Mauritius is more than just a beach holiday !
Having visited Mauritius twice in the last few years , I still want to go back. There is something magical and relaxing about this island that draws millions of visitors annually for various reasons. My first visit to the island was for my brother’s wedding and we managed to sneak in some touring around the island and my second visit was more an official one with Mauritius Tourism for the island’s 50th Independence Day celebrations. On my first visit we booked package deals for our group of 20 which worked out value for money and we stayed on the East Coast at Solana Beach.For my second trip we stayed in Port Louis as it was central and convenient for all the activities we needed to attend.
After both my trips to Mauritius I can honestly say I totally understand why people love the island and keep returning to this beautiful island with the most hospitable people ever. The economy of Mauritius is based on Tourism and every single person takes Tourism seriously as they have realised that this is what runs their country and provides so many people with an income.My next trip to the island will be to experience the cultural and religious aspects of the island.After listening to my Mum speak of her pilgrimage for Shivarathri , I have this longing to complete this pilgrimage in my lifetime. It is rather strange as I have never been on a pilgrimage before but this one tugs at my emotions and heartstrings and is most definitely on my BUCKET LIST.
For most people Mauritius is seen as a perfect Honeymoon destination for the relaxation that it brings, my own parents and several friends have family have also gone to the island for that specific reason. But after both my visits I am convinced that this island does need to be visited more than once as there is so much to see, do and eat. It is the perfect holiday destination for a family , a married couple on honeymoon and even for solo travelling.There are many special tours one can arrange according to your tastes,likes and budgets so check out and compare Mauritius activities over here SpecialTours.co.za.
History of Mauritius
Mauritius was completely uninhabited until the 16th century , when it was occupied by a small Dutch army and it was then named after Prince Maurice of Nassau. The island was later abandoned in 1710 and 5 years later it was occupied by the French, who imported African slaves to work on the sugar plantations. Mauritius was later captured by the British in 1810 and became apart of the British empire in 1814.Slavery was later abolished in 1830 and the Indian labourers were brought it was known as The Great Experiment .The descendants of the Indian labourers now make up more than two thirds of the island’s population.Even though Mauritius was British governed for almost 150 years the French influence from the early 19th century has remained the dominant cultural force with the Creole language, French inspired food and French architecture.
Mauritius gained its full independence in 1968 and earlier this year celebrated her 50th Independence Day which I was lucky to be apart and cover. The independence movement was led by Sir Seewoosagaur Ramgoolam and become the Republic of Mauritius under his leadership. The airport and botanical gardens are named in his honour.
Why do people go to Mauritius ?
- Honeymoon destination.
- Destination weddings.
- Rest and Relaxation.
- NO visa required for South African passport holders.
- Short travelling time from SA to Mauritius.
- Direct flights with Air Mauritius.
- Value for money.
- Package holidays.
Besides relaxing on the beach sipping on cocktails and reading , what else I can I do in Mauritius ???
- Visit the beautiful grounds of Chateau Labourdonnais which is an colonial house found in area of Riviere du Rampant .The beautifully restored house has interactive displays and also one to have a sneak peak into the lives of the wealthy landowners. Certain parts of the Chateau are not accessible to the public but what we saw was stunning the kitchens and dinning areas caught my attention.On the property there are fruit orchards which produce juice and a rummery.An old stable has been converted into abeautiful restaurant with an equally delicious menu of local favourites, I opted for a prawn and chicken curry which was well spiced but not hot like a Durban curry
- Sir Seewoosagur Botanical Garden also known as Pamplemousse Botanical Garden is a must see and a guided tour is advised as you could miss out some pretty spectacular flora and fauna in the Garden. It is the oldest Botanical Garden in the Southern Hemisphere and is best known for its pond of giant water lilies.Legend has it that a new born baby can float on those giant lilies , my thoughts not totally sure but the lilies are rather thick and sturdy almost like a cactus so maybe it is true.
- A visit to the beautiful Ganga Talao which a lake of importance for all Hindus and is where the Shivarathri pilgrimage takes place annually and pilgrims arrive from around the world for this occasion. Dotted around the lake are statues of Hindu Gods and Goddesses where one can offer a prayer. In a little building one will find a small temple where a priest invites in small groups to offer prayers to the Shiv Lingam. We visited the lake just before my wedding as my Mum wanted to seek the blessings before all the rituals began.On going inside and doing the prayer , the priest asked for the names of loved ones passed on to pray for their souls and this tugged at my heart remembering my Dad, Granddad and my cousin.
- There are 2 World UNESCO sites on the island and both are worth a visit. Both sites are of cultural importance in the history of Mauritius.The first is situated in the capital city of Port Louis is called the AAPRAVASI GHAT this site is almost hidden in the buzzing capital but go find it and learn about the Indian Labourers who had come to the island to work after slavery ended. The site is the actual site where they entered on arrival to Mauritius and documents they life, the hardships and struggles they faced. The second site is Le Morne Brabant is known to be the most African part of the island and it is where the local Creole people who are famous for their Sega music and dancing live. This site is also a symbol of freedom of the slaves. Slaves from around the world fled their places of work and took refuge in the mountains. is said that after the British passed the Slavery Abolition Act in 1834, a group of soldiers and police travelled to Le Morne in order to inform runaway slaves that they were finally free. But on seeing the authorities approaching, the slaves went frantic with the fear of being dragged back to slavery and so they climbed to the top of Le Morne Brabant’s cliff and jumped to their deaths. Hundreds of slaves chose freedom in death rather than face the horrors of dehumanisation in the form of slavery many had jumped with little children and babies.The number of deaths is unknown as .At the bottom of the mountain there is a monument remembering the slaves who had died there is a eerie feeling as one walks through reading the quotes and the statues are rather haunting with the Mountain looming over this site. I walked away filled with sadness about the loss of life and the inhumanity these people suffered that death seemed a better option.
- Visit the places of worship dotted all around the island. Like mentioned before there are temples, mosques, churches and pagodas found everywhere including in the middle of sugar cane fields on the island.People of all faiths can be seen paying their respects at these places of worship and for me my highlight was visiting a Chinese Pagoda , having never visited a place of worship like this I was keen to find out what it looked like and what was inside.I visited a Chinese Temple in Port Louis.On arrival we bought huge batches of incense sticks , which we lit at the various alters in the temple.The temple had several alters all decked out in red and gold with chines figurines, all I did at each one was say a lil prayer , light a few sticks and marvel at the beauty. There was silence in the temple and the air was filled with hundred sticks of incense and candles as it was clearly evident that people stopped by before going to work and starting their day.
- Indulge in water sports, the island is most famous for it beautiful sandy beaches and most hotels expect those in Port Louis have private beaches for their guests. I loved the fact that the sea was so calm and shallow that it made it perfect to literally just relax in the warm Indian ocean.Most hotels have a wide variety of water sports for their guests which are free and there are also paid options for specific things as well. There many beautiful spots for you to relax and enjoy the beach at I loved hanging out at the beaches the locals frequent in Mont Chosiy.We visited this beach during the weekend and it felt like a Durban beach family day with families with gazebos, huge pots of food, cars blasting music and vendors selling everything from food to clothes to toys for the kids.
- A visit to Chamarel must be done to see the 7 COLOURED EARTH. It is natural phenomenon and a popular tourist attraction. Over time the colours have started to fade but most can still be seen . Do not try to get some sand to take home with you as there are various spots along the island where one can buy souvenirs. The drive to this spot is rather green and lush and a stop at the Chamarel Waterfall is a must see as it is the highest waterfall in Mauritius and rather breath-taking.
- Go shopping in the local markets of Port Louis and Quartre Bon , you are sure to find a few great bargains but do not forget to haggle.
- Visit a Rum Distillery, on route to the 7 COLOURED EARTH , you will pass the Chamarel Rum Distillery and restaurant. The grounds are beautiful and food in the restaurant is utterly divine , I found the most delicious Lamb Shank that could literally be eaten with a spoon. There is a rum tasting on the premises too with a variety of infused rums that the company makes. This is a premium Rum and is very smooth to drink though I must admit I do like the infused flavours which are perfect for cocktails.
- Casela Nature park is 14 hectares nature park. The park has big cats, rhinos, giraffes, and other African mammals. For the adrenalin junkies there are activities like zip lines, canyoning and quad bike safaris.
- Black River Gorge National park is found in the south western part of Mauritius. There are 60km of hiking trails and one can reach the highest point of the island. The park protects most of the island’s remaining rainforest and is home to many wildlife .Several endemic plants and animals can be found here including the Mauritian flying fox, Mauritian Kestrel , Pink Pigeon and Mauritius fody.
- Bos Cheri Tea factory is the largest tea factory on the island.Located near Grand-Bassin it is not only a working tea factory but also a museum to the tea culture of Mauritius.
- Trou aux Cerfs is an extinct volcano located in Curepipe.The crater is 300 metres in diameter and 85 metres deep. It is considered to be one of the main attractions of the area . In the centre of the crater there is a small lake .The volcano is dormant .
- A visit to Rodrigues Island is also possible as there is so much to see and do there.
- EAT ! the food is Mauritius is fantastic which several cuisines fused to make unique dishes.Popular street foods include dhal puri, palm hearts and the most delicious Chinese food not forgetting all washed down by lots of rum cocktails or vanilla tea.
General Mauritius information
- South Africans do not need a visa just a valid passport with six months remaining and two blank pages.
- Mauritius is two hours ahead of South Africa.
- Capital city is Port Louis.
- The Mauritian Rupee is the currency used on the island.
- The languages spoken are English, French , Creole and a host of Indian cultural languages.
- The cuisisne is a mix of Indian, French , Chinese and Creole.
- Rum is locally produced and one of the products exported.Locals drink Green Island Rum , Chamarel Rum and Phoenix Beer.
Festivals of Mauritius :
Mauritius is a multicultural and multi faith country, on every street you will find places of worships. From churches to temples to mosques and pagodas there are found everywhere. This shows us that the people are considerate of other faiths. The various religious faiths have public holidays for the religious days.The following are some of the days observed :
Maha Shivatree: Is Celebrated in honour of Lord Siva (February). Following an all night vigil, Hindu devotees, clad in white, carry the “Kan – war” – wooden arches covered with flowers -in pilgrimage to Grand Bassin, to fetch holy water from the lake. The whole scene is reminiscent of the great rituals on the banks of the Holy Ganges in India.
Eid-Ul-Fitr: Is celebrated to mark the end of Ramadan, The Muslim holy month of fasting. Prayers are offered at mosques during the day.
Father Pere Laval: In September people of all faiths flock to the shine of Father Jacques Desire Pere Laval in Ste. Croix, Port Louis. You can almost catch a glimpse of Lourdes in the fervour of the great crowds who attribute miraculous healing powers to this holy man.
Chinese Spring Festival: The Chinese New Year’s Day (January / February), which every year falls on a different day because of the adjustment of the lunar days to solar days, is preceded by a thorough spring – cleaning of the home. No scissors or knives are used on the day. Red, symbolic of happiness, is the dominant colour. Food is piled to ensure abundance during the year, and the traditional wax cake is distributed to relatives and friends. Firecrackers are lit to ward off evil spirits.
Divali: The most colourful and fun of all Hindu festivals Divali is celebrated by Hindus worldwide.. Celebrated in October / November, it marks the victory of Rama over Ravana and also commemorates Krishna’s destruction of the Demon Narakasuran. Clay oil lamps are placed in front of very home turning the island into a fairyland of flickering lights.
Holi: This Hindi festival is as colourful as the numerous legends which inspire it. Essentially, it is a festival of revelry when men and women enjoy themselves by squirting coloured water and powder on one another. It is a time for rejoicing and exchanging greetings.
Cavadee: Cavadee is celebrated in January / February. Along with the fire walking and sword-climbing ceremonies, Cavadee is among the most awesome Tamil events. Their bodies pierced with needles and their tongues and cheeks with skewers, devotees trance-like and in penance, trek along bearing the “Cavadee”, a wooden arch covered with flowers with a pot of milk at each end of its base, to place it before the deity in the temple. At this point, despite the long hot trek, the milk should not have curdled.
Ougadi: The Telegu New Year. It is usually celebrated in March.
Shopping in Mauritius
No holiday is complete without bringing home from trinkets from your travels. Throughout Mauritius you will find large shopping malls with European and South African stores, but the best shopping can be found in the various markets in every corner of Mauritius. You will even find vendors daily at your hotel with beautiful and authentic goods to buy.
- Vanilla tea has to be number one on my shopping list and if you have not tried it buy some.
- Colourful baskets
- spices especially vanilla pods
- And of course the usual holiday knick knacks like magnets, placemats, sarongs , t-shirt’s.