Matt Day goes to find out
American writer Mark Twain once said “You gather the idea that Mauritius was made first and then heaven was copied after Mauritius.” We weren’t going to take the word of a guy who’s alter-ego is a straw-chewing, thigh-slapping hick from the banks of the Mississippi, so we went to find out what it’s all about for ourselves.
Beyond the self-absorbed honeymooners and glitzy luxury resorts, Mauritius is an island full of surprises. It’s got all of the characteristics you would expect of a tropical island. Sun? Check! Sea & Sand? Yup!
Mauritius has totally nailed the template for a tropical paradise. The sea is every shade of turquoise, the beaches are idyllic, with the backdrop of rolling hills with rocky mountains jutting out of them.
You only need to do a quick Google image search to discover the place is off the charts in the looks department. So you could say the same for many tropical paradise islands! Tobago, St Lucia, in fact, most of the Caribbean! What makes Mauritius so special? I’ve been fortunate enough to explore many tropical destinations, and while there are none that have failed to impress, there are few which have left such a positive impression on me.
Mauritius is a melting pot of cultures and a culmination of many years of influence from many parts of the world. In order to fully understand the culture, you need to do a bit of digging into its history. Many countries have had their input over the years. Sadly not all of it was positive…
There seem to be a few versions of this floating around the island, so don’t shoot me if this is wrong, but the word on the street is that the Portuguese were the first to establish any sort of human presence on the island. Their interest was fairly short-lived, and they abandoned their small settlement on the island.
The Dutch came along in the late 1500s on their way to explore Western Australia. They stayed for around 20 years, then abandoned the Island. The Dutch are said to have been the ones who introduced Sugar cane and domestic animals. They are also responsible for naming the Island ‘Mauritius’
The French got involved in the early 1700s and spent just shy of 100 years making a nuisance of themselves. After renaming the Island ‘Isle de France’, they developed many buildings and infrastructures which remain to this day, but this was mostly at the expense of slaves that had been imported from Africa and Madagascar to build stuff and work in the lucrative sugar cane farming industry.
Along with all this slave labour, the French were also starting piss off the English, by attacking their commercial ships in the area, and eventually, the Brits decided enough was enough and launched an attack in the early 1800s. After one failed skirmish, the British army finally overpowered the French and took control of the Island reinstating its name to ‘Mauritius’ and also guaranteed to retain the language, customs and traditions of the inhabitants. They even liberated all the slaves and reimbursed the planters for the loss of their slaves. As a Brit I for one was relieved to hear a rare positive story of our days of global domination!
The British are very much regarded as the liberators of slavery on the island. They also helped shape the culture of the island as it is today. During the British occupation, thousands of Indian immigrants were brought to the island to work in the sugar cane fields. With them came their religious beliefs, predominantly Hindu and Muslim faiths. This era was of great prosperity with the increase in production and export of sugar to England.
Before I get shot up in internet flames by some outraged historian, it’s worth mentioning that the British rule wasn’t all rum and dancing! The immigrants were treated pretty poorly. Mahatma Gandhi visited the islands at the beginning of the 19th century and suggested that the indo-Mauritians got more involved with politics and education. He even sent a lawyer from India to help them.
England eventually relinquished control of the Island to local governance in 1968. It’s been far from smooth sailing since then, but the economy has evolved and industry developed bringing great stability in infrastructure.
That’s the history lesson over, phew! It’s important to get through all that because it really does define the island and also it’s varied influences and cultures.
The islands international contributors over the years brought many advances in power, industry and agriculture, so the island has a well-established feel to it. I was very surprised to see how good the roads were, having experienced much more rustic road networks in other tropical destinations.
It really does feel much more evolved than many similar places in the world. It’s not just the infrastructure that feels more established, but the whole place seems to function pretty well.
There’s much less of the island mentality and disfunction you get in the Caribbean. You’ll also find a rare unity between religions with an awe-inspiring level of acceptance between religious groups. It’s even quite common for religions to co-habit their meeting places and all religions are represented in public holidays.
The rest of the world could learn a thing or two about collaborative living from the Mauritians, it was truly refreshing to see.
The island is really easy to explore, safe and welcoming to tourists so don’t get stuck in a resort, get out and experience the real Mauritius. There are so many places to explore and activities in such abundance you will struggle to fit it all into your trip.
I was on the island shortly after a tropical storm, so conditions didn’t lend themselves to experience any diving or snorkelling. The diving is supposed to exceptional though so well worth checking out.
I recommend taking a local taxi (very good value) or even hire a car to explore the islands less trodden paths.
Our top 5 picks are –
1. Le Morne Brabant
A mountain in the south-west of the island with outstanding views, and the opportunity to work up a good sweat. Get there first thing in the morning if you want to get to the top and back before dusk.
2. Flic en Flac beach
Has to be in the top 10 beaches I’ve been to in the world
3. Black River Gorges National Park
An area of outstanding natural beauty with waterfalls and viewpoints. It’s rich in regional fauna and flora and is home plenty of local wildlife
4. Hit up the local surf spot on Tamarin beach
This is a bit of a secret spot, steeped in history and guarded fiercely by some of the locals. But if you head to the surf school across from the beach you’ll be sure to be in safe hands.
5. Take a catamaran trip
The coast and sea is certainly one of the biggest attractions and what better way to see it than on a Catamaran. Sit back and relax, sample some of the local rum, and go and enjoy some of the more isolated bays and beaches. My trip was organised through the hotel, and very reasonably priced for a day on the water.
Eating in Mauritius is also a real treat, with influences from French Creole, European, Chinese and Indian cuisine. Expect to eat very well wherever you may be on the island. There’s a thriving market for street food in the capital Port-Luis. I strongly recommend the 2-3 hour street food tour provided by Taste Buddies. I went on a magical mystery tour with my guide Dada to some destinations you would never stumble upon on your own and experienced many new culinary delights like Rotis, dhals and dumplings. It’s a great way to explore the capital and get a good feed at the same time!
Local beer and wine is great to drink and easy on the wallet, but the real treat lies in the local rum selection. The sugar cane industry has paved the way for a thriving rum industry. The local ‘Rum Arrange’ is well worth a sample (or two) with local rums infused with fresh fruits and spices for months at a time to ferment and develop in flavour. I was so inspired/intoxicated by this local tipple, I’ve got a batch of my own pineapple and vanilla pod rum bottled up at home for the next few months and should be ready before the end of the summer!
Accommodation on the island is varied with some of the swankiest resorts you’ll find anywhere in the world. If you didn’t win the lottery this week, then there are thankfully many great places to stay which won’t require you to take out a 2nd mortgage. I stayed in two locations on the island with the exceptional Veranda resorts. You can read more about these two specific destinations and accommodations in the articles linked below. You definitely don’t need to be a millionaire to live the high life in Mauritius.
There does seem to be a bit of a resort culture on the island, but there are also plenty of good value self-catering options on the island too.
Getting to Mauritius is really straight forward from the UK with flights from most major airports. I flew from Heathrow with Air Mauritius who provide a great direct service. They have a fleet of brand new and recently refurbished planes and offer some of the best entertainment, facilities and service you’ll find on any airline. It’s a 12-hour flight, so it’s a good job they make you feel comfortable for the duration.
There’s never a bad time to visit Mauritius with temperatures consistently high all year round. May to September is low season, so prices are better if you manage to avoid school holiday dates. High season is from December to February, so it’s the perfect destination to escape the grey, wet and cold UK.
If Mauritius isn’t already on your list, it really should be, it’s a wonderful island with great food, beaches and coves and most importantly warmth and hospitality from the truly awesome islanders. It’s proximity to Madagascar, Reunion Island and the coast of Africa make it a potential addition to a trip to South Africa or as an extension to a safari trip.
Mauritius is a small island in the Indian Ocean around 500 miles east of the island of Madagascar. It’s about 65km long by 45km wide. It has a population of around 1.3 million people with the prominent languages being English, French and Creole. Mauritian Rupee is the main currency, but USD is also widely accepted. It’s famous for its Rum, and also the extinct Dodo.