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It's easy to run out of adjectives when describing the natural beauty of Mauritius, a small tropical paradise found in the Indian Ocean. Indeed, celebrated author Mark Twain claimed 'Mauritius was made first, then heaven was copied from it'. The volcanic island lies east of Madagascar just south of the Equator, covered with lush forest, streams, and waterfalls, and fringed with palms, dazzling white sands, and teeming coral reefs.
Mauritius is small, covering just 720 square miles (1,864 sq km). It is the archetypal dream destination for an idyllic beach holiday, equipped with modern resorts that have been carefully developed to preserve the island's beauty.
Since the Portuguese arrived in 1505, the island has been occupied by the Dutch, the French, and the British. All have contributed over the centuries to the melting pot that is Mauritian culture and heritage, along with African slaves, Arab traders, and indentured Chinese labourers.
Most of the tourist resorts in Mauritius 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 reside on the central plateau around Curepipe, the island's other major town.
Although everybody who takes a holiday in 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 without good food and entertainment, and Mauritius offers both. The delicious local cuisine makes use of tropical fruits and vegetables, and the chance to learn the island's indigenous wild dance, the Sega, which originated among African slaves.
Of course, most travellers in Mauritius have been lured by the beautiful stretches of coastline, the warm ocean, plentiful sunshine, numerous watersports, and high-quality resorts. However, things to see and do in Mauritius extend far beyond its white sand beaches and clear turquoise waters.
Visitors can see a replica of the legendary Dodo at Port Louis' Natural History Museum, and explore the Central Market, a bustling hub of culture, colour, and bargains. They can also enjoy the impressive and historic manor houses in Moka and take in Chamarel's rainbow of coloured sands, the 'Seven Coloured Earth'.
Black River Gorges National Park is great for picnics, hiking and scenic drives and is home to wonderful waterfalls and wildlife, while La Vanille Reserve des Mascareigne is home to thousands of crocodiles and giant tortoises.
It is well worth taking excursions inland to learn about the island's interesting history and culture, and to see how local Mauritians live outside of the fancy beach resorts. Learning the local Sega dance is a delight for visitors, and it is particularly special to seek out night spots frequented by locals rather than just sticking to the resort entertainment. Its lovely weather makes Mauritius a perfect year-round holiday destination.
The diversity of the Mauritian population is never more obvious than during a visit to the lively, bustling and colourful Central Market in Port Louis, accessed from Farquhar Street, near the harbour. When visitors enter they should note the intricate ironwork on the gates, erected in 1844, and dedicated to Queen Victoria. Inside the market they will find a whirl of Muslim traders, swarthy Indian touts, Chinese and Creoles, all demanding attention as they offer their wares. Shoppers can buy almost anything in the market, including fresh produce, clothes, crafts, art and souvenirs. Textiles, carved wooden figurines, essential oils and spices are all good buys.
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 Red and Twopence Blue, estimated to be worth more than US$1 million 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. Tours of the museum are available and take between 30 and 90 minutes.
The Pamplemousses Gardens are one of the island's premier tourist attractions and are easily reached by regular buses from Port Louis. Officially called the Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam Botanical Gardens in honour of the late Prime Minister, they are enclosed by beautiful wrought iron railings which are today in disrepair 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.
Home to nearly 150 species of birds, including ostriches and flamingos, Casela Park is a paradise for bird watching in Mauritius. The park opened in 1979, and is home to many other kinds of animals as well, including zebras, giant tortoises, lions, monkeys, cheetahs, tigers, and various antelope. There are several different ways to explore the 14-hectare grounds of Casela, and visitors will enjoy exciting modes of transportation such as ziplines, segways, quad bikes, and hanging bridges. The park is very family-friendly and there are programmes for kids and teenagers, as well as a petting farm and restaurant.
Promoted as Mauritius' first attraction back in the 1960s and located on the island of Chamarel, the Seven Coloured Earth is a magical sight and still quite a mysterious phenomenon. The Seven Coloured Earth is a geological formation of sand dunes comprised of seven distinct colours that give the rolling dunes a fantastical, psychedelic look. The colours are usually defined as red, brown, violet, green, blue, purple, and yellow. These warm colours are all the more striking in contrast to the bright green of the surrounding forest. The dunes are also interesting in that they never seem to erode, despite the tropical storms that lash the region.
Sometimes called the 'Cinderella of the Mascarenes', Rodrigues is a tiny island roughly 348 miles (560km) east of Mauritius, and a popular excursion from there. The island is volcanic in origin and is surrounded by stunning coral reef; there are some even smaller, uninhabited islands off the coast. The reef that fringes Rodrigues forms a calm lagoon, which shelters the inlets and beaches of the island and creates wonderful conditions for swimming and snorkelling. There are some glorious little beaches to lounge on. Less touristy than the resort towns of Mauritius, Rodrigues Island offers visitors a glimpse of a simpler and more authentic way of life.
Located in a secluded mountain area in the district of Savanne, and bordering a national park, Ganga Talao (or Grand Bassin) is a crater lake considered to be the most sacred Hindu site in Mauritius. According to legend, Lord Shiva and his wife Parvati were travelling over Mauritius carrying the Ganges River, and a few drops spilled and formed Ganga Talao. On the shores of the lake is a temple dedicated to Shiva, and a number of other shrines, and every year many Hindus from around Mauritius make a pilgrimage to the site, often walking barefoot from wherever they live.
Mauritius has only two seasons, with minimal differences between them, making it 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 an almost constant sea breeze. The northeast (around Grand Baie) is more protected from the southeast trade winds.
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, and flooding can result.
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 April, with hotel prices dropping over the winter months. If travellers plan to visit during peak season, they should be sure to book accommodation far in advance to avoid disappointment. To avoid the rainy season, they should visit anytime between April and December.
The currency of Mauritius is the Mauritian Rupee (MUR), which is divided into 100 cents. Foreign currency can be exchanged at banks, bureaux de change and larger hotels. ATMs are widely available in most big towns and some hotels, and major restaurants and large retailers accept major credit cards.
English is the official language of Mauritius, but the most widely used language is French and the local dialect, Creole. Hindi, Urdu, and Chinese are also spoken.
Electrical current is 230 volts, 50Hz. Square three-pin plugs and round two-pin plugs are commonly used.
US nationals: US citizens must have a passport that is valid for the period of intended stay in Mauritius. A visa is not required for stays of up to 90 days.
UK nationals: British citizens must have a passport that is valid for the period of intended stay in Mauritius. No visa is required for holders of British passports for stays of up to 90 days, irrespective of the endorsement regarding their national stuatus contained therein.
CA nationals: Canadian citizens must have a passport that is valid for the period of intended stay in Mauritius. A visa is not required four tousist stays up to 90 days.
AU nationals: Australian citizens must have a passport that is valid for the period of intended stay in Mauritius. No visa is required for stays of up to 90 days.
ZA nationals: South African citizens must have a passport that is valid for the period of intended stay in Mauritius. No visa is required for stays of up to 90 days.
IR nationals: Irish citizens must have a passport that is valid for the period of intended stay in Mauritius. No visa is required for stays of up to 90 days.
NZ nationals: New Zealand citizens must have a passport that is valid for the period of intended stay in Mauritius. No visa is required for stays of up to 90 days.
All foreign passengers to Mauritius must hold a confirmed booking for accommodation in Mauritius, return or onward tickets to their country of origin or residence, and the necessary travel documentation for their next destination. NOTE: It is highly recommended that travellers' passports have at least six months' validity remaining after the intended date of departure from their travel destination. Immigration officials often apply different rules to those stated by travel agents and official sources.
No vaccination certificates are required for entry into Mauritius, though vaccinations are usually recommended for hepatitis A and hepatitis B.
It's also a good idea to pack shoes that can be worn in the sea to protect against sharp coral, sea urchins and stonefish. Stonefish stings are uncommon but can in some cases be fatal. Visitors 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 mosquitoes, although this is more common from October to May. Malaria medication may also be necessary, if visiting rural areas. 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.
Medications are usually easily available but, for peace of mind, it is better that travellers bring any prescription medication with them, in its original packaging, with a signed and dated note from their doctor detailing what it is and why they need it. Note that visitors can bring common medicines for personal use into the country but must carry a copy of the prescription and proof that the drugs have been obtained legally. Other drugs such as tranquillisers, hypnotics, narcotics, and other strong painkillers will require prior authorisation.
Tipping in Mauritius is discretionary. However, some extra money paid for services, such as a taxi ride, waitering or cleaning, is appreciated. In the hotels travellers can add around five percent 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 tax, which is generally included in the price quoted.
Mauritus is generally regarded as a safe country but visitors should take regular precautions against petty crime. They should avoid walking alone in unfamiliar areas at night and keep valuables out of sight at all times. 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.
Homosexuality is not technically illegal in Mauritius, but sodomy is and it is best to exercise discretion, as the locals are sometimes conservative. Penalties for drug trafficking and use are severe, and any personal medicinal drugs should be covered by a prescription. By law, scheduled drugs such as tranquillisers, morphine, and other strong painkillers require authorisation before import.
Port Louis is the main business hub of Mauritius. Standard business practice applies to the island: punctuality and politeness are important, handshakes and the exchanging of business cards take place at meetings, and business attire is worn.
It is, however, possible to be somewhat more casual in terms of dress and visitors can take the cue from their hosts. Lightweight materials are recommended due to the tropical climate. Business hours vary, but most businesses are open at least from 9am to 4pm Monday to Friday, with some businesses open for a half-day on Saturdays.
The international access code for Mauritius is +230. International roaming and local SIM cards are available; WiFi connections are widespread in hotels, resorts and guesthouses.
Travellers to Mauritius over 18 years do not have to pay duty on 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.
Mauritius Tourism Website: www.tourism-mauritius.mu
Mauritius Embassy, Washington DC, United States: +1 202 244 1491.
Mauritius Embassy, London, United Kingdom: +44 20 7581 0294.
Mauritius Honorary Consulate, Ottawa, Canada: +1 416 754 2747.
High Commission for the Republic of Mauritius, Melbourne, Australia: +(613) 9484 4242.
Mauritius High Commission, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 (0)12 342 1283.
United States Embassy, Port Louis: +230 202 4400.
British High Commission, Port Louis: +230 202 9400.
Canadian High Commission, Pretoria, South Africa (also responsible for Mauritius): +27 (0)12 422 3000.
Australian High Commission, Port Louis: +230 202 0160.
South African High Commission, Port Louis: +230 212 6925.
New Zealand Consulate, Pretoria, South Africa (also responsible for Mauritius): +27 12 435 9000.
Port Louis boasts some fantastic attractions to keep tourists off the beaches, offering lots to see and do away from the sand and sea.
One of the most popular spots to visit is the Champs de Mars racecourse, which is one of the oldest in the world, having celebrated its first race in 1812. A day at the horse races is wonderful fun when staying in Port Louis.
The Blue Penny Museum is the cultural and historical highlight of the Caudan Waterfront and contains two of the oldest and rarest postage stamps in the world; this attraction will only be of interest to serious culture vultures, but it is a well-organised and interesting attraction.
The town also offers a plethora of shopping opportunities, including malls, street-side shops, and vendors, as well as bustling markets. Within the crush of the busy Port Louis Central Market, visitors can buy all sorts of treasures, making it a definite win for shopaholics.
A stroll and picnic in the Royal Botanical Gardens of Pamplemousses is also something to do in town, and there are some worthwhile inland excursions from the city, such as a trip to the old sugar cane estate of Domaine Les Pailles.
And then, of course, there are the beaches. The tourist hubs of Grand Baie and Flic en Flac, with their long white beaches, calm waters, and coral reefs are close to Port Louis and are a great favourite with visitors.
Travellers in Port Louis will find themselves getting around a lot of the town by foot, as none of the distances are too great. Taxis are readily available and efficient, and are easily recognisable by their yellow signs. Car rental agencies such as Hertz can be found throughout the town for visitors wanting to explore the island themselves.
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 are on the west coast, and are easily reached from Port Louis. Flic en Flac 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. Roche Noires is an east coast favourite, named for the dramatic black volcanic rocks that line the water. The east coast is great for sailing.
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) in the foothills of the Moka Mountains and offering plenty of entertainment for visitors. The centre was once a sugar cane estate and some of the 18th-century features can still be seen. Activities include horse-drawn carriage and train rides, viewing a working replica of an ox-powered sugar mill, a rum distillery museum, exploring a herb garden and natural spring, and adventure safaris into the mountains in 4x4 vehicles.
The small island of Ile aux Cerfs (Stag Island), off the east coast of Mauritius, is one of the country's most popular tourist destinations, managed by the adjacent Touessrok Hotel, but open to the public. The island, featuring splendid tropical vegetation and encircled by magnificent sandy beaches, can be reached by boat from the small fishing village of Trou d'eau Douce. The boat trip only takes about 15 minutes. The island is equipped with a number of bars, restaurant, and shops, as well as watersports facilities including parasailing, waterskiing, windsurfing, and glass-bottomed boat trips.
Situated in the southwest of the island, the Black River Gorges National Park is a popular spot for picnics, hiking and scenic drives. The park encompasses thick pine forests, gorges and rugged mountains and is a sanctuary for local flora and fauna. In fact, the park protects much of the island's remaining rainforest and some of Mauritius's endemic species, including the Mauritian flying fox. Bird-watchers will love the park and should look out for the Mauritius kestrel, the green echo parakeet and the Mauritius cuckoo shrike. The park's Chamarel Waterfalls are the highest in Mauritius at 83m (270ft) and are best seen after heavy rains.
La Vanille Reserve des Mascareigne is a nature reserve in the unspoilt south of Mauritius, best known for its thousands of crocodiles and giant tortoises, which they are helping reintroduce to the island of Rodrigues. Reptiles in the park include Nile crocodiles, iguanas, caimans, geckos, chameleons, and tortoises, and there are also monkeys, bats, mongooses, wild boars, and some domestic farm animals for children to meet. The park boasts a huge population of butterflies and an insectarium as well. Many of the animals are kept in enclosures and cages, making it more of a zoo than a nature reserve, but the animals seem well cared for and the breeding programmes are for conservation purposes.
The small seaside resort of Souillac is situated along the rugged coast in the southern Savanne district. The appeal of Souillac lies in its scenery, as it is not a bathing spot. In striking contrast to the soft curves of the northern coastline, the high cliffs here drop abruptly to the sea to face the bracing winds of the Indian Ocean, which seem to blows all year round. The dramatic Gris-Gris cliffs are constantly smashed by waves (they are called the weeping cliffs, Roche qui Pleure, as a result) and tourists flock to the area to enjoy the rugged coastline.
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