Located just off the east coast of Madagascar, Mauritius is fast making a name for itself as the tropical paradise of the Indian Ocean. A volcanic island approximately 10 million years old, Mauritius is thought to be the peak of an enormous sunken volcanic chain stretching from the Seychelles to Réunion. In fact, volcanic lakes and inactive craters can be found scattered throughout the island. Mauritius also boasts a unique marine environment. Surrounded by one of the largest unbroken coral reefs on the planet, conservationists are now campaigning to protect its white coral sand beaches and fragile ecosystem. Though it can be found on the maps of early Arab mariners, Mauritius remained uninhabited until the end of the 16th century. Portuguese became the first European visitors in 1510, however, they did not lay claim to the island. In 1598 Dutch colonists settled on the island, naming it after Prince Maurice of Nassau. The Dutch colonial period saw the development of thriving sugar cane plantations as well as the decimation of the ebony forests and the extinction of the dodo bird and other indigenous wildlife. Eventually abandoning their settlement in 1710, Mauritius lay unclaimed until the arrival of the French five years later. French continued the cultivation of sugar as well as indigo, cloves, nutmeg and other spices, retaining possession of the island until 1810 when it was ceded to Britain at the end of the Napoleonic Wars. Mauritius is now a vibrant cultural mix with impressive mountains, boundless sugar cane plantations and some of the most exquisite beaches and aquamarine lagoons.