Pamplemousses, Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam Botanical Gardens feature a stunning variety of endemic and foreign plant species. The nearby decommissioned Beau Plan sugar factory has also been converted into a fascinating museum;
Port Louis, Capital City
- Backed by mountains at the north-western end of the island, the burgeoning capital of Port Louis is a large city (in proportion to the size of Mauritius), though it contains a relatively small percentage of the country's total population. During the day, it bustles with big-city commercial activity - snarling traffic, honking horns and all. By night, in contrast, all is quiet - dare we say 'dead'? - except for the swish new Le Caudan Waterfront, where you'll find a casino, cinemas, shops, bars and restaurants.
- There's a distinct Muslim area around Muammar El KhadafiSquare (appropriately enough at the opposite end of the city from the local hat-tip to the Yanks, John F Kennedy St) and aChinatown around Royal St. The city centre is easily covered on foot.
- A good place to get a feel for city life is the Port Louis Market,near the water in the heart of downtown. With sections devoted to fruits and vegetables, meats and fish, souvenirs, crafts, clothing and spices, be ready to practice some hard bargaining.
- While in the neighbourhood, most visitors drop by the Natural History Museum to see a stuffed replica of that 'abnormal member of a group of pigeons', the dodo, which has been extinct since the late 17th century. The museum also houses stuffed representations of several other extinct birds as well as specimens of animals and fish that are still with us.
- The only other regular exhibitor in the city is the Mauritius Postal Museum, featuring a collection of Mauritian stamps and assorted philately.
- If you're interested in Islamic architecture, stop by Port Louis' oddly located Jummah Mosque, built in the 1850s in the middle of Chinatown, and Fort Adelaide, which so closely resembles a Moorish fortress that locals call it the Citadel.
- Fort Adelaide is the only one of Port Louis' four British forts that's still accessible and not in ruins; the views from its hilltop, harbourside location are ace.
- The Lourdes of the Indian Ocean, Père Laval's Shrine is just north-east of the town centre at Ste-Croix. Père Laval - who is said to have converted more than 67,000 people during his 23 years on Mauritius - is remembered with a colourful plaster statue atop his tomb. Pilgrims swear by the statue's healing powers and come in droves to touch it.
- Sea Trips
- "Mauritius is the most accessible island in the Indian Ocean, boasting as much tropical paradise as Maui or Martinique and, better still, offering it at a bargain. Though nestled up alongside Africa, it's actually more influenced by its British and French ties and massive Indian workforce.
- Here, you can enjoy a dish of curried chickpeas or a nice Yorkshire pudding on the terrace of a French café, sipping imported wine or a thick malty ale while listening to Créole music and the conversation of locals in any number of lingoes.
- Its range of visitor’s facilities runs the gamut from pamper-happy beach resorts and organised excursions to locals who'll put you up in their homes and rent you their cars for daytrips. If you're looking for a lazy beach vacation, you could certainly do worse, but don't forget the rambling interior and the multicultural capital Port Louis.
- Full country name: Republic of Mauritius
- Area: 1,860 sq km
- Population: 1.2 million
- Capital City: Port Louis (pop 150,000)
- People: Indo-Mauritian (68%)
- Créole (27%)
- Sino-Mauritian (3%),
- Franco-Mauritian (2%)
- Language: English, French, Hindi, Urdu, Bhojpuri
- Religion: Hindu (51%), Christian (30%),
- Muslim (17%)
- Government: parliamentary democracy
- GDP: US$11.7 billion GDP per capita: US$10,300
- Annual Growth: 5% Inflation: 6%
- Major Industries: Sugar, textiles, tea, tobacco, tourism
- Major Trading Partners: EU, US, South Africa, India
Facts for the Traveller
- Visas: All visitors are required to have a passport and onward ticket in order to enter the country. Most visitors do not require visas for stays of up to 90 days. Contact a Mauritian embassy prior to your visit.
- Health risks: Malaria (There is a slight risk here)
- Time Zone: GMT/UTC + 4
- Dialling Code: 230
- Electricity: 220V or 125V ,50Hz
- Weights and measures: Metric
When to Go
- Apart from the busy Christmas to New Year period, Mauritius doesn't really have a high or low season.
- The depths of Mauritian 'winter' occur from July to September, when daytime temperatures drop from sticky to balmy. With less rain and humidity, this is one of the choicest times to visit.
- Weather-wise, the least agreeable period is from January to April, when the long days can prove too hot and humid for some and the threat of cyclones is in the air. Visitors should be prepared to spend several days cooped up indoors during extra-heavy rains.
- December through March is the best time for diving, when the waters are at their clearest;
- June through August is best for surfing; and October through April is excellent for big game fishing, when the large predators feed close to shore.
- With its host of cultures and multinational residents, it's no surprise that Mauritius celebrates an equally diverse number of holidays and special events.
- Teemeedee, a Hindu and Tamil fire-walking ceremony held in honour of various gods, takes place throughout the year but mostly in December and January.
- Hindus celebrate the major Thaipoosam Cavadee in January or February at temples throughout the island. Look for processions carrying flower-covered wooden arches and pots of milk, with devotees skewering their tongues and cheeks in homage to the second son of Lord Shiva.
- Around the same time, the resident Tamils mark the end of the harvest season by feeding rice pudding to decorated cows in thefestival of Pongal, and Chinese New Year is celebrated with the standard barrage of fireworks and foodstuffs.
- Maha Shivaratri occurs over three days in February and March and is the largest and most important Hindu festival outside of India. Most of the island's Hindu population makes a pilgrimage in honour of Lord Shiva to the holy volcanic lake Grand Bassin, where they make food sacrifices and stockpile vessels of the holy water.
- If you happen upon a celebration of Holi, the Hindu festival of colours, count on a good soaking: exuberant celebrants throw cupfuls of coloured powder and water on anyone in their path sometime in February or March.
Independence/Republic Day is 12 March.
- Similar in intent to the teemeedee celebrations, Hindu and Tamil sword-climbing spectacles take place mostly between April and June.
- Père Laval Feast Day in September marks the anniversary of the Catholic convert-king's death, and pilgrims come from all over the world to his shrine at Ste-Croix to pray for miracle cures and such.
- Muslims celebrate Eid-al-Fitr to mark the end of the fasting month of Ramadan, which is the ninth month of the lunar year. Though the date of Eid-al-Fitr varies from year to year - for the next few years, it's in January and is always a public holiday.
Money and Costs
- Currency: Mauritius Rupee
- Relative Costs: Meals
- Budget: US$1-5
- Mid-range: US$5-20
- High: US$20+
- Lodging Budget: 10 - 35 GBP
- Mid-range: 35 - 70 GBP
- High: 70+ GBP
Buck up, budget traveller: Mauritius is among the cheapest visitors' destinations in the region.
- Though some officials have voiced aspirations to turn the island into a luxury getaway for well-heeled vacationers, thankfully this has yet to happen. Visitors can still keep costs to a minimum by staying in budget accommodations, such as guesthouses and self-catering apartments; rates tend to fall by upwards of 25% when you stay more than a few days. If you take buses instead of taxis and cook for yourself from time to time, you should be able to get by on less than US$25 per day. Add a swanky hotel room, daily excursions and a few restaurant meals, and your total can easily top US$100. For a bask in some serious, world-class luxury, plan on spending at least US$600 per day.
- Travellers cheques in any major currency can be exchanged without a hitch in Mauritius - and they bring a better rate of exchange than cash. (The government sets the exchange rates, so there is no need to bank hop.)
- Credit cards are widely accepted, with cash advances available from most major banks.
- Cheaper pensions and local cafes generally don't add tax or service charges to their bills, while mid-range to upscale restaurants and hotels add a 15% government tax.
- Tipping is optional in restaurants, though airport porters expect a little something, and bargaining is a part of life on Mauritius.
- South of Port Louis A scant 12km (7mi) the town of Moka - in terms of ambience - is a world apart from the capital. Not only is it the island's centre of academia, it's also blessed with sylvan landscapes, towering mountains and a number of impressive manor houses.
- Here, the University of Mauritius shares the bulk of the island's scholars with the Mahatma Gandhi Institute, founded to preserve and promote Mauritian Indian culture.
- The Gandhi Institute's Folk Museum of Indian Immigration houses around 2000 volumes of Indian archives dating from 1842 to 1910 as well as a small collection of artefacts, such as jewellery worn by early Indian immigrants, traditional musical instruments, books and assorted household knick-knacks.
- Also of historical interest is Le Réduit (the Refuge), a former governor's mansion built in 1874 that is now used by the military. Though the building itself is open to the public only two days per year (in March and October), guard-escorted walks through the gardens are well worth a visit anytime.
- Another biggie, Eureka House, was restored and opened to the public as a museum in 1986. It was built in the 1830s and, like Le Réduit, has terrific views across the valley. The museum inside has areas dedicated to music, art, antique maps, Chinese and Indian housewares and quirky contraptions like a colonial-era shower. Leave yourself time for a ramble round the stone cottages and gardens out back. Both houses are about a kilometre outside of Moka - Eureka to the north, Le Réduit to the south - and are best reached by a combination of bus and foot, unless you can convince a local to rent you a bicycle.
- Closer to Port Louis, Domaine Les Pailles is an elaborate cultural centre that includes facilities for horse-drawn carriage and train rides, plus a working replica of an ox-powered sugar mill, a rum distillery, an herb garden, a natural spring and a children's play area. An onsite riding centre, Les Écuries du Domaine, has horses for dressage and jumping and Welsh ponies for the wee ones. Continuing in the spirit of providence, the centre also has a handful of ethnic restaurants and its own jazz club and casino. Domaine Les Pailles is a 10 minute taxi ride from either Port Louis or Moka, or you can take a bus between the two and walk half an hour from the main road. Moka Town is almost midway between Port Louis and Curepipe, just east of the M2. Buses ply between the cities daily, or you can take a taxi.
Off the Beaten Track
- Belle Mare A long, luscious, casuarina-fringed beach along the eastern coast, Belle Mare is best seen from atop a reconstructed lime kiln that's been converted into a lookout tower just inland from the beach. On the far side of the road that parallels the beach stand the ruins of a sugar mill, and more substantial sugar mill ruins hide behind Belle Mare village. Aside from swimming, which is probably the best the island has to offer, about the only thing to do here is lie back and relax. It won't take you long to get used to the idea. Belle Mare is a long and roller-coaster bus ride east of Port Louis.
- Rodrigues Island A volcanic island 18km (11mi) long and 8km (5mi) wide, Rodrigues is in many way a miniature Mauritius. It's surrounded by coral reefs, covered with similar vegetation and landscapes, and blessed with an equally tropical climate. Rodrigues isn't quite as lush as Mauritius, but neither is it thick with tourists. The pace of life is more relaxed and the people prone to stop and chat. On the down side, it's more likely to be hit by the cyclones that plague the region. The last big one, Cyclone Bella, swung through in early 1991, bringing with it winds in excess of 200km/h (125mph). The island is relatively small and perfect for rambling around at leisure. Hiking is good around Mt Limon and Mt Malartic, the island's two highest points at more than 390m (1280ft). The best coastal hiking leads from Port Mathurin around the eastern coastline to Port Sud-Est. Point Coton on the eastern coast has the best beach on the island, but there are other good ones at St François, Trou d'Argent and Petit Gravier.Caverne Patate in the south-west boasts some worthwhile spelunking opportunities. Diving is the big attraction of the waters around Rodrigues - you can arrange a trip through one of the big hotels. Several of the tiny islands just off Rodrigues, such as Île Cocos and Île aux Sables, are nature reserves and require permits to visit; others, such as Île aux Crabes and Île Hermitage, are just as beautiful and are open to the public. Rodrigues lies about 560km (350mi) north-east of Mauritius. The two islands are connected daily by air and several times per month by sea. Keep in mind there's a minimum stay of 5 days and a maximum of 30.
- Many hotels provide windsurfing and kayaking equipment for their guests, and for those who prefer less strenuous communing, there's usually a glass-bottom boat to be found. For Jules Verne fans, lead-booted, bubble-headed 'undersea walks' can be arranged near Grand Baie reef, as can a ride on La Nessee, a semi-submersible boat - sort of like a submarine - that allows a close-up tour of the reefs without the nuisance of getting wet.
- Surfing was big on the island in the 1970s and Tamarin is the best surfing conditions.
- Serious anglers will love the superb deep-sea fishing in the waters off Mauritius, where there are healthy populations of blue and black marlin, bonita and yellowfin tuna, several species of shark and spectacular sailfish to hook into. Overall, October through April is the best time to sink a line, though there are fish to be caught year round and the wahoo don't start biting until September.
- Though Mauritius is promoted primarily as a 'beach' destination, the attractions of hiking and trekking through the interior are legion. For lowland walking, take into account the heat and humidity. For highland treks, come prepared for rain at any time of year, especially from October to March.
- The Réserve Forrestière Macchabée and Black River Gorges National Park provide the bulk of the wild walks on the island, though there are some fantastic short-but-strenuous hikes in the hills around Moka Town. Curepipe, atop the plateau, is the best place for trekkers to stock up before a trip. Caving aficionados will want to visit Caverne Patate on Rodrigue
- Arab traders knew of Mauritius as early as the 10th century but never stopped to settle it. Portuguese naval explorers stumbled upon it in the wake of Vasco de Gama's voyage around the Cape of Good Hope in 1498. Still, apart from introducing pesky monkeys and rats, the Portuguese did little to influence the island.
- This was left to the next wave of immigrants, the Dutch. In 1598, Vice Admiral Wybrandt van Warwyck came ashore and claimed the island for the Netherlands, christening it after his ruler, Maurice, Prince of Orange and Count of Nassau. It was another 40 years before the Dutch began to settle the country, preferring instead to use it as a supply base on the route to Java. The colony, however, never really flourished, and the Dutch departed for good in 1710, leaving in their wake the extinction of the dodo and the introduction of African slaves, Javan deer, wild boar, tobacco and sugar cane.
- Five years later, French captain Guillaume Dufresne d'Arsal claimed the island, renamed it Île de France and gave it over to the French East India Company to run as a trading base. Popular settlement began in 1721, and within 15 years the first sugar mill had been built, along with a road network and hospital.
- During the second half of the 18th century, the island's capital, Port Louis, became a free trading base and haven for corsairs - mercenary marines paid by a country to plunder the ships of its enemies.Tired of the competition, the British moved in on the corsairs (and on Mauritius) in 1810. After an initial defeat at the Battle of Vieux Grand Port, the Brits landed at Cap Malheureux on the northern coast and took the island. The 1814 Treaty of Paris ceded Île de France, Rodrigues and the Seychelles to the victors but allowed Franco-Mauritians to retain their language, religion, Napoleonic Code legal system and sugar plantations. In 1835, the slaves were freed and the labour force was supplemented by workers brought in from China and India.
- While the Franco-Mauritian plantations produced wealthy sugar barons (as they do today), Indian workers continued to be indentured by the thousands. Through strength of numbers, Indians gradually bolstered their say in the country's management, aided in 1901 by a visit from Mahatma Gandhi.
- In 1936, the Labour Party was founded to continue the struggle for labourers' rights. The following year, their burden was lightened by a new constitution granting the vote to anyone over 21 who could sign their name. Under the direction of Dr Seewoosagur Ramgoolam (who was later knighted), membership swelled and the party flourished.
- Mauritius was granted independence from Britain on 12 March 1968 and Sir Ramgoolam was elected prime minister, a title he retained for the next 13 years. He was succeeded by a coalition of the leftist Mouvement Militant Mauricien (MMM) and the Parti Socialiste Mauricien, though tensions in the parties' upper ranks rattled the infrastructure throughout their reign. In 1986, three Mauritian MPs were caught at Amsterdam's airport with heroin in their suitcases, and the resulting inquiry implicated other politicians in drug money and led to several resignations.
- Mauritius officially became a republic in 1992.
- Sir Ramgoolam's grandson, Navin Ramgoolam, won the elections in 1995 and led the country in its pursuit of prosperity until September 2000, when new elections were won by an alliance of the Socialist Militant Party and the Militant Movement - the former's Anerood Jugnath will be prime minister until 2003, when he will be replaced by the latter's Paul Berenger, who'll be the first non-Hindu to hold the office since the country gained its independence.
- Tensions between the Creole population, descended from former slaves, and the Indo-Mauritian majority, exploded in 1999. Popular reggae singer Joseph 'Kaya' Topize was arrested during a rally to legalize marijuana and died of a skull fracture while in police custody. Riots broke out across the island, particularly in Port Louis.
- Over half the population of Mauritius is Hindu and roughly another fifth is Muslim; both groups descend from labourers brought to the island by the British to work the cane fields. While some of the resident Chinese and Sino-Mauritians were also brought over as labourers, most came to Mauritius as entrepreneurs, and many still control the lion's share of village-based commerce. The remaining population is composed mainly of Créoles, descendants of African slaves, and Franco-Mauritians, the original settlers of the island. Franco-Mauritians, who make up about 2% of the population, still control many of the sugar plantations, although many emigrated to South Africa and France following independence. English is the official language of the island, though you're bound to hear French, Créole (a melange of French and various African dialects) and a smattering of Indian languages.
- The island's main contribution to the performing arts is the Créole séga, a foot-shuffling, body-gyrating, downright erotic dance that's generally performed on the beach to the rhythm of Latin American, Caribbean and African pop. Séga variations to Créole music are popular in the island's discos and are certainly more entertaining than the well-choreographed 'cultural shows' you'll see in hotel lounges.
- Probably the most famous novel set in Mauritius is Paul et Virginie, a rather sappy love story by French author Bernadin de St Pierre that you'll find reference to across the island. Famous Mauritian authors include Malcom de Chazal, Robert Edward Hart, Edouard Maunick, the brothers Loys and André Masson and humourist Yvan Lagesse. René Asgarally and Ramesh Ramdoyal are the best known of the contemporary writers producing works in Créole. Both Joseph Conrad and Mark Twain visited the island and wrote of their experiences, and Charles Baudelaire's very first poem, A une Dame Créole (To a Créole Woman), was written in the Mauritian town of Pamplemousses.
- One highlight of a visit to Mauritius is the magnificent mixture of cuisines on offer. The most common varieties are Créole, European, Chinese and Indian, with seafood almost always the specialty. In addition, a typical Mauritian buffet might include a Muslim biryani, Indian chicken curry, Chinese pork dish, Créole roast beef and French-style vegetables. Boiled rice is served with just about everything. Common dishes include rougaille, a Mediterranean dish of tomatoes, onions, garlic and any kind of meat or fish, and daube, an octopus stew. Favorite local beverages includes lassi, a refreshing yogurt and ice-water drink, and alouda, a syrupy brew of agar, milk and flavourings that's available everywhere from streetside vendors. Locally produced beer and rum are potent, plentiful and cheap; wines are expensive and usually imported from France or South Africa.
- Mauritius is a volcanic island, measuring 58km (36mi) from north to south and 47km (29mi) from east to west - about two-thirds the size of Luxembourg or the US state of Rhode Island. It lies in the Indian Ocean, roughly 800km (500mi) east of Madagascar, 3860km (2400mi) south-west of India and 220km (135mi) north-east of its nearest neighbour, Réunion. With about 600 people per square kilometre, Mauritius has one of the highest population densities in the world. As a country, it includes the inhabited island of Rodrigues, some 560km (350mi) to the north-east, and other scattered coral atolls such as Cargados Carajos and Agalega.
- The island rises steeply in the south to a central plateau and slopes gently down to the northern coast beyond the mountains that back the capital, Port Louis.
- Unlike neighbouring Réunion, Mauritius has no active volcanoes, although remnants of volcanic activity - such as Trou aux Cerfs crater in Curepipe and millions of lava boulders - pepper the island. Mauritius is surrounded by a coral reef and lined by a few long stretches of white sand beach. The reef is broken in several places, with the largest break evident in the pounding surf along the black cliffs between Souillac and Le Bouchon on the southern coast. A smaller, less spectacular break occurs at Flic en Flac on the west coast.
- The last decade has seen Mauritian conservationists scrambling to protect the paltry 1% of original forest remaining on the island. The largest nature reserve is the Black River Gorges National Park at the south-western end of the island. Other reserves include Le Pouce, Île Ronde, Île aux Serpents, Île aux Aigrettes and Bois Sec. Visitor access is (or will be) restricted at many reserves, as most are tiny in size and enclose the last vestiges of rare species.
- There's not much to mention in the way of Mauritian wildlife. You're likely to bump into a mongoose or two during your stay and perhaps the odd Java deer, but without heading deep into the interior, the ubiquitous 'domestic' guard dog is about all you'll see. Inland, look for wild pigs and bands of macaque monkeys.
- Conversely, Mauritius' trees and skies are rich with birdlife, although many of the most spectacular species are following in the footsteps of the island's most famous one-time resident, the dodo. On the endangered species list are the Mauritius kestrel (once the rarest bird on earth), the echo parakeet (still the rarest of that species) and the pink pigeon. Sadly, the 'threatened' list goes on from there. The predominant species on the island are introduced songbirds, such as the little red Madagascar fody, the jive talking Indian mynah and - most common of all - the red-whiskered bulbul.
Beneath the waves, the tally improves.
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