Warm and Welcoming
As British actor John Cleese might have put it, “Apart from the white sandy beaches, the year-round sun, the world-class diving, and the most welcoming people on the planet, what else does Mauritius have to offer?” Visit Mauritius yourself, and you’ll find the answer: a wealth of cultural sites, nature reserves, uninhabited islands and breathtaking scenery. The Emerald of the Indian Ocean just got greener.
History oozes from every crack and crevice of the Mauritian landscape. Discovered by Portuguese explorers in the 16th century and subject in succession to Dutch, French and finally British rule, Mauritius is the largest of three islands known collectively as the Mascarenes, and became an independent state in 1968. It is a stable, safe and prosperous nation, attracting nearly one million tourists annually.
There are no truly indigenous Mauritians; most islanders are descended from colonists, slaves, migrant workers and artisan immigrants. In the multi-faceted character of the Mauritian people you will discover the captivating charm of a truly diverse ancestry – only the most hard-hearted tourist remains untouched by the warm welcome and the easygoing lifestyle.
Mauritius has a finite capacity for accommodating visitors, and has a reputation for high-end, luxury tourism. Historically, the Mauritius Tourism Promotion Authority has concentrated its efforts on attracting high-spending visitors who are drawn by the exclusivity and the luxurious nature of the island.
Today, the MTPA works hard to promote the country as an affordable destination for visitors from other countries with booming economies and growing aspirations. While Mauritius continues to cater for affluent European tourists with high disposable incomes, travellers from India, China, South Africa, and the Middle East have been taking the plunge and enjoying the holiday of a lifetime without breaking the bank.
Although Mauritius is a popular stop-over for cruise liners, most visitors arrive by air. Carriers from Europe, South Africa, India, the Middle East and Asia operate regular scheduled flights into Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam International Airport. Most European visitors do not need visas, and nationals of other countries can often obtain a short-stay visa on arrival. Check the Mauritian Government website for details.
Getting about in Mauritius is easy. Regular bus services operate throughout the island and if you want to travel independently, cars, scooters and bicycles are readily available to hire. Small parties of adults will find scooters a practical and affordable way of getting around. You need a valid driving licence from your home country, and remember to drive on the left. It’s also worth noting that health services in Mauritius are not free, so ensure your travel insurance covers all risks.
Sun, Sea and Sand
A simple mention of Mauritius will have you thinking of turquoise seas and wide, white sandy beaches that seem to go on for ever. This aspect of a holiday on the island remains a huge attraction for the “get-away-from-it-all” set, and there’s no doubting the quality and exclusivity of hotels around the coast. The island is surrounded by coral reefs, virtually guaranteeing safe conditions for swimming, diving and water sports.
Port Louis, the capital, offers an ideal starting point if you want to enjoy the world-class diving, fishing and water sports of the Northern, Western and Eastern regions. Flic en Flac in the South West offers opportunities to watch dolphins, regular visitors to these waters, and the region is also the island’s main centre for deep-sea fishing.
Diving off Mauritius is a memorable experience. Aside from the vibrant colours of the marine life and abundant coral formations that lie along the encircling reef, there are spectacular rock formations that owe their existence to the volcanic origins of the Mascarenes. The Western and South-Western regions are popular, although some of the island’s best dive sites lie off the northern coast where wrecks, reefs and rocks abound.
Heritage and Culture
If you choose to explore the history and culture of Mauritius, expect to be charmed, informed and surprised in roughly equal measures. Much of the island’s colonial history is preserved for visitors, and a good starting point is the Frederik Hendrik Museum, located at the site of the first Dutch settlement in the south east of the island.
Seafarers played a major part in the development of Mauritius, and the Naval Relics Museum in Mahebourg is a “must-visit” attraction. It chronicles many of the campaigns that shaped Mauritius, among them the battle of Vieux Grand Port, the only French sea victory over the British during the whole of Napoleon’s rule.
Mauritian culture is shaped by the diverse ancestry of the island’s people. Festivals, celebrations and cultural events occur throughout the year, some truly spectacular to behold. Between December and February, Thimithi, the Tamil fire-walking ceremony, Cavadee, where participants pierce their bodies with needles, and Maha Shivaratri, a colourful Hindu festival, are always popular with visitors.
Independence Day in March spreads a blaze of colour and celebration across the entire island. You’ll find yourself swept away by a wave of dancing, street parties and national pride – once experienced, it’s be a source of unique memories for years to come.
Mauritius is blessed with extensive, unspoilt forests that attract two-thirds of all people who visit the island, according to the MTPA. This vital natural resource contributes to the local economy and to timber-related employment. It is also an increasingly popular source of tourist revenue, with the establishment of wildlife parks and nature reserves attracting a growing number of visitors each year.
The panoramic scenery and rugged terrain of the Mauritius Mountains needs no selling, almost dragging visitors off the beaten track. Whether on foot or on horseback, you will discover hidden secrets that include spectacular waterfalls, wildlife in abundance and views that will quite literally take your breath away. Mauritius is home to some of the rarest and most endangered species of plants and birds, many found only on the island – if you are a nature-lover, Mauritius will take you to heaven.
Increasingly, couples are choosing Mauritius as an idyllic location for a wedding or honeymoon. It’s difficult to imagine a more appropriate setting for a day that you want to remember forever – with the holiday of a lifetime thrown in for good measure. Exchanging vows on a tranquil beach followed by a celebration at one of the island’s luxury venues is close to being as good as it gets.
Completing the jigsaw that is Mauritius includes a mandatory taste of the island’s highly acclaimed cuisine. Traditional Creole recipes are the foundation of local culinary expertise, with spicy seafood and meat dishes on offer throughout the island. Many chefs still cook in the style brought to the island by their ancestors; look out for restaurants that present French, Indian and Chinese food with a distinctly Mauritian slant.
Enjoy your taste of Mauritian food in the same way that you experience the country as a whole – you’ll find it warm, welcoming, diverse, exciting, original and, above all, fun!