Mauritius is the sugar-cane island of the Indian Ocean. Fields of cane cultivation, broken only by small villages, stretch over a wide plateau above the tropical white sand beaches, breezy bays and glorious seascapes. It was also the island of the dodo, a large, flightless bird whose good-natured simplicity resulted in the poor creature’s total extinction. The island forms part of the Mascarene Archipelago, all that remains of an ancient land mass which once united Asia and Africa. To the southwest lies Réunion Island, with its savagely beautiful volcanic landscape, while some 560 km (350 miles) east appears Rodrigues Island, a mere dot in the ocean, surrounded by even smaller islets and reefs, and an integral part of Mauritius.
Small as Mauritius is, covering only 1,865 sq km (720 sq miles), it is one of the most densely populated places in the world and supports some 1 million people, most of them descendants of Indians brought in to work the sugar plantations after the abolition of slavery. There’s also a large Chinese community and a number of Creoles, descended from French colonists. Africans and Malagasy add to the mixture of races and religions, one happy result being that there’s nearly always a festival going on in one of the great variety of Hindu or Chinese temples, mosques or Christian churches.
On the jittery world market of today sugar is an uneasy staple commodity. Increasing tourism partially helps to counteract unemployment and low incomes: a good airport, magical beaches and the flowery loveliness of the resorts beckon visitors in ever greater numbers. Inland, mountains rise in lonely splendour and you may glimpse a Java deer vanishing into the bushes. Bamboo thickets, lagoons, plunging waterfalls and delicately pretty Creole buildings are all part of the Mauritian scene.
On this island the French writer, Bernardin de Saint-Pierre, some 200 years ago, set his idyllic and tragic romance of two love-struck adolescents in Paul et Virginie, a novel that helped usher in the Romantic movement. Mauritius knew its most glittering moments in the middle years of the 19th century. Joseph Conrad and Mark Twain both dropped by at different times. Baudelaire visited for three weeks, and wrote of a port filled with masts and sails and air haunted by the scent of green tamarinds. Darwin, naturally, couldn’t resist this naturalist’s paradise, and the HMS Beagle put in here on her famous voyage. Seen from grey, drizzly Europe, it appeared like a dream of rare flowers, foaming cascades, airy colonial houses and balmy days.
Independent since 1968, Mauritius is hard at work now keeping down its population growth and pushing up its income. The friendly inhabitants of all the rainbow of races will confide their problems but will also express their optimism in the progress being achieved by their welcoming, Indian Ocean homeland. For Mauritius has a fascinating past, an inviting present and a rosy future
The international airport of Mauritius (MRU), offering duty-free shopping, banking, car hire and postal facilities, is located 48 km (30 miles) southeast of Port Louis.
Buses and taxis are available for transport to the city centre; travel time varies from 45 minutes to 2 hours. Air Mauritius operates daily flights to Rodrigues island.
Open Monday to Friday 9.30 a.m.–2.30 p.m., on Saturday to 11.30 a.m.
For these tropical climes, pack lightweight, loose clothing, preferably in comfortable cotton. Casual styles are the rule, unless you plan to stay in a luxury hotel, where you may want something dressier. You’ll need swimwear and a sunhat, too. Save your beachwear for the beach or swimming pool: in any hotel, however informal, you’ll need more modest attire for mealtimes—though men are not expected to wear a tie. It’s advisable to bring along a long-sleeved lightweight jacket or cardigan for cool evenings and air-conditioned interiors. If you intend to visit the high plateaux , you’ll need warmer sweaters and jackets. Prepare for a tropical rainstorm by packing something waterproof.
Besides sandals, a comfortable pair of sturdy, low-heeled walking shoes is indispensable for excursions to the interior. And it wouldn’t be amiss to pack a pair of bathing shoes.
The main international credit cards are accepted everywhere.
The Mauritian rupee (Rs) is divided into 100 cents. Coins range from 1 cent to 5 rupees; banknotes from 10 to 2,000 rupees.
Passengers aged 16 and over may import duty-free into Mauritius 200 cigarettes or 50 cigars or 250 g tobacco; 1 litre of spirits and 2 litres of wine or beer; a small quantity of perfume and 25 cl of toilet water.
In Mauritius vehicles drive on the left, as in Britain. There is a good network of paved roads.
220/240 volts AC. Plugs vary from two round pins to three square pins UK-style, so bring an all-purpose adaptor.
Come equipped with plenty of sun lotion, insect repellent.
Health facilities, hygiene and disease risk vary worldwide. You should take health advice about your specific needs as early as possible through either your general practitioner or a specialist clinic.
January 1–2: New Year
March 12: National Day
May 1: Labour Day
August 15: Assmption
November 1: All Saints' Day
December 25: Christmas Day
In addition, there are several Hindu, Muslim and Chinese holidays that change according to the lunar calendar.
English is the official language, but Creole (derived from French) is used by everybody, and French is the most commonly spoken language.
Mauritius has several daily newspapers in English and French. Radio is programmed in English, French and Hindi.
Visitors in possession of a passport valid for a further 6 months at minimum and a return ticket may stay up to three months. No visa is required for nationals of EU countries.
Film is very expensive on Mauritius. In addition, it might not have been stocked in ideal conditions to withstand the heat and humidity. Bring along with you a sufficient supply of film. It’s worth having an extra battery for your camera, too, as replacements will be difficult to find on the spot. Pack your photo supplies in a light-coloured, soft-bodied carry-all, with the lenses in rigid cases. As wind and sand, as well as the humidity, could damage your material, wrap everything protectively in plastic film before putting it into your photo case. The tropical sun is burning hot, so consider bringing along a sunshade and filters for your lenses. Before you snap your subjects, decide whether you need to compensate for the brilliant light in your settings.
Open Monday to Friday 9–11 a.m. and noon–4 p.m. and Saturday 8 a.m.–noon.
Although crime statistics for these islands bear no resemblance to those of the big cities of America or Africa, theft has unquestionably increased in recent years. The standard of living is much lower here than where you come from, so there’s no point in putting temptation in anyone’s path by bringing along expensive jewellery, luggage with prestigious labels or any other costly items. Above all, don’t carry or wear anything valuable in the street, on the beach or in the back country.
The majority of hotels have safety boxes, either at the reception desk or in the rooms, where you can deposit your valuables, passport, plane tickets, etc. Never leave valuable objects in a suitcase (even if it is locked) or in your hotel room. Nothing you would regret losing should be left in a car or excursion coach, or left unattended on the beach. Keep an eye on your camera at all times.
In Port Louis shops are open Monday to Friday 9 a.m.–5 p.m., Saturday to noon; in Curepipe they close Monday to Saturday at 6 p.m. (Thursday at noon) and may also be open on Sunday morning.
The international access code is 00. To call the UK, dial 00 44, the area code minus the initial zero, and the local number. The country code for Mauritius is 230; there are no area codes.
GMT + 4, all year round.