Discovered by the Portuguese in 1505, Mauritius was subsequently held by the Dutch, French, and British before independence was attained in 1968.
Mauritius is an independent island republic in the western Indian Ocean, east of Madagascar, a member of the Commonwealth of Nations. The country includes the island of Mauritius, the island of Rodrigues to the east; the Agalega Islands to the north; and the Cargados Carajos Shoals to the northeast. The country has a total area of 2,040 sq km.
The island of Mauritius is of volcanic origin. From a low-lying plain in the north, the terrain rises to a plateau that covers the central part of the island. The south is mostly mountainous, rising to a maximum elevation in Piton de la Petite Rivière Noire (828 m). Several lakes are located in the plateau region, and numerous streams rise in the highlands and radiate to the coast. The island is almost entirely surrounded by coral reefs, but Port Louis, the capital, has a fine harbor, accessible to ships.
The climate is tropical and generally humid. The average annual temperature is 23°C (73°F) on the coast but is lower in the central part of the island. Average annual precipitation ranges from about 1,000 mm on the coast to about 5,000 mm in the plateau region. Strong cyclonic storms occur often during the hot season (December to April).
The population of Mauritius (2001 estimate) is 1,189,825. More than two-thirds of the people are Indian immigrants and their descendants. People of mixed African and European descent, known as Creoles, constitute about a quarter of the total. Chinese and European minorities also exist. The majority of the Indo-Mauritians are Hindus; the rest are Muslims. Most Creoles are Roman Catholics. English is the official language, but Creole, a French patois, is commonly spoken. Other common languages are French, Hindi, and Bhojpuri.
The economy of Mauritius has traditionally been dominated by sugarcane. More than half the cultivated land is planted with sugarcane; sugar and molasses are major exports. Other crops include tea, peanuts, tobacco, and vegetables. Manufactures include refined sugar and sugar by-products, fertilizers, beverages, electronic components, and leather goods. The clothing and textile industry boomed during the 1980s, and tourism is increasingly important. The currency of Mauritius is the Mauritian rupee, which consists of 100 cents (1 rupee equal 32.83 Euro, or 5,188 USD).
From 1968 through 1991 Mauritius was a constitutional monarchy; executive power was nominally vested in the British monarch, as represented by a governor-general. In March 1992 the country became a republic. Under the 1992 constitution, the head of state is a president, elected to a five-year term by the legislature. The president appoints a prime minister (traditionally the leader of the majority party in the legislature), who is the chief executive. The legislative body is the National Assembly, which consists of 62 directly elected representatives and 4 others appointed by the Supreme Court to ensure representation of various ethnic groups. National Assembly members serve five-year terms.
Although it has been settled for less than 400 years, Mauritius was probably visited by the Arabs before the 10th century, the Malays in the 1400s, and the Portuguese in the early 1500s. It was occupied in 1598 by the Dutch, who named it for Maurice of Nassau, the then stadholder of The Netherlands. The Dutch left in 1710, and in 1715 the French took possession, renaming it Île de France. It was captured by the British in 1810 during the Napoleonic Wars and was formally ceded to Britain in 1814. To offset the labor problem arising from abolition of slavery in the British Empire, the planters were allowed to import indentured laborers from India, and since 1861 the population has been mainly Indian.
Mauritius was granted independence on March 12, 1968. A member of the Commonwealth of Nations, the Afro-Malagasy Mauritian Common Organization, and the Organization of African Unity, Mauritius also has a special arrangement with the European Union under the Lomé Convention. In 1992 Mauritius became a republic.
Nevertheless Mauritius is a small island there are plenty of sites that are worth seeing. You will really relax and enjoy yourself traveling around the island. So, here is an approximate guide for you to know in which direction you could turn your steps.
Port Louis naturally grew to be the economic and administrative capital of Mauritius after it superseded Mahebourg in the early 18th century because of the superior quality of its harbor. Until the 1860s, when the Suez Canal was built, Port Louis was the recommended stopover for ships from Europe on their way to India. It was largely because of the safety and activity of Port Louis, that Mauritius then earned the title of 'Star and Key of the Indian Ocean.' Port-Louis underwent a second birth in the 1980s when post-independence economic stagnation finally gave way to bursting activity. The skyline of Port Louis has changed dramatically since, and high-rising towers now compete with buildings from the colonial times. Port Louis is unrecognizably quiet after business hours and on weekends, except when the Champs-de-Mars hosts the very popular horse races.
Curepipe which is located 20km from Port Louis, owes its existence to a malaria epidemic in 1867, when thousands fled to the healthy, cooler high ground from Port Louis to escape the mosquitoes. The town is the centre of a spread-out suburban area, and offers some good shopping opportunities. Its main attraction for visitors, though, is an extinct volcano, Trou aux Cerfs, west of the town near the botanical gardens, with a massive wooded crater floor. A road leads to the rim of the volcano and there are spectacular views from the summit. Another natural attraction, just six km south west of Curepipe, is the Black River Gorges National Park, home to the rare tambalacoque tree and a variety of exotic flora and fauna.
Mahebourg is named after one of the foremost figures in the history of the island, the French governor Mahe de Labourdonnais. A visit to the Naval Museum in Mahebourg reveals the richness of the historical past of the village. Here the Dutch settlers disembarked, Mahebourg was the first capital harbor of the island, and the theater of the glorious victory of the Napoleonic fleet over the British - an event commemorated by engravings in the Arc-de-Triumph in Paris.
Grand Baie owes its popularity to the enchanting quality of its emerald waters and to its liveliness round the clock. It offers facilities for safe swimming, sailing, windsurfing, and water skiing. Grand Baie also hosts a variety of fashion and craft shops, hotels, restaurants, and nightclubs. It is the departure point for helicopter excursions, and it provides facilities for deep-sea angling and for boat excursions to the islands to the north of Mauritius: Gunners' Quoin, Flat Island, Round Island, and Serpent Island.
Sure you will want to bring a souvenir from the Pearl of the Indian Ocean. Do not be confused by the main tourist attractions that mostly concern the nature of the island and its water facilities. Mauritius as well has a reputation of a shopping paradise that has been strengthened by the diversity and quality of the goods on offer.
Duty-free shops, exclusively for tourists with their passport and flight ticket on hand has been multiplied during the last years and the prices are very attractive. So, what is it that you could bring back from Mauritius? Models of ancient ships with fine details as per the ancient plans constitute a very nice souvenir. Note that airlines apply an additional fee on these models depending on their size and weight.
Women will prefer jewelry. Present-day jewelers inherited ancient traditions of the Hindus and the Muslim craftsmen, who were talented artists. The well know Mauritian jewelers are Poncini, Caunhye (Bijouterie Bienvenue) Shiv Jewels, Adamas for diamonds, Wahed Essa, Glod Finger and Matikola. Most of these jewelry shops also sell watches.
Textile production is also up to the mark. Many Mauritian well-known brands (such as Bonair, Shibani, Floreal Knitwear) are no less popular in Europe. You can even have a made-to-order suit that will be ready within forty eight hours. Knit-work of European well-known brands are three time cheaper in Mauritius than in Europe itself.
Handicrafts - basket making, embroidery, pottery, serigraphy, stone cutting are as well popular among tourists for their uniqueness.
Places of interest
Grand Bay was the first area of the island to fully experience the tourist boom. A shopping and leisure paradise, Grand Bay also happens to be the area where Mauritians head for when they want a fun-filled night out (restaurants, bars and discos). Recently renovated, La Cuvette beach is well worth a visit.
Pereybère The wonderful Pereybere public beach is popular for its shopping facilities, restaurants and pubs.
Balaclava Ruins A few meters away from Baie aux Tortues, which 17th century sailors named after the many tortoises inhabiting the area, can be found the ruins of the old Balaclava estate. Visitors will be able to see the sea walls, whose initial foundations were laid down by Mahé de Labourdonnais.
The Triolet Shivala The longest village on the island, Triolet offers an opportunity to visit the biggest Hindu temple, the Maheswarnath, first built in 1819 in honor of the Gods Shiva, Krishna, Vishnu, Muruga, Brahma and Ganesha.
The Labourdonnais Orchards Discover a large variety of tropical fruit trees, colorful and perfumed exotic flowers. Trips on mountain bikes or hiking are possible.
Flacq Market is one of the most important villages in Mauritius. This meeting point for inhabitants of the East boasts the country's largest and extremely colorful open air market.
Ile aux Cerfs is a paradise for water sports and has the most beautiful beach in Mauritius. You cannot afford to miss this tiny island, delicately poised on the ocean, a real pearl in the Mauritian landscape. Possibly the main attraction of for tourists, is the Trou aux Cerfs crater. It's been extinct for a long time and the crater floor is now heavily wooded, but the crater affords lovely views around the island. A tarred road leads gently up to and around the rim. There are benches for rest and reflection, and a radar station for keeping an electronic eye on cyclone activity.
Dutch Ruins At Vieux Grand Port, the oldest settlements in Mauritius, you can see the ruins of the first Dutch fortifications. Excavation work is underway in a bid to uncover an important part of Mauritian history.
Mahebourg is one of the main fishing villages on the island. Built on the magnificent Grand Port Bay it was founded in 1804 by the French.
Casela Situated in the Rivière Noire district, the bird park stretches over 25 hectares and contains more than 140 bird species (almost 2500 birds) from all five continents. Other attractions include fish ponds, tigers, giant tortoises, monkeys, lemurs, deer and orchids.
Yemen Reserve may not be the largest game reserve on the island, but there is still lot to see. You will be able to get close to the herds of deer, as well as admire some splendid species of Mauritian fauna. A few rustic kiosks available in the reserve provide an unobstructed view of the sea. There you can sip a local punch while watching the sun going down.
Martello Towers represent the scene of the ancient rivalry between old colonial powers and the ingenuity of mankind. They are a milestone in the island's history; they symbolize the end of slavery and the beginning of Indian immigration.
Chamarel A winding road leads from Case Noyale village to the colored earths of Chamarel: an undulating landscape of different and contrasting shades of colors. The different shades of blue, green, red and yellow are apparently the result of the erosion of the volcanic ash. The neighboring waterfalls of Chamarel rise from the moors and the native plant life. The site possesses a rare beauty.
Some "Table d'hôtes" have been recently created in the Chamarel Village where you can enjoy the taste of typical Mauritian cuisine.
Domaine du Chasseur Situated in the south-east of the island, near Mahebourg, in the heart of abundant greenery, Le Domaine du Chasseur covers about 1,950 acres. It is also an exciting natural hunting ground with its herds of some 1,000 deer and hundreds of wild boar. Lovers of leafy walks can chose between 5 and 15 km's long, allowing them to admire rare kinds of trees and protected species, such as the famous windhover kestrel. A panoramic restaurant with a very good typically Mauritian menu completes the attractions of this unusual trip.
Domaine Les Pailles - Ten minutes south of Port-Louis lies the nature park of Domaine Les Pailles, stretching over 3,000 acres at the foot of the Moka mountain range. You can choose between touring the park in a Land-Rover, riding in a horse-drawn carriage or on horseback, or in a train. The gardens also feature a replica of an ancient sugar mill, an "alambic" - an apparatus formerly used in distilling rum, a spice garden and a natural spring. You can also visit the traditional sugar mill producing sugar cane, and rum-making distillery. Have fun rambling in the spice garden, the art gallery and the lodge. There are facilities like three restaurants, riding club, play area for children, etc.
Souillac is a small seaside resort along the rugged coast of the Savanne district. A famous feature is the garden overlooking the sea and named after Dr. Charles Telfair. A popular viewpoint is found at the southern end of the village, right on the cliff top.
L'Aventure du Sucre Visit an interactive and ultra modern exhibition situated at the heart of an ancient sugar mill and discover the fascinating history of Mauritius and its sugarcane adventure exposed over 5000 sq meters. Then, do not miss a tropical boutique with its unique gifts, souvenirs, also, do not forget to taste special unrefined sugars as well as local rum. Do not miss the opportunity to relish authentic Mauritian cuisine with refined flavors at "Le Fangourin".
Ganga Talao - Grand Bassin Beyond La Marie and Mare-aux-Vacoas is found one of the two natural lakes of Mauritius. It rests within the crater of an extinct volcano. Ganga Talao is an important pilgrimage site and many Mauritians of the Hindu faith walk there during the Maha Shivaratri festival or the night fasting dedicated to Shiva.
Black River Gorges national park of 6,574 hectares was created in 1994 to protect Mauritius' remaining native forests. Visitors can enjoy magnificent landscapes, with endemic plants and rare bird species. A trail leads from the Pétrin information center to an area of typical plant life and to a conservation area.
La Vanille Crocodile Farm - Located in the heart of an unspoiled forest where Nile crocodiles imported from Madagascar are bred. There is also a small zoo of Mauritius animals which are found in the wild.
Le Val Nature Park Situated in the south-east of the island at Cluny, Le Val offers a view of the natural aquatic life of shrimps, eels and freshwater fish. The park also hosts anthurium green-houses, watercress ponds, deer parks, as well as monkeys and various bird species.
Pamplemouses - a botanical garden much visited for its single-largest (literally) attraction, giant Victorial Regia water lilies as much as a meter wide, and the Talipot palms, said to flower once every sixty years and then die. Aside from these, the gardens boast of a variety (about 500 species) of exotic plants and well-informed guides will give you a lovely tour replete with the salient features of each tree, liberally peppered with anecdotes of what some of the locals do with some of the plants.
Mask Museum - is an interesting exhibition in Trou-aux-Biches. Downstairs you will find an aquarium with a colorful variety of Mauritian fish, invertebrates, live coral and sponges.
Natural History Museum - founded in 1880, known as the Mauritian Institute, houses the famous dodo and numbers of other stuffed animals which represent the fauna of Mauritius. The institute also functions as a library with a collection of over 50 000 books and contains a special section for researchers of the Mascarene archipelago.
Naval Museum - contains various objects found in the numerous wreckages surrounding the island. This house also has an historical value as it was here that, in 1810, the English and French naval commanders (Willoughby and Duperre) were given medical aid after being wounded in the Battle of the Vieux Grand Port.
Tamarin Falls These falls are awkward to reach, but it's worth the effort for a beautiful, deep, cool bathe at the bottom of the series of seven falls. You can see them from the Vacoas side, if you follow the sign from Henrietta. From Curepipe or Quatre Bornes, take a bus to Henrietta, then walk to Tamarin Falls. If you're coming from Tamarin, turn right about 3km north of Tamarin, at the round about to Magenta and Yemen. A tarred, bumpy road through cane fields leads to the Magenta and Tamarind Falls turn-off. Continue through all the 'Private Estate', 'Permit Needed' and 'Prohibited Entry' signs, down towards the power station. Leave your car or bike and walk along the river up to the falls. The path is quite heavily overgrown and you must cross to the other side and boulder-hop the last 300m along the river bed to reach the top, but you will richly rewarded.
Mauritius is a blend of diverse cultures and religions which immigrant population brought from their ancestral countries. So, as you understand, each nationality has its numerous traditions which, of course include all kinds of entertainment events. The festivals are celebrated throughout the year. Here are some of the renowned ones.
Cavadi 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. The 'Cavadi' is a wooden arch, covered with flowers and with a pot of milk at each end.
Divali The Festival of Lights is celebrated in October or November. Small clay lamps lit at sunset line the walls, balconies and yards. 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).
Ganesh Chaturthi Ganesh Chaturthi is celebrated on the 4th day of the lunar month of August/September by Hindus in honor of the birth of Ganesha, God of wisdom.
Holi This Hindu festival is as colorful as the many legends from which it
originates. During the festival men and women throw colored water and powder on each other and wish one another good luck.
Ougadi Ougadi is the Telugu New Year and is usually celebrated in March.
Mauritius is an island, so, due to its geographical location, the main tourist attractions are connected with water.
Big Game Fishing Mauritian warm waters are the prolific hunting grounds of marlin, sailfish, tuna, dorado, bonito, wahoos and other pelagic fishes. One of the world's top fishing spots is the Black River. Launches for big-game fishing are available for half-day or full-day fishing from hotels and private fishing centers. The launches rented are fully equipped and besides you are provided with the services of an experienced skipper.
Scuba diving In some regions myriads of multicolored fishes dwell in huge coral plates. In other regions just outside the reef you can discover a mystifying world of plunging coral ledges honeycombed with caverns and grottoes sheltering a rich fauna with unique marine species. They are all ideal sites for underwater photographers. Diving excursions are regularly organized on a regular basis. You can easily find all the equipment you need for diving in diving centers s. Beginners will be initiated into diving in a swimming pool before their first dive in the open sea under the close supervision of qualified instructors.
Water-skiing In the lagoons water-skiing can be practiced throughout the year both by skilled skiers and by beginners. Facilities for water-skiing are available at all boat-houses. Services of experienced coaches are provided as well. One of the hot spots of water-skiing is at Tamarin.
Yatching You may prefer sailing both in and outside the lagoon, there are also ideal conditions for wind-surfing. Small boats are available at most of the hotels. Many yachting organizations offer excursions to coastal islands around Mauritius.
Parasailing Those who fancy stronger thrills can always try parasailing and enjoy the breathtaking view of the lagoon and its kaleidoscopic underwater seascapes from a parachute trailed by a launch.