Date of Visit: March 2018
While Mauritius is famed for its turquoise waters, powder-white beaches, superb scuba diving, snorkelling and luxury resorts, there is so much more to this fascinating destination.
Rising up like a giant green emerald from the azure waters of the Indian ocean, this remote, mountainous, volcanic, island-nation, offers excellent hiking in the forested and mountainous interior, unique, colourful, landscapes, plunging waterfalls, national parks and the oldest botanical garden in the Southern Hemisphere.
Then there’s the cultural side of the island. Over the centuries, Mauritius has seen an influx of European settlers; African slaves; Chinese traders; and Indian Indentured labourers. This ‘melting pot’ of cultures has influenced every aspect of life on the island, creating a rich tapestry of culture, cuisine and traditions.
The history and religions of Mauritius have created a kaleidoscope of cultures, nowhere more so than in the capital, Port Louis, where Chinese shops sitting alongside Indian stores. With houses of worship for every major religion, busy markets, fine French and Victorian-era colonial architecture, Port Louis is a gem that’s worth at least a day of anyone’s time.
I spent 13 days exploring Mauritius with a rental car, which still wasn’t a sufficient amount of time to cover everything. There’s a multitude of things to do on Mauritius, even away from the famed beaches.
In 1970, Mauritius received 18,000 visitors, while in 2018, the island received 1,395,000 visitors. Tourism is the most important industry on the island and, with both French and English widely spoken, it’s not surprising that the bulk of tourists to Mauritius are the French, followed, a distant second, by the British. Many French visitors add Mauritius onto their Réunion holiday, visiting two destinations in one trip.
Tourism is well developed with hundreds of accommodation options in all budget categories, restaurants, bars and cafes. It’s an easy and pleasant travel destination – but not a cheap one, with the government placing an emphasis on high-end tourism. However, there are budget travel options which will allow you to explore the island without breaking the bank.
Mauritius is a rewarding destination and one I cannot wait to revisit!
The now-extinct Dodo was a flightless bird that was endemic to the island of Mauritius. It had no predators and enjoyed an untroubled existence on what was once a remote and uninhabited island.
Then humans arrived! The first recorded mention of the dodo was by Dutch sailors in 1598. In the following years, the bird was hunted by sailors and invasive species, while its habitat was being destroyed. The last widely accepted sighting of a dodo was in 1662. Gone forever!
Today, you can view the only complete skeleton of a Dodo at the National History museum in Mahebourg.
Mauritius is an island nation located in the Indian Ocean – 2,000 km (1,200 mi) off the southeast coast of African and 1,100 km (683 mi) east of Madagascar. The country includes the islands of Mauritius and the smaller island of Rodrigues, which is located 560 kilometres (350 mi) east of Mauritius.
The two land masses form part of the Mascarene Islands, along with nearby Réunion (226 km to the southwest), a French overseas department. A volcanic island chain, whose name is derived from the Portuguese navigator Pedro Mascarenhas who first visited them in April 1512, the main island is formed around a central plateau which is 600-metres above sea level and is surrounded by a fringing coral reef which forms many shallow lagoons and provides protected, sandy beaches. Mauritius is sixty-one kilometres long and forty-six kilometres wide at its widest point.
The currency of Mauritius is the Mauritian Rupee (₨) which is issued in denominations of 25, 50, 100, 200, 500, 1000 and 2,000 and has the international currency code of MUR. The rupee is subdivided into 100 cents and has an exchange rate of USD$1 = Rs36.75 – you can check the current exchange rate here.
All currency is issued by the Mauritius Central Bank which is headquartered in downtown Port Louis on Sir William Newton Street. If you wish to purchase un-circulated bank notes, you can do so on the 2nd floor of the headquarters.
Polymer bank notes, which are printed in the UK by Thomas De La Rue, are issued in denominations of Rs25, 50, 500 and 2,000 and feature a host of security features, including a transparent window. At the time of my visit, the new Rs 2,000 polymer note had just been issued and is pictured below with all other bank notes.
With a per capita GDP of US$25,000 – Mauritius is the 2nd richest country in Africa, after the Seychelles. Tourism is the main economic activity on the island with the country focusing on mid-range to top-end tourism. While travel costs are reasonable, travelling on a budget can be challenging. I saw few backpackers on the island, who can get more bang for their buck elsewhere in the region.
The official National Tourism Policy of Mauritius states: “The National Tourism Policy emphasises low impact, high spending tourism. Selective, up-market, quality tourism is favoured, and although such tourism is not the only type, it constitutes the major segment of our tourists who stay in high class hotels.”
Suggested daily budgets:
- Backpacker: Up to USD$100 per day.
- Flashpacker: Between USD$100-$200 per day.
- Top-End: USD$200+
- Coca Cola (0.33 litre bottle): Rs48 (US$1.31)
- Water (0.33 litre bottle): Rs31 (US$0.84)
- Cappuccino: Rs98 (US$2.67)
- Bus ticket: Rs35 (US$0.95)
- Car Rental (daily compact car with Europcar): Rs2,462 (US$67)
- Car Rental (weekly compact car with Europcar): Rs1,947 (US$53 per day)
- Litre of fuel: Rs48 (US$1.31)
- Combo Meal at McDonald’s: Rs200 (US$5.44)
- Meal (inexpensive restaurant): Rs250 (US$6.80)
- Meal for 2 (mid-range restaurant): Rs1,500 (US$40.82)
- Room in a budget hotel (Villa Narmada, Grand Baie): Rs 1,500 (US$40)
- Room in a mid-range hotel (La Tonnelle, Trou Aux Biche): Rs2,300 (US$63)
- Room in a top-end hotel (InterContinental Mauritius Resort Balaclava Fort): Rs9,200 (US$250)
The national flag of Mauritius, also known as the ‘Four Bands’, was adopted upon independence on the 12th of March, 1968. It consists of four horizontal bands of equal width, coloured (from top to bottom) red, blue, yellow, and green which stands for:
- Red: represents the struggle for freedom and independence.
- Blue: represents the Indian Ocean, which surrounds the country.
- Yellow: represents the new light of independence.
- Green: represents the agriculture of Mauritius and its colour throughout the 12 months of the year.
The first visitors to Mauritius were the Portuguese, who arrived in 1510 but never settled. The Dutch were the first to settle on the island in 1598 naming it after Prince Maurice of Nassau. The Dutch left the island in 1710, having found a better place to settle – the Cape of Good hope in South Africa. The French occupied the island in 1715, renaming it “Isle de France”.
Today, the people of Mauritius are descendants of European (mostly French) settlers; African slaves; Chinese traders; and Indian Indentured labourers, with the later (Indo-Mauritians) comprising 75% of the population.
Although the British conquered the island in 1810, the French settlers chose to remain and the British allowed them to maintain their language, culture and traditions. Today, French is the language of choice for most Mauritians.
Indian Indentured Labourers
When slavery was abolished on the 1st of February 1835, an attempt was made to secure a cheap source of adaptable labour for intensive sugar plantations on Mauritius. Indentured labour began with the British importing Chinese, Malay, African and Malagasy labourers, but ultimately, it was India which supplied the largest number of labourers.
Almost all labourers entered Mauritius through Aapravasi Ghat, an immigration processing centre, which was created to receive indentured labourers from India and is today a UNESCO World Heritage site, located in Port Louis.
The success of the initial British experiment (of using Indian indentured labourers) on Mauritian sugar plantations, prompted the Colonial authorities to replicate the experiment elsewhere. Armies of Indian labourers were sent across the world to colonies such as Guyana (then British Guiana), Suriname and Trinidad & Tobago where they became known as ‘West Indians‘ and today comprise a large part of the populations of those countries.
The sightseeing section starts in the capital, Port Louis, then moves around the island in an anti-clockwise direction.
Tip: When planning a visit to Port Louis, you should avoid Saturday afternoon or Sunday, when almost everything, including the colourful central market, is closed.
Once you’ve had enough of sun, sand and sea, Port Louis (population: 150,000), the bustling capital, and financial hub, of Mauritius, offers a multitude of attractions.
Nestled between the protective Moka mountain range and the largest natural harbour on the island, Port Louis was named by the French, in honour of King Louis XV.
The city was founded in 1735 by François Mahé de Labourdonnais, who served as the French governor of the Isle de France (now Mauritius) and neighbouring Île de Bourbon (Réunion). The city is graced by many attractive colonial-era buildings, most of which are built from black basalt stone.
You could easily spend days exploring every pocket of this swarming metropolis, but one day will be sufficient to cover the main sights. One of the main sights is the UNESCO World Heritage Listed “Aapravasi Ghat”, which was the landing place and immigration depot of some half a million Indian Indentured labourers.
Le Caudan Waterfront
A logical place to commence any visit to Port Louis is Le Caudan Waterfront, a commercial complex offering one of the only car parks in town (see the ‘Rental Car‘ section below for more on parking in Port Louis), a good promenade, the best craft market in town, restaurants, cafés , bars, a hotel, casino, cinema and the Blue Penny museum.
Located at Le Caudan Waterfront, the Craft Market offers a variety of shops which sell both ‘Made in China’ and locally made souvenirs.
Blue Penny Museum
Part of Le Caudan Waterfront complex, the Blue Penny museum is dedicated to the world-famous Mauritius “Post Office” stamps of 1847, of which, two are on display behind bullet-proof glass in a room which is monitored by CCTV cameras and in which photography is strictly forbidden.
The stamps are considered a national treasure and are probably the most valuable objects on the entire island. Originally, 500 stamps were produced, but today it’s estimated that just 27 remain, making them among the rarest stamps in the world. The last sale of the stamps was in 1993, where two stamps, on one cover, sold for USD$4,000,000.
While the stamps are the main attraction of the museum, other displays deal with the history of the island’s exploration, settlement and colonial period.
Mauritius Postal Museum
Also, on the waterfront is the Mauritius Postal Museum, which is housed inside the Central Post Office building, an architectural gem from the colonial era.
The museum, which also provides detail on the famous Mauritius “Post Office” stamps, features displays of commemorative stamps and other postal paraphernalia.
The Photographic Museum
Located in downtown Port Louis, a short walk from Le Caudan Waterfront, is the highly engaging Photographic Museum. If you have any interest in the history of Mauritius, or photography, your first stop in town should be this museum where, hopefully, you’ll be fortunate enough to meet its owner.
The museum is the passion of one amazing man (and local legend), the very energetic, enthusiastic, and highly motivated, Mr Tristan Bréville, who can normally be found working on his latest project in the back office of the museum.
With the help, and support, of his wife Marie Noelle, and his son (who normally serves on the front desk), Mr Bréville has spent his life amassing an impressive collection of photographic equipment. He has written several books on the history of Mauritius and he is also the owner of the largest photographic archive of Mauritius, which fully documents the history and development of the island.
The museum, which is located opposite Les Jardins De La Compagnie, is housed inside a former French government building, which was donated to Mr Bréville by the French government who fully appreciate the significance and importance of his collection.
At the time of my visit, Mr Bréville told me that he was hoping to secure new, larger premises so that he could properly display his vast archive of Mauritian photos – the largest such archive anywhere in the world.
How big is the archive? I was led into his back office, where the walls are lined from floor to ceiling with cupboards and draws, all of which are full of images – more than one million negatives, more than five thousand antique glass negatives, thousands of early island postcards and much more. It’s a treasure trove of huge importance, which tells the story of Mauritius. It would be a shame if such an archive never saw the light of day.
A visit to the museum is an opportunity to meet a family who have spared no effort to preserve the memory of their country. One of the highlights is the collection of Daguerreotypes, the first publicly available photos.
Invented in 1838 by Frenchman Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre, Daguerreotypes used a polished sheet of silver-plated copper to capture an image. This technique was introduced to Mauritius soon after it was invented and the museum contains the first photos produced in Mauritius.
While I took a photo of Mr Bréville for this report, he also took a photo of me, which he will include in the Mauritius archive.
Saint Louis Cathedral
A short walk from the Photographic museum lies the austere and tranquil Saint Louis Cathedral. The current church, which dates from 1932, occupies a patch of land on which various churches have stood over the centuries, with the first being consecrated in 1756.
Although simple, and unpretentious, the church is an ideal place to take respite from the hectic, chaotic streets of the capital.
Les Jardins De La Compagnie
Across the road from the Photographic Museum, Les Jardins de la Compagnie is the city’s most attractive garden, with its vast, shady banyan trees, statues, ample benches and fountains. It’s a favourite place for locals to relax.
Did you know? Mauritius was the site of the first, large-scale, use of indentured labour in the modern world.
Located on the seafront, up the hill from the Mauritius Postal museum, Aapravasi Ghat has the distinction of being one of two UNESCO World Heritage site on Mauritius.
The centre served as the island’s main immigration depot for indentured labourers from India and, between 1834 and 1920, almost half a million indentured labourers arrived from India at Aapravasi Ghat to work in the sugar plantations on the island.
It was from here that the modern, multi-cultural society, that is Mauritius was born and, today, almost 70% of Mauritius’ citizens can trace their roots back to Aapravasi Ghat.
Some of the original stone buildings have been renovated and converted into a visitors’ centre and museum with displays describing the sea voyage, arrival, living conditions and daily lives of the labourers.
A ‘must see’ for anyone interested in the history and development of Mauritius.
It’s hard to ignore the liveliest, and most raucous place in Port Louis, the rightly famous Central Market.
Located downtown, and housed inside several Victorian-era colonial buildings, the market is the place where locals gather to buy their produce from fruit and vegetables (in the main building) to meat (across the road in an annex).
The market has served as the commercial heart of the capital since Victorian times and is a good place to get a feel for local life.
A short stroll up the road from the Central Market is the historic Jummah Mosque, the most important mosque in Mauritius, which was built in the 1850’s using a blend of architectural styles, including Indian and Islamic.
The mosque, which is a tranquil oasis, is open to visitors, provided you leave your shoes at the front door.
Symbolic of the cultural melting port which is Mauritius, the stone gate on Royal street, which marks the entrance to Chinatown, is located alongside the entrance to Jummah mosque.
Home to everything Chinese, including the thriving community, restaurants, grocery stores and lots of colourful street art, Chinatown is an interesting neighbourhood which warrants investigation.
Around the Island – South West Coast
The coastal town of Albion, which is located 16-km south of Port Louis, is home to the iconic Albion lighthouse. Inaugurated in 1910, and rising 30-m above the coastal cliffs, the lighthouse has the distinction of being the only functional lighthouse on Mauritius.
While not open to visitors, unless you seek prior approval from the Mauritius Ports Authority, spectacular sunset photos can be made from the nearby cliffs.
Flic en Flac
Continuing south along the coast, the popular resort town of Flic en Flac lies 30-km south of Port Louis. This seaside town is known for its (fully public) 6-km stretch of white-sand beach, the longest on the island. The beach is part of a lagoon which is protected by a coral reef, making it ideal for families.
While other beaches on Mauritius are off-limits, located behind the fences of private resorts, the beach at Flic en Flac is open to all.
Because of its accessibility, the beach is popular with both tourists and locals and is lined with tasty, and affordable, food trucks and shops selling all sorts of beach gear (in case you forgot to bring something, like, maybe a giant, inflatable pink flamingo Lilo).
Continuing south down the west coast, the former fishing village of Tamarin lies just a few kilometres south of Flic en Flac, and is known for two things; some of the best surfing in the world and its salt pans.
Tamarin is the main salt pan in Mauritius with the pans covering an area of 30 hectares. Unlike other salt pans around the world, the pans at Tamarin are paved with black basalt stone.
Salt has been produced here since the French period with the production technique little changed through the ages. Using a very simple process, salt water is pumped directly from the sea into the pans and allowed to evaporate. Salt is then harvested a few days later. Not too complicated!
At the time of my visit (which was the rainy season), salt production was on hold as the evaporation process only works during dry weather.
However, the informative Les Salines de Yemen, which is an operational salt farm, and museum, was open. The museum, which is located on the main highway, describes every aspect of salt production and includes a gift shop where you can purchase a salty souvenir. The museum is housed inside a small salt warehouse which is surrounded by a number of salt pans, all of which are open to visitors.
Tucked away among a stand of casuarina trees, overlooking La Preneuse Beach, is a beautifully restored Martello tower, which once served as part of a larger, west coast, defence system.
Famous for their perfectly conical shape, Martello towers were invented by the French, but the British, who first saw them during a battle on Corsica, were so impressed, they replicated the design and exported it around the world to various colonies.
Another fine example of a Martello tower can be found on Bermuda, and is featured in my Bermuda Travel Guide.
Originally, five, basalt-stone, towers were built on the west coast of Mauritius to defend the island against a possible French invasion.
The towers never saw action and today, the last remaining tower at La Preneuse Beach has been restored and converted into a museum. As part of a visit, you can climb to the top of the tower, which affords panoramic views of the Indian ocean.
Le Morne is a peninsula at the extreme southwestern tip of the island – the last destination before making a sharp left-turn onto the short south coast.
The peninsula of Le Morne has the distinction of being one of two UNESCO World Heritage sites on Mauritius, along with Aapravasi Ghat. The landscape of the peninsula is dominated by Le Morne Brabant, a basaltic monolith which rises to a height of 556 metres (1,824 ft) above sea level.
The mountain, which is riddled with caves, was a favoured hideaway for escaped slaves. Following the abolition of slavery, all slaves on Mauritius were declared free on the 1st of February 1835. On this day, the British army started to climb Le Morne Brabant with the intention of telling the slaves that they were free. Unfortunately, due to a massive distrust of the authorities, the slaves immediately thought the army had been sent to recapture them and chose to jump to their deaths instead of risk recapture. A monument to the slaves has been installed on the beach at the base of the mountain.
While private resorts in La Morne may have grabbed the best waterfront property, the beautiful, sandy beach is open to the public. The photo featured above was taken from the beach, in front of the chic, LUX Le Morne resort. While the security guards will not let non-guests enter the resort from the road, you can park your car at either end of the property and walk onto the beach, where you’ll get the best views of the mountain
Located a short drive inland from the southwest coast, and perched at an elevation of 260 m (850 ft), the tiny, hillside, village of Chamarel packs in a lot of attractions, both natural and man-made.
Several of the main attractions are located inside the Chamarel Seven Coloured Earth Geopark, a privately-owned park which is home to several attractions, including the Chamarel waterfall, the Seven Coloured Earth attraction, and an Ebony forest.
Once you enter the grounds of the Geopark, a windy, tarmac road meanders its way to the first attraction – the spectacular Chamarel Waterfall.
The falls mark the point where the St. Deors river plunges over a basalt cliff, becoming the Cap river, which then flows into the Indian ocean at Baie du Cap. The entire landscape, which has been shaped by volcanic forces, is wild, lush and green. A viewing balcony offers front row seats to the falls, while a short, uphill, walking trail leads to even better views.
Seven Coloured Earth
Further along the road lies the incredible Seven Coloured Earth attraction. Looking like a giant-sized work of ‘sand art’, these sand dunes formed millions of years ago from the decomposition of volcanic rock.
The different colours are the result of different minerals present in the soil, with iron and aluminium being responsible for red and blue/purplish colours respectively.
Mauritius was once home to giant tortoises which, like the Dodo, became extinct once humans arrived on the island.
While there are no endemic tortoises on Mauritius, a group of six giant Aldabra tortoises have been introduced from the Seychelles and can be seen lazing about in the shade of their pen at the Seven Coloured Earth attraction.
Rhumerie de Chamarel
Lunchtime is the best time to schedule a visit to the Rhumerie de Chamarel Distillery. Located a short drive up the hill from the Geopark, this busy tourist complex includes an amazing restaurant, L’Alchimiste which offers a unique cuisine which is prepared using products sourced from the estate. Their fresh garden salads are especially recommended.
The distillery is open for guided tours (Rs370), but – if you dine in the restaurant (a must!), you receive the tour for free.
Around the Island – South Coast
Located on a tight bend, along the south coast road, 500-m west of Baie du Cap, is a monument, which was erected in 2003 to honour the 200th anniversary of the arrival of the famous English navigator and cartographer – Captain Matthew Flinders. His arrival, however, was less than auspicious!
While heading back to England in 1803, Flinders’ vessel needed urgent repairs. At the time, England and France were at war, and, once the Englishman landed on Mauritius, he was arrested by the French governor, who kept him under arrest for 6 years.
The roadside monument is accessible via a set of stairs which mount a small, rocky promontory.
Around the Island – East Coast
Tranquil and relaxed, Blue Bay offers wonderful snorkelling, swimming and a host of decent accommodation options (see the ‘Accommodation‘ section below for more). The Blue Bay Marine Park is the main attraction with a multitude of corals and fish species in a depth of just a few metres.
Blue Bay is the closest resort area to the airport (located at the southern end of the runway) and is ideally placed for anyone who has an early morning departure or late evening arrival.
I used Blue Bay as my base to explore the east coast.
The main town on the southeast coast, Mahébourg was founded in 1805 by the French, who named the town in honour of Mahé de La Bourdonnais, a previous French governor. Prior to the French, the Dutch had used the area for their original settlement, which they abandoned in 1710.
While the town was once a busy port, today it is a quiet backwater, offering a bustling town centre, colourful market, a small fleet of fishing boats, a pleasant waterfront promenade and an excellent museum.
During the Napoleonic wars, Mauritius had become a base from which French corsairs organised successful raids on British commercial ships. The raids continued until August of 1810 when a strong British expedition was sent to capture the island. While the ensuring battle was won by the French, the British regrouped on nearby Rodrigues, returning in December of the same year, at which point they overpowered the French, taking control of the island. A memorial on the waterfront commemorates this battle.
One of the more curious sights on the waterfront is the gigantic ‘Statue of Harmony – Swami Sivananda‘ which was built by volunteers in 1977. Looking very much like a school project, the statue is made of concrete which is completely covered in pebbles.
The best museum on Mauritius, the National History Museum in Mahébourg, is housed inside a former colonial mansion which has played a key role in the history of the island. It was here in 1810 that the injured commanders of the French and English fleets were taken for treatment after the Battle of Vieux Grand Port. The story of the battle is told in the museum, which also includes displays on the fauna and flora of the island.
The highlight of the museum is a completely intact skeleton of the extinct Dodo (refer to the photo in the ‘Dodo‘ section above), the only such skeleton in existence.
A short drive south of Mahebourg, just before Ferney, a signposted, right-hand turn, leads down a dirt lane-way, which is lined with coconut palms.
At the end of the lane-way lies the wonderful Falaise Rouge restaurant, which is perched on top of a coastal cliff. Offering wonderful cuisine and stunning views of Grand Port and Lion mountain, this is an ideal place to stop for lunch (see the ‘Eating Out‘ section for more).
Just beyond Falaise Rouge, in the small hamlet of Ferney, lies a very dilapidated stone monument which marks the spot where the first Dutch sailors landed on Mauritius on the 20th of September 1598. A small trail leads to the monument which has been erected on the shores of Port Grand.
Although the Dutch landed on the island in 1598, they didn’t settle on Mauritius until 1638, at which point it became an official settlement of the Dutch East India Company. The Dutch introduced sugar cane, rice, tobacco, oranges, deer and the first slaves to the island. They remained on the island until 1710, at which point the French invaded and took control.
Sadly, the arrival of humans, on this previously uninhabited island, marked the beginning of the end for the now-extinct Dodo which was hunted for food.
Belle Mare Beach
Further north, along the east coast, lies the popular beach of Belle Mare, one of the few sandy beaches on this side of the island which is accessible to the public.
Located between the towns of Belle Mare and Pointe de Flacq, this white-sand beach, with its pristine turquoise water, is considered to be one of the most beautiful beaches on Mauritius.
Bras D’Eau National Park
If anywhere in Mauritius is off-the-beaten-track, then it must be the rarely visited Bras D’Eau National Park. Located on the northeast coast, near the settlement of Poste Lafayette, the park is one of only three national parks on Mauritius and one of the few places where you can walk through native forest.
After the arrival of humans on the island, and the introduction of sugar cane farming, most of the native forest on Mauritius was destroyed. Today, a small section of forest exists at Bras D’Eau national park, which can be accessed via a walking trail. The forest is a good place to spot different birds, although many are not native to the island.
Along with a visitors’ centre, the park also features the ruins of a 200-year-old sugar mill and lime kiln.
Around the Island – North West Coast
Grand Baie (Grand Bay) is the most popular destination on Mauritius. Home to a protected, sandy beach, a multitude of accommodation, dining and entertainment options, Grand Baie is a bustling, thriving, tourist centre.
If you’re looking for sun, sand and sea, Grand Baie offers facilities for safe swimming, sailing, windsurfing, and water skiing, and it is also the departure point for deep sea fishing trips and for boat excursions to the islands to the north of Mauritius.
After hours, the many bars, restaurants and cafes of Grand Baie draw the crowds from near and far. If you are driving however, be aware of the strict, zero tolerance laws regarding drink driving (see the ‘Rental Car‘ section for more on this).
Mont Choisy Beach
Located between Grand Baie and Trou aux Biche, Mont Choisy beach is the longest beach in the north of Mauritius. This gently arcing beach is lined by thousands of large Casuarinas trees, and is a popular place with sun worshippers from nearby resorts.
At the southern end of the beach, is a small Hindu temple which features colourful gods and goddesses.
My first residence on Mauritius was across the road from the long, sandy beach at Trou-aux-Biches, a west coast fishing village which is located in the district of Pamplemousses.
According to some, Trou-aux-Biches is home to one of the most beautiful beaches on the island. If you’re interested in snorkelling or diving, there are many operators in the area with several impressive reefs lying offshore.
The beach is lined with hotels, resorts and guest houses with lots of restaurants catering to hungry tourists. Frequent buses connect the village with Grand Baie, which lies 8-km to the north.
While on Mauritius, I did two dives with the amazing team from Dive Spirit who operate from La Tonnelle Villa. If you’re interested in obtaining your PADI certification, the dive shop conduct training courses using the hotel swimming pool.
Dive trips are conducted twice a day, visiting different reefs which lie off the coast of Trou-aux-Biches with each dive costing Rs1,500 (USD$40).
There’s just one reason to visit the sleepy, inland settlement of Mapou – the impressive Château de Labourdonnais. Located a few kilometres from the main highway, a short drive south of Grand Baie, this fully restored, imposing, Victorian-era mansion is located on an historic sugarcane plantation.
Built in 1856, the Château is the crown jewel of Mauritius’ national heritage. Located at the end of a tree-lined avenue, this large mansion was fully restored in 2006, and offers a glimpse into the lives of sugarcane plantation owners in the 19th century.
The Château is one of the main rum distilleries on Mauritius with tastings being offered, after you have concluded your visit to the mansion – (see the ‘Rum‘ section below for more details).
The Château is surrounded by an extensive garden, which includes a large number of fruit trees and endemic species. The garden is an ideal place to photograph local bird life.
Located in the town of Pamplemousse, a short drive north of Port Louis, is one of the most popular ‘inland’ attractions on Mauritius – the Mauritius National Botanical Garden, which is open every day from 08:30 am to 5:00 pm.
The garden was initially opened nearly 300 years ago as a private garden by none other than François Mahé de Labourdonnais, who was the governor at the time. It has the distinction of being the oldest botanical garden in the Southern Hemisphere.
One of the main attractions of the garden is the large rectangular pond which is crammed with giant ‘Victoria amazonica‘ water lilies. Discovered in the Amazon, and named after Queen Victoria, the lilies were introduced to the gardens in 1927. These giant lilies sprout leaves which can grow up to 3 metres in diameter with spectacular flowers, which burst to life, then die two days later.
Another highlight of the garden are the 85 different varieties of palm trees brought from different parts of the globe. Apart from these, the gardens are home to more than 650 varieties of plants from all corners of the world. You could easily spend hours meandering along the many miles of pathways inside the garden.
Also, part of the gardens is Château Mon Plaisir which was originally purchased in 1735 by the governor Mahé de Labourdonnais who then ordered a garden to be built which would provide produce for the colonial. This was the genesis of today’s Botanical garden.
Sadly, at the time of my visit, this historically important residence was in a state of disrepair with the entire upper floor serving as a large pigeon coup, with all the associated mess staining the walls and floor. The government has announced a project to renovate the Château.
As tourism is the main industry on the island, it’s not surprising that there is a plethora of accommodation options to be found all around the island.
Due to the size of the island, if you wish to fully explore every nook and cranny, you’ll need to relocate at some stage. Trying to explore the south coast from Grand Baie is achievable, but you’ll spend a large part of your day on the road and stuck in traffic. I stayed on the west coast in Trou aux Biche and Grand Baie and on the east coast at Blue Bay.
Trou aux Biche
While in Trou aux Biche, I stayed at La Tonnelle, which is one block back from the beach and offers very nice rooms at Rs2,300 (USD$63) per night, including breakfast.
If you’re interested in Scuba diving, the hotel has a dive shop – Dive Spirit – which is very popular with visiting tourists and local divers. I spent a day diving with Dive Spirit and would recommend them.
For more on Scuba diving, please refer to ‘Scuba Diving‘ in the sightseeing section.
After a few nights in Trou aux Biche, I relocated to the much busier, tourist resort town of Grand Baie, which offers more accommodation options than any other single location on the island.
If you wish to be close to restaurants, bars, cafés, shopping malls, supermarkets and a fine beach (without needing to rely on transportation), then Grand Baie is the place to be.
If you’re driving a rental car, Grand Baie offers quick access to the highway and, hence, the rest of the island.
While in Grand Baie, I stayed at Villa Narmada, which offers a variety of 1 and 2-bedroom, self-catering apartments, all within walking distance of downtown Grand Baie.
Each villa offers a balcony, which overlooks a central courtyard and swimming pool with a 1-bedroom apartment costing me Rs1,500 (USD$40) per night, which represented very good value. If you do wish to cook, a supermarket is located around the corner at the Coeur de Ville shopping mall.
In order to explore the south and west coasts of Mauritius, I relocated from Grand Baie to the very beautiful, and much quieter, Blue bay, which is a short drive from Mahebourg and an even shorter drive from the airport.
I stayed at the Explora Prestige guest house, where a comfortable room (with breakfast) cost Rs2,000 (USD$55) per night. The guest house is a short walk from the bay which offers excellent snorkelling.
With the influx of settlers, slaves and servants, migration brought people and different cuisines to Mauritius. The cuisine of the country reflects its ethnic diversity, being a blend of African, Chinese, European and Indian influences – a cuisine which is a ‘melting pot of flavours’.
As with accommodation options, there’s no shortage of restaurants on Mauritius, from expensive fine dining to tasty and affordable street food.
I ate at many fine restaurants while on Mauritius, but one standout was Falaise Rouge, a restaurant offering Creole cuisine with spectacular views of the Indian ocean. The restaurant is perched on the edge of a seaside cliff, between Mahébourg and View Grand Port, on the southeast coast.
Port Louis is blessed with a number of fine cafés. My pick of the bunch is the wonderful Café de la Presse which is located on the first floor of an historic building on La Chaussée (street) in downtown Port Louis.
From its setting in a charming building, to its stylish design, its wonderful, fresh, tasty food to its amazing coffee, friendly staff, great service, ambience and constant buzz from locals who gather to share lunch and conduct office meetings, this café hits the mark.
A selection of local dishes is offered from a regular menu and from a ‘Menu de la Semaine’ (weekly menu) with the variety of dishes reflecting the diversity of the island – from Creole to Asian to European.
A favourite lunch of mine was a sandwich, which was made from a crusty baguette and stuffed with freshly roasted chicken and salad. Divine!
I found a reason, more than once, to return to Port Louis to have lunch at Café de la Presse.
The selection of pastries at Café de la Presse is also delectable, especially their flaky mille-feuille. You just have to ignore the calorie count!
Now to one of my favourite subjects – Rum!
Wherever you have sugar plantations, you’ll find a rum distillery nearby. Rum is an alcoholic beverage which is made by fermenting, then distilling, sugarcane molasses or sugarcane juice – it’s a by-product of sugar manufacture.
A couple of years ago, I spent an extended period of time meandering through the 33 countries and territories which comprise the Caribbean region. Most of the Caribbean islands, like Mauritius (and neighbouring Réunion) started life as sugar-producing colonies and most of them have been distilling rum for as long as they have been growing sugarcane.
While in the Caribbean, I enjoyed sampling many smooth rums and was very happy to find a local rum industry on Mauritius, and can attest that Mauritians rums are as good as their Caribbean rivals.
The most quaffable rums I sampled are distilled by Labourdonnais who are part of the Domaine de Labourdonnais, the original sugar plantation on Mauritius. The distillery has been distilling rum since 1771.
Rhumerie de Chamarel
A mix of both ample rum, and holiday-makers, guarantees a lively bar scene anywhere, and Mauritius is no exception.
Located a short drive from the ‘Coloured Earths of Chamarel, the Rhumerie de Chamarel sits perched on a hillside, 300 metres above the southwest coast of Mauritius. Of all the distilleries on the island, this is the most commercial, with the large car park often full with tour buses.
Banana Beach Club
The popular tourist neighbourhood of Grand Baie offers plenty of bars, cafes and restaurants. One of the most popular and liveliest bars is the Banana Beach Club which is located on the main road, overlooking the beach.
Centred around a towering Flamboyant tree, the bar features live music, great cocktails, buckets of beer, dancing, an agreeable ambience and everything else required for a good night out.
The highlight for me was the opportunity to sample the full range of locally brewed craft beers, which are produced by the Thirsty Fox brewery. The brewery, which was founded by a couple of cousins, produces four beers, all of which are very palatable – a Lager, Pale Ale, Amber Ale and a Weiss.
Almost all nationalities are entitled to receive a visa on arrival, when arriving at Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam International Airport, the only international gateway to Mauritius.
Like neighbouring Seychelles, Mauritian immigration officials will normally request to see a return flight and a hotel reservation. To check your visa requirements, you should consult the current Visa Policy of Mauritius.
Flights to Mauritius arrive at Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam (SSR) International Airport (IATA: MRU), which is named after the first prime minister of Mauritius and was previously known as Plaisance International Airport.
This very modern airport, whose new passenger terminal was inaugurated in 2013, is located on the southeast coast, and is connected to Port Louis (48 km / 26 mi to the northwest) via an excellent highway.
The airport serves as the only international gateway to Mauritius and is the base for the country’s national airline Air Mauritius.
The following airlines provided scheduled services to/ from Mauritius:
- Air Austral – flies to/ from Saint-Denis de la Réunion, Saint-Pierre de la Réunion
- Air France – flies to/ from Paris–Charles de Gaulle
- Air Madagascar – flies to/ from Antananarivo
- Air Mauritius – flies to/ from Antananarivo, Bengaluru, Cape Town, Chennai, Dar es Salaam, Delhi, Durban, Hong Kong, Johannesburg–O. R. Tambo, Kuala Lumpur–International, London–Heathrow, Mahé, Mumbai, Nairobi–Jomo Kenyatta, Paris–Charles de Gaulle, Perth, Rodrigues, Saint-Denis de la Réunion, Saint-Pierre de la Réunion, Shanghai–Pudong, Singapore
- Air Seychelles – flies to/ from Mahé
- British Airways – flies to/ from Johannesburg–O. R. Tambo, London–Gatwick
- Condor – flies to/ from Frankfurt
- Corsair International – flies to/ from Paris–Orly
- Edelweiss Air – flies to/ from Zürich
- Emirates – flies to/ from Dubai–International
- Kenya Airways – flies to/ from Nairobi–Jomo Kenyatta
- Saudia – flies to/ from Jeddah, Riyadh
- South African Airways – flies to/ from Johannesburg–O. R. Tambo
- TUI Airways – flies to/ from London–Gatwick
- Turkish Airlines – flies to/ from Istanbul
The only form of public transport from the airport is bus, with the following three routes offered:
- Bus route #9: connects Mahebourg to Curepipe
- Bus route #10: Mahebourg to Rivière des Gallets
- Bus route #198: connects Mahebourg to Port Louis (Victoria Square Bus Station), an 85-minute journey.
For more on bus services, please refer to the ‘Getting Around‘ section below.
Approved airport taxis can be hired at the airport. The airport authority, ATOL, publishes a list of rates on its website. You should always confirm the rate prior to the commencement of your journey.
Rental cars are popular on the island with many visitors (including myself) opting to collect a rental car at the airport.
There are currently 12 car rental agents operating at the airport with each agent allocated just a few parking spaces, which has resulted in chronic over-crowding, and congestion, in the rental car area of the car park.
If you prefer to hire a car elsewhere on the island, once you’ve settled in and relaxed after your long-haul flight, there are plenty of agencies scattered around the island who will deliver cars to your accommodation.
For more information on Rental Cars, please refer to the ‘Getting Around‘ section below.
If you’re in the region and have the time (and money), you should seriously consider adding the French territory of Réunion to your travel plans. You can read all about this fascinating destination in my Réunion Travel Guide. I spent two weeks exploring the territory with a rental car and still didn’t cover everything. One of my favourite destinations of 2019!
One thing to be aware of however, is that the 45 minute, 226-km flight between Mauritius and Réunion is the only connection between the two neighbouring islands and is considered to be one of the most expensive international flights in the world, based on kilometres travelled. I met few people on Mauritius who had been to Réunion and vice-versa.
Flights are offered by Air Mauritius (the preferred choice) and Air Austral (a distant 2nd), the airline of Réunion. A one-way ticket with Air Austral currently costs €248 (USD$274/ Rs10,100) while a return ticket costs a little less at €218 (USD$240 / Rs8,900).
The best way to reduce the high cost of the flight is to book a multi-city ticket with Air Austral, using Roland Garros International Airport as your hub. I constructed a ticket, which took me to several regional destinations, including from Mauritius to Reunion, then – the French territory of Mayotte (click to view my Mayotte Travel Guide), then back to Reunion, then finally onto the Seychelles, all over a period of 2 months. The cost of all segments was significantly cheaper than had I booked the flights individually.
Air Austral, who have a small fleet, but a busy timetable, are far from reliable with flights often being cancelled or running late. If you plan an itinerary with Air Austral, it’s best to avoid tight connection times.
Regular cruise ships call at Port Louis from October to May of each year. You can view the current schedule here.
If you wish to rub shoulders with the friendly Mauritians (highly recommended!), there’s no better way than to spend time riding on one of the many island buses. Buses are offered by several companies who operate under the umbrella of the National Transport Authority of Mauritius.
The Mauritius Bus website allows you to search bus routes between different points on the island.
There’s no single bus which circumnavigates the island, with most buses connecting in either Port Louis (for the busy west coast services) or Mahebourg (for the quieter east coast services). Tickets are very reasonably priced, costing Rs15 (USD$0.40) for a short trip, and Rs30 (USD$0.80) for a longer journey.
Bus travel times can be long and schedules unpredictable. If you wish to maximise your time, and your sightseeing, on the island, a rental car is essential (see the ‘Rental Car‘ section below for more).
Best to be avoided!
Unfortunately, there are many unscrupulous taxi drivers on Mauritius, with the worst of them operating at night when the buses are no longer in service. Without any ride sharing app such as Uber available, and no meters in use, you’re at the mercy of the drivers who could be accused of highway robbery.
Prior to using a taxi, you should consult with a local to ascertain the correct fare – although at the end of the day, drivers will normally try to overcharge tourists.
The first light rail system in the Indian Ocean!
The Metro Express is a 26 km (16 mi) light rail system, which is being constructed in two phases, by an Indian company:
- Phase 1: The first phase has been completed and includes 7 stations between Port Louis and Rose Hill. The line was inaugurated on the 3rd of October 2019 by Mauritius Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
- Phase 2: Will include an additional 12 stations and extend the line from Rose Hill to Curepipe. It’s due to open in September 2021.
The best way to maximise your time on Mauritius is to rent a car. There are currently 12 car rental agents operating at the airport and many more at various locations around the island, including the popular tourist enclave of Grand Baie.
I rented an economy-sized car (US$50 per day) through Budget, for a period of 13 days, which allowed me to fully explore the island.
A few considerations to take into account when driving on Mauritius:
- Left-Hand Traffic (LHT): Cars drive on the left-hand side of the road, although it could be argued that Mauritians drive on whichever side of the road offers the most shade!
- Zero Alcohol: The Mauritian Police force have a zero tolerance towards drunk drivers. If you are driving, you should not drink. You can learn about the limits here.
- Transmission: There are far more manual cars on Mauritius than automatic. If you must drive an automatic, be sure to confirm availability with the rental agency.
- Highways: Mauritius has only one highway. The highway starts at the airport, situated in the South East of the Island, and ends in the North of the Island at Grand Baie. The speed limit is often 110 km/hr, but much slower in and around Port Louis, where the highway is always congested, with many roundabouts becoming bottle-necks during the rush hour.
- Primary Roads: Away from the highways, all other roads are very narrow, windy, poorly lit at night and have a speed limit of 60 to 80 km/hour. There are few footpaths so you need to take it slow and avoid the numerous pedestrians who have no choice but to walk on the road. The primary roads do not have shoulders and often drop into deep trenches without guard rails.
- Local Drivers: Mauritians will stop their car and block the lane where and when it suits them, without any warning.
Did you know: Right-Hand Traffic (RHT) is used in 165 countries and territories, while Left-Hand Traffic (LHT) is used in the remaining 75 countries and territories.
Parking in Port Louis
Driving a car into the congested, narrow, chaotic streets of downtown Port Louis is best avoided! Better to take a bus. Added to the stress is the fact that finding parking can be a nightmare.
Despite being a large, bustling city, which is full of cars, there are just two small parking stations which I found:
- The parking station at Le Caudan Waterfront which is open from 7 am to 11 pm and costs Rs 50 per hour.
- There’s a 2nd (smaller) parking station located on Rue St. Georges, around the corner from Cafe de la Presse. I always used this station but cannot recall the name and cannot find it on Google. It also charged Rs 50 per hour.
If you park on the street in downtown Port Louis, you’ll need to display a valid parking coupon on the dashboard of your car. The coupons cost Rs 20 each and are sold in booklets of 10 at any petrol station. The duration of the coupon is either half an hour or one hour, depending on the zone. You can use multiple coupons to allow for parking up to 2 hours.
You might also be interested in reading other taste2travel articles from the region, such as my:
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Author: Darren McLean
Owner of taste2travel.com – an avid traveler, photographer, travel writer and adventurer.
I hope you enjoy reading my content.