By Bernard Pollack, BorderJumpers
Offering a beach vacation like no other, the African island of Mauritius thrives on tourism, but it’s not a country many Americans visit.
So few of us visit, in fact, that our cab driver from the airport to Grand Bay said that in his 20 years of picking up tourists from the airport, we were only the second Americans he’d met. Everywhere we went on Mauritius where the lingua franca is French (and as I attempted my pathetic grade-school French), we were greeted by local folks excited to meet people from the United States.
And here we were– in a cute “auberge” (budget hotel), looking at a sunrise over the ocean, enjoying our “petit dejeuner” (breakfast) — looking out at each other, and debating aloud whether we should let our fellow citizens know about this tucked-away island in the middle of the Indian ocean.
Exotic beaches, natural wonders, and cuisine — Mauritius has it all
Mauritius is located in the middle of nowhere and nearest the island countries of Madagascar, Comoros, and Seychelles. It’s a relatively safe and stable island, and one of few places in the world where you can swim the ocean and hike the rain forest, all in the same long afternoon. In terms of tourism, the country prides itself on water activities, especially scuba diving, where you’ll see some of the world’s most incredible coral reefs and marine life. Business travelers can enjoy the beach by day and then catch up on work in the afternoons (most of the island is connected on 3G wireless).
The people pride themselves on being a functioning democracy that attempts to level the gap between the rich and poor on the island. When we asked locals in both tourist and more mainland areas about quality of life, people spoke about persistent poverty but remained positive about how their government provides lots of services for its citizens, including access to quality health care, free education, and even budget housing for citizens who can’t afford their own residence.
The country prides itself on being a melting pot and it was reflected in the food we ate. We enjoyed meals that blended Indian, Creole, Chinese and European influences. In fact, the island exports several crops, including sugar cane, the country’s largest source of income. Here you’ll also get the chance to taste terrific locally grown coffee, chocolate, and fruits like pineapple.
How to get there, where to stay
It’s tricky (and a little far) to get to Mauritius so make sure to give yourself a 10-day holiday. You can fly direct to Johannesburg from New York and Dulles, and then hop on Air Mauritius for the 2 1/2 hour flight.
The neat thing about the island is that you can get pretty much anywhere from anywhere in a reasonable amount of driving time and so wherever you set up “base,” you’re an affordable taxi ride anywhere.
Here’s a thrifty tip: instead of spending a fortune on a budget all-inclusive beachfront hotel (approx $250 USD/day), we opted to stay at the Grand Bay Beach Tourist Residence ($30 USD/day for a double room). Not only are the rooms spacious, clean and well-decorated but in walking distance from everything you need — the Grand Bay shopping mall, a grocery store, two nice beaches, the local town, and tons of restaurants.
BorderJumpers Danielle Nierenberg and Bernard Pollack will be blogging here as part of a weekly series documenting their travels around the world. In every country starting with Africa, they’re highlighting innovations working to alleviate hunger and poverty.