Mauritius: Lions, Beaches & Peaks…Oh my!

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Lion encounter Casela Nature Park Mauritius

I arrived on the island of Mauritius fairly exhausted after a 36-hour travel day involving 4 flights from Malta and a 6-hour layover (turned tourist outing) on neighboring Reunion – more on that in the next post.

After realizing a few days earlier that my hotel in Mauritius, Le Meridien Ile Maurice, was a staggering 40+ miles from the airport on the opposite end of the island, I figured I’d better go ahead and reserve a car for my two day stay.

I was thinking of getting one for the next day anyway so I could get out and explore the island but the looming $100 cab fare from the airport made that decision a no-brainer.

It turned out to be the right decision because Mauritius is a large island that is much more easily discovered with your own wheels.

Note: This post may contain affiliate links. If you choose to book through these links, I receive a small commission, which I will undoubtedly blow on more flights (it’s a vicious cycle).  All of this internet voodoo takes place at no additional cost to you. 

The unique history of Mauritius

Mauritius has an interesting history.

Unlike many small islands ravaged by colonization, Mauritius had no existing native population when the first Dutch colonizers arrived in 1598. The first colony never really flourished and in 1710 the Dutch set sail for greener pastures, permanently leaving their mark by causing the extinction of the island’s native dodo birds.

Shortly thereafter, the French moved in as they often did in those days. They were followed by the British who took over in 1810.

During the years of British rule, the African slaves brought to the island by the original Dutch settlers to work the sugar cane fields were finally freed. They were quickly replaced by as many as 500,000 Indian workers shipped in with broken promises of a better life.

Sheer weight of numbers gradually allowed the Indian majority to improve their conditions and ultimately gain independence from British rule in 1968. Since then, the relatively young nation is still finding its way economically with a diverse population that includes five ethnic groups.

The lack of a native island population able to claim superiority is a large part of the reason Mauritius is often cited as an example of multi-ethnic success. The island’s next-largest ethnic group is the Creoles, direct descendants from the African slaves brought to the island.

Flic en Flac Mauritius
The beautiful beaches of Mauritius

What language do they speak in Mauritius?

Though English is the official language of Mauritius, Creole is the first language of 70-80% of the population and is still spoken widely.

As a result of the economic boom largely fueled by tourism, living standards in Mauritius have improved steadily in recent years. Despite these gains, Mauritius remains the most densely populated country in Africa.

As I work my way across the island toward my hotel, I realize my initial perception of Mauritius was way off base. I didn’t do my homework and assumed that, like neighboring Réunion, Mauritius was more culturally aligned with France.

Now, driving through the small towns and villages, I am far more often reminded of India.

Le Meridien Ile Maurice

When I arrive after nightfall at the oasis that is Le Meridien Ile Maurice, I am greatly relieved to finally be off a plane and out of a car.

I’m quickly escorted to a beautiful suite, complete with chilled bottle of champagne, overflowing fruit basket and personalized welcome letter.

Le Meridien Ile Maurice Mauritius
Home, sweet, home on Mauritius!

Home, sweet, Marriott home. And people wonder why I love my Marriott hotels…days like this are why. The obsession continues unabated.

It’s too late to do anything but pop the cork on the champagne, peel an orange and start my work day. It’s nearly business hours back in the U.S. I catch up on emails for a few hours and then collapse into bed, excited to see the view outside my balcony at sunrise.

The sunrise does not disappoint as I get my first glimpse of the Indian Ocean’s emerald waters just steps away. I grab my camera and embark on a self-guided tour of the hotel property.

From the dock that extends from the beach, I realize that the water in Mauritius is unlike anything I’ve seen before. It’s an impossibly clear marriage of emerald and turquoise that seems more fitting of the crown jewels than a body of water.

I can’t stop looking at it and, more importantly, I can’t wait to get in it.

Driving Around Mauritius

Since I have my own wheels, I formulate a loose plan of total island domination for my one full day on Mauritius.

But after fully grasping the size of the island on my drive from the airport last night, I accept the fact that I will need to stick to a few keys areas. Especially if I want to make it back to the resort by sunset (and I do!).

What is Mauritius known for?

Mauritius is world-famous for its beaches so that is tops on my list.

I ask the concierge for recommendations on some of the island’s best beaches and, of course, they are scattered across the map. I pick the ones that combine the most glowing reviews with the most realistic drive times and head out.

Trou aux Biches

My first stop is the northern tip of the island and the endless stretch of white sand called Trou aux Biches (translated as Does’ Watering Hole).

Trou aux Biches Mauritius
Trou aux Biches, Mauritius

This fast-developing tourist destination is lined end-to-end with beachfront apartments, villas and bungalows instead of the ubiquitous mega resorts.

The beach has a very relaxed, homey vibe. It’s your own personal slice of beachfront nirvana available for weekly or monthly rental.

Flic en Flac

Next, I make the long (and often confusing) drive south to the southwestern coast to a town called Flic en Flac.

Many of the island’s 5-star mega resorts are located here and it’s easy to see why.

Unlike some of the questionable towns I noticed fronting some of the resort areas, Flic en Flac is a pleasant little town blessed with perhaps the most stunning stretch of beachfront real estate on the island.

Flic en Flac Mauritius
The emerald waters of Flic en Flac Beach, Mauritius

The drive down took more than an hour so I decide this is as good a place as any to stop for lunch and soak up the view.

Plus, I figure a good meal would help keep my strength up for the next stop I have planned for my island tour.

Casela Nature Park – Lion Encounter

(2020 Update: This post was written on my 6th annual RTW trip in 2012. After watching the Tiger King series I have a much greater perspective on what parks like this are all about. Had I known this at the time, I almost certainly would have skipped this stop. But hey, live and learn. I chose to leave the details in simply for your education and amusement.)

A few days before my arrival, one of my ever-alert Twitter followers mentions that if I’m going to Mauritius, the Walk with Lions at Casela Nature & Leisure Park is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

I am terrified yet intrigued when he shares his lion-petting picture (that’s right, he is petting a lion in the photo) during his visit.

Ever a sucker for a great photo-op, I simply have to check this out.

A little online research reveals that Casela is one of only three places in the entire world where you can interact one-on-one with lions, tigers and cheetahs. The other two, in case you’re in the market for such things, are Lion Encounter programs in Livingstone, Zambia and at Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe.

Casela offers two options. The first, an hour-long walk with the animals and their trained guides. These walks are extremely popular and were fully booked up when I inquired. The other option is a lion/tiger/cheetah interaction.

I decide that the interaction experience is probably more one-on-one lion time than I need anyway so after lunch I head just down the road to the park.

Lion, tiger or cheetah?

As you enter the front gate at Casela, it’s time to make your first decision.

Lion, tiger or cheetah?

They are all the same interaction price. But since they are located in slightly different areas, you have to decide up front.

Now, I would have preferred to suss out their attitudes first or perhaps see who looks the most sleepy. But a sight-unseen decision has to be made. I weigh my options and go with my gut: lion.

My thought process? The tiger thing didn’t work out so well for Siegfried and Roy. And there is no way I can outrun a cheetah. Maybe I have a shot against a sleepy lion.

Lion, it is!

The park cashier relieves me of about $40 US. I’m briefly consoled by the fact that at these prices they are surely raking in enough dough for adequate safety procedures. He hands me my ticket and directs me through the beautifully-landscaped reserve grounds. There, a safari vehicle will pick me up for the drive through the gates to the animal enclosures. So far, so good.

A ride through the park

There are five more people waiting for the safari vehicle and I am happy to see them. We all climb aboard the Jeep and before I know it we’re pulling up to three vast, wildlife enclosures. Each one contains – you guessed it – lions, tigers and bears cheetahs, oh my!

Our small group is then divided up by animal choice and I am alarmed to realize I’m flying solo with the lion. Do they know something I don’t?

I mean the white tigers and the spotted cheetahs are cute and everything but obviously the lion is the king of the jungle, why no other takers?

Have they heard my lion has a bad attitude? Hasn’t been fed yet? Heroin addiction? What??

I briefly consider switching to the tigers so I’ll at least have other victims guests in there with me. Especially since I sized them all up on the Jeep ride over and am convinced I can outrun every last one. But I ultimately decide to defer to my first instinct and stick with operation lion.

Plus, everyone else is going along with this like it’s a perfectly reasonable thing to do. So it’s entirely possible I’m just being overly-dramatic.

Lion 101 – A training course

Next, we are introduced to our individual trainers and I’m pleased to see none are missing any limbs. Not surprisingly, we are next given release forms to sign. Then finally, we’re each escorted to our selected enclosure.

At this point, I assume the next step will be a lengthy and detailed safety presentation. Perhaps even involving self-defense techniques in case of emergency and, almost certainly, the distribution of weapons.

Instead, my guide looks me straight in the eyes, rattles off two safety rules short enough to easily fit on the back of my tiny entrance ticket and hands me a walking stick.

The entire 30-second safety “presentation” – I swear to God – goes something like this:

Lion Guide: (stern look) “When we go in there, just remember two things – 1) stay right behind me and 2) never, ever run.

Me: (gulp) “Got it.

Right. Comprende kemosabe. What does he think I’m going to do? For God’s sake it’s a lion enclosure. I obviously will follow his instructions to the letter.

What actually happens…

So, now the moment has come and it’s time to go in.

As we approach the gate (the two of us and a park photographer in tow), I have a moment of panic. I do a quick head count and realize that the one lion I am expecting is actually more like 8 to 10 lions (I lose count while trying to regain my composure but I swear it was like Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom in there).

My mind (and heart) races. Who’s going to keep an eye on all these lions? I certainly can’t, suddenly my very grasp on consciousness seems precarious. Lion counting? No way.

My guide is just one person and, like me, he’s also armed with only a stick. The photographer is useless, he doesn’t even have a stick. Is anyone in this death-trap shooting with anything more practical than a Nikon?? Dart guns? Something? There should be snipers. Where are the snipers? I scan the trees. Nothing.

As all of these thoughts are racing through my head, I suddenly realize that I’m still standing paralyzed just inside the gate. Meanwhile, my guide and the photographer have marched directly across the field toward the first group of lions.

Fantastic. In less than 10 seconds, I have completely abandoned 50% of my already meager safety instructions. I’m going to be on Dateline.

Lion encounter Casela Nature Park Mauritius
I cannot believe I am doing this!

My guide soon realizes I’ve gone rogue (though the amount of lag time involved wasn’t exactly confidence inspiring). He quickly walks back to retrieve me with a disapproving look on his face.

By this time I’ve somehow regained control of my legs and I meet him half way. I cannot even attempt to explain what it feels like to be standing next to a lion.

A lion photo shoot

I have somewhat regained my composure and am moving where the guide tells me, but only out of sheer self-preservation.

The primal instinct to get the hell of out there is overwhelming. I realize that my guide and this photographer know these lions and work with them every day which explains their blasé comfort level. But this is a first for me and I need a minute.

I mean, not talking to strangers is always good safety advice. Surely not talking to strange lions ranks right up there, too?

We approach the first lion who my guide has determined is ready for his close-up. He takes my walking stick, steps behind the lounging lion’s back and places the end of it gently but firmly between his front leg and torso. This is apparently some sort of coded message to the lion that I’m not lunch.

The guide indicates that I should crouch down behind the lion and pet it as the photographer lines up the shot. I pray that the lion has properly de-coded the stick message and crouch as instructed. However, I am still not sold on the petting part.

Walk with Lions Casela Nature Park Lion Encounter Mauritius
Getting up close and personal with a white lion at Casela

He brusquely pats the lion to show me that it’s OK and I follow suit (though with less vigor). I realize the photographer has started shooting so I make a concentrated effort to smile and try to enjoy this. No one wants to buy photographs of themselves looking terrified.

After taking a number of photos from different angles, I’m actually starting to relax. Mostly because I figure we’re just about done here. I even begin to enjoy what an incredible experience this is, momentarily forgetting that in order to get these shots I have to turn my back on four other lions currently eyeing me with interest.

But no, as soon as we finish with lion #1, we move right over to lions # 2, 3, 4 and so on repeating the process until my guide is convinced I’ve gotten my money’s worth. Or I have a complete panic attack – whichever comes first.

Tiger Casela Nature Park Mauritius
You can also have your photo taken with a tiger at Casela Nature Park

After each lion group, I thank him profusely and indicate that I’m completely satisfied. But he encourages me to continue on and meet the other lions. I can’t help but feel that I’m pushing my luck and ultimately, we conclude our lion business and exit the enclosure.

Once safely outside the gate, I exhale for the first time in about 20 minutes.

Not sure I would do that again!

Now that I’m no longer potential lion food, I walk back to the enclosure gate to watch the lions interact. And for the first time I can truly appreciate their beauty (instead of just their teeth) while the photographer is preparing my photos. I honestly can’t believe I just did this.

It was a once-in-a-lifetime thrill and yet terrifying at the same time. An incredible animal experience that may have even surpassed my reigning favorite animal encounter – swimming with the jellyfish in Palau.

And yes, it still holds a spot on my top 30 most extraordinary travel experiences.

Here are 29 more if you’re curious: Around the World in 30 Extraordinary Travel Experiences

I’m so glad I did it and the pictures are pretty impressive. But in all honesty, if I’d realized how many lions were involved I surely would have chickened out. After all, it only takes one bad apple. Just ask Siegfried & Roy.

I leave Casela still riding the adrenalin high of my death-defying lion encounter. I have time for just one more sight before heading back across the island to the hotel.

The Le Morne Peninsula

I drive down to the Le Morne Peninsula famed for its iconic craggy peak visible from much of the island. The peninsula has some of the island’s best beaches and a few new hotels but it’s significance is directly tied to a local legend associated with the cliffs.

The story goes that a group of escaped slaves fled to the peninsula hiding out atop the mountain to remain free. Unaware that slavery had been abolished after their escape, and believing they would be re-captured when they saw an approaching troop of soldiers, they flung themselves off the peaks in large numbers giving it the name Le Morne – meaning the Mournful One.

After a completely exhilarating day on this beautiful island, the sun is beginning to set and I take it as a sign that it’s time head back to the hotel. It was a brief but amazing stay here in Mauritius.

Tomorrow, I fly back to Reunion to continue my appreciation of that island’s unique beauty before flying on to Paris to meet up with my friend Susan. She will be travelling with me for the next two weeks of Round-the-World #7.

But there’s one thing I know for sure…I’ll never forget my visit to Mauritius.


  1. You look like a natural with that lion! Jenny – the lion tamer! 🙂 You’d never know from the pics that you were petrified. 😉

    1. Well, that’s good to know because I was totally petrified!! Miss you Linds! 🙂

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