Mauritius

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Introduction to Mauritius

Mauritius is the most accessible island in the Indian Ocean, boasting as much tropical paradise as Maui or Martinique and, better still, offering it at a bargain price. Though nestled up alongside Africa, it's actually more influenced by its British and French ties and massive Indian workforce.

Here, you can enjoy a dish of curried chickpeas or a nice Yorkshire pudding on the terrace of a French café, sipping imported wine or a thick malty ale while listening to Créole music and the conversation of locals in any number of lingoes.

Its range of visitors facilities runs the gamut from pamper-happy beach resorts and organised excursions to locals who'll put you up in their homes and rent you their cars for daytrips. If you're looking for a lazy beach vacation, you could certainly do worse, but don't forget the rambling interior and the multicultural capital Port Louis.

Waves from the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004 completely submerged a village in the north of the island. There have been no reports of casualties.

Full country name: Republic of Mauritius

Area: 1,860 sq km

Population: 1.2 million

Capital City: Port Louis (pop 150,000)

People: Indo-Mauritian (68%), Créole (27%), Sino-Mauritian (3%), Franco-Mauritian (2%)

Language: Hindi, French, Urdu, Bhojpuri, English

Religion: Hindu (51%), Christian (30%), Muslim (17%), other (2%)

Government: parliamentary democracy

GDP: US$11.7 billion

GDP per capita: US$10,300

Annual Growth: 5%

Inflation: 6%

Major Industries: Sugar, textiles, tea, tobacco, tourism

Major Trading Partners: EU, US, South Africa, India

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Traveler Facts

Visas: All visitors are required to have a passport and onward ticket in order to enter the country. Most visitors do not require visas for stays of up to 90 days. Contact a Mauritian embassy prior to your visit.

Health risks: malaria (There is a slight risk here)

Time Zone: GMT/UTC + 4

Dialling Code: 230

Electricity: 220V or 125V ,50Hz

Weights & measures: Metric



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Events

With its host of cultures and multinational residents, it's no surprise that Mauritius celebrates an equally diverse number of holidays and special events. Teemeedee, a Hindu and Tamil fire-walking ceremony held in honour of various gods, takes place throughout the year but mostly in December and January. Hindus celebrate the major Thaipoosam Cavadee in January or February at temples throughout the island. Look for processions carrying flower-covered wooden arches and pots of milk, with devotees skewering their tongues and cheeks in homage to the second son of Lord Shiva. Around the same time, the resident Tamils mark the end of the harvest season by feeding rice pudding to decorated cows in the festival of Pongal, and Chinese New Year is celebrated with the standard barrage of fireworks and foodstuffs.

Maha Shivaratri occurs over three days in February and March and is the largest and most important Hindu festival outside of India. Most of the island's Hindu population makes a pilgrimage in honour of Lord Shiva to the holy volcanic lake Grand Bassin, where they make food sacrifices and stockpile vessels of the holy water. If you happen upon a celebration of Holi, the Hindu festival of colours, count on a good soaking: exuberant celebrants throw cupfuls of coloured powder and water on anyone in their path sometime in February or March. Independence/Republic Day is 12 March. Similar in intent to the teemeedee celebrations, Hindu and Tamil sword-climbing spectacles take place mostly between April and June. Père Laval Feast Day in September marks the anniversary of the Catholic convert-king's death, and pilgrims come from all over the world to his shrine at Ste-Croix to pray for miracle cures and such.

Muslims celebrate Eid-al-Fitr to mark the end of the fasting month of Ramadan, which is the ninth month of the lunar year. Though the date of Eid-al-Fitr varies from year to year - for the next few years, it's in January and is always a public holiday.

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Best time to Visit

Apart from the busy Christmas to New Year period, Mauritius doesn't really have a high or low season. The depths of Mauritian 'winter' occur from July to September, when daytime temperatures drop from sticky to balmy. With less rain and humidity, this is one of the choicest times to visit. Weatherwise, the least agreeable period is from January to April, when the long days can prove too hot and humid for some and the threat of cyclones is in the air. Visitors should be prepared to spend several days cooped up indoors during extra-heavy rains. December through March is the best time for diving, when the waters are at their clearest; June through August is best for surfing; and October through April is excellent for big game fishing, when the large predators feed close to shore.



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Currency / Costs / Approx. Spending

Currency: Mauritius Rupee

Meals

Budget: Rs30-140

Mid-range: Rs140-350

High: Rs350-550

Deluxe: Rs550+

Lodging

Budget: Rs280-850

Mid-range: Rs850-1600

High: Rs1600-8000

Deluxe: Rs8000+

Buck up, budget traveller: Mauritius is among the cheapest visitors' destinations in the region. Though some officials have voiced aspirations to turn the island into an luxury getaway for well-heeled vacationers, thankfully this has yet to happen. Visitors can still keep costs to a minimum by staying in budget accommodations, such as guesthouses and self-catering apartments; rates tend to fall by upwards of 25% when you stay more than a few days. If you take buses instead of taxis and cook for yourself from time to time, you should be able to get by on less than US$25 per day. Add a swanky hotel room, daily excursions and a few restaurant meals, and your total can easily top US$100. For a bask in some serious, world-class luxury, plan on spending at least US$600 per day.

Travellers cheques in any major currency can be exchanged without a hitch in Mauritius - and they bring a better rate of exchange than cash. (The government sets the exchange rates, so there is no need to bank hop.) Credit cards are widely accepted, with cash advances available from most major banks. Cheaper pensions and local cafes generally don't add tax or service charges to their bills, while mid-range to upscale restaurants and hotels add a 15% government tax. Tipping is optional in restaurants, though airport porters expect a little something, and bargaining is a part of life on Mauritius.

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Attractions

Port Louis

Backed by mountains at the northwestern end of the island, the burgeoning capital of Port Louis is a relatively large city (in proportion to the size of Mauritius), though it contains a relatively small percentage of the country's total population.

During the day, it bustles with snarling traffic. By night, in contrast, all is quiet - except for the swish Le Caudan Waterfront, where you'll find a casino, cinemas, shops, bars and restaurants. There's a distinct Muslim area around Muammar El Khadafi Square and a Chinatown around Royal St.

Curepipe

The town of Curepipe owes its size and prominence to the malaria epidemic of 1867, during which thousands of people fled mosquito infested Port Louis for healthier, higher ground. The bulk of Franco-Mauritians live in outlying communities and come into Curepipe mainly to shop.

With the flavour of an English market town, Curepipe is the centre of the island's tea and model-ship building industries and the best place to scatter your money. The town itself is worth a quick visit at most as the surrounding countryside has a more universal appeal.

Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam Botanical Gardens

These attractive gardens are one of the most popular tourist attractions in Mauritius, but the shady avenues of palms seem to swallow the numbers. One key attraction is the park's giant Victoria regia water lilies, native to the Amazon. Other attractions include golden bamboo, chewing-gum trees, fish poison trees and a 200-year-old Buddha tree.

These gardens were started in 1735 by Governor Mahé de La Bourdonnais as a vegetable garden for his Mon Plaisir Château. The grounds were gussied up by French horticulturalist Pierre Poivre in 1768 in his bid to introduce spices, but afterwards lay neglected until 1849, when a British horticulturalist, James Duncan, took over. His legacy is seen today in the garden's array of palms.

The fragrant flora of the garden - ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, camphor and sandalwood - is a high point, as are glimpses of Mauritian wildlife that are all but unavailable elsewhere on the island. Look for enclosures of Java deer and giant tortoises. There's also an art gallery and a cemetery, whichever way your tastes run.

South of Port Louis

A scant 12km (7mi) south of Port Louis, the town of Moka - in terms of ambience - is a world apart from the capital. Not only is it the island's centre of academia, it's also blessed with sylvan landscapes, towering mountains and a number of impressive manor houses.

The university is found here, as well as the Mahatma Gandhi Institute, founded to preserve and promote Mauritian Indian culture. The Gandhi Institute's Folk Museum of Indian Immigration houses around 2000 volumes of Indian archives dating from 1842 to 1910 as well as a small collection of artefacts.

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Disclaimer: We've tried to make the information on this web site as accurate as possible, but it is provided 'as is' and we accept no responsibility for any loss, injury or inconvenience sustained by anyone resulting from this information. You should verify critical information like (visas, health and safety, customs, and transportation) with the relevant authorities before you travel.

Sources: CIA FactBook, World FactBooks and numerous Travel and Destinations Guides.

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