The Sega dance is the musical expression of the Mauritian way of life — of joy and liveliness — and, as I tipped back another rum, the Creole words floated over me, lost in translation. Colorful dresses moved around the smiling drum players in front of me, and a near-permanent smile spread across my face as I gazed, fixated on the performance.

It was an apt final night of my trip, a visit taken during the year Mauritius celebrated its 50th anniversary of independence. The Sega was initially sung by those who had been sold into slavery, and although it’s now a popular folk song, it was a reminder of why these milestones are worth celebrating, why history should not be forgotten.

Women in green and yellow dresses spinning

“Joy and Liveliness” seemed like the perfect way to summarize my time in a country I once ignorantly thought was solely comprised of beaches. The pristine, soft-white sands of the island nation, where palm trees delicately hang over azure waters, are certainly beautiful, but its true beauty comes from its people and the adventures it offers. For a small island, Mauritius packs a punch, offering a multitude of culinary and cultural experiences, as well as natural beauties.

Waterfall in a forest as seen from above

An active soul at heart, I don’t take long to put down my Kindle and beach towel and head off in search of my next adventure. And, in compact Mauritius, where a 90-minute drive can take you across the island, adventures are not hard to find.

Inland adventure came in the form of monkeys ambling alongside hiking paths in Black River Gorges National Park, a dense area of greenery where waterfalls and tropical landscapes combine into a near-empty adventure playground. The imposing Chamarel Falls continually draw in crowds, so on an early morning, following an off-road excursion through fields of sugarcane, we shared the smaller — but no-less magical — Rochester Falls with only a local coconut hawker.

Woman raises arms in front of waterfall

Such moments of bliss within the country’s spectacular nature slowly took pieces of my heart, so much so that when the time came to embark on the flight home, most of it was rooted into this island nation. I recalled strolling through the towering palms of Sri Seewoosagur Ramgoolam Botanic Gardens, which provided further moments of solitude, and stumbling across a pond of the most massive lilies I had ever seen, realized that these little encounters with nature were both so special and humbling and how lucky I was to be exploring Mauritius. It wasn’t a large island, but its offering indeed was.

Big lily pads on the water's surface

The unique, multi-colored sands of the Seven Coloured Earths attract crowds with their unique hues of pinks, purples, yellows, and browns, which streak through the mineral-rich sands and vary in degree depending on the light, weather, and time of day. Nearby, the dazzling views from Chamarel Restaurant over Le Morne eclipse even their delicious-tasting menu.

Packed-dirt landscape with tree in center

Speaking of which, some would say true joy originates from eating good food, and after sampling a week of Mauritian cuisine, I am tempted to agree. The small, dainty cakes served up market-side in Port Louis made for an ideal follow-up to a perfectly cooked and criminally cheap roti. At fancy restaurants, lavish courses of fresh seafood never seemed to end, while breakfast always consisted of the best pastries this side of Paris. The island’s past prior to gaining independence in 1968, from its discovery by the Arabs followed by Dutch, French and British colonization, influences not just its culinary delights, but also its peaceful harmony of religions. At Ganga Talao, a volcanic crater lake, you can witness this first-hand while taking in the beauty of the area’s intricate Hindu temples.

Passers-by at a produce stand at a farmer's market

With sugar cane coating much of Mauritius’ landscape, Rhumerie Chamarel became my favorite place to see, sample, and enjoy the island’s finest dark spirit. As we were guided around the rum production plant, multiple bottles in various flavors appeared for sampling, followed by many mojitos. Whatever the hour in Mauritius, a tea or rum always seemed to be the answer.

What I had envisioned as countless days spent on the beach with the occasion paddle into the surrounding warm waters had quickly become a mix of adventure and new experiences. Of course, reserving time for the white sands was never a hard task and is an essential part of any Mauritius vacation.

Mountain island sticking up from the water

Le Morne Brabant hugs the south of the island, a towering mountain rising high above the pristine waters below. Families can be seen snacking on fresh fruit under the trees or taking naps on the fine, soft sand, while the more adventurous jump on jet skis or windsurf between sandbars. Rising from the underwater world to be greeted by the backdrop of the mountain was a treat that made up for the lack of marine life away from the reefs, but no matter how many times I bobbed between magnificent shores and crystal-clear waters, I always wanted more.

Every day, Mauritius delivered just that: more joy and more liveliness as it celebrated its landmark anniversary.

Two tourists photographing aerial view of a shoreline from an observation deck