STEALS The Republic of Mauritius
Why Now? It's shoulder season on this lush Indian Ocean island, located 1,200 miles off the African coast. There's a barrier reef teeming with hundreds of species of coral, underground caverns, and dozens of old shipwrecks—but nary another diver or snorkeler—and hiking trails through the casuarina-forested inland
plateau, home to macaque monkeys and the red-whiskered bulbul bird.
Playgrounds: The ocean off the towns of Flic en Flac (on the west coast, 40 miles northwest of the airport) and Trou-Aux-Biches (on the north coast nine miles north of capital city Port Louis) for water sports; Black River Gorges National Park (011-230-421-0159) on the southwest corner of the island for trekking.
Shelter: L'Archipel Bungalows near Trou-Aux-Biches ($80, double occupancy; 230-283-9518); local villas and apartments, booked through MauriTours (230-465-7454), cost about $30 per person per night.
Coordinates: Seven hundred and twenty miles off the east coast of Madagascar. Eleven hours nonstop by plane from London.
Forecast: A perfect 75 to 80 degrees on the beach, five to ten degrees cooler inland.
Beta: MauriTours leads day trips, from sight-seeing tours to diving expeditions; higher-end beach resorts such as the Merville Hotel in Grand Baie (230-263-8621), the north coast's tourism hub, lead one-tank dives for about $25.
A Real Deal: An Air Mauritius (800-537-1182) package good from October 15 through November 30 that includes airfare from New York or Boston and seven nights at the new swanky Oberoi Mauritius resort in Baie aux Tortues for $2,490.
Read Up: The Mauritius Command, historical fiction by Patrick O'Brian (W.W. Norton, 1991); Mauritius, Réunion, and Seychelles (Lonely Planet Publications, 1998).
Don't Miss: The ocean views from atop Le Morne—a rock formation on the southwest coast.—Philip D. Armour