Mauritius Destination Guide

Mauritius Destination Guide Overview. It is easy to run out of adjectives when attempting to describe the natural beauty of the small tropical Indian Ocean island paradise of Mauritius. The volcanic island Republic, covered with lush forest, streams and waterfalls, and fringed with palms, dazzling white sands and teeming coral reefs, lies east of Madagascar just south of the Equator. Mauritius, covering just 720 square miles (1,864 sq km), is the archetypal dream destination for an idyllic holiday, equipped with modern resorts that have been carefully developed to preserve the island’s beauty and ecology.

Mark Twain is quoted as having said that ‘Mauritius was made first, then heaven was copied from it’, and anyone who has experienced the island would no doubt agree with him.

Along with its natural beauty Mauritius has a valuable tourist resource in the warmth and friendliness of its multi-cultural population. Since being officially ‘discovered’ in 1505 by the Portuguese, the island has been occupied by the Dutch, the French and the British. All have added to the melting pot that constitutes the island’s human heritage, along with injections of African slaves, Arab traders and Chinese indentured labourers over the centuries.

Most of the tourist resorts are situated along the 205-mile (330km) coastline, with the capital Port Louis, on the west coast, being the centre of operations for most visitors. The bulk of the population, however, reside on the central plateaux around Curepipe, the island’s other major town.

Although everyone who visits Mauritius comes for the sandy beaches and blue lagoons, most are delighted to discover that the island has plenty of other attractions too, from some of the world’s rarest stamps to the first ever race course to open in the southern hemisphere. Of course no holiday would be complete, either, without good food and entertainment. Mauritius offers both, with some delicious local cuisine that makes use of tropical fruits and vegetables, and the chance to learn the island’s indigenous wild dance, the Sega, which originated among the African slaves of yore.

The Basics

Time:
GMT +4.

Electricity:
230 volts, 50Hz. Square three-pin plugs and round two-pin plugs are commonly used.

Money:

The currency of Mauritius is the Mauritian Rupee (MUR), which is divided into 100 cents. Travellers cheques and foreign currency can be exchanged at banks, bureaux de change and larger hotels. Cash is usually exchanged at a poorer rate than travellers cheques. ATMs are widely available in most towns and most hotels, restaurants and large retailers accept major credit cards.

Language:
English is the official language of Mauritius, but the most widely used is French and the local dialect, Creole. Hindi, Urdu and Chinese are also spoken.

Tipping:

Tipping in Mauritius is entirely discretionary. However, some extra money paid for services, such as a taxi ride, is appreciated. In the hotels travellers can add around 5% of their incidental expenses when paying the bill on departure, if service has been good. Government tax is added to all hotel and restaurant bills and this is included in the basic price. However, all incidental hotel expenses will incur a 12% tax, which is generally included in the price quoted.

Safety:

A visit to Mauritius is usually trouble free, however petty crime can be a problem and it is not wise to wander alone at night outside the grounds of hotels. Visitors should be aware of pick-pocketing in the central market in Port Louis. Care should be taken of bags and valuables when visiting popular tourist areas such as Pereybere, Grand Baie, Flic en Flac and Tamarin. There has been an increase in break-ins in self-catering accommodation and visitors are advised to only rent accommodation from registered proprietors. Cyclone season is from November to May.

Customs:

Homosexuality is illegal in Mauritius. Penalties for drug trafficking and use are severe, and any personal medicinal drugs should be covered by a prescription. Scheduled drugs, such as psychotropic preparations (e.g. tranquillisers, hypnotics), narcotics (e.g. morphine) and other strong painkillers require by law authorisation before import.

Business:

Port Louis is the main business hub of Mauritius. Standard business practice applies to the island: punctuality and politeness is important, handshakes and the exchanging of business cards takes place on meeting and in general business attire is worn. It is however possible to be somewhat more casual in terms of dress and visitors can take their cue from the hosts. Lightweight materials are recommended due to the tropical climate. English is the official language of Mauritius, though French is also widely spoken. Business hours can vary though are usually from 9am to 4pm Monday to Friday, with some businesses are open for a half-day on Saturdays.

Communications:

The international access code for Mauritius is +230. The outgoing code is 00 followed by the relevant country code (e.g. 001 for the United States). City/area codes are not required. The whole island is covered by the mobile network; the local mobile phone operators use GSM networks, which are compatible with most international operators. Handsets and SIM cards can be hired at the airport. Internet cafes are widely available.

Duty Free:

Travellers to Mauritius over 16 years do not have to pay duty on 200 cigarettes or 50 cigars or 250g tobacco; 1 litre spirits and 2 litres of wine, ale or beer; perfume and eau de toilette for personal use. Prohibited items include sugarcane and fresh fruit from parts of Asia. No dogs or cats from a 62-mile (100km) radius where rabies has occurred in the past 12 months are allowed into the country.

Health

No vaccination certificates are required for entry into Mauritius, unless travelling from a country infected by yellow fever or where yellow fever is classified as endemic. Typhoid and hepatitis vaccinations are recommended. Stonefish stings are uncommon but can in some cases be fatal. You should obtain urgent medical attention if stung; many hotels stock anti-venom serum. Visitors should take precautions against mosquito bites as there have been several cases of the Chikungunya virus, which is spread by mosquito bites. Travellers should stick to bottled water. Medical facilities are good and free in public hospitals, but private clinics are expensive and medical insurance is recommended.

Airports

Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam International

Location: The airport is 30 miles (48km) south east of Port Louis.
Time: GMT +4.

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Transfer to the city:

A regular bus service operates from the airport every 30 minutes, taking an hour to reach Port Louis. Taxis are available at a fare of Rs 700 and take 45 minutes to reach the capital.

Car rental:

Car hire companies Avis, Europcar and Hertz are represented at the airport.

Facilities:

The airport has a bureau de change and branches of Barclays Bank, Mauritius Commercial Bank and the State Bank of Mauritius. There are duty-free shops in the arrival and departure lounges, and various other shops selling handcrafts, books and souvenirs. There is a post office on the public terrace open from 8am to 4pm Mondays to Fridays, and 8am to 11.45am on Saturdays. There is a restaurant in the departure lounge and on the arrivals terrace, and a bar in the departure lounge.

Car parking:

Departure tax: Rs 500.
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Climate and Weather

Mauritius has only two seasons with minimal differences between them, making Mauritius a perfect year round destination. Summer runs from November to April, with temperatures reaching as high as 93ºF (34ºC) on the coast. Humidity is highest from December to April but is never unbearable, particularly on the coast where there is a constant sea breeze. Cyclones, with strong winds and heavy rain, can occur between January and March. Mauritius will normally experience about three or four cyclones a year during this period, each usually lasting a couple of days. During winter the temperature drops a few degrees, however, there is still plenty of sunshine and it is a very pleasant time of year to visit. Sea temperatures vary between 75ºF (24ºC) in the winter and 82ºF (28ºC) in the summer. The peak holiday season runs from October to Easter, with hotel prices dropping during over the summer months.

Mauritius Destination Guide Attractions

Central Market

The diversity of the Mauritian population is never more obvious than during a visit to the lively, bustling and colourful Central Market, accessed from Farquhar Street, near the harbour in Port Louis. When you enter take note of the ironwork on the gates, erected in 1844, dedicated to Queen Victoria. Inside the market is a whirl of Muslim traders, swarthy Indian touts, Chinese and Creoles, all demanding attention as they offer their wares. It is advisable to visit the market early, before the heat of the day descends (it opens at 6am every day including Sundays), and be prepared to have your senses assailed with a variety of odours from the fruit, herbs, spices, potions and lotions and various other goods offered for sale.

Location: , Port Louis
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Natural History Museum

Port Louis’ Natural History Museum is well visited mainly for one single important exhibit: a replica of the flightless bird, the legendary Dodo, which has been extinct since the end of the 17th century. Researchers believe the dodo was a member of the pigeon family, which weighed about 50 pounds (23kg) fully grown. The bird was found only on the island of Mauritius, and was discovered by the Portuguese explorers around 1505. The bird became extinct because of the predators such as dogs, pigs, rats and monkeys that were introduced to the island by European colonisation. Numerous other Mauritian bird species have also been driven to extinction, including two related to the Dodo.

Location: , Port Louis
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Blue Penny Museum

The lively Caudan Waterfront in Port Louis features the Blue Penny Museum, which is primarily devoted to Mauritian art and history, but whose place of pride is given to two of the rarest stamps in the world: the Mauritian 1847 ‘Post Office’ Penny Orange and Twopence Blue, estimated to be worth more than US$1million apiece. Mauritius was the fifth country in the world to begin issuing postage stamps, back in 1847, and some of the few remaining early island stamps are now highly valued around the world. The museum is run by the Mauritius Commercial Bank, which formed a consortium of local companies to purchase the stamps at an auction in Switzerland in 1993, and bring them home for posterity.

Location: , Port Louis
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Royal Botanical Gardens of Pamplemousses

About seven miles (11km) northeast of Port Louis, and easily reached by regular buses, lies the island’s premier tourist attraction, the Pamplemousses gardens (now officially called the Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam Botanical Gardens in honour of the late Prime Minister, but still colloquially referred to by their original name). The gardens are enclosed by beautiful wrought iron railings which are today in bad repair but when first manufactured in 1862 won a prize at an international exhibition at Crystal Palace in London. The gardens were first laid out in 1735 around a mansion house called Mon Plaisir as a vegetable garden to supply ships calling at Port Louis. Later the house was bought by horticulturalist Pierre Poivre, who introduced plant species from around the world interspersed with indigenous species. The garden is redolent with the perfume of fruit and spice trees, and the 24 hectares (60 acres) also sport a collection of stately palms, ebony, mahogany, latania and pandanus. A great attraction is a pond full of the Giant Amazon water lily.

Location: , Port Louis
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Beaches

The beaches of Mauritius are close to perfect, with fine white sand and clear water running to heavenly shades of blue. Some of the island’s best beaches on the west coast are easily reached from Port Louis. Flic-en-Flacq is the longest beach in Mauritius and features a beautiful lagoon. Grand Baie, 12 miles (20km) to the north of the capital, is a major tourist centre, offering watersports, shops, nightlife and restaurants to complement its splendid beach and deep sheltered bay. Also on the north coast road is Pereybere, one of the island’s favoured swimming spots. The Baie du Tamarin is at the mouth of the Tamarin River in a beautiful setting, and is popular for surfing with Indian Ocean rollers washing the beach all year. In the southwest is Le Morne Brabant, characterised by a basaltic outcrop and beaches shaded by casuarinas and coconut trees. Snorkellers enjoy Trou-aux-Biches with its shallow waters and coral reefs.

Location: , Port Louis
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Domaine Les Pailles

A short taxi ride to the south of Port Louis is the Domaine Les Pailles cultural centre and nature park, covering more than 1,500 hectares (3,707 acres) and offering plenty of entertainment for visitors. Activities include horse-drawn carriage and train rides, viewing a working replica of an ox-powered sugar mill, a rum distillery, exploring a herb garden and natural spring. There is also an onsite horse riding centre, several restaurants, a jazz club and casino.

Location: , Port Louis
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Moka

Those who enjoy seeking out some culture along with their sunshine holiday should visit the town of Moka, seven miles (12km) south of Port Louis, which is not only Mauritius’ academic centre but also blessed with some beautiful scenery and impressive historic manor houses. Moka is the home of the University of Mauritius and the Mahatma Ghandi Institute, tasked with preserving the island’s Indian culture. There is an Indian folk museum to visit, and the Eureka House (now a museum) dating from 1830. Moka can be reached by bus or taxi from Port Louis or Curepipe.

Location: , Port Louis
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Chamarel

In the southwest corner of the island a twisting road winds from the village of Case Noyal to an interesting geological attraction, the ‘Seven Coloured Earth’. This is an undulating mound of varied coloured sand, swirled with patches of blue, green, red, purple and yellow earth, apparently caused by the weathering of volcanic rocks. There is also a scenic waterfall nearby set amid jungle vegetation.

Location: , Port Louis
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Curepipe

Curepipe, sitting atop the high central plateaux of inland Mauritius 12 miles (20km) from Port Louis, owes its existence to a malaria epidemic in 1867, when thousands fled to the healthy, cooler high ground from Port Louis to escape the mosquitoes. The town is the centre of a spread-out suburban area, and offers some good shopping opportunities. Its main attraction for visitors, though, is an extinct volcano, Trou aux Cerfs, west of the town near the botanical gardens, with a massive wooded crater floor. A road leads to the rim of the volcano and there are spectacular views from the summit. Another natural attraction, just four miles (6km) south west of Curepipe, is the Black River Gorges National Park, home to the rare tambalacoque tree and a variety of exotic flora and fauna.

Location: , Port Louis
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Ile Aux Cerfs

The small island of Ile aux Cerfs (Stag Island) off the east coast of Mauritius is a popular tourist haven, managed by the adjacent Touessrok Hotel, but open to the public. The island, featuring splendid tropical vegetation and encircled by magnificent beaches, can be reached by boat from the small fishing village of Trou d’eau Douce. The island is equipped with a bar, restaurant and shops, as well as watersports facilities from parasailing to windsurfing. The most recent, and somewhat controversial, development on the island is an 18-hole Bernhard Langer designed championship golf course, which affords a sea view from each hole and often requires the novelty of hitting a tee-shot over a natural sea inlet onto the fairway.

Location: , Port Louis
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How to get there: Boats leave every half hour from Trou d’eau Douce between 9am and 5pm

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