Seven of Mauritius’ best dive sites10th Jun 2021
A picture perfect tropical island with crystal-clear turquoise waters lapping golden beaches, Mauritius ticks all the boxes for a beach and watersports holiday. The snorkelling is fantastic, but to really appreciate life beneath the shimmering ocean surface, you need to scuba dive.
Something for everyone
Whether you’re a complete novice or a veteran, Mauritius has dive sites to fit your interests and level of experience. The warm, sheltered lagoons within the fringing reefs boast more than 160 species of corals. Sadly, as in other parts of the world, some of shallower reefs have suffered coral bleaching, particularly following the 1998 El Niño warming, and more recently the heat wave of 2016. The reefs are home to turtles, rays, moray eels and myriad tropical fish – there are more than 4,000 species of fish including some interesting endemics. The excellent visibility and calm waters make for easy, eye-opening diving for beginners, particularly in the natural aquariums off the extensive Grand Baie and Pereybere reefs in the north, Blue Bay in the southeast and Flic en Flac on the west coast. Add well-equipped dive schools and highly professional dive instructors, and it’s no surprise that Mauritius is a popular place to learn to dive.
There are plenty of deep dives, fast drift dives, wrecks and shark encounters to challenge and amuse intrepid and experienced divers too, particularly in the north of the island, and in the passes in the barrier reef. With so many sites, it’s hard to recommend the best ones. But these are some of my favourites.
Aquarium (maximum depth 18 metres)
The calm conditions of the west coast, good visibility and proximity to the edge of the reef make Flic en Flac a good base for scuba diving. Many of Mauritius’ best dive sites lie in the dramatic canyons here, and the natural fish tank of Aquarium is ideal for beginners and photographers. In addition to the usual array of fire corals and cute reef fish, you’ll often see kingfish hunting, moray eels poking out from their rocky lairs and, at the start of summer, eagle rays. More advanced divers can combine Aquarium with nearby Big Rock (maximum depth 30 metres), another top spot for sighting eagle rays.
Cathedral (maximum depth 30 metres)
If dramatic topography is your thing then head to Cathedral, a spectacular underwater cavern on the west coast. After descending a steep wall, you swim through a small opening into a large chamber that is flooded with light. The big walls and wonderful streaming blue light instil a sense of reverence, hence the site’s name. The fish life is also amazing. Large lobsters lurk in dark holes, and you’ll often be surrounded by big shoals of fish as you emerge from the chimney that takes you back to the top of the drop-off.
Tug II (maximum depth 20 metres)
Sunk in 1981 to help create an artificial reef, Tug II is a small, isolated wreck, so fish tend to congregate there, particularly in the summer spawning season. The really high concentration of fish – including boxfish, lionfish and snappers – and the numerous colourful nudibranchs in such a small area make this a great site for photographers.
Snake Reef (maximum depth 25 metres)
Named for the snake-like trail of rocks in the sand, this lovely site has several cleaning stations staffed by busy cleaner shrimps and wrasses. There are plenty of moray eels popping out for a quick valet, and lots of lionfish swimming all around. Grumpy-looking scorpion fish are in abundance, with the big drawcard being that the reef is home to two species of Rhinopias – weedy scorpion fish – (R. eschmeyeri) and (R. frondosa). You’ll need a good dive guide to spot them, mind you: they look like pieces of seaweed, but their eyes give away their true identity.
La Passe du Puits Belle Mare (maximum depth 18 metres)
The gem of the east coast is La Passe du Puits Belle Mare – a channel through the reef with magnificent sea fans adorning its walls. Drift dives are the norm, and when the current is pumping, advanced divers can experience an exciting, high-speed traverse. Eagle rays, sharks and dolphins are often spotted, and huge shoals of tuna, barracuda and kingfish can be seen cruising through the break in the reef.
Jabeda Wreck (maximum depth 29 metres)
Experienced divers should head for the sites of Coin de Mire, the distinctive, wedge-shaped island to the north, and surrounding islands, where the strong drift often allows the exploration of several sites on one dive. The wreck of the Jabeda sits 29 metres below the surface in clear, sheltered waters where rays lie camouflaged in the sand. Whitetip reef sharks lurk in the hold, and huge white snapper patrol the depths under the hull. Nearby, shallow coral gardens teeming with tropical fish are a great option for safety stops – and also offer an easy dive for novices. And, on the other side, there’s lots of action on the drop-off; shoals of pelagics, including tuna, barracuda and the occasional dolphin, cruise the depths along the steep, black wall.
Shark Pit (maximum depth 10 metres)
Don’t be fooled by the fact that this is a shallow dive. Big surge and strong currents make for really tough diving at this sanctuary between Île Ronde and Île aux Serpents in the very north, but if you’re experienced and after shark sightings, this is the place to head. Blacktip, whitetip and grey reef sharks are almost always seen circling in the vast natural pit, and more occasional sightings include silvertip and bull sharks.
Fiona McIntosh is a former editor of Divestyle magazine and author of several books on scuba diving in the Indian Ocean.