Mauritius is a very small island outside eastern Africa. The island is to be found in the middle of the ocean, completely isolated from neighbors. Mauritius is still a quite unknown traven destination, even though more and more tourists find their way to the island. We spent two weeks on the island and had a rental to be able to discover as much as possible of the country.
When people travel to Mauritius it's mostly to get some sun and see some nice beaches. But, Mauritius is so much more than just beaches, clear blue seas and relaxation. Travel an hour from the beach and you'll find yourself in the middle of a rainforest. Travel another half hour and you'll be standing on top of a mountain. Mauritius is a small country, but there is something for everyone.
The island is about 50 x 30 km (about the same size as London) and to go by car from the airport on the southeast side to the lovely beaches in the northwest takes about 2 hours. The heavy traffic in the capital Port Louis included. But, even if the island is small and you travel fast when on the highway, you shouldn't expect it to be like that everywhere on the island. As soon as you leave the highway, the situation is different. The smaller roads are often in very bad shape and they are also very small and winding and therefore it can take quite some time to get somewhere.
About the traffic, there are a few things that are good to know before you rent a car.
The roads are in bad shape (compared to Swedish standards at least)
They drive on the left hand side of the road
You'll need an international driver's license
Street lights are lacking (highways excluded)
Wild dogs are everywhere and often asleep in the middle of the road
People walks on the streets. Watch out when it's dark and there are no street lights when both dogs and drunken labourers can be walking around in the middle of the road. Also, watch out for potholes.
Crash barriers are often broken or lacking on bridges
The cars do have flashers, but most citizens prefer to use their hands to show where they are going. Could be quite frustrating ;)
The horn is used all the time.
If someone wants to change route file (to yours), let them do that. Otherwise, be prepared on yells and aggressive honking.
The gasoline is cheap.
In every guidebook, Google search and website search we had only seen beautiful hotels, dreamy beaches and clear blue seas. All those things can be found on Mauritius, indeed, but there is also another side to the story. A side no one seems to want to know about. Mauritius is a poor country. Some people are rich, of course, but many Mauritians live in rookeries or even tree houses. I talked to a man who worked 7 days a week, 10 hours a day and in one day he would earn about 5 bucks. In a month, that is about 120 dollars.
In other words, be prepared to see poverty when you are there. If we had known that it's such a poor country, would that have stopped us from going? Of course not. But it would have been nice to know about it. So, the first couple of days were like a shock to us. We hadn't expected all this poorness. Not at all.
But Mauritius isn't only about crazy traffic and poverty. Like I mentioned, Mauritius is that dreamy place where you'll find the most wonderful beaches, the bluest ocean you can imagine, rainforests and wild monkeys in the mountains. Also, Mauritius is the place where you can go on safari tours, swim with wild dolphins and enjoy fresh bananas, coconuts and pineapples. In fact, Mauritius is often called the "Diamond of the Indian Ocean" and Mark Twain once said that "God first created Mauritius, and then used it as the blueprint for paradise". And Mauritius is a paradise, for sure.
Mauritius was discovered in the 16th century and has been colonized by the Dutch, French and the British. Slaves were brought from Africa and Madagascar and contract labourers were brought from India. When I tell you that Mauritius today is home to a lot of different ethnic groups, I guess you won't be surprised. I love that the color of the skin doesn't matter on this island. Everyone loves Mauritius and the cultural diversity it offers. Most people speak French, or a Mauritian version of French called Créole. Also, most people speak English. Mauritius is also home to different religions and you'll find churches, hindu temples and mosques. Everyone is welcome here.
Since Mauritius is located on the southern hemisphere, it's winter in June-August and summer in November-January. During the winters, the temperature is around 23-30°C and in the water around 25°C. During the summers, it gets much hotter with temperatures reaching almost 50°C. We went to Mauritius in July and it was a perfect time because we could both spend time on the beach and explore the island. If the temperature is around 40°C you can't do anything but relaxing in the shade.
Sugar canes make up 80% of Mauritius agricultural landscape and everywhere you go, you'll see huge sugar cane fields. Sometimes, you'll find yourself on a road between two sugar cane fields and all you can see is two giant green walls lining the road. The sugar canes are used to produce rum and I can highly recommend that you visit a Rum distillery. I'm not a huge fan of rum, but it was still really interesting to see the process. We visited Chamarel (here you'll also find an amazing waterfall) and got a tour in the distillery. By the end of the tour you'll get the chance to try some of the rums. Also, don't miss the restaurant by the entrance. The food there is really good.
Another specialty is model ships and you'll find them almost everywhere. If you're very interested, visit a factory and see how the ships are made.
Mauritius has the most amazing landscape. If you like exploring and being outdoors, you'll love it here. Mountains, forests, water, volcanos and beaches everywhere. You'll see beauty wherever you go.
One thing I highly recommend is to follow a guide to the active volcano. The smaller, inactive volcano is called Trou aux Cerfs and if you're lucky, you'll meet a guide there who offers to take you to the active one. The active volcano is often not mentioned in the guide books, probably because you aren't allowed to go there alone. Because of drug-addicts hiding in the bushes and sometimes attacking tourists, visits without guide was prohibited a few years ago. But, with a guide you're allowed to go there. You'll be driving on the smallest of roads and without a guide you'd be lost in 2 minutes.
The first stop is behind a couple of bushes and then the guide will show you an opening in the bushes. Through that opening you'll see the most wonderful waterfalls (see photo below). By the next stop you'll get the most stunning view of the mountain that surround the volcano crater. By the third and last stop you'll be able to take a look down the volcano crater, where a small research station is located. As you can see on the photos below, the volcano crater is full of trees and life and not as grey and "dead" as most volcanos are. I promise you that you won't regret a visit to this amazing place.
When it comes to beaches, the best ones can be found in the northwest. Visit Troux aux Biches and Pointe aux Biches. In the south you should check out Souillac and Le Morne. But for the most amazing beaches you should go on a day tour to the island Ile aux Cerfs in the east. It's paradise on earth.
There are a lot of interesting animals on this island. The giant turtles for example. These giants have lived like forever and they are so, so cool. Also, you have to go on a safari tour and see lions, giraffes, rhinos, zebras, antelopes and ostriches. You could also feed giraffes, hold iguanas (see my super lucky face on the photos below) and see the most wonderful parrots. In the mountains you can, if lucky, see wild monkeys.
Whale watching is also an option. Since we did that on New Zealand, we didn't do it again in Mauritius. Instead, we went swimming with dolphins. We left really early in the morning and drove to Tamarin, where we joined Dolswim for a dolphin excursion. I can really recommend this company, since they care about the dolphins and never hunt them or otherwise disturb them. When the dolphins show up, they let you jump in the water and swim with them. And what can I say? It's one of the best things I've ever done.
The dolphins were so close you could almost touch them. You could also hear their whistles underwater and to see them in their natural environment like that - amazing. They are so friendly, curious and playful and I loved it so much.