Copyright © 2001 Amadeus GTD, SA.
© 2001 Lonely Planet Publications Pty. Ltd. All rights reserved.
Once upon a time, the islands of the Indian Ocean were virtually unknown as a tourist destination. Most people's thoughts of palm trees and trade winds, white sands and blue seas conjured images of the South Pacific or the Caribbean. Not anymore. The seventh sea is finally coming into its own, and travellers will be cheered to note that prices are actually coming down to honour it, enticing visitors of every budget to see what they've been missing. Mauritius is making a name for itself as the most accessible island in the region, boasting as much tropical paradise as Maui or Martinique and, better still, offering it at a bargain. Well, a bargain once you get there, anyway.
Though nestled up alongside eastern Africa, Mauritius is actually more influenced by its British and French ties and massive Indian workforce than by the African mainland. Here, you can enjoy a dish of curried chickpeas or a nice Yorkshire pudding on the terrace of a French cafe, sipping imported wine or a thick malty ale while listening to Créole music and the conversation of locals in any number of lingoes. Mauritius' range of visitors' 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.
Facts at a Glance
Full country name: Republic of Mauritius
Area: 1860 sq km (725 sq mi)
Population: 1.1 million
Capital city: Port Louis (pop 150,000)
People: Indo-Mauritian (68%), Créole (27%), Sino-Mauritian (3%), Franco-Mauritian (2%)
Language: English, Créole, French, Hindi, Urdu, Hakka, Bojpoori
Religion: Hindu (51%), Christian (30%), Muslim (17%)
Government: Parliamentary democracy
President: Sir Aneerood Jugnauth
Prime Minister: Dr. Navinchandra Ramgoolam
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. The abundant marine life found in Mauritian waters includes corals, mollusks, turtles, dolphins, four types of whale and innumerable fish. Of the island's 900 plant species, almost a third are endemic to Mauritius. Some of the most common examples are giant Indian banyans, beach-hugging casuarinas and brilliant red-flowering flamboyants.
The Mauritian climate is a mixed affair. Atop the plateau, Curepipe's temperatures average a few degrees cooler than those on the coast; it's also common to find rain in Curepipe while the beaches enjoy blue skies and vice versa. Similarly, east coast weather differs from that of the west coast - the former being much drier during January and February, when prevailing winds drive in from the east, race up the mountains and dump rain on central and western Mauritius. There is no monsoon season, though cyclones hit the island every 15 years or so between November and May. During these months, there are usually a few days of heavy rains that keep everybody cooped up indoors. Light rains fall year round. The highest average daytime temperatures occur from January to April and top out around 35°C (95°F). The coolest period is from July to September, when temperatures average 24°C (75°F) during the day and 16°C (60°F) at night. Humidity is generally highest between October and June.
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 continues to lead the country in its present era of prosperity.
Economy Facts
GDP: US$11.7 billion
GDP per head: US$10,300
Annual growth: 5%
Inflation: 6%
Major industries: Sugar, textiles, tea, tobacco, tourism
Major trading partners: EU, Japan, South Africa, US
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, though 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.
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 the festival 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 - it's always a public holiday.
Travel Facts
Visas: Visas are not required for most visitors to Mauritius.
Health risks: Slight risk of malaria; proof of yellow fever vaccination is required of those entering Mauritius from an infected area.
Time: GMT/UTC plus four hours
Electricity:230V  50 Hz
Weights & measures: Metric
Mauritian rupee= about 30Rto the  US dollar or Euro
Money and Cost
* Budget meal: US$1-5
* Moderate restaurant meal: US$5-20
* Top-end restaurant meal: US$20 and upwards
* Budget room: US$10-30
* Moderate hotel: US$30-60
* Top-end hotel: US$60 and upwards
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 an 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.
Traveller's 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.
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. Weatherwise, 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.
Port Louis
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 Khadafi Square (appropriately enough at the opposite end of the city from the local hat-tip to the Yanks, John F Kennedy St) and a Chinatown 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 practise 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 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.
Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam Botanical Gardens
In the village of Pamplemousses, these gardens (also known as the Royal Botanic Gardens) were started in 1735 by Governor Mahé de La Bourdonnais as a vegetable garden for his Mon Plaisir Château. The grounds were gussied up by French horticulturalist Pierre Poivre in 1768 in his bid to introduce spices, but afterwards lay neglected until 1849, when a British horticulturalist, James Duncan, took over. His legacy is seen today in the garden's array of palms.
These modest but well kept gardens are a highlight of a visit to Mauritius. Though there are few flowers inside, one key attraction is the park's giant Victoria regia water lilies, native to the Amazon. From the centre of a huge pad, the lily's flower opens white one day and closes red the next. Other attractions include golden bamboo, chewing gum trees, fish poison trees, a 200-year-old Buddha tree and - for Christians - a cross tree with leaves shaped like crucifixes. The fragrant flora of the garden - ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, camphor and sandalwood - is another high point, as are glimpses of Mauritian wildlife that are all but unavailable elsewhere on the island. Look for enclosures of Java deer and giant tortoises. There's also an art gallery and a cemetery, whichever way your tastes run. Pamplemousses is 11km (7mi) north-east of Port Louis, and there are regular buses between the two.
Moka Town & Around
A scant 12km (7mi) south of Port Louis, 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.
Curepipe & Environs
The town of Curepipe owes its size and prominence to the malaria epidemic of 1867, during which thousands of people fled mosquito infested Port Louis for healthier, higher ground. The bulk of Franco-Mauritians live in outlying communities and come into Curepipe mainly to shop. With the flavour of an English market town, Curepipe is the centre of the island's tea and model-ship building industries and the best place to scatter your money. Unless these are of particular interest to you, the town itself may be worth a quick visit at most. The surrounding countryside has a more universal appeal.
Curepipe's main street of historical interest is Elizabeth Ave. There, the recently renovated colonial-style Hôtel de Ville (1902) functions as the town hall. In its gardens, you'll find a statue of the fictitious lovers Paul and Virginie from Bernadin de St Pierre's 1788 novel of the same name. West of the town centre, Curepipe's botanical gardens are not as spectacular as those of Pamplemousses, but they are well kept and informal, with nature trails branching off of the main paths. Just north of the gardens, Trou aux Cerfs crater is the town's biggest natural attraction. It's been extinct for ages, and the crater floor is now heavily wooded, but a tarred road leads up to and around the rim to rest stops with beautiful views.
A few kilometres south-west of town, Tamarind Falls are awkward to reach without your own transportation and good hiking boots, but the rewards are worth the hassle. At the bottom of the series of seven falls, you can enjoy a dip in the deep waters, and the parkland around the falls is perfect for hikes.
Curepipe is in the south-central highlands of Mauritius and is well linked by bus to Port Louis, about 20km (12mi) to the north, and to other towns and villages.
Off the Beaten Track
Black River Gorges National Park
This beautiful highland area south-west of Curepipe is like no other part of the island. About 6km (4mi) from Curepipe, Mauritius' only mountain road reaches the dam wall of the park's large reservoir, Mare aux Vacoas. Surrounded by casuarina and coniferous trees, it looks more like North America than an island in the Indian Ocean. About 6km (4mi) south-east of Mare aux Vacoas is the sacred lake of the Hindus, Grand Bassin, and, a few kilometres farther east, Plaine Champagne, the rainiest spot and largest natural area on Mauritius. Toward the eastern end of the plain, the Rivière Noire overlook affords spectacular views of waterfalls and the 830m (2720ft) Piton de la Petite Rivière Noire, the highest point on Mauritius.
The best time to visit Black River Gorges National Park is during the flowering season between September and January. Look for the rare tambalacoque or dodo tree, black ebony trees and the exotic birds that perch in them. You may also run into a band of monkeys, deer or wild pigs. The park is some 30km (19mi) south of Port Louis and is best reached by bus via Curepipe or by private transport.
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.
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 rollercoastery bus ride east of Port Louis.
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, until the rising costs of airfare and accommodation drove surfers to seek bluer pastures. Now, with vacation costs back to bearable, the crowds are picking up again. The area around Tamarin is said to be the best spot to drop in, and the season lasts from around June to August. Diving around the island is not especially interesting, save for off the outer isle of Cargados Carajos, but there are no dive operators there. On Mauritius, the best dive sites are around Flic en Flac on the west coast. Snorkelling is a better proposition, with over-the-side boat trips running from most major hotels and from Grand Baie beach. The best swimming beaches are all at the northern end of the island.
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
Getting There & Away
Apart from a handful of people who arrive by yacht or cruise ship, visitors to Mauritius fly into the country. Many flights originate in France, but there are also flights from several African, Asian and European capitals as well as from the US (via Europe) and Australia. You must have a return or onward ticket before arriving in Mauritius. The departure tax is roughly US$10.
Cargo ships ply the Indian Ocean regularly, though few take passengers. You're more likely to find passage on the private yachts that call in at Mauritius outside of cyclone season, berthing at Grand Baie or Port Louis. Still, opportunities are rare. About the only guaranteed way to come or go by sea is to book fare on the MV Mauritius Pride, which cruises several times a month between Mauritius and Réunion, or to board one of the cruise liners that periodically drops anchor in Port Louis.
Getting Around
Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam International Airport is near Mahébourg in south-eastern Mauritius, at the opposite end of the island from Port Louis. While there are no direct airport buses, express buses travel between the capital and Mahébourg several times a day, stopping at the airport. Allow yourself at least two hours from Port Louis. Air Mauritius flies to Rodrigues Island (about 90 minutes) daily; the company also offer 15-20 minute helicopter tours of Mauritius. For those with money to burn, the helicopters can be hired by the hour. The MV Mauritius Pride plies between Mauritius and Rodrigues several times per month.
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. Mauritian roads range from smooth to potholed and pavement-free. Driving is sketchy at best on Mauritius, with speed limits often ignored, headlights a rarity and weaving pedestrians all too common. If you think you're up to it, you can rent a car in one of the major towns or at the airport. Smallish motorbikes can be rented around Grand Baie. All drivers should have an international drivers' licence, and most rental agencies require drivers to be over 23. Driving is on the left. Bicycles and boats can be rented wherever tourists congregate.
Reccomended Reading
* Bad news for climbers: Mountains of Mauritius by Robert Marsh is now out of print, though photocopies can sometimes be arranged at the Carnegie Library in Curepipe, where many rare books on Mauritius can be found. The book is unsurpassed in its field.
* The Dive Sites of Mauritius by Alan Mountain is a comprehensive and well presented source of undersea information.
* If you're hot to brush up on Mauritian Créole, pick up Parlez Créole by James Burty David, Lilette David and Clarel Seenyen.
* Dr Auguste Toussaint is the preeminent historian of Mauritius - look for Port Louis: A Tropical City and his best known work, The History of the Indian Ocean.
* For comparison, try A New History of Mauritius by John Addison and K Hazareesingh, The Truth about Mauritius by Basdeo Bissoondoyal and The Historical Dictionary of Mauritius by Lindsay Riviere.
* Select Documents on Indian Immigration by Saloni Deerpalsingh and Marina Carter provides detailed information on the subject.
* There are several excellent guidebooks to the flora and fauna of Mauritius and the Indian Ocean in general. For fish, try A Guide to the Common Reef Fish of the Western Indian Ocean by KR Bock; for birds, read Birds of Mauritius by Claude Michel; and for a little bit of everything, look for Fauna of Mauritius and Associated Flora by France Staub and Golden Bats & Pink Pigeons by Gerald Durrell.
* Bernadin de St Pierre's Paul et Virginie is the Mauritian literary reference that just won't die. Read it for the background rather than the sappy story.
* Joseph Conrad's short story A Smile of Fortune takes place on Mauritius, as does part of his novel Twixt Land and Sea.
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