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Mauritius

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Travel Guide Africa Mauritius

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Introduction

the sky in fire

the sky in fire

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Discovered by the Portugese, claimed by the Dutch, the French and finally the British, Mauritian culture is an eclectic mix of the descendants of Europeans colonizers, African slaves and Indian labourers. The island's culinary styles, which can be attributed to its distinct heritage, are exquisite; Mauritius is a favourite among cooking shows, with specials covering the island's food cropping up constantly.

With great food filling their stomachs, tourists head for the island's trendy beaches, where swimming and surfing are generally the order of the day. Mauritius has heavily promoted its aquatic attractions, developing diverse ways of enjoying the marine world, such as undersea walks and semi-submarine rides. Inland, rising mountains make for gorgeous scenery and excellent hiking. Though Mauritius is hardly a role model for good environmental treatment, the Royal Botanical Gardens offer a delightful glimpse of the diverse flora that once thrived on the island.

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Brief History

Mauritius was uninhabited until being permanently settled by European explorers in the 1600s. The island was known by Arab and Austronesian sailors as early as the 10th century. The Portuguese sailors first visited it in 1507 and established a visiting base leaving the island uninhabited. Five ships of the Dutch Second Fleet were blown off course during a cyclone while on their way to the Spice Islands and landed on the island in 1598, naming it in honour of Prince Maurice of Nassau, the Stadtholder of the Netherlands. In 1638, the Dutch established the first permanent settlement. Because of tough climatic conditions including cyclones and the deterioration of the settlement, the Dutch abandoned the island some decades later in 1710. France, which already controlled the neighbouring Île Bourbon (now Réunion) took control of Mauritius in 1715 and later renamed it Île de France (Isle of France). Under French rule, the island developed a prosperous economy based on sugar production. In the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815) the British set out to gain control of the island. Despite winning the Battle of Grand Port, Napoleon's only naval victory over the British, the French surrendered to a British invasion at Cap Malheureux three months later. They formally surrendered on 3 December 1810, on terms allowing settlers to keep their land and property and to use the French language and law of France in criminal and civil matters. Under British rule, the island's name reverted to the original one. An independence campaign gained momentum after 1961, when the British agreed to permit additional self-government and eventual independence, which eventually happened on 12 March 1968.

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Geography

Mauritius (including Rodrigues), just like its neighbour Reunion, is part of the Mascarene Islands. These islands were formed in a series of undersea volcanic eruptions 8-10 million years ago, as the African plate drifted over the Réunion hotspot. Unlike Reunion though, the islands Mauritius, Rodrigues and the smaller ones are not volcanically active anymore. The island of Mauritius itself is formed around a central plateau, with its highest peak in the southwest, Piton de la Petite Rivière Noire at 828 metres above sea level.

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Regions

The island of Mauritius is divided into 9 districts:

  • Black River
  • Flacq
  • Grand Port
  • Moka
  • Pamplemousses
  • Plaines Wilhems
  • Port Louis
  • Rivière du Rempart
  • Savanne

and 3 dependencies:

  • Rodrigues - an island 560 kilometres north-east of Mauritius.
  • Agalega - two small islands about 933 kilometres north of Mauritius.
  • Cargados Carajos Shoals - also known as the Saint Brandon islands, about 402 kilometres north of Mauritius.

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Cities

  • Port Louis - The modern capital
  • Mahebourg - The old colonial capital
  • Beau Bassin
  • Curepipe
  • Phoenix
  • Quatre Bornes
  • Rose Hill
  • Vacoas

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Sights and Activities

Black River Gorges National Park

The Black River Gorges National Park is a spectacularly wild expanse of thick forest which covers a total of 3.5% of the total surface of the island. The park is home to over 300 species of plants and nine species of bird which are endemic on Mauritius. These include the pink pigeon which is staging a comeback after almost being extinct. Others include the Mauritius kestrel, pink pigeon, echo parakeet and Mauritius cuckoo-shrike. Although there is a network of hiking trails, they're not always well marked, so check the route and trail conditions at the information centres before you go into this wild area.

Le Morne Cultural Landscape

Le Morne Cultural Landscape is one of the newest sites on the Unesco World Heritage List. It mainly consists of a rugged mountain on the edge of the Indian Ocean in the southwest of Mauritius. It was used as a shelter by runaway slaves through the 18th and early years of the 19th centuries. Here, they wre protected by the mountain’s isolated, wooded and almost inaccessible cliffs. The slaves formed small settlements in the caves and on the summit of Le Morne. Mauritius unfortunately was an important stopover in the eastern slave trade and also became known as the “Maroon republic” because of the large number of escaped slaves who lived in Le Morne.

Beaches

Many people visiting Mauritius go here just to enjoy the wonderful climate at one of the beaches, or at one of the swimming pools of their hotels. Mauritius boasts a high density of very exclusive hotels and is more affordable than for example the Seychelles or Maldives. White sanded palm fringed beaches and excellent diving and snorkelling all belong to the possibilities here.

Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam Botanical Garden

Giant lily pads

Giant lily pads

© All Rights Reserved baluba

The Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam Botanical Garden (sometimes shortened to the SSR Botanical Garden), commonly known as the Pamplemousses Botanical Garden, is located near Port Louis, and is the oldest botanical garden in the Southern Hemisphere. The garden dates back to 1770 when Pierre Poivre designed it, and covers an area of around 37 hectares. It is home to an incredible variety of tropical plants, many of them indigenous. The garden is located in the proximity of Port-Louis in the district of Pamplemousse. The botanical garden was initially opened as a private garden by the French governor of Mauritius nearly 300 years ago, later to become the national botanical garden of Mauritius. The botanical garden stretches over endless acres of land and it may take you more than a week to cover the whole garden. It is populated with more than 650 varieties of plants among which are the famous Baobabs, the Palmier Bouteille, the ineluctable Giant Water Lilies, dozens of medicinal plants, a large spice garden and many more. One of the main attractions of the botanical garden is the 85 different varieties of palm trees brought from different corners of the world. Other indigenous species of plants are also exhibited here.

Crocodile & Giant Tortoises Park and Nature Reserve

The Crocodile & Giant Tortoises Park and Nature Reserve is home to various species of animals, reptiles, birds, butterflies and plants. The park is located in the south of Mauritius and is set in a beautiful rain forested valley with natural freshwater springs, full of prawns and fish. As part of your visit to the Crocodile & Giant Tortoises Park, the park’s guides will guide you through some unforgettable walks, and you will stroll through luxuriant greenery where banana trees, palm trees and giant bamboos provide shade for the crocodiles and the giant tortoises.

Aquarium

The Aquarium, located in a small relaxing village in the northwest of Mauritius, is home to a large number of species including over 200 species of fish, invertebrates, live coral and sponges, originating from the waters around the island. The newly designed architecture of the aquarium shows off what the aquarium has to offer to a better degree. In the Aquarium you are able to enjoy a unique walk on the ocean floor observing the many types of aquatic animals that Mauritius ocean eco-system has to offer. It is fascinating to watch the crystal clear Mauritius water and observe the rich sea life from the land above. During your visit you will get to see the Crown squirrelfish and the Devil Firefish as well as a number of sharks. Also, get ready to see neon bright, glowing yellows, fluorescent greens, purples and other amazing colors you probably didn’t believe could be found in any marine wildlife.

Cerfs Island Tour

The Cerfs Island Tour is a day full of fun and relaxation on a true paradise island! As part of this tour you will visit: Trou d'Eau Douce , Ile aux Cerfs and the Grand River South East waterfalls. You will be picked up from Grand Bay at around 08:30am in the direction of Trou d'Eau Douce by minivan, enjoying great views of Mauritius’ east coast. Then, traveling by motor boat from Trou d'Eau Douce, you will arrive to Ile aux Cerfs, which is a beautiful island near the east coast of Mauritius. This amazing paradise island is the perfect setting for a relaxing day of sun worship.

Other sights and activities

  • Aapravasi Ghat is also on the Unesco List, near Port Louis;
  • Lion Mountain is a hike near Vieux Grand Port;
  • Tamarin Falls is great hike and refreshing waterfall afterwards;
  • Macabée Bel Ombre Nature Preserve;
  • Domaine du Chasseur Nature Preserve;
  • L'Aventure du Sucre is a museum about sugar factories on Mauritius, near Port Louis.

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Events and Festivals

December/January/February

  • Fire Walking - This Tamil ceremony takes place between December and February. After ten days of purification, meditation and praying, penitents go to the temple where they walk slowly across a pit of burning coal - said to represent the outstretched sari of Draupadee - before dipping their feet in milk to cool down.
  • Holi - This is an important time for joy and sharing in the Indian calendar. During this frenzied but always good-natured event, men, women and children throw coloured water and powder on each other while wishing one another good fortune.
  • Id-El- Fitr - Signalling the end of Ramadan - the fasting period for people of Muslim faith - Id-El-Fitr sees participants exchanging gifts, giving alms to the poor, and visiting their families and friends to wish them good fortune for the months ahead.
  • Thaipoosum Cavadee - Celebrated in honour of God Muruga, the son of Lord Shiva, Thaipoosum Cavadee is not only the most important festival in the Tamil calendar, but also the most spectacular. After ten days of fasting and prayers in January/February, devotees embark on a pilgrimage to local Kovils (Tamil temples). Throughout the procession, these devotees carry ‘cavadees’: carved, wooden structures decorated with leaves, flowers, fruits and photographs of saints, each designed to honour Lord Muruga. The celebration has gained notoriety in recent years because many of the devotees pierce certain parts of their anatomy with fine needles, including their cheeks, backs and chests.
  • Chinese Spring Festival - Chinese New Year Day is celebrated each year on a different date because of variations between the lunar and solar calendars. According to Chinese custom, no scissors or knives can be used on the day of the festival. Red - a traditional symbol of happiness - is the dominant colour, and food is offered to attendees to ensure abundance during the year. A wax cake is, for example, customarily shared between relatives and friends. Firecrackers are set off to drive away evil spirits, but the ‘pièce de résistance’ is the famous Dragon Feast - performed a few days into the New Year - when Chinese dancers and musicians take to the roads and perform the traditional Lion dances.
  • Maha Shivratree - In this festival, thousands of pilgrims, all dressed in white, walk long distances and converge on the sacred lake of Grand Bassin, carrying the ‘Kanwar’ - wooden arches covered with flowers and small mirrors. Maha Shivratree is celebrated in honour of Lord Shiva. Hindu devotees fetch holy water from the lake and ceremonies take place over three to four days. The whole scene is reminiscent of the great rituals that take place on the banks of the Holy Ganges in India.

March/April

  • 12th of March, National Day - Independence Day is celebrated with great national pride all the way across Mauritius.
  • Ougadi - This festival celebrates the New Year of the Telegu - an Indian ethnic group - and is characterised by the preparation of elaborate family meals, cultural shows and the distribution of prayers, cakes and sweets between relatives and friends.

August / September

  • Ganesh Chaturthi - Celebrated by Hindus on of the fourth day of the lunar month in August/September, this festival commemorates the birth of the Hindu God Ganesh. Small replicas of the God, with its elephant head, are taken to the beaches or to riverbanks so they can be immersed before sunset.
  • Père Laval pilgrimage - Every 9th of September, Mauritians of all faiths walk or drive to Sainte-Croix near Port Louis to visit the tomb of the Blessed Jacques Désiré Laval - the ‘Apostle of the Black People’. The celebration around Père Laval, who is believed to have healing powers, reminds us of the fervour of the Lourdes pilgrimage in France. Interestingly, Father Laval was the first person beatified in the pontificate of Pope John Paul II.

October / November

  • Divali - Celebrated in October/November, Divali marks the victory of Rama over Ravana: of light (truth) over darkness (ignorance). It also commemorates Krishna’s destruction of the demon Narakasuram. During this festival, small clay lamps are lined up on walls and balconies and in yards. They are lit at sunset and their golden beams - believed to guide the Goddess of wealth and good fortune into the lantern owner’s house - can be seen everywhere across the island.

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Weather

Mauritius has a tropical oceanic climate with moderately high temperatures and humidity throughout the year. Temperatures average between 25 °C and 30 °C during the day, warmest being November to April, coolest between June and September. Nights are around 22 °C in summer, 18 °C in wintermonths. Rain occurs in all months but the wettest period is from December to April. During these months tropical cyclones occasionally strike the island or pass near enough to give very heavy rainfall and violent damaging winds.

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Getting there

By Plane

Air Mauritius is the national airline of the country and has its base at Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam International Airport (MRU), 50 kilometres from the capital Port Louis. International destinations with Air Mauritius include Antananarivo, Bangalore, Cape Town, Chennai, Delhi, Durban, Frankfurt, Geneva, Hong Kong, Johannesburg, Kuala Lumpur, London, Melbourne, Milan, Mumbai, Munich, Nairobi, Paris, Perth, Reunion, Singapore and Sydney. Several other airlines fly to a few of these cities as well, like Air France, Air Madagascar, British Airways, Meridiana, Emirates, Condor and South African Airways. Additional destinations are Rome, Lyon, Nantes, Nantes, Mahé (Seychelles), Dubai and Zürich.

By Boat

It's possible to travel from Mauritius to Reunion by the ferry 'Mauritius Pride'. The overnight journey takes around 12 hours. Other than that there are no official passenger services, though you might be able to catch a ride on a cargo ship or yacht.
There are regular boat services from Mauritius and Reunion to Toamasina in Madagascar on the east coast. It departs approximately once every two weeks.

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Getting around

Plane

Air Mauritius flies between Mauritius (main island) and Rodrigues, taking around 90 minutes. Air Mauritius also does helicopter tours of the island, usually lasting around 20 minutes or so.

By Train

There are no train services on Mauritius.

By Taxi

The best way to explore the various parts of Mauritius is to rent a taxi for the whole day. The taxi drivers are generally friendly, can speak English and French.

By Car

Roads on Mauritius are paved and in a fair condition. The driving skills of the locals might be another story though and it is best to drive defensive and watch out. You can rent cars from international as well as local firms at the international airport or in Port Louis. Traffic drives on the left and you need your national driver's licence. Small motorbikes or bikes are other options.

By Bus

Mauritian buses are generally good - albeit a bit slow - and can take you to (or near) just about any place on the island. There are several different operators, none of which cover the entire island. Port Louis and Curepipe are the main hubs. Tickets are cheap and should be kept handy, as inspectors check them frequently. The main three companies are the National Transport Corporation United Bus Service and Mauritius Bus Transport. Triolet Bus Service has good services as well.

By Boat

Coraline has crossings once a week between Mauritius and Rodrigues. Other than that, it will be chartered boats to go out and explore Mauritius underwater or catch your own delicious fish diner for the night.

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Red Tape

Nationals from Algeria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, Yemen, Afghanistan and Liberia must have a visa prior to arrival. No visa is required for other nationals, provided you have an return/onward ticket and sufficient funds to stay on the island. This is sometimes controlled, but not always. For more information, visit the Passport and Immigration Office website.

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Money

See also: Money Matters

The rupee (₨) is the currency of Mauritius. There are coins of 5 cents, 20 cents, ₨½, ₨ 1, ₨ 5, ₨ 10 and ₨ 20, and banknotes come in denominations of ₨ 25, ₨ 50, ₨ 100, ₨ 200, ₨ 500, ₨ 1,000 and ₨ 2,000.

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Study

The University of Mauritius (UOM) is the main tertiary institution in Mauritius. There are various other institutions offering courses in many fields.

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Language

The official language in Mauritius is English. As such, all government administrative documents are in the Commonwealth variety of English. However, French is the language most commonly used in formal settings, and is by far the dominant language in the mass media, as well as in corporate and business dealings. In fact, even English language television programs are usually dubbed into French. Most subjects are taught in and examined in English in the education system.

The most commonly spoken language is Mauritian Creole, a French based Creole which has incorporated some words from diverse sources including but not limited to English, Dutch and Portuguese, and has slight pronunciation differences from standard French. While there is no official written standard for Mauritian Creole, when written down for informal communication, words are often spelled differently from standard French. The next most commonly spoken language is French, which is spoken fluently by most locals, with English being a not too distant third. Virtually everyone working in the tourism industry will be able to speak fairly decent, albeit heavily accented, English, and all government departments will have English-speaking staff on duty. Other languages spoken by much smaller numbers include: Hindi, Urdu, Hakka, Bhojpuri and Mandarin. Tamils constitute around 10% of the population and speak Tamil.

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Eat

When leaving Mauritius, don't wait until you go through passport control if you want to have a snack. The coffee shop after passport control is not value for money. You would be better off visiting the snack bar before check-in and taking your purchases through with you.
Mauritius is a paradise for the senses, not only for the eyes with its beautiful landscape, but also for the palate. Gastronomes will find a variety of flavours and aromas inherited from the different migrations through its history. Culinary traditions from France, India, China and Africa, the best-known and appreciated cuisines in the world, have been passed on through generations.

Depending on the region, rice or a variety of flat bread called chapattis or roti, called farata (paratha) by the local people, is eaten with curries. The extensive use of spices like saffron, cinnamon, cardamom, and cloves and herbs like thyme, basil, and curry leaves are the common ingredients that provide some powerful, yet subtle, savour. Dal, a variety of lentil soup, are many and varied according to which type of lentil is used; vegetables, beans, and pickles accompany the dishes. Dholl puri and roti, originally an Indian delicacy have become the fish and chips of Mauritians. Biryani from Mughal origins is a dish expertly prepared by the Muslim community, with meat mixed with spiced rice and potatoes.

You can buy many snacks on the streets of Mauritius including the famous gateaux piments (a variant of the indian vadai ; literally, chilli cakes), and vegetable or meat samosas (puffs), along with octopus curry in bread. The tomato and onion based dish called Rougaille (pronounced rooh-guy) is a variation of the French ragoût. The dish usually consists of meat or seafood (corned beef and salted snoek fish rougaille are very popular with the locals) and all Mauritians eat this dish often if not daily. Mauritians have a sweet tooth and make many types of 'gateaux', as they are called. The cakes vary and you can find cakes very much like at home and others similar to Indian sweets like Gulab Jamun and Rasgulla among many others. Check out the queues where the street sellers are selling their type of snacks and the longest queue will probably have the tastiest food on sale and is very cheap.

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Drink

Mauritius produces a wide range of cane rum. It is very cheap and is a nice drink when mixed with cola and ice. Don't forget the coconut water with a dash of lime and a splash of local rum over ice. The serious amateur will try to find a bottle of five years old (or older) rum. Worth the price difference!

If you are staying in a hotel where the drinks are wildly expensive consider collecting your tipples while you are out and about from the local village shops or supermarkets where the prices are much cheaper.

The local beer Phoenix costs around 30 rupees for a pint. Usually served very cold. The local Black Eagle beer, brewed in Nouvelle France is one to watch out for as well. Definite refreshment to match the sweltering summer heat.

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Sleep

Although Mauritius is a place for honeymooners and luxury hotels and resorts are abundant, there are many more options regarding accommodation on the island, ranging from several budget hotels and hostels to nice mid-range places including nice Bed and Breakfasts and Guesthouses.

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Health

See also: Travel Health

There are no vaccinations legally required to travel to Mauritius. There is one exception though. You need a yellow fever vaccination if you have travelled to a country (7 days or less before entering Mauritius) where that disease is widely prevalent.

Still, it's a good thing to get your vaccinations in order before travelling to Mauritius. The general vaccination against Diphtheria, Tetanus and Polio (DTP) is recommended. Also both hepatitis A as well as typhoid would be recommended. If you are staying longer than 3 months or you might consider hepatitis B and typhoid vaccinations. Rabies might only be needed if you are working with animals, biking or exploring caves.

There are sporadic cases of malaria reported on the island, but it's taking precautions in the form of pills is not recommended, just use repellent to prevent mosquito bites. dengue sometimes occurs, especially in more urban areas. Buy repellent (preferably with 50% DEET), and sleep under a net, there is no vaccination for dengue.

Finally, other possible health issues include diarrhea and other general travellers' diseases like motion sickness. Watch what you eat and drink and in case you get it, drink plenty of fluids (to prevent dehydration) and bring ORS.

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Safety

See also: Travel Safety

Be alert for your own security in Mauritius. The crime rate has decreased in recent years and Mauritius is a much safer country for visitors than most other destinations. The Tourism Police and Coast Guards patrol regularly in areas frequented by tourists, and most cities, beaches and other major attractions are under camera surveillance. Nevertheless, you should exercise common sense and look out for suspicious behaviour, as you would anywhere in the world as tourist are usually more vulnerable to theft. Be a smart traveller. Before your trip: Organize comprehensive travel insurance and check what circumstances and activities are not covered by your policy. Register your travel and contact details, so that you can be contacted in an emergency.

Avoid remote areas alone. Do not leave valuables in view in your car. Avoid unexpected offers of (seemingly free) guided tours. Ulterior motives are common. Do not patronise unlicensed taxis (taxi marrons). Some robbers use this trick to lure and attack their victims.

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Keep Connected

Internet

An internet connection can be hard to come by on Mauritius, although there are one or two small internet cafe's in Port Louis. Most hotels do have connections though.

Phone

See also: International Telephone Calls

Mauritius' international country code is 230.

Post

Mauritius Post offers services, which are fairly reliable but not overly fast. For parcels, contact companies like DHL, UPS or FedEx.

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Quick Facts

Mauritius flag

Map of Mauritius

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Capital
Port Louis
Population
1,210,000
Government
Parliamentary Democracy
Religions
Hinduism, Christianity (Catholic), Islam
Languages
English, French, Morisyen, Bhojpuri
Calling Code
+230
Nationality
Mauritian

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