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Vacationing in Mauritius, island of contrasts

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Mauritius is a coveted global luxury destination: the island swarms with 5-star hotels, meals are expensive, the golf courses exclusive. But, this Indian Ocean island ringed by paradisiacal beaches also offers some surprising contrasts.

Edelweiss Air operates direct flights to Mauritius from Zurich. It takes just (!) an 11-hour flight to your landing in paradise.

Le Morne coastline near Beachcomber Dinarobin

An earthly paradise

Here, the beach sand is of an incredible whiteness, the palm trees are a lush green, the ocean is the color of turquoise and the sunsets are almost gaudy.

Frangipani blossom at the beach in Mauritius

The frangipani blossoms also soak up the sunset

But, leave one of the island’s many luxury resorts and you see a different side of Mauritius. Here are some of the contrasts we found:

Rich and poor

The locals live in rather humble circumstances. For us Swiss, most of the little towns and villages make a modest impression; in the best case, unfinished concrete structures, in the worst case, corrugated tin shacks. Even the roadside Coca Cola stands do not exactly sparkle.

A Coke refreshment stand on Flic en Flac beach

A Coke refreshment stand on Flic en Flac beach

But, then here and there, you come across gated enclaves of villas or marinas, like those around Flic en Flac. They have security at the entrances and sport their own spas.

In Port Louis, the capital, rich and poor live cheek by jowl: a busy Chinatown with ordinary stores sidles right up to the banking district with its modern high rises. The city is lively and loud.

Port Louis store fronts

Port Louis store fronts

City and countryside

Outside the small city center with its high rises, the Port Louis stores lining the street down to the port are mostly on the shabby side.

Street scene near the Port Louis waterfront

Street scene near the Port Louis waterfront

The asphalt jungle is separated from the ocean by a two-lane highway. On the ocean side rises the modern “Le Caudan Waterfront” complex of shopping malls, hotels, restaurants and a museum.

You must keep to one of the two underpasses to cross to the waterfront, as there is no safe way to cross the heavily trafficked road.

Waterfront Le Caudan Port Louis

Waterfront Le Caudan

The contrast between the capital city and the rural sugar cane fields and tea plantations could not be any starker. In the countryside, life ticks by in much more relaxed fashion.

Sugarcane and tea plantation Mauritius

The “comings and goings” in the countryside

Sugar cane field Mauritius

Sugar cane field

Day and night

They do have day and night on Mauritius, just like back home ;-) That said, night time here is a little darker than elsewhere, for there is practically no “light pollution”: in the villages, an occasional street lamp may flicker, but the rural roads are unlit. The locals like to spend their evenings in casinos and discos. Since we usually stay away from both, we limited our night time excursions to the hotel bar.

Bar at the Dinarobin Beachcomber Hotel

Bar at the Dinarobin Beachcomber Hotel

Taxi, contract bus or rental car

We still aren’t clear on the difference between taxis and contract buses, but we observed no shortage of either. You can catch them at all the sightseeing places, no matter how remote.

The best way to explore Mauritius on your own we found is in a rent-a-car. Here we are obliged to Manta Reisen travel agency for the spiffy van they arranged for us. It had plenty of interior room but still was agile in all the curves.

Nissan rental car at Macondé lookout

Our Nissan rental car at the Macondé overlook

For the most part, traffic on Mauritius — especially outside town — moves sedately. But, please note that they drive on the left side here, British style.

Also rather unusual is that, due to the lack of parking spaces, people simply park their cars or even buses in the middle of the road. Any cars heading down the street are welcome to go around them. This is an island-wide phenomenon…

In any event, after a week of driving our rented van, I didn’t think twice about swerving into the opposite traffic lane to gain some passing room.

Country road on Mauritius

Country road on Mauritius. Don’t forget: they drive on the left here!

Rain, then sunshine

The weather on Mauritius can change surprisingly quickly: one minute you’re under nothing but steel blue sky, the next minute you’re ducking a cloudburst! But, thankfully, it ends as fast as it starts, and before you know it, you’re back on the sunny side of life ;-)

If you’re blessed only with sunshine on the island, look at the depth and width of the roadside ditches: In a real downpour, wouldn’t you expect all hell to break loose in paradise?

Roadside ditch on Mauritius

Roadside ditch on Mauritius

Sun and moon

On Mauritius, sun and moon vie with each other to put on extravagant spectacles. Generally, sunrise happens in the east here, too. But to catch one from the coast you really need to fall out of bed early.

Well, I did, and so I wound up hanging out on the beach at six in the morning. In the company of many Japanese photographers with their telephoto lenses.

I’m not sure if people suffer from jetlag, flying from Japan to Mauritius, but I had a surprising number of fellow photographers for company.

Sunrise at Belle Mare Mauritius

A really early sunrise on the beach at Belle Mare

If you want to ease into your day instead, let yourself be conveniently timed by — a moonrise! The moon comes up spectacularly over the ocean in the evening. We did a double take when the already black night horizon began to turn golden!

Moonrise by Belle Mare

Moonrise by Belle Mare

If you can’t do without the obligatory sunset under palm trees, you will not be disappointed on the island’s east coast, where you can choose from an infinite number of optional visual objects — known in professional parlance as “nuisances” — with which to stage your sunset photo.

To cite just a few, you can choose from kite surfers, beach rocks, benches, sun shades or beach palms. Or even the occasional security guard.

Security guard on the Beachcomber Dinarobin hotel beach with his sunset

Security guard on the Beachcomber Dinarobin hotel beach with his sunset

The south east trade winds, by the way, ensure that it gets a little warmer on the west coast than on the island’s east side.

Hotel or apartment

Mauritius has a vast number of hotels. They tend to cluster in the higher star range. The glossy brochures, of course, extol the luxurious 5-star resorts that line up along the most beautiful white sand beaches and vie for guests with their gorgeous pools. According to booking.com, however, an amazing number of apartments can also be had as vacation rentals.

Serene pool at the Beachcomber Dinarobin Hotel

Serene pool at the Beachcomber Dinarobin Hotel

Although the hotels are practically fully booked in November, the guests are so well dispersed throughout the expansive facilities engaged in various activities that you frequently get the feeling that you have paradise all to yourself.

Personally, we really like having the beaches and infrastructure as our private playground. No need to ever fight over a beach lounge here… ;-)

Beach lounges at Dinarobin Beachcomber

The beach lounges here are not just freely available as the sun goes down

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About Author

Walter Schaerer’s extensive background in the travel industry, passionate enthusiasm for photography and a firm belief that luxury destinations can also be affordable; were some of the main factors that motivated him to create the travel blog travelmemo.com. In his day job Walter is an online marketing manager based out of Zurich, Switzerland.

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