Mauritius is a small island in the Indian Ocean, about two hours by plane to the east of Madagascar – which itself is off the east coast of South Africa . It is mostly known as a luxury beach holiday destination, particularly popular with French and English tourists. Being a Mauritian living abroad, I get questions about Mauritius all the time. By the way, have you heard the term ‘as dead as a dodo’? Well the only place on earth where the dodo existed was in Mauritius.
First, let me dispel the common belief that Mauritius is only for rich travellers. Sure, if you plan to stay in one of the many 5 to 6 star beach resorts, then yes, reach for that wallet. However, there are a lot of options for people ‘on a budget’.
Here’s what you need to know about Mauritius before you depart.
Useful tips about Mauritius:
Most countries either do not require a visa or receive a visa for 60 days on arrival. There are exceptions though, mostly from some countries in the middle-east, Africa and some parts of Asia. Notable Asian countries which require a visa prior to travel include Indonesia, Laos, Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam. You can go to the official Mauritius Passport and Immigration office website for more details.
While English and French are considered national languages, the lingua franca is the Mauritian Creole, a French-based patois. French is also very commonly spoken while English is practically used only in education, in the courtroom and at the national assembly. Many established websites and communities get that totally wrong and believe that English is spoken in Mauritius because it’s an official language.
One aspect of Mauritius that often takes people (especially Asians) by surprise is that a large majority of Mauritians, especially the past two generations, have lost touch with their ancestral roots, culture and language. As a side note to Asians, while we may look alike, do not assume that we speak your language and understand your culture, so please do not be offended. Instead, try speaking the Mauritian Creole. Mauritians love that.
Mauritius is a melting pot of people, colours and cultures. The majority population is of Indian decent followed by people of African and Chinese decent. There is also a minority of people of French lineage. Mauritians however do not distinguish people by their race as is often the case in many countries around the world. We consider ourselves Mauritians first. We do however recognize people by the religion they practise. Hinduism is the most practised religion followed by Christianity (primarily Roman Catholicism), Islam and Buddhism. Do not go around asking people for their race. You’ll get a bemused look. And we respect all religions, so be kind and sensible.
- Dealing with locals
Mauritians are generally a warm people and service is typically above average, especially at establishments along the coasts which receive the most tourists. Be mindful that warmth does not necessarily mean people will not try to squeeze that extra penny from you. You should particularly be wary of taxi drivers and people selling trinkets on some beaches. Also, people expect to be treated with same dignity and respect they are showing you. Typical traits that some tourists exhibit and that are particularly frowned upon are being pretentious, conceited, loud, and chauvinistic.
- Topography & Geography
Mauritius may be a small island (slightly more than 2,000 sq km) but, because of its volcanic origin, its terrain is highly uneven. The island generally plateaus towards the centre, is mostly flat in the North and mountainous everywhere else. Consequently, land travel is never linear and travelling by car from the Northern to the Southern-most tip will take you roughly two hours. The most populated residential areas in Mauritius, referred to as towns, are all situated on the central plateau. Everywhere else, residential areas are referred to as villages. If you truly want to get the best of Mauritius, you will need to travel around quite a fair bit. If you drive, rent a car. That is by far the cheapest option to move around. Car rental is about USD25 a day. There are car rental services at the airport for convenience. Taxis are awfully expensive except for short city trips of less than 10 minutes. Expect to pay in excess of USD50 one-way if you want to travel from the west coast to the east coast. The next best alternative would be to plan your day ahead and work with a tour operator. Mautourco is a tour operator which has been in business for a long as I know. Otherwise, check with your hotel as they may provide some guidance in that area.
- The coasts
Mauritius is almost entirely surrounded by coral reefs with the exception of some parts of the Southern coast. The beautiful lagoons that these reefs create are what we owe our reputation as a great beach holiday destination to.
The North of the island is the most popular tourist destination and has a high concentration of hotels and international restaurants catering almost exclusively to tourists. As a result, prices are often on the high side. Grand-Baie and Pereybère are the two most popular beaches in the North.
The West coast is the most easily accessible from the major towns which makes it a favourite destination for local residents on weekends. The most popular beach in the West, Flic-en-Flac, offers the best sunset.
The East has some of the longest beaches in Mauritius and is less crowded than the North or West. In the East are also some popular resorts which can afford wider and quieter private beaches. Belle-Mare beach is the island’s longest at 10 km and arguably the most beautiful.
- Where to stay?
When in Mauritius, stay within walking distance to the beach. The seas on the south coast are rough so avoid the South. If you like a touristy feel and don’t mind spending a little more, head North to Grand-Baie. It has nice beaches and is the most popular with tourists. It has a number of diving schools as well if you’re into that. If you are a morning person who prefers quiet walks on the beach, no crowds, love sunrises, then head east. They have a number of 5 to 6 star hotels there right smack on the beach. You can also find a number of 3 to 4 star hotels, albeit further away from the beach.
Flic-en-flac in the West has an incredible sunset and a nice beach. For those who like exploring, head West. It has a number of beaches not too far from each other offering a variety of water activities. The best surf spots are in Tamarin or Black River. The best big game fishing expeditions go out of Black River too.
- What to eat/drink?
When migrants from Asia, Africa and Europe reached Mauritian shores, they had to make do with local ingredients and that gave rise to an incredible fusion of flavours from India, China, Africa and France. We use a selection of exotic vegetables, fruits, herbs and spices in our cuisine. Fried taro cakes, fried bread in batter, pickled fruits, dholl pancakes, octopus curries, beef stews, boiled noodles, pork and vegetable dumplings, the list goes on! The best food is found on the streets or in one of the numerous local markets. However, there are a number of good restaurants which specialize in different cuisines, always with a Mauritian flair.
No, we don’t play cricket. At all. Which is very surprising considering all the former British colonies are addicted to it. Instead, we love football and the English Premier League. In fact, the rivalry between Liverpool and Manchester United is very intense. You will see fights break out when these two play. We also love horse racing. Not for the majestic horses but for punting. Half the Mauritians I know are avid punters.
- Africa or Asia?
Many still believe Mauritius is part of Asia. That may be due to our population being largely of Asian decent. No, we are not part of Asia. Mauritius is an African nation. Mauritius is often regarded as a model of stability and economic success in the region and regularly tops the list of easiest places in Africa to do business.
Nice video captures of Mauritius:
Great Ad from the most popular local beer Phoenix:
Nice images and video clips of Mauritius: