God created Mauritius and then Heaven, at least according to Mark Twain and if you are looking for what brochures call a tropical paradise, Mauritius is there for you.
Mauritius consists of two islands. By far the biggest one is known as Mauritius - the capital city Port Louis is located here. Then there is a smaller island some 500 km away, called Rodrigues.
Mauritius was known to the early Arabs traders as it can be found marked on their maps, but the first visitors from Europe were the Portuguese who landed in 1510. They used the island as a victualling stop on the way to Goa and Malacca but did not settle. The first attempt at colonisation was made by the Dutch who arrived in 1598 and named the island Mauritius after Prince Maurice of Nassau. They introduced sugar, Malagasy slaves and a herd of Javanese deer. But they were also heedlessly destructive and are said to be responsible for the disappearance of the magnificent ebony forests and the extinction of the famous dodo. They eventually abandoned their settlements in 1710.
The French occupied the island which they renamed Isle de France between 1715 and 1810 and many place names are reminders of this period. In 1810 with the British take-over, the name reverted to Mauritius. The abolition of slavery lead to the importation of Chinese and Indian indentured labourers, who were followed by traders of their own nationalities. Mauritius gained independence from Britain on 12 March 1968 and since then has been an independent sovereign nation within the British Commonwealth. In remained as a realm of Queen Elizabeth II, represented by a Governor General until 12 March 1992, when Mauritius became a Republic with a President as head of state.
Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam International Airport is near Mahébourg in south-eastern Mauritius at the opposite end of the island from Port Louis. While there are no direct airport buses express buses travel between the capital and Mahébourg several times a day stopping at the airport. Allow yourself at least two hours from Port Louis. Air Mauritius flies to Rodrigues Island (about 90 minutes) daily; the company also offer 15-20 minute helicopter tours of Mauritius. For those with money to burn the helicopters can be hired by the hour. The MV Mauritius Pride plies between Mauritius and Rodrigues several times per month.
Mauritian buses are generally good - albeit a bit slow - and can take you to (or near) just about any place on the island. There are several different operators none of which cover the entire island. Port Louis and Curepipe are the main hubs. Tickets are cheap and should be kept handy as inspectors check them frequently. Mauritian roads range from smooth to potholed and pavement-free. Driving is sketchy at best on Mauritius with speed limits often ignored headlights a rarity and weaving pedestrians all too common. If you think you're up to it you can rent a car in one of the major towns or at the airport. Smallish motorbikes can be rented around Grand Baie. All drivers should have an international drivers' licence and most rental agencies require drivers to be over 23. Driving is on the left. Bicycles and boats can be rented wherever tourists congregate.
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