Mauritius sits off the east coast of Africa just south of the equator. It dazzles visitors with its tapestry of landscapes. Its countryside features green fields of sugarcane that are backdropped by bare black volcanic peaks. White beaches that shimmer with sunlight line the coasts and are fringed by coconut palms and washed by blue sea breaking away from the offshore reefs. In the interior, rushing rivers stream past dense tropical vegetation. Plateaus dotted with craters and peaks that rise as high as 2,200 feet high dominate the central regions. More than 70% of the island is actually covered by lava that can be as thick as 20 inches.
The people and cultures of Mauritius are as diverse and beautiful as its landscape. Africans, Chinese, Europeans, and Indians live on this small island, and they get along quite well. If you stroll along the streets, you might see women wearing saris or Western fashions, or men wearing business suits, oriental pajamas, or dhotis. And you might hear people conversing in French Creole, English, Chinese or Indian. The architecture is just as colorful. Behold your eyes on Hindu temples, Chinese pagodas, Muslim mosques, Roman Catholic and Anglican churches, French colonial mansions, modern factories, ramshackle wooden shops, and thatched huts.
Beaches and Water Sports
Mauritius has so many things to see and do that it is hard to know where to begin. Perhaps the beaches are the best place to start. One of the more popular beaches is La Cuvette. Its silky sands stretch between Cap Malheureux and Grand Baie. The water there is amazingly clear and many people are seen enjoying all kinds of water sports – windsurfing, sailing, waterskiing, swimming, parasailing, diving, and the riding of submarine and semi-submersible scooters.
The Trou aux Biches on the north side is another popular stretch of white beaches where casuarina trees and the mountain, Mont Choisy, provides some measure of shade. There are some great dive spots offshore, and the Pereybere is a favorite little cove for swimmers.
The island playground of Ile aux Cerfs has some excellent beaches as well and can be reached by taking a speedboat from Trou d’eau Douce. Watersports are certainly popular, but the island also has a golf course.
Other island beaches that are quieter and more remote can be found at the northern islands of Gunner’s Quoin, Flat Island, and Gabriel Island. These northern islands are great for scuba diving, rivaling Mauritius’s other popular dive spots at Trou aux Biches and on the west coast around Flic-en-Flac.
Mauritius has a marine park called Blue Bay where fishes teem amongst the corals. The park can be explored by snorkeling or taking a glass bottom boat.
The volcanic Rodrigues Islands about 340 miles northeast of Mauritius offers more beaches and water sports. The island is rugged and has been nicknamed the “anti-stress” island. People enjoy diving and deep sea fishing there.
Hiking and Trekking
There are a number of places that will satisfy hikers and mountain climbers. Le Pouce, which is known as “the thumb”, is a two hour climb from La Laura village and has some spectacular panoramas of Port Louis. The mountain stands 2,665 feet tall at its peak.
The Black River Gorges National Park is a 16,800 acre forest full of birds, wildlife, and indigenous plants that visitors can view by traversing through it via the hiking trails. One trail is the Black River Peak, which takes trekkers up to Mauritius highest mountain. Another trail known as the Maccabee Trail leads hikers to the gorge carved by Black River.
The Moka Mountains are encompassed by the nature park, Domaine Les Pailles, and can be toured by 4-wheel drive, horseback, or quad bike.
Also take a trek to the south coast where you’ll find unusual rock formations such as the blowhole known as Le Souffleur. There is also a natural rock bridge at Pont Naturel, a rock shaped like a witch near Souillac, and a wild clifftop at Gris Gris.
La Vanille Reserve des Mascareignes is known as “the Crocodile Park” and has thousands of Nile Crocodiles, as well as deer, boar, monkeys, and numerous insects. It is also the only place in the world that breeds aldabra tortoises.
The Panoramour Restaurant is a fine dining restaurant that specializes in game cuisine such as duck, wild boar, and deer dishes. But its claim to fame is the view it provides of the Mauritius kestrel in the wild.
The Casela Bird Park is always a favorite among families. It has more than 140 different bird species from five different continents. The main attraction of the park is the world’s rarest of birds, the pink pigeon.
Visit also the Mauritius Aquarium in the north. There are more than 200 species of fish and live sponges and corals that replicate the natural waters around the island.
For flora and plant life, stroll around the Pamplemousses Gardens. Created in the 1700s, it is the third oldest botanic gardens in the world. It is highlighted by giant Amazon lilies and talipot palms, which only flower once every 60 years.
The National History Museum in Mahebourg traces the Dutch, French, and British colonial periods and features the bell from Le San Geran shipwreck, which inspired the famous romantic legend of Paul & Virginie.
The capital of Mauritius, Port Louis, has some fine colonial architecture. The Government House, which sits atop Place d’Armes, is one of them. The Natural History Museum there has dodo skeletons among other natural finds.
Visit the battle site of the 1810 naval battle between the British and French at the bay of Grand Port in Mahebourg.
The Grand Bassin is a natural crater lake where the Plaine Champagne stands. This Shiva statue is a sacred Hindu site that is the center of the island’s religious festivals.
Mauritius has a few island dependencies. The main one is Rodrigues, which is a volcanic island about 350 miles east of Mauritius. Most of the people living in Rodrigues are Creole farmers and fishermen. Another dependency is Agalega, which consists of two small islands about 580 miles north of Mauritius. Coconut is grown on Agalega. The Cargados Carajos archipelago is another dependency. It consists of 22 tiny islands, with St. Brandon being the chief island.
The climate in Mauritius is subtropical. Temperatures range from 7° to 35° C (44° to 96° F). The central plateau receives abundant rainfall, averaging as much as 200 inches of rain in some years. The southwest coast is drier, only receiving about 35 inches a year. The summer season runs from November to April and is hit by southeast trade winds. Sometimes, devastating cyclones hit during this season, damaging homes and crops. The winter seasons runs from May to October, a period when the island enjoys calm and gentle southeast winds.
Mauritius was originally uninhabited. The island is believed to have been discovered by Arab and Malaysian sailors in the Middle Ages. The first Europeans to visit the island were the Portuguese in the 16th century. They did not try to settle it and only used it as a supply station for its ships.
In 1598, the Dutch visited the island. They began establishing settlements in 1638, which lasted until 1710. This was around the same time the famous dodo bird of Mauritius became extinct.
In 1715, the French claimed Mauritius and established settlements. They brought in slaves from Africa and Madagascar to work the plantations. The French attempted to grow coffee, sugar, indigo, and cloves, but sugar was the only crop that could withstand the cyclones.
During the 18th and early 19th centuries, France and Britain engaged in several wars with each other. The French used Mauritius for its naval operations. The British decided to send a large fleet to capture the island in 1810, which they did. The island was formally ceded over to the British, but the people were allowed to retain their language, religion, customs, and laws.
When slavery was abolished in 1833, the freed slaves left the plantations and became small farmers and artisans. Unfortunately, the planters were short on field labor and began hiring Indian workers. Between 1837 and 1905, nearly 450,000 Indians were brought over. During the 19th and 20th centuries, Chinese traders also arrived on the island.
In 1968, Mauritius became an independent country within the Commonwealth of Nations. Today, Mauritius is a stable democracy and has a clean human rights record. It attracts substantial foreign investment and is one of the wealthiest countries in Africa.