‘Star and key of the Indian Ocean’ is the inscription on the Mauritius coat of arms. It is a nod to the past, while providing direction for the future.
An island of volcanic origins, Mauritius is completely surrounded by sandy beaches, a blue lagoon and coral reef, with Rodrigues Island and other smaller islands making up the outlying territories. The capital city is Port Louis.
The island covers approximately 1,864 square kilometres (45km wide and 65km long).
Mauritius is located just off the southeast coast of Africa. It forms part of the Mascarene islands, along with Reunion Island and Rodrigues Island.
You can get a good idea of its size if you compare it to other areas. For example, it is smaller than Luxembourg in Europe but twice the size of Hong Kong, the gateway to China.
The first known records of Mauritian history date back to 900AD when Arab sailors trading along the East African coast spotted the island. They named it “Dina Arobi”, which means “Abandoned Island”.
The Portuguese navigator, Diogo Dias, was the first European to discover the island. However, the first Europeans to settle there were the Dutch. That was in 1598 and they were the ones who named the island Mauritius. In 1715, five years after the Dutch abandoned the island, the French claimed it as a supply base for ships that were sailing along this valuable sea route to India. French settlers from Reunion Island moved to Mauritius in 1721.
The British conquered Mauritius in 1810 and governed it as a colony until the island became independent in 1968.
This story cannot be told without mentioning the “Mauritian Miracle”, the term economists use for the great success achieved by this small island economy.
From monocropping with sugar to establishing the Export Processing Zone that gave the textile industry a boost in the '70s and '80s, government has steadily opened up more sectors to attract foreign investment. Hospitality, financial services, information and communications technology as well as professional services all play their part.
English and French are commonly used in all professional, academic and administrative spheres in Mauritius. In addition, Creole is widely spoken by the islanders.
However, Mauritius is a multi-ethnic society so there are also citizens who speak Hindi, Telugu, Tamil, Marathi, Urdu and Mandarin, among others.
Its tropical climate makes Mauritius one of the best winter-sun destinations and a dream escape in summer.
The islanders acknowledge only two seasons. The cooler, dry winter months start in May and the warm, often humid, summer months start in October, with mean temperatures of 20.5°C and 24.5°C respectively. Coastal regions are generally bathed in bright sunlight for a few more hours than the Central Plateau.
Getting around Mauritius is becoming easier. There is a large bus network with stops across villages and towns. Taxi hire is possible across the island and there is the new Metro Express line that connects Port Louis to the central part of the island as far as Rose Hill. Another 19 stations will extend the service all the way to Curepipe.
As far as payment is concerned, you need cash (Mauritian rupees) to pay for bus and taxi transport. You can load funds onto a Metro Express Card – also known as an MECard – and use that to pay for travel via the Metro Express.
Mauritius has a lot to offer in terms of leisure activities. From hiking, diving and underwater walks to skydiving, swimming with dolphins or big-game fishing, there is an activity to appeal to every adventurous traveller!
For those who prefer to dial down the adrenaline in their downtime, beach walks, lazing at the pool, strolls through the nature reserves, shopping and sightseeing rank high on the list.
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