pm on other days. Admission is free.
Head to the Rhumerie de Chamarel (http://rhumeriedechamarel.com), in the south-west of the island and close to the famous Coloured Earths of Chamarel. This eco-friendly distiller is a great place to discover Mauritian rum, and it offers tastings and tours.
Dine with the locals
The Chinese community makes up only 3% of the population of Mauritius, but it has a strong influence. The leading Chinese restaurant is Lai Min on Royal Street.
Go to church
Port Louis boasts a wide range of places of worship, from mosques and Hindu, Tamil and Buddhist temples to the striking mock-Gothic St Louis Cathedral, where Sunday Mass is a rousing affair.
Take a ride
The bus service all over the island is excellent, with frequent departures and low fares. Port Louis has two bus stations: the Gare du Nord - no relation to the Parisian railway station - and Victoria Square.
Feel like hanging around a bit?
For those with an adventurous spirit, the Casela Nature & Leisure Park on the west coast boasts a circuit that's so much more than a nature trail. Learn all about Mauritian fauna and flora in between climbing wooden ladders, dangling on a rope above a waterfall, negotiating a Nepalese bridge and whizzing along zip lines.
The glass factory in Phoenix, on the island's central plateau, has a fascinating museum where you can learn all there is to know about glass manufacturing, and witness beautiful handmade glass objects being made.
Out to sea
For the ultimate relaxing sea activity, take a full-day catamaran trip from one of several spots around the island. During the day you'll have the opportunity to swim, do some snorkelling with brightly-coloured fish - or just soak up the sun on deck, with a cocktail, of course.
Go kayak fishing
Paddle out into the pristine waters of a marine reserve near Amber Island on the east coast, where commercial fishing is banned, and catch and release species such as barracuda and trevallies. A kayak, fishing gear and a picnic are included.
A walk in the park
Back in the city, there is nothing corporate about the Company Gardens - a profusion of shady tropical trees with a bandstand, statues of the great and good and vendors selling pain tika poulet - chicken tikka sandwiches.
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