The beautiful and exotic
Across the islands of Mauritius, Rodrigues and La Réunion, demonstrating an exotic and culturally explosive encounter between Africa, India and the warm ocean.
When not traveling overland, we’ve gotten used to spending time in airports; then why not also spend time gazing into flight departure screens to unravel where you could potentially go, and how different regions are connected by air transport?
On our first trips to India there was one far-flung destination, which always seemed to be directly connected to the major Indian hubs, Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, and so on: the island of Mauritius. The largest island in the Mascarene Archipelago, also comprising Rodrigues and La Réunion. All three islands are remotely positioned off the Southern part of Africa, but more connected in many other aspects to the Indian “motherland” and France, respectively.
In our early twenties we were lucky to feel the bite of the travel bug from India, and getting hooked we wanted to experience India’s alluring and many different cultures outside the subcontinent. There were indeed many cheap flights from India to Mauritius, but anyway we ended up coming to these paradisiacal island all the way from Europe.
Location: Mauritius, Rodrigues and La Réunion in the Indian Ocean, during 2 months
Mauritius is a beautiful island cast is vivid natural colors. Picture-perfect beaches and coral reefs virtually surround the small-sized island, and it has a varied interior topography made of small mountains spread in between the pastoral landscapes of crops and small villages. Our travels in Mauritius essentially covered the entire island, from the swanky South coast, over the diving and sailing mecca of the East, to the more rural and relaxed North. It was a real treat and overall a great stay for slow beach days, easy traveling, and many different water activities.
Besides a multifaceted connection to India, Mauritian culture is actually defined as being Creole: A unique blend of African and Hindi culture along with the historical influence from merchants and sea traders since the island was a key stopover on the trade routes between Europe and the Orient. This maybe explains why the islanders are so welcoming and appear with open attitudes. Or maybe the friendliness that we felt was partly explained by our newborn babies that we took along our travels. By coincidence, we actually got each of our first-born child within a few weeks time, and by another coincidence both of us ended up spending our separate paternity leaves on Mauritius.
Have you already been around the islands of the Indian Ocean? Seychelles, Mauritius, Reunion, Comoros...? Well, go back to your atlas and take an extra look. Do you see it, 600 km east of Mauritius? There aren't many places left in the world that not even your best-travelled mate has heard of, but Rodrigues may be one of them. This island is so very remote and so little known, only the poshest of atlases reveal its existence. When we first heard the name, we assumed it must be one of those windswept uninhabited rocks somewhere in the South Seas, maybe a military base, or some tiny Polynesian atoll where the population subsists mainly on junk. Then we Googled it, and sure enough, there it was: an island in the Indian Ocean… the last scrap of Africa before you reach Australia! Rodrigues is very different from Mauritius, Seychelles and the Comoros. Rodrigues is drier, rockier and more sparsely wooded. It’s actually quite hard to define what it all reminded us of. The Caribbean? The South Pacific? West Africa? Or all of them? We spent one week on Rodrigues, and what an experience! It's an all-blue world: powder-blue sky, dark blue sea to the horizon, and a big splotch of dazzling turquoise. The wide lagoon surrounding the island is twice the size of the island. That is perhaps Rodrigues's greatest natural asset, and we loved exploring the many tiny islands offshore. Or perhaps the biggest draw is that nothing happens in Rodrigues. No industry, no commercial fishing to speak of, and lack of tourists and glossy hotels. Every family has its vegetable plot, its fruit trees, its pigs and goats. Some of the men have small fishing boats, and the women go out to hunt for octopus in the lagoon. Giant tortoises roams the island in huge numbers. At Trou d'Argent, the island's most “popular” stretch of sand, the only signs of life was a cow lying on the grass behind the beach, and a hen with her chicks, clucking and pecking among the rock pools. Some will think of Rodrigues as insignificant, sleepy, primitive, even dull. To us it's precisely what the illusion of the Indian Ocean is all about.
Finally, we visited Réunion. Among the many isles and islands in the Indian Ocean, Réunion Island is really different. It’s not a typical white-sand beach island with swaying palms and a flat landscape or with soft rolling hills; it’s a wildly mountainous, black-beach island with craggy, high peaks, small white villages build Mediterranean-style, and a big active volcano with a Moon-like desert. And then there’s the so-called cirques: Large mountain valleys enclosed by impossibly steep peaks and penetrated with darkish-green deep gorges and hundreds of waterfalls. They are actually the remaining calderas of once collapsed volcanoes. The only way to visit the cirques are by a few winding roads or by trekking on foot.
As we arrived, we did, as every other French visitor seemed to do: Rented a car and drove around the island, from coast to coast and from valley to valley, and enjoyed the thrilling nature and great Creole cuisine. Sunbathing would be a long way down the to-do-list: It’s one of the rainiest places in the southern hemisphere, but that should be appreciated as the aorta which keeps the otherworldly green valleys and many waterfalls nourished all year round.
For more exotic adventures in the Indian Ocean islands check our travels to the Seychelles, and the Maldives. If that isn't remote enough for you, check our Soqutra island off mainland Yemen or Mozambique's islands.
Selected pics from our island hopping adventure in this region:
Just on the old trade route between Europe and Asia
Even though mosques, churches and Hindu temples can be found within a stone's throw of each other in many parts of Mauritius, over half of the population are Hindu, all of whom are Indian origin. Since we love the Indian subcontient we were also attracted by the many beautiful temples on Mauritius. In our experience, the most "Indian" part of the island is found in north-east around Goodlands.
All of Mahébough seemed like a big backwater village and the days of being a busy port was clearly a thing of the past. The entire bay offered a beautiful bay of fishermen on the job, while kids were playing in the trees and lagoon. Most seemed to live in a grid of dilapidated builings. It was very charming and we often went into Mahébourg to buy water, snacks etc. The monday market near the waterfront is very good with several steaming food stalls and textile sellers.
During the more cool mornings we would often stroll along the beaches and small villages around Mahébourg. Around Pointe d'Esny and Blue Bay we saw many fishermen early in the morning, enjoying the breeze and view towards Île aux Aigrettes and Île des Deux Cocos. We went snorkling off the coast of the former island, which gave access to a reef in good shape. There are giant Aldabra tortoises on the island, too. The latter island was good for lazing on the beach.
Along the north-east part of Mauritius we saw several deserted beaches and beautiful bays. Often these were empty except from the occational kite-surfer.
These three Girls were collecting mussels along the beach in front of our bungalow.
Immidiately recognisable from its sphinx-like profile, this peak offered good hiking along the "lion's back" to finish at an impressive viewpoint. It took 4 horus return. The trail was behind the police station in Vieux Grand Port, and it was easy to follow.
East coast Mauritius
Eastern Mauritius is know for its superb, long white beaches and great diving on the barrier reef. We stayed there a week and used it as a base to explore the whole east coast and in-land mountains.
Near the sleepy fishing Poste de Flacq the locals started a small football game every evening, and we joined in. The winners price was shared with everyone on the beach: A magnificent sunset
We joined a sailing trip on a catamaran from Blue Bay to Île aux Cerfs off the east coast and did lots of snorkeling along the way on the reefs. The island's best beaches and reefs line the eastern coast.
This island simply offers killer looks: perfect, gin-clear waters and white sand beaches. The island offer 4km of beaches, so it was easy to get away from the crowds simply by walking away from the piers where all are dropped off.
We spent a full day here simply relaxing and snorkeling off the coast.
One day we walked around the northern island of Ile de L'Est in the Île aux Cerfs island group. We had most beaches entirely to ourselves.
We went through Port Louis a few times to buy groceries. It has some nice markets and gardens well worth exploring.
Off the coast of Cap Malheureux at the northern edge of Mauritius are some stunning islands, including Coin de Mire with its dramatic slopes. We did a good diving tour to the islands which gave access to excellent walls and drift diving. The sits had tons of fish lfe, and at Île Plate that was an eerie concentration of blacktip sharks numbering about 15-20. Currents was a bit tricky.
... at Belle Mare beach. We had several good dives in the area, incl. Passe de Belle Mare, a passage on the barrier reef with strong tidal currents which meant many pelagics including grey reef sharks and bull sharks. The underwater seascape was also a draw: Chasms, coral valleys and a few walls.
During a hike into the Black River Gorges NP we visited Chamarel's coloured earths, where we had lunch. Numerous trails crisscross the national park, but finding way was easy. We also saw a beautiful waterfall inside the park near the coloured earths.
We walked along the beach to Trou d'Eau Douce, a small fishing village on the edge of a turquoise bay in Eastern Mauritius. It's a breathtaking place with its dazzling turquoise lagoon and its beautiful beaches of pristine white sand. From this village we also took several trips on yeachts to the Île aux Cerfs islands situated in the expansive lagoon.
We saw a few séga performances during our stay. Originally conceived by African slaves, séga is a powerful combination of drum play and dance. It can be extremely erotic.
On Eastern Mauritius, a place with many posh and exclusive hotels
The sailing around Trou d'Eau Douce in the largest lagoon of Mauritius is a great experience. With the old trade winds that often hit this coastline of the island we could gain good speed while having great views to the spectacular greenish and mountaneous interier of Mauritius
Le Morne is a rugged mountain (556m) that juts into the Indian Ocean in the southwest of Mauritius, and also the name of the peninusla on which the green and rugged mountain rises from. The area isvery beautiful with a clear lagoon sheltered by a long coral reef. This shot was from an early morning walk around the peninsula
The huge monolithic mountain, Le Morne Brabant, is a UNESCO site, known in the early 19th century as a refuge for runaway slaves. After the abolition of slavery in Mauritius (year 1835) a police force traveled there to inform the slaves that they had been freed. However, the purpose of the expedition was misunderstood and the slaves jumped to their deaths from the mountain.
The region around the Benetiers island in the very South of Maurtius is a fishing ground of locals.