Mauritius (French: Maurice), officially the Republic of Mauritius (French: République de Maurice), is an island nation in the Indian Ocean about 2,000 kilometres (1,200 mi) off the southeast coast of the African continent. The country includes the island of Mauritius, Rodrigues (560 kilometres (350 mi) east), the islands of Agalega, and the archipelago of Saint Brandon. The islands of Mauritius, Rodrigues, and Réunion170 km (110 mi) southwest, form part of the Mascarene Islands. The area of the country is 2,040 km2. The capital and largest city is Port Louis.
Mauritius claims sovereignty over the Chagos Archipelago (United Kingdom) and Tromelin Island (France). The United Kingdom excised the Chagos Archipelago from Mauritian territory prior to Mauritian independence in 1965. The UK gradually depopulated the archipelago's indigenous population and leased its biggest island, Diego Garcia, to the United States. The US soon thereafter established a military base on Diego Garcia.
The island of Mauritius was visited during the medieval period by the Arabs and then by the Portuguese, who named it Dina Arobi and Cirne, respectively. The island was uninhabited until the Dutch Republic established a colony in 1638, with the Dutch naming the island after Prince Maurice van Nassau. The Dutch colony was abandoned in 1710, and, five years later, the island became a French colony and was named Isle de France. Due to its strategic position, Mauritius was known as the "star and key" of the Indian Ocean.
Mauritius became an important base on the trade routes from Europe to the East before the opening of the Suez Canal and was involved in the power struggle between the French and the British. The French won the Battle of Grand Port, their only naval victory over the British during these wars, but they could not prevent the British from landing at Cap Malheureux three months later, and formally surrendered on the fifth day of the invasion, 3 December 1810, on terms allowing settlers to keep their land and property, the use of the French language, and the law of France in criminal and civil matters. Under British rule, the island's name reverted to Mauritius. The country became an independent state on 12 March 1968, following the adoption of a new constitution and became a republic in 1992 within the Commonwealth.
The people of Mauritius are multiethnic and multicultural. Most Mauritians are multilingual; Mauritian Creole, English, French, and Asian languages are used. The island's government is closely modelled on the Westminster parliamentary system, and Mauritius is highly ranked for democracy and for economic and political freedom. Along with the other Mascarene Islands, Mauritius is known for its varied flora and fauna, with many species endemic to the island. The island is widely known as the only known home of the dodo, which, along with several other avian species, was made extinct by human activities relatively shortly after the island's settlement.
The country of Mauritius is in the Africa continent and the latitude and longitude for the country are 20.1625° S, 58.2903° E.
Mauritius is an Island nation and some of its nearest neighboring countries are
Discovered by the Portuguese in 1505, Mauritius was subsequently held by the Dutch, French, and British before independence was attained in 1968. A stable democracy with regular free elections and a positive human rights record, the country has attracted considerable foreign investment and has earned one of Africa's highest per capita incomes. Recent poor weather and declining sugar prices have slowed economic growth, leading to some protests over standards of living in the Creole community.
Mauritius is a blend of diverse cultures and religions which our immigrant population brought from their ancestral countries. Their festivities are celebrated in a spirit of peace and harmony throughout the year.
This festival is celebrated in January/February. Bodies are pierced with needles, tongues and cheeks with pins, devotees in a trance carry the ‘Cavadi’ on their shoulders as a penitence. The ‘Cavadi’ is a wooden arch, covered with flowers and with a pot of milk at each end.
The Festival of Lights is celebrated in a spirit of pure joy, in the month of October or November. Small clay lamps line the walls, balconies and yards. They are lit at sunset. Their golden light, which is believed to guide the Goddess of wealth and good fortune, can be seen everywhere. Divali represents the victory of truth (light) over ignorance (darkness). The Festival of Lights, Divali, is a celebration of joy, happiness and for many Mauritians, a time for sharing.
Every September 9, Mauritians of all faiths walk or drive towards the tomb of the Blessed Jacques Désiré Laval, the «Apostle of the Black People» at Ste-Croix, Port-Louis. The belief in Père Laval, to whom powers of healing are attributed, reminds us of the Lourdes Pilgrimage in France.
Ganesh Chaturthi is celebrated on the 4th day of the lunar month of August/September by Hindus in honour of the birth of Ganesha, God of wisdom.
This Hindu festival is as colourful as the many legends from which it
originates. It is above all a festival of joy during which men and women throw coloured water and powder on each other and wish one another good luck.
The Id-El-Fitr festival signals the end of the Ramadan - the fasting
period for Muslim people. Prayers are said in mosques all day long.
Ougadi is the Telugu New Year and is usually celebrated in March.
The Chinese New Year is celebrated each year on a different date, owing to the differences between the lunar and the solar calendars. Houses are thoroughly cleaned before the festival. No knife or scissors are used on the actual day of the festival. Red, a symbol of happiness is the main colour of the day. Food offerings are made to ensure that the following year will be plentiful and traditional ‘Wax’ cakes are distributed to parents and friends. Firecrackers are set off to drive away the evil spirits.
Whether in your hotel or on the beach, the sega, a dance invented by mauritians of african origin, has become synonymous with «joie de vivre». The sega, its music and dance form, is specific to Mauritius. The sega, mainly based on African music originating with slaves, is nowadays played with modern instruments and features contemporary musical influences.
The rubbing of feet, the swaying of hips and Creole lyrics are part and parcel of the music. The slaves obviously began dancing the sega to forget their miserable existence. There are now several types of sega in Mauritius. Standard sega (where the instruments are the ravanne, the maravanne and the triangle) has its own disciples and devotees.
This «type of sega» had its own poet: Ti Frère, who died at the age of 92 and left us with a fantastic legacy.
«Ti Frère’s segas, said Mauritian writer Jean-Marie Leclézio, are never dull, he cannot be bothered producing holiday songs. They are tough and authentic, sensual and pagan. He knows how to tell us about Anita’s and Angeline’s love lives, and scoff at politicians who eat for the people’s sake».
Young people and hotel entertainers now favour a more modern version of sega, which is no less attractive.
Mauritius, a volcanic island of lagoons and palm-fringed beaches in the Indian Ocean, has a reputation for stability and racial harmony among its mixed population of Asians, Europeans and Africans.
The island has maintained one of the developing world's most successful democracies and has enjoyed years of constitutional order.
It has preserved its image as one of Africa's few social and economic success stories.
Once reliant on sugar as its main crop export, Mauritius was hit by the removal of European trade preferences but has successfully diversified into textiles, upmarket tourism, banking and business outsourcing.
The strategy helped the island's economy weather the world financial crisis of 2008-9 better than expected.
Various cultures and traditions flourish in peace, though Mauritian Creoles, descendants of African slaves who make up a third of the population, live in poverty and complain of discrimination.
Mauritius was uninhabited when the Dutch took possession in 1598. Abandoned in 1710, it was taken over by the French in 1715 and seized by the British in 1810.
It gained independence in 1968 as a constitutional monarchy, with executive power nominally vested in the British monarch. It became a republic in 1992.
The island of Rodrigues and other smaller islets also form part of the country.
Mauritius claims sovereignty over the Chagos islands, which lie around 1,000 km to the north-east. The British territory, which was separated from Mauritius in 1965, is home to the US military base on Diego Garcia. The British government oversaw the forced removal of the Chagos islanders to Mauritius to make way for the base.
The country is home to some of the world's rarest plants and animals. But human habitation and the introduction of non-native species have threatened its indigenous flora and fauna.
The dodo - a flightless bird and a national symbol - was hunted into extinction in the 17th century.
Mauritius is home to some rare plants and animals.
Mauritius is a model of true democracy for every African country.
It's also one of Africa’s great destinations, located in the middle of the turquoise Indian Ocean, inhabited by a multi-racial, peaceful people, covered in great golf courses, offering myriad water sports, mountain trekking, hunting, birdwatching, luxurious resorts, an old colonial capital, great food, three- and four-star hotels, one of the world's best botanical gardens, good nightlife, beautiful beach bars, UNESCO World Heritage Sites, one of the oldest horse racing tracks in the world, great sightseeing … but we’ll get to that in a little while.
First, I want to argue on behalf of the title of this article; that this tropical island 2,000 miles off the southeast coast of Africa does indeed provide a template for a model African travel destination.
1. Mauritius: The Island
This can be your home, too, if only for a week or two.When your island is surrounded by perfect white sand beaches, themselves surrounded by the stunning blue Indian Ocean, and the center of the island contains mountains and breathtaking scenery, plus almost year-round sunshine, it's difficult to be miserable.
I lived in Mauritius for more than three and a half years until June 2010, enjoying its scenery and also witnessing its democratic impetus firsthand.
Since gaining independence in 1968 there's never been a coup, or military or populist uprising of any kind on this small Indian Ocean island (just more than 2,000 square kilometres in size).
The population of almost 1.3 million is 68 percent Indian, but also comprises Creole, Chinese, French, plus a smattering of English and South Africans.
Between them they speak English (the country’s official language), French, Mauritian Creole, Hindi, Tamil, Marathi, Bhojpuri and Hakka.
Often, the sound of the native Sega music (an Indian Ocean version of calypso) inspires dancing and laughing on the beaches all night.
Participants refresh themselves with the local ice cold Phoenix beer, the occasional Green Island rum and Coke and barbecue, freshly caught seafood like snapper, dorado, prawns, octopus and lobster.
Yet any holiday on Mauritius needn't be a laze on the sand.
For sightseers there are two UNESCO World Heritage Sites (Aapravasi Ghat and Le Morne Cultural Landscape), the colonial capital of Port Louis, one of the oldest horse racing tracks in the world at Champs de Mars, one of the world's best botanical gardens at Pamplemousses, the Blue Penny Museum (home to one of the world's rarest stamps), the Black River Gorges National Park and the Casela Wildlife Park, where you can walk with lion cubs.
To get to any of these, or just to get around Mauritius, you can use taxis (find a good one on your first day and stick with him), hire a car or use one of the many tour companies in Mauritius like White Sands Tours (www.whitesandstours.com) or Mauritours (www.mauritours.net).
Living on Mauritius can also be cheap, with a modest one bedroom flat costing from US$320 a month, car rental from US$350 a month and utility bills much cheaper than most countries.
Le Château de Bel Ombre: Great food in a restored colonial mansion.The cuisine of Mauritius is a blend of Creole, Chinese, European and Indian. It’s common for a combination of cuisines to form part of the same meal.
Strong ties with the French (who ruled the island from 1710-1810) has meant that even today French dishes such as bouillon, tuna salad, daube and coq au vin are popular, while Indian workers who migrated to Mauritius brought their cuisine with them, making curries, chutney, rougaille (tomato paste that's popular especially when served with fish) and pickles popular especially when given a unique Mauritian flavor.
The arrival of Chinese migrants at the end of the 19th century led to rice becoming part of the staple diet of the island and noodles, both steamed and fried, became common.
Chinese appetizers such as crispy chicken and crispy squid have also become part of the Mauritian diet.
Le Château de Bel Ombre: Located in the south of the island this lovingly restored 19th-century colonial mansion is the best restaurant on Mauritius.
In an elegant setting, à la carte fusion food is served, while on Saturday, Mauritian night, there's the chance to try authentic island dishes.
Domaine de Bel Ombre, Southwest Mauritius; +230 605 5000;www.domainedebelombre.mu/en/chateau.html
Le Barachois: Part of a small guest house this thatched stone restaurant, specializing in freshly caught giant shrimp, lobster and crab, has a daily changing menu.
The food is served on wooden tables right beside the sea -- a true Mauritian eating experience.
Anse Bambous, Vieux Grand Port, Southeast Mauritius; +230 750 9407; www.le-barachois.com
Domaine Anna: One of my favorites when I lived close by in Flic en Flac, this spectacular Chinese restaurant is set in the midst of sugar cane fields.
At night guests are greeted with lit torches along the driveway and eat in individual gazebos set on manmade lakes within tropical gardens in this palatial restaurant.
All the vegetables are grown locally and there’s live music and dancing at weekends.
Médine, Flic en Flac, West Coast; +230 453 9650; www.domaineanna.net
Choose your transport and get trailing.
Land sports: Any resort hotel will also have its own people to provide you with almost any land sport you want. Otherwise, companies such as Yemaya (www.yemayaadventures.com) provide mountain biking, hiking, kayaking and cycling.
Mauritius Horse Trails (www.mauritiushorsetrails.com) can take you on some wonderful horseback tours of the island.
Golf: There are seven great golf courses on the island, the best being Golf du Chateau and the Four Seasons Golf Club at Anahita, plus several nine-hole courses.
For further details visit www.tourism-mauritius.mu/Golf-courses.
Deep sea fishing: Mauritius has some of the best deep sea fishing in the world and the Marlin World Cup (www.marlinworldcup.com) is held here every February/March.
Best expert charters on the island are run by JP Henry Charters Ltd (www.blackriver-mauritius.com).
Mountain trekking: There are well more than 20 great mountains to trek up. The best people to guide you here are YANATURE (www.trekkingilemaurice.com).
Watersports: Any resort hotel will have its own people to provide you with any watersport you can think of.
Any village on the coast will likewise have several companies to do the same. Just ask and any Mauritian will tell you where to go.
Shopping: Local arts and crafts stores can be found in most villages, as well as designer factory outlets that sell Ralph Lauren and other brands at a fraction of European prices.
And there’s the magnificent shopping mall at Caudan Waterfront (www.caudan.com) in Port Louis.
Somewhere among the foliage is Lakaz Chamarel.Mauritius is filled with luxurious five-star hotels and resorts, plus plenty of budget options. For a list of accommodations on Mauritius visit www.mauritius.net. Meanwhile here are a few of my favorites.
Lakaz Chamarel: Mauritius has numerous small boutique hotels well off the beaten track and, for my money, this is the best.
It’s located high in the Chamarel hills in the south of the island and has 20 luxurious guest rooms and a superb restaurant.
With rates starting at around MUR4,700 (US$160) a night it's not cheap by island standards, but its tropical surroundings are worth it.
Piton Canot, Chamarel; +230 483 5240; www.lakazchamarel.com
Le Touessrok: This great place is on the island's east coast, with luxurious rooms, most with Indian Ocean views, a great golf course on its own island, regular shows at night and a wonderful selection of restaurants of which Three-Nine-Eight, serving cuisine from nine different countries, is unparalleled.
Trou d'Eau Douce, Flacq; +230 402 7700; www.letouessrokresort.com
Villa Paul Et Virginie Hotel: Located in Flic en Flac on the west coast, the Villa Paul et Virginie is a beautiful hotel for those on a tight budget.
Just two minutes walk from the beach and serving excellent food, this 12-room hotel has an outside bar covered with a huge honeysuckle plant that provides welcome shade from the noonday sun.
Sea Breeze Lane, Flic en Flac; +230 453 8537; www.villa-paul-et-virginie.com
5. Seven-day itinerary
Flame trees are scattered all over the island.Day one: You can get over the long flight by relaxing on the beach, snorkeling in the beautiful Indian Ocean and chilling out with a few local beers and fresh-caught seafood.
Good to know: Mauritius has some of the best spas in the world at all the major resort hotels.
Day two: Sightseeing in the south. Start with the UNESCO World Heritage Site at the magnificent Le Morne mountain then head up into the Chamarel hills for lunch at one of the roadside Creole restaurants.
After lunch take in the Black River Gorges National Park before watching the sun slowly set at Le Chamarel Restaurant, which has incredible views across the south of the island, Le Morne and the Indian Ocean beyond.
Day three: Time for some sport or, for sun worshippers, some lazing on the beach or by a pool. Otherwise play golf, go deep sea fishing, mountain trekking, mountain biking or maybe take a cruise around the island.
The golf clubs will have great restaurants for lunch and the other activities will provide packed lunches.
Day four: If this is the first Saturday of your trip, Saturday is Port Louis day. You could spend the morning touring the old colonial center of town before grabbing lunch at Champ de Mars, the oldest horseracing track in the southern hemisphere.
In the evening, the huge Caudan Waterfront shopping center (home to the Blue Penny Museum) offers a chance to pick up souvenirs, enjoy street entertainers and find a good restaurant for dinner.
Day five: Sightseeing in the north. Visit Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam Botanical Gardens at Pamplemousses, one of the best botanical gardens in the world. Spend a long morning here then take a late lunch in ritzy Grand Baie, Mauritius' main tourist spot.
After lunch explore the wild north including Grand Gaube, where the British first landed on Mauritius, before returning to Grand Baie for dinner and to enjoy the nightlife.
Day six: Shopping day. Souvenirs. The Central Plateau area around Phoenix and Curepipe is great for this with several large malls, arts and crafts markets, and the Mauritian Glass Gallery where, in addition to picking up all manner of souvenirs made entirely of glass, you can watch the glass blowers at work and tour the Glass Museum. Have lunch in one of the malls and find a really romantic restaurant for dinner on the way back to your hotel.
Day seven: It's your last day in paradise. Go to the Casela Wildlife Park (www.caselayemen.mu) and walk with lion cubs if you've got time.