Country #8: Mauritius

Comparing the sister islands of Mauritius and Reunion

A few weeks ago I arrived in Mauritius, the eighth country (and counting) I’ve visited during my current trip around the globe. Of all the flights I’ve taken on this journey, the quick 45-minute hop on a small, 70-passenger plane from Reunion Island to Mauritius was by far the shortest.

When I tell friends from around the world that I am in Mauritius, the first question is, “Where the hell is Mauritius?” It’s a fair question. Mauritius is several small specks of islands on a map out in the middle of the Indian Ocean. If you had told me a year ago that I would today be lounging on a tropical beach in Mauritius, I wouldn’t have believed it, or at least I would have been overly curious as to the chain of events that led me there.

Mauritius and Reunion, where I just spent three months, are like sibling islands, lost and wandering far from any continent, hundreds of miles east of Madagascar. At their closest points, the two islands are just a tad over 100 miles apart. As a result, they have a lot in common. But after spending ten days in Mauritius, it’s been equally as interesting to observe their stark differences.

Enjoying the absurdly picture-perfect beaches of Mauritius. Pictured is Gris Gris beach.

The air traffic to the two countries sums up how these islands have diverged in modern times. Reunion’s airport serves flights to Paris and a few surrounding countries. You can also take the lone flight to Bangkok on Wednesdays or Saturdays. Mauritius, on the other hand, has direct flights to 19 countries, covering Europe, Australia, Dubai, and Malaysia, to name a few. While Reunion has become a rather insignificant French outpost, Mauritius has become a global tourist destination.

This is easy to observe. 99% of the tourists I met on Reunion were from France. Reunion is in many ways to France what Hawaii is to the US — a tropical visa-free getaway for those looking to give island living a shot. But Mauritius, which receives more than double the number of yearly tourists compared to Reunion, is a global destination. Mauritius has built a brand image synonymous with tropical vacations and features an array of beachfront resorts to cater to this clientele from all around the world.

The huge discrepancy in tourism between these two, fairly similar, islands that are just a stone’s throw apart is interesting to ponder.

Citizens on both islands speak French due to their history as part of the French empire. To this day, Reunion is still part of France. However, the locals on each island, amongst themselves, speak their own version of French-based Creole. But where Mauritius differs from Reunion most is that its citizens are also fluent in English. The island was captured from the French by the British in 1810 and remained part of the empire until 1968 when it became an independent country. It’s been a bit refreshing to be able to freely communicate in English when my brain is too fried for French (three months in Reunion did fry it quite a bit).

As far as the inhabitants, both islands are impressive melting pots. Interestingly, neither island had indigenous populations when European powers started setting up colonies. They were both populated by immigration (of course, some unwillingly via the slave trade) from many corners of the globe. The main populations you will see are of African, Indian, or European origins, but both islands also have Arab and Chinese populations, among others. The local genetic trees span across multiple continents and make for a stunning, unique mix of phenotypes.

Quick hike up to Trois Mamelles in west Mauritius.

Geographically speaking, the islands both have dreamy, tropical climates. Reunion, on paper, is the more interesting, with an active volcano and mountains that soar above 10,000 feet. Mauritius is the older island by about seven million years, so its towering mountains have been withered away to relatively flat plains. Still, the small peaks that do remain on Mauritius are dramatic and flashy in their nature, boasting steep, prominent slopes. Reunion is still a growing island with rugged coastlines of lava flow, particularly in the south. But because Mauritius is older, it has more coastline with those classic white sand beaches and shallow electric blue reef lagoons. Perhaps this plays a role in their differing rates of tourism.

Given that both the islands sprouted from the sea with volcanic origins, they have unique flora and fauna that evolved in isolated environments. The most famous example, which everyone knows of (but perhaps they don’t know where), is the Dodo bird that was native to Mauritius. The massive, flightless bird stood three feet tall and weighed up to 40 pounds. Unfortunately, it quickly went extinct when the Dutch settled the island in the 17th century. Despite the bird being gone for centuries, the Mauritians still use its well-known image as a marketing tool to sell everything from beer to souvenirs.

Lastly, another difference in Mauritius is that the general cost of living is lower than that of Reunion. Things like eating out, scooter rentals, and hotels are more affordable in Mauritius, perhaps another enticing advantage for the tourists and expats who choose Mauritius over Reunion. You can get a hearty restaurant meal in Mauritius for USD $5 and rent a scooter for $10/day. Good luck finding those prices in Reunion, especially in the touristy areas.

My visit to Mauritius is going to be a short one, only three weeks. I may never get to do a completely fair comparison with Reunion, which I got to know more intimately after three months, but it’s fascinating to observe life on these two sibling islands and contemplate/understand the ‘why’ of it all.

One glaring omission in my observations is the cuisine, which I could mention, but as a vegan, my opinion is rather tainted. What I can confirm is I have been loving the Indian food in Mauritius. Apparently, I need to try the roti, too.

Mauritius has been as advertised thus far (I will get into the infamous surf localism in my next post). Sometimes I can’t believe where I am as I explore the island’s absurdly picture-perfect beaches and swim in crystal-clear water. There’s not much to complain about here. Two weeks down, ten more days to go.

Unlike Reunion, Mauritius has ample, flat plains, and as a result, much larger urban areas.
After not being able to rent a scooter in Reunion, it’s nice to be back in a “no questions asked” country when renting scooters (I don’t have a motorcycle license in the US…). Now I am back in business and mobile.
The giant snails of Mauritius are iconic and everywhere.
Quick solo waterfall swim.
My Couchsurfing host Melisa has been amazingly hospitable.

4 thoughts on “Country #8: Mauritius

  1. I’d be lying if I said I was not impatient to read about your first impressions and comparisons 😁…
    Yessssss, do taste the rotis and curry, and dalpuri (yellow sorts of pancakes). A must 💕😋


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