Many people spend their lives visiting island after island in search of paradise only to be disappointed. Well paradise does exist – it is the African island of Mauritius, just east of Madagascar in the warm waters of the Indian Ocean. Mauritius was first visited by the Portuguese in 1507, then again by the Dutch who settled there and left in 1710. Five years later the French claimed the island before giving it over to the French East India Company who built the first sugar mill there. They then lost the island to the British in 1810. Thereafter the country remained under British rule until it gained its independence in 1968.
Today, visitors to Mauritius will find a country that harmoniously blends different cultures, languages and traditions. The first stop off your Mauritius flight will be the capital city Port Louis. Spend a day or two there, explore its city centre, walk through Chinatown then move on to the real reason you’re there: the beaches.
There is plenty of choice. On the east coast is Belle Mare, on the west, Flic en Flac, it's Mauritius’s longest beach and renowned for its sunsets. At Tamarin Bay, the Black River rushes into the Indian Ocean and the backdrop to this beautiful beach are the imposing mountains. Divers taking flights to Mauritius will want to make their way to the south-west of the island where coral reefs and shipwrecks await beneath the turquoise blue waters.
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There are two, vaguely defined seasons in Mauritius. Summer extends from November to April with high humidity in December and temperatures ranging between 32 and 35 degrees Celsius. Coastal breeze help to cool the air, but cyclones can strike several times a year. Winter (May to October) temperatures are slightly lower, but the skies remain sunny. The sea is warm, averaging temperatures between 24 and 27 degrees.
When to fly to Mauritius
Christmas and New Year are very popular with travellers keen to see some winter sun. In January/February, Cavadi is celebrated. For this Hindu festival, where the Cavadi is a wooden arch decorated with flowers and pots of milk, believers have their bodies pierced with needles and pins, and, in a trance, carry it.
The 9 September is the anniversary of Blessed Jacques Desire Laval’s (1803-1864) death. On this day, hundreds of Mauritians gather to pray at his tomb, at St-Croix Port-Louis.
For diving, December to March is the best time to go. For surfing, visit between June and August; big game fishermen should go between October and April.
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Getting around Mauritius
There is a regular and inexpensive bus service, which connects all points on the island. Cars, scooters and bicycles can be rented (driving is on the left).
Air Mauritius flies to Rodrigues Island and neighbouring islands and gives 15-20 minute helicopter tours of Mauritius. Helicopters can be hired for longer trips.
Mauritius insider information
- Place D’Armes in Port Louis is the oldest part of the capital, in which you’ll find the original government house, an imposing statue of Queen Victoria, Fort Adelaide Citadel, and Chinatown. Just south of the city is Domaine Les Pailles nature park. Signal Mountain, 323 metres (1,059 feet) high, offers lovely views of the city.
- Bask on the best public beaches: Pereybere,between Grand Bay and Cap Malheureux, Grand Bay itself (where Mauritians go to party), Belle Mare and Blue Bay. Le Morne and Tamarin are popular with surfers. Flic en Flac is a beautiful white beach in the west of the island. Note that the official tourist website advises that nude and topless sunbathing are frowned upon although “topless sunbathing is sometimes tolerated”.
- Mauritius’s biggest Hindu temple, the Maheswarnath, is located in Triolet (the longest village on the island) in the north of the island.
- Pamplemousse Botanical Garden was established by Pierre Poivre, the French administrator and horticulturist, in 1767. It boasts 600 types of plants from all around the world including the Victoria Regia water lilies and the Talipot palm, which reputedly flowers once every 60 years or so and then dies.
- The Casela bird park, in the west, has more than 140 bird species from around the world.
- Take a guided visit of the Martello tower, a small defensive fort, at La Preuneuse public beach. Martello towers were built by the British during the Napoleonic Wars and there are such towers around the UK and the Channel Islands, Ireland, South Africa, America, Canada and Minorca. The tower at La Preneuse is a museum.
- Bustling Flacq Market is the largest open air market in Mauritius. Ile aux Cerfs is a tiny island of 700 acres of woodland, home to deer. It is a magnet for water sports enthusiasts and boasts a beautiful beach.