This article is the Collaboration of the month for October 2010. Find out how it can be improved, and plunge forward to make this an article we can be proud of!
Mauritius (French: L’île Maurice, Mauritian Creole: Maurice) is a small, multicultural island in the Indian Ocean, east of Madagascar and southeast of the Seychelles. Mauritius also controls Rodrigues Island and the remote, sparsely populated Agalega and Cargados Garayos (Saint Brandon) islands.
The island of Mauritius was first discovered by Arab sailors, at some time in the 9th century, the exact date is unknown. At that time the island was uninhabited and covered in a dense forest. The Arab sailors were not interested in settling on the island which they named Dina Arobi or Dinarobin. Fernandez Pereira, a Portuguese sailor found the island in 1505 and decided to give it the name of Cerne. However, the Portuguese did not settle permenantly on the island either.
The first to colonise the island were the Dutch. They took possession of the island in 1598. The Dutch settlers landed on a bay in the south-eastern part of the island which was named Warwyck Haven after the commander VanWarwyck, the bay is now known as Grand Port. Mauritius also got its name during this period; the island was named after the Prince of Holland Mauritz de Nassau.
In 1710, the Dutch abandoned the island, leaving behind macaques, the java deer, sugar cane, fugitive slaves and, also, an irreversible damage to the endemic and indigenous flora and fauna of the island - the Dodo was, by then, extinct due to extensive hunting, the bird being very easy to capture, while the, once abundant, black ebony tree population was almost completely depleted due to over-exploitation for its timber.
The French settled on the island in 1713, also landing at the bay in the south-east. They renamed the bay Port Bourbon and renamed the island Ile de France. They settled on the north-western side of the island and established their main harbour there, Port Louis, the present-day capital of Mauritius. During the French settlement there was a lot of development in the country. Mahé de Labourdonnais , whose statue can be seen across from the harbour in Port louis,is known as the founder of the capital city and the island prospered under his governance (1735-1746).
In August 1810, the British tried to take over the island but lost after a fierce battle against the French in the famous Battle of Grand Port - the only victory of the French over the British. However, the British came back in December 1810 and successfully defeated the French. From then on, the island was renamed Mauritius and remained under British rule until it attained independence.
In 1835, slavery was officially abolished and, as most of the African slaves chose to abandon the agricultural fields and move to small coastal villages, indentured labourers (Coolies) were brought in from India to work in the growing sugar-cane industry.
On March 12, 1968 Mauritius became an independent nation within the Commonwealth. Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam also known as the "Father of the Nation" led the island to independence and did a lot to develop the country. On March 12, 1992, Mauritius became a republic under the leadership of the then Prime Minister Sir Aneerood Jugnauth .
A stable democracy with regular free elections and a positive human rights record, the country has attracted considerable foreign investment and has 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.
Tropical, modified by southeast trade winds; warm, dry winter (May to November); hot, wet, humid summer (November to May); Natural hazards : Tropical cyclones (November to April);but most cyclones usually occur from the end of December until March. Mauritius has only two seasons, winter and summer. There is not much temperature differences between the two seasons of the year. The climate on the central plateau is cooler than on the coastal areas.
The nationals of many countries, including Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, New Zealand and most Western countries do not need a visa in advance. For more information, visit the Passport and Immigration Office web-site.
The Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam International Airport (MRU), ☎ +230 603 6000 (firstname.lastname@example.org, fax: +230 637 5306), . at Plaisance in the southeast of the island is the major gateway for travelers coming from abroad.
The arrivals hall can get rather congested in the morning when most of the flights from Europe arrive. Immigration officers tend to be rather slow and the whole immigration process can be a frustrating experience.
Visitors are required to provide accommodation details to the immigration service on arrival. If you arrive in Mauritius from a country where malaria is endemic, you may receive a visit from the government health service and be required to give a blood sample for malaria screening.
Vessels that arrive at the port are mainly cargo ships. The Mauritius Pride and the Trochetia are the Mauritian vessels that usually sail to and from Reunion Island, Rodrigues Island and Madagascar. Costa Cruises ships have recently started an Indian Ocean cruise including a visit to Mauritius.
As of April 2008, one way passage prices to travel from Tamatave in Madagascar to Mauritius by boat were €275 first class or €255 second class, compared to €212 to fly from Antananarivo on Air Madagascar. The journey takes at least four days, possibly more if transiting through Reunion. A boat leaves every other Wednesday.
The prices quoted are for a passage in a first or second class cabin. In attempting to go directly to the port in Tamatave to negotiate with a boat captain for a non-cabin berth, tourists are turned away at the gate. Visiting the Nautical Club in Tamatave to enquire about yachts that might be heading to Mauritius also yields no results.
Bus and taxi services are best used in urban areas. Bicycles and motorbikes are also available for hire.
Helicopters are available for transfers and sightseeing tours
One major highway runs north to south, otherwise a good network of paved, if sometimes narrow, roads cover the island. Traffic drives on the left.
Numerous car hire firms include major international and independent firms. Prices vary widely starting from 800 rupees per day. To be on the safe side, with full insurance, visitors should rent cars from companies holding a tourism enterprise license. These cars are identifiable by their yellow registration number plates, while private cars ( unsuitable for rent ) have black plates.
Regulations: Drivers are required to be over 18 years old. Speed limits are 110kph (68mph) on the motorway and 50kph (31mph) in built-up areas. Seatbelts are compulsory. A foreign licence is accepted.
The following chart gives approximate travel times (in hours and minutes) from Port Louis to other major cities/towns/resorts in Mauritius.
Several fairly good bus services ply the island. Taking the bus is the most economical way of travelling. Air-conditioned buses have been recently introduced on some routes.
The major bus companies are:
Buses are still manned by a driver and a conductor who walks around collecting fares and issuing tickets after passengers have boarded. Tell the conductor where you want to go and he'll tell you the fare amount. Upon payment, he'll give you a ticket with the charged amount printed on it.
Most conductors are very helpful in providing directions to tourists. In the local Creole dialect, the conductors are called con-tro-lair (literally controller).
Bus routes and schedules are available from the Ministry of Transport and Mauritius Busses who list all the main operators and their schedules.
Try to pay with small denominations or the conductor may not have enough change. Intentional over-charging of tourists is seldom reported.
These are regulated and metered (though meters are almost never used) and linked to provinces or hotels, printed on a yellow panel on the drivers' door. Tips are not customary for taxi drivers, but appreciated. Taxis are the best way to visit the island. Various tours are available as from 2500 rupees : The holy lake, Chamarel 7 colored earth, Le Morne, swimming with dolphins in Tamarin and Ile aux cerfs are among the most appreciated by visitors.
DO NOT patronize unlicensed taxis. They promise a cheaper ride but, lately, there has been a surge in cases of robbers using this trick to lure and attack their victims. See safety section below.
Several tour companies operate in Mauritius. Each is unique in services offered but most operate with safety in mind.
The official language in Mauritius is English. As such, all government administrative documents will be drawn up in English. However, French is the language most commonly used in formal settings, and is by far the dominant language in the mass media, as well as in corporate and business dealings. In fact, even English language television programmes are usually dubbed into French. French is also the main language of instruction used in the education system.
The most commonly spoken language is Mauritian Creole, a French based creole which has incorporated some words from diverse sources including but not limited to English, Dutch and Portuguese, and has slight pronunciation differences from standard French. While there is no official written standard for Mauritian Creole, when written down for informal communication, words are often spelt differently from standard French. The next most commonly spoken language is French, which is spoken fluently by most locals, with English being a not too distant third. Virtually everyone working in the tourism industry will be able to speak fairly decent, albeit heavily accented English, and all government departments will have English-speaking staff on duty. Other languages spoken by much smaller numbers include: Hindi, Urdu, Hakka, Bhojpuri and Mandarin. Tamilians constitues around 10% of population and they speak Tamil.
When leaving Mauritius, don't wait until you go through passport control if you want to have a snack. The coffee shop after passport control is not value for money. You would be better off visiting the snack bar before check-in and taking your purchases through with you.
Mauritius is a paradise for the senses, not only for the eyes with its beautiful landscape, but also for the palate. Gastronomes will find a variety of flavours and aromas inherited from the different migrations through its history. Culinary traditions from France, India, China and Africa, the best-known and appreciated cuisines in the world, have been passed on through generations.
Depending on the region, rice or a variety of flat bread called chapattis or roti, called farata (paratha) by the local people, is eaten with curries. The extensive use of spices like saffron, cinnamon, cardamom, and cloves and herbs like thyme, basil, and curry leaves are the common ingredients that provide some powerful, yet subtle, savour. Dal, a variety of lentil soup, are many and varied according to which type of lentil is used; vegetables, beans, and pickles accompany the dishes. Dholl puri and roti, originally an Indian delicacy have become the fish and chips of Mauritians.
Biryani from Mughal origins is a dish expertly prepared by the Muslim community, with meat mixed with spiced rice and potatoes.
You can buy many snacks on the streets of Mauritius including the famous gateaux piments (a variant of the indian vadai ; literally, chilli cakes), and vegetable or meat samosas (puffs), along with octopus curry in bread. The tomato and onion based dish called Rougaille (pronounced rooh-guy) is a variation of the French ragoût . The dish usually consists of meat or seafood (corned beef and salted snoek fish rougaille are very popular with the locals) and all Mauritians eat this dish often if not daily.
Mauritians have a sweet tooth and make many types of 'gateaux', as they are called. The cakes vary and you can find cakes very much like at home and others similar to Indian sweets like Gulab Jamun and Rasgulla among many others.
Check out the queues where the street sellers are selling their type of snacks and the longest queue will probably have the tastiest food on sale and is very cheap.
Mauritius produces a wide range of cane rum. It is very cheap and is a nice drink when mixed with cola and ice. Don't forget the coconut water with a dash of lime and a splash of local rum over ice. The serious amateur will try to find a bottle of five years old (or older) rum. Worth the price difference!
If you are staying in a hotel where the drinks are wildly expensive consider collecting your tipples while you are out and about from the local village shops or supermarkets where the prices are much cheaper.
The local beer Phoenix is considered to be one of the best in the world and costs around 30 rupees (less than one pound sterling) for a pint. Usually served very cold.
The local Black Eagle beer, brewed in Nouvelle France is one to watch out for as well. Definite refreshment to match the sweltering summer heat.
Try visiting the Medine Estate Refinery shop at Bambous (4km from Flic en Flac), on the west of the Island, for a wide variety of locally produced rums and liquors.
Be alert for your own security in Mauritius. Exercise common sense and look out for suspicious behaviour, as you would anywhere in the world. Be a smart traveler. Before your trip: Organize comprehensive travel insurance and check what circumstances and activities are not covered by your policy. Register your travel and contact details, so that you can be contacted in an emergency.
Crime levels in Mauritius are low, though petty crime is on the rise. Most crime against foreign tourists is petty crime, although incidents of assault and rape occur. The rate of crime is higher in downtown Port Louis, and in the coastal tourist centres of Grand Bay, Pereybere, Flic en Flac and Tamarin. Security risks increase after dark especially on beaches, city streets and in other secluded areas. There have been incidents of tourists being assaulted and robbed while staying at beachside bungalows run by unregistered proprietors.
Some safety advice:
The Tourist Police service (Police du Tourisme), ☎ +230 213 2818.
Mauritius is a risk area for infection with dengue fever (also known as "breakbone fever" from the muscular paroxysms sometimes induced). No vaccine is available. However no cases of dengue fever have been recorded in the country for several years now.
Since 2005 during the high season a certain type of mosquito called the Aedes albopictus causes the viral illness Chikungunya and the insect is more likely to be around in the daytime.
It is important to use anti-mosquito protection at all times. Mosquitoes are more prevalent in rural areas but they can also inhabit the beach in the tourist zone and may lead to swollen joints and/or rashes. Symptoms last from one week up to several months depending how seriously you are affected. Some people recover quickly but it can take several months to recover completely.
It shouldn't put you off visiting Mauritius. Just take good care to cover yourself completely in the best mosquito repellent you can find and re-apply again after swimming. Sleep under a mosquito net. Spray the bedroom well before going to bed with a good repellant and take an electric repellant to plug into the power supply. You can buy plenty of repellants of all types locally in Mauritius quite cheaply including bracelets for kids.
Here is a website with comprehensive information on the Chikungunya virus - Health Protection Surveillance Centre’s website:
In 1991, , 86% of the population had antibodies indicating that they had been exposed to the hepatitis A virus, following an epidemic of the disease in 1989. Hepatitis A vaccination is generally recommended for travel in East Africa (and most other places) by the CDC .
Depending on the time of the year, many of the beaches are infested with sea urchins, and it is not uncommon to see broken glass on the beach or in the water. It is a very good idea to either buy or bring plastic/wet shoes when venturing into the water. This is generally not a problem at the big hotels as the designated swimming areas on the beaches are regularly cleaned of urchins and debris. Use wet shoes nonetheless.
Reef fish in Mauritius have been found to contain a neurotoxin similar, but not identical, to that found in Caribbean reef fish.
It is important not to eat peanuts or take alcohol if you eat coral or reef fish like sea bass, snapper, mullet, grouper, there are many more. The fish eat the toxic algae that grows on the coral reefs. Don't eat intestines or testes of the fish as higher concentrations of the toxin collect here. The symptoms include gastrointestinal upset, vomiting and diarrhoea and sometimes numb feelings of the arms and legs.