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Introduction

Mauritius is one of those rare places where French and English mix easily. In addition, travelers can enjoy fresh pineapple from a roadside stall while taking a break from seeing the island via moped. There are charming and inexpensive pensions in all the tourist towns and delicious Indian at a bargain. Many public beaches offer spectacular sand, snorkeling and sunsets.

Mauritius was named after Prince Maurits of Nassau, of Holland, after Dutch sailors who arrived there in 1598. The island later came under French and British rule before finally achieving independence in 1968 with the election of Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam, who was prime minister for 13 years. The island elected a new prime minister, Ramgoolam's son, in 2005, unseating the ruling party of 22 years.

About 66 percent of the 1.3 million people in Mauritius are of Indian descent. Fifty percent are Hindu and 16 percent are Muslim. Creoles make up 27 percent, with the rest being of French or Chinese origin. There is a pervading atmosphere of tolerance and respect throughout the island. The official language is English, but you will hear French-based Creole spoken on the street. Mauritians are proud of living in such a beautiful place, and the economy has gained strength over the past several decades thanks to a booming textile industry, rising prominence in the technology sector and tourism.

There is a broad range of accommodation throughout the island. For more than US$1,000 per night travelers can stay in a suite at Le Touessrok on the stunning Île aux Cerfs. But visitors can also find inexpensive and charming apartments that are only a moped ride away from the beaches enjoyed by the less frugal. Because the island is so small, you can easily visit most of it in a week. Mauritius also makes a great stop if you are planning on visiting some of the other islands nearby,such as Réunion, which is just a 35-minute flight away, or even South Africa. You can even purchase an Indian Ocean Pass from such airlines as Air Austral, based in Réunion, or Air Mauritius, that allows you to fly between the Indian Ocean islands, such as the Seychelles, Comoros and Madagascar.

Once in Mauritius, you can buy food easily and cheaply from grocery stores and cook at your apartment, or visit restaurants. One option for those who want to feel what its like to have money to burn can purchase a day pass from Club Med, or a similar resort, and enjoy pristine beaches, food buffets and water sports. Low season rates can be found easily between May and August, and the weather remains beautiful pretty much year round.


Introduction

Mauritius is one of those rare places where French and English mix easily, like in Montréal, and travelers can enjoy fresh pineapple from a roadside stall while taking a break from seeing the island via moped. Yes, Mauritius is not cheap to get to (at least $1000 from Europe, $1500 from the U.S.) but once there, it does not need to be the $1000-a-night Hollywood honeymoon that one might think a Mauritius vacation necessitates.

There are charming and cheap pensions in all the tourist towns, you can haggle any price you come across, and you can eat amazing Indian food for less than $5 a plate. Granted, the massive hotel complexes have bought up much of the prime beach land, but there remain many public beaches that offer sand, snorkeling and sunsets that will leave you speechless.

Mauritius was named after Prince Maurits of Nassau, of Holland, after Dutch sailors who arrived there in 1598 (both Arab traders and Portuguese sailors had previously visited but never attempted to settle). However, the island would come under French and British rule before finally achieving independence in 1968 with the election of Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam, who was prime minister for 13 years, and whose countenance and name will become familiar after just a few days on the island. The island elected a new prime minister, Ramgoolam's son, in July 2005, unseating the ruling party of 22 years.

The majority (about 66 percent) of the Mauritian population is of Indian descent, with 50 percent being Hindu and 16 percent Muslim. Creoles make up 27 percent, with the rest being of French or Chinese origin. There is a pervading atmosphere of tolerance and respect throughout the island. The ?official' language of the island is English, but you will hear French-based Creole spoken on the street, and Mauritians will much more readily speak French than English with tourists, but if you don't speak French, you should have no problem being understood. Mauritians are proud of living in such a beautiful place, and the economy has gained strength over the past several decades thanks to a booming textile industry, rising prominence in the IT sector, and, of course, tourism. However, there is a conspicuous gap between rich and poor, made visible by the mansions that line the shores that are only blocks away from neighborhoods that are essentially shantytowns. A laborer in Mauritius makes, on average, little over $200 a month.

There exists a broad range of accommodation throughout the island. Of course there are the $1,000+ a night options (a suite at Le Touessrok on the stunning Île aux Cerfs) but there are also cheap and charming apartments that are only a moped ride away from the beaches enjoyed by the less frugal. Because the island is so small, you can easily visit most of it in a week. Of course a longer stay is advised (assuming you are taking at least an 11-hour flight to get there) but Mauritius also makes a great stop if you are planning on visiting some of the other islands nearby (such as Réunion, which is just a 35-minute flight away), or even South Africa (4 hours to Johannesburg). You can even purchase an Indian Ocean Pass from such airlines as Air Austral (based in Réunion) or Air Mauritius, that allows you to fly between the islands, such as the Seychelles, Comoros, and Madagascar for an impressive rate.

Once in Mauritius, you can buy food easily and cheaply from grocery stores and cook at your apartment, or visit the more humble restaurants. One option for those who want to feel what its like to have money to burn can purchase a day pass from Club Med, or a similar resort, and enjoy pristine beaches, food buffets, water sports, and being hit on by the staff for a surprisingly low amount.

All in all, while the majority of people who visit the island from Europe and North America do so because they have ridiculous amounts of money to spend, others with more meager travel budgets should not be discouraged. Low season rates can be found easily between May to August, and the weather remains beautiful pretty much year round, and besides, high season corresponds with cyclone season, which can result in weeks on end of gray weather not unlike that from which the Londoners paid thousands of pounds to escape.


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