“Mauritius was made first, and then heaven: heaven being copied after Mauritius”, Mark Twain
As much as I loved relaxing at a resort, old habits die hard and I wanted to explore a bit more of the island.
You can rent a car relatively cheaply, and as Mauritius is a former British colony they drive on the left hand side of the road, and road signs are in English (speed signs are in kilometers). However, rather than having all the stress of getting lost and driving unfamiliar roads we hired a local driver for a day. Rajesh was super helpful and knowledgeable and brought us to the North of the island. Not slowing down at intersections and tail gating seem to be common practice, so I was glad we had a local to help out.
Our first stop was the capital, Port Louis. This was a bit of a culture shock after the laid back vibe of a resort. Full of hustle and bustle the city is loud and frenetic with epic traffic jams during rush hour. Once there you’ll find busy markets selling everything imaginable, with traders barking out their bargains in French/Creole.
You can shop for souvenirs (haggling is expected) or head to the exotic food markets to stock up on spices. I would recommend asking for prices before buying spices (I think ended up paying some unofficial tourist tax due to not checking first).
Mauritius was an important stopping off point in the spice route and local food is fragrant and highly spiced.
If you are frazzled after Port Louis and want to get in touch with your inner history nerd, then visit the Sugar Museum (L’Aventure de Sucre). A short drive from the city, the museum is fascinating. It was a former sugar refinery and shows how sugar cane growth and production totally shaped the history of the island. Less then 300 years ago there were just 200 people living on the island, the population is now over 1.2 million. Sugar cane production, completely changed the eco system of the island, with new species of plants and animals being introduced. Mauritius is probably best remembered as being the home of the now extinct dodo.
Like most museums you’ll exit through the gift shop, but this is worth doing for the rum tasting that’s included in the entrance fee.
Private companies like the East India Company and then colonial powers from the Portuguese, French and British exploited the island and its inhabitants to make obscene amounts of money. Slaves were transported from Bengal and Africa, as well as indentured servants from India and traders from China all led to the multicultural nation Mauritius is today. The museum is honest about the legacy of the slave trade and the immense wealth created by sugar plantations. While the country is seen now as a tropical paradise, it has a much darker history.
As you drive along you’ll see vibrantly coloured, Hindu temples, Buddhist shrines, Mosques and Christian churches scattered through out the countryside. By all accounts Mauritians live in relative harmony and differences are respected and celebrated.
The botanical gardens are really impressive. Because of its climate and fertile soil probably anything could grow here. You can explore on your own or pay for a guide. Unless you’re seriously into horticulture I’d recommend just pottering about on your own. You can also see brightly coloured wildfowl, giant tortoises and deer.
Before heading back to our resort, our driver, Rajesh brought us to Cap Malheureux (Unhappy Cape), so called because of ships who ran aground in the past. The views were breathing taking and the area is most commonly known for the little red roof church that sits on the bay.
Just as the evening was drawing in we headed back to Bel Ombre across the mountain route. The Pitons are a range of jagged volcanic mountains that wouldn’t look out of place in Jurassic Park (the light was dropping so sorry no photos).