MAURITIUS: The magical, beautiful Indian Ocean Island
Mauritius is situated in the warm and crystal clear Indian Ocean, to the east of the island of Madagascar, which itself, lies off the southeast of Africa near Mozambique. Its location has made it an “aspirational” place by well heeled travelers from Europe, large parts of Asia, and Africa. It is still a place to be fully embraced by American tourists, who are more attracted towards the Caribbean, which is more easily accessible from the United States. It is, though, their loss, for Mauritius is truly a special place.
This magical island is small, just 30 miles by 40 miles, and yet it is without a doubt one of the most stunning places in the world to visit, and a fantastic place to vacation. The government of the country has been managing the island very carefully to create a mystical, magical, and romantic island. Through its careful management of its resources, and the very clear strategy about the type of tourist it actually wants to attract.
It is an island of romance, and it is one of my most favorite places in the world that I have ever vacationed in. It is very high on my list of places that you should visit.
As you jet into Mauritius, you usually fly over the lush green island, landing right down on the bottom of the island in the south. You land at the (hard to remember or say!) Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam International Airport.
It is a pretty modern and contemporary airport. One of the things to note at the airport is that you will only see scheduled airlines there. The government allows no charter airlines. They only allow scheduled airlines. They don’t go out and seek mass tourism. So unlike many places in the Caribbean, the Bahamas and so on, they do not encourage mass package tourism using charter flights.
The island was the original home of the now extinct Dodo bird. I am not really quite sure what possessed this bird, other then I guess it has a reputation for being incredibly stupid, as going extinct when you’re living on the island of Mauritius, seems to be an incredibly stupid thing to do!
Once you leave the airport and start to head towards where you are staying, the thing that strikes you about Mauritius is this incredibly lush, rich, green countryside. Phenomenal shades of green, and that is largely due to the huge sugar cane fields across the island. And the huge amounts of rains it gets, particularly in December, January, February, March, April time period. Mauritius gets a lot of rain.
The other thing you notice as you drive through this very lush green countryside is it is quite hilly. The hills are volcanic, because the island originally, way back when has volcanic origins.
As you drive around and head towards where you are staying, the other thing that strikes you is that almost every single house you see is incomplete. It needs a floor added on it, or an extension added on it. What was explained to us is that this is due to the nature of taxation, where there is some kind of penalties or taxes that come into play when your property is completed. Other people have thought this was all very backward and “Third World”.
But if you take a look even at some of the UK cities, you’ll find windows bricked up. It is because a century or more ago, the government introduced a tax based on the number of windows you had. It’s a similar kind of concept here, but it is very strange, because you just see all these incomplete house with people living in them.
The other thing that strikes you as you drive through the little villages on your way from the airport is many factory shops. Most of them appear to be Ralph Lauren factory shops. Mauritius has a very large, or it used to have a very large industry around garments. They used to make a lot of the designer clothes. Now, with the drift into India and China, it is actually hitting them quite hard. In fact, one of the economic problems they are wrestling with at the moment is the loss of a lot of the garment industry to places like China, and unemployment has been rising in Mauritius as a result of that.
The other thing that strikes you, is as you drive around, you see a lot of Indian influence. Then you see French influence. Then you see Chinese influence. You do see this very big mix of different types of people and different types of cultures, and it is really quite exciting. This is largely due to the history of the island. In fact, if you take the religion of the island, for example, 51 percent of the population is Hindu, 30 percent is Christian, 17 percent is Muslim, and then there is all sorts of others.
If you go right back to the history of the island, way back the Portuguese stumbled across it, around about 1498.They didn’t really stop there a lot, because they had better places to go, particularly in the Cape, in what we now know as South Africa.
Then eventually, about 100 or so years later, the Portuguese influence waned. The Dutch took much more interest in it, using it as a supply base. Slaves started to be brought in to help with sugarcane and growing sugarcane and then the French took over the island. It was called Isle de France, and it was handed over to the French East India Company and they ran it as a trading base.
A sugar mill was established, and they started to build road networks. For a very, very long time, the French controlled the island, which is why French is still one of the official languages here. In 1810, the British took over Mauritius via a deal in the Treaty of Paris, where they agreed to maintain a degree of “Frenchness” about it. They kept the language, they kept a lot of the religion, they kept a lot of in fact even the Napoleonic Code, the legal system. The British then controlled Mauritius right up until 1968, when Mauritius became independent.
After the end of slavery, and when the African slaves were freed, the wealthy sugar barons looked towards India for work forces. They started to bring a lot of Indian people in to the island, so the whole balance of the population shifted toward Indian, and later toward Chinese.
As a result of the large Indian population, the first Prime Minister after independence was Indian, Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam.
The resorts are very, very self contained. There’s almost no need to venture out and everything you need there is within that space. More of them have their own private beaches, Once you’re in your self contained resort, there is almost no need to venture off and many people, the only time they venture out of their complex is when they go back to the airport at the end.
The island is popular for weddings. So many people come to get married there. Almost every single day the last time I was on Mauritius, the place we stayed, we were there for twelve nights and I think someone got married every single day.
So what are my tips if you’re visiting Mauritius.
#1 WHEN TO VISIT
The first thing to do if you’re visiting Mauritius, is to be extremely careful about when you visit. You must avoid the time from January through until April. The reason for that is because it rains and it rains and it rains.
It’s very warm, in fact it’s the warmest time of the year, but it rains and rains and rains! There’s also a strong chance of cyclones.
The temperature at the beginning part of the year is very warm, it’s up to 30 degrees Celsius. The rest of the part of the year, it’s actually only about 24 degrees Celsius and it’s very nice. But as I mentioned, be very careful, I know people who have gone in April and it’s just rained the whole time they’re there.
Both times I’ve been to Mauritius is actually in May, around my birthday time. We’ve had nice weather, but it is slightly risky. In fact, the last time we went, there was actually a cyclone which hit the island the night before we got there, but it recovered fairly quickly after that.
#2 YOU NEED TO LIKE TO UNWIND AND LIE AROUND
Secondly, only go to Mauritius if you’re the type of person that really likes to do very little, and likes to unwind. I’ve already mentioned that you basically go to your complex. Once you’re in your complex, that’s where you are and it’s all about the sea. It’s all about lying in the sun. It’s all about perhaps splashing around the water or doing water sports.
#3 CHOOSING YOUR HOTEL
The third tip is when looking for hotels to make sure you research them very carefully. I think it’s worth it if you’re going to Mauritius to look at the all inclusive package type approach. Most of the hotels, whether it’s three, four, five stars or less, tend to offer inclusive packages.
The reason for that is actually a practical one. There’s not a lot of places to go out and eat. Resorts are quite spread out around the island. They’re self contained, so there are not little restaurants around the corner, because pretty much all the tourists eat within their resorts.
In fact, what you’ll find is that it’s incredibly difficult to even pop into another resort to take a look. If you don’t go to an all inclusive place, you are going to probably end up spending all the money there anyway.
Now, in some places, all inclusive often means down market but in Mauritius that’s not necessarily the case. Even the four and five stars will offer all inclusive packages, some of which will even include their drinks. I have stayed at the Maritim, Beau Rivage and Le Tousserok which offered inclusive rates, and had very good food.
There is a huge wide range of hotels, from very family focused right through to those very exclusive ones. In fact, that’s the whole appeal of Mauritius, that it is quite a wide spread. Although, saying that, bearing in mind because of the nature of tourism they are encouraging, it’s a relatively expensive place to go to.
#4 GET A PRIVATE TRANSFER
The other thing to do, is book a private transfer if you can, versus the bus transfers. The reason for that is because the hotels are spread out quite a lot, and can be over a hour to get to. What happens if you get a bus transfer is that it tends to hop from hotel, to hotel, to hotel – so you can end up taking forever to get to your hotel because you’re going from venue to venue to venue.
When you go back to the airport, it’s also very frustrating. It takes a lot of time because they’re dropping off and fetching people. So if you can, book some kind of private transfer because it’s much more efficient, it’s much less hassle, and all that kind of thing.
#5 WATER SPORTS
The hotels are very self contained, and most will offer lots of activities, particularly water sports that will include skiing, snorkeling, kayaks, small sailing boats and such like for free.
There is also a water park. Although quite run down, it’s a great water park actually. Because tourists tend to stay within their hotels, not many tourists go. In fact, both times we went they actually had to open many of the rides for us!
If you go to Mauritius, you must go snorkeling and if you’re so inclined, go diving. The sea in Mauritius is just spectacular. It’s crystal, crystal clear. Even if you’ve never wanted to go snorkeling, do it. We went out snorkeling and most hotels as I mentioned will have 2 trips a day.
It was just amazing. The things you see. The fish you see and it’s quite deep where you go to. It’s unbelievably amazing.
#6 HIRE A CAR FOR A DAY
Hire a car for just one day. Every time I have been, we keep making the mistake of hiring it for more than one day. You don’t need it. One day is enough. The island is so small. It’s only 30 miles by 40 miles and it’s very easy to explore.
There’s one major motorway which heads from the South up to the North. There’s lots of little side roads, and easy to get horribly lost, which we did. But because it’s not so big, you find your way back.
You basically want to go from North to South, whichever way you’re staying. Up at the top of the island in the North is a place called Grand Baie. It’s a very nice little bay with lots of yachts and boats. There is also a 40 minute police Safari submarine tour and the guard at Grand Baie and it goes under about 20 meters and 30 meters in depth.
On the way, too, there’s a couple of good stops to make. The first stop to make is at the Pamplemousses Botanical Garden. It’s a 60 acre garden. It has a pond of very famous Victoria Amazonica Lilies. These are monstrous, huge, big lilies. I think some of them are about eight feet or more in size, in diameter. They’re just incredible, and just absolutely beautiful!
Then they also have a lot of palms. The Royal Palm, the Brazilian Queen Palm, Raffia Palms, Chinese Lady Palm. I’m not big into looking at plants, but this was a great day out and these huge, big trees.
There’s also a very beautiful house in the botanical garden, which used to be an official residence. Just outside the house, there are all these trees have been planted by famous visitors and you can actually check out the history of the island based on who planted the trees when. If you walk along, you’ll see everyone from Mahatma Gandhi through to Nelson Mandela through to British royalty.
As you walk down, you can almost see how the change in politics and influence. The island is leaning towards a European history with its link to Holland, to the UK, to France, but it has got strong ties with the East with obviously places like India because of the huge Indian population.
China, because of the nature of the Chinese people there and of course, Africa. So you can almost walk along and you could almost plot based on by day, the celebrity that’s been there planting theses trees, how the politics of the island has changed. It’s really fascinating. It’s incredible whose been there and planted trees. It’s just quite amazing so that’s something really, really worth doing.
The only other place to visit is Port Louis, which is the capital. They have a very nice waterfront complex on the large harbor there, as obviously most things have to be shipped in to Mauritius.
It’s not amazing, but it’s very nice time to spend some time there to have something to drink or to eat or whatever. There is also a small casino, and they are not that strict about dress codes and things and that’s quite good.
Mauritius. It’s a magical place to visit. Be careful about when you visit. Go there only if you like to unwind. Book a hotel that has got an all inclusive package and lots of features. Make sure that you get a private transfer. Hire a car for one day, because there’s only three big things to see, which is the Pamplemousses Botanical Garden, Grand Baie and the tour and Port Louis.
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