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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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!
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.
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.
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… ;-)