6 Tips to Live Like A Local in Mauritius
Want to have a completely unique and authentic experience of an Indian Ocean island? Check out these tips to live like a local in Mauritius.
The traveler sees what he sees. The tourist sees what he has come to see. – Gilbert K. Chesterton
And that is exactly what we did on our first trip to this Indian Ocean paradise. We discovered a side to Mauritius that none of the glossy holiday brochures ever capture. So here are our top tips to live like a local in Mauritius.
Live Like A Local in Mauritius
We are South African. So to us Mauritius is maybe not quite as exotic as it might seem to you. To the average South African, Mauritius is synonymous with honeymoons and family holidays. Both are usually enjoyed from the comfort of an all-inclusive resort.
We decided to cash in some Avios and head there to celebrate my 30th. We wanted an unconventional take on this Indian Ocean paradise. In addition to opting for an Airbnb instead of a resort, we also rented a car to explore the island for two weeks. And that really made all the difference.
- Dates: 5 to 19 September 2015
- Total spent: R22,863 (for two people all in) including:
- Flights: Cape Town to Johannesburg: R2,951
- Flights: Johannesburg to Mauritius: 34,000 Avios and R2,100
- Accommodation: Airbnb at R210 per night (paid using Airbnb credit)
- Car Rental: First at R595 per day
- Food, petrol and activities: R650 per day
Tip #1 Stay in an Airbnb Instead of a Resort
This is NOT an exaggeration. For less than two buffet dinners at a nearby resort, we booked a private room for our ENTIRE two week stay.
The room was basic, the wifi fast and the shower… Well Ben is definitely going to fix it someday. But no resort could top Devina and Ben’s hospitality.
Forget about the “authentic Mauritian” fare that the resorts cook up. We got to enjoy most of our breakfasts and dinners around a dinner table with Devina and Ben. The Creole cuisine combines African, French, Chinese and Indian influences. Typically we ate an Indian curry with breads and pickles while discussing politics and culture.
Devina is an ex-international marathon runner and mother to successful sons living/ studying in France. We arrived as one returned to France and Adam quickly became the surrogate son. From being fed raw aloe for his sore stomach to learning how to make roti’s, Devina proves that Airbnb is the perfect cure for “empty nest” syndrome.
Ben owns his own hardware store and often travels to Madagascar to consult on construction there. We had to laugh – every time we would ask for tips on things to do/ see, Ben would immediately start giving us directions. He also took great joy in feeding us super hot chilis.
What is it like staying in an Airbnb in Mauritius?
We could seriously not have hoped for better Airbnb hosts. Our experience of Mauritius would have been completely different if it was not for Devina and Ben. Besides getting some local tips of what to see and do, it was the unique glimpse into their lives that made the stay unforgettable. We left feeling like we got a real sense of what it means to be Mauritian – which I doubt we would get at a resort.
Tips for picking an Airbnb
- Location is important: If you do not plan to rent a car or scooter, you will need to find an Airbnb close to the action. Mauritian roads seriously lacked sidewalks (see below) so walking would definitely be a pain. It is also not a small island (see Tip #2 below).
- Entire place vs private room: This is quite a personal preference. Both offer you the opportunity to have an independent travel experience. Staying with hosts is a lot more immersive and might not be for everyone. If you are quite private and are just looking for a base from where to explore, it is probably better to rent an “entire place”.
- Read the reviews: One of the things that makes Airbnb great is that most hosts and guests make an effort to leave detailed, personal reviews. Do not skip this step. The photos might look amazing and the price might be just right. BUT look out for hidden annoyances.
Tip #2 Rent a Car and Drive Along the Coast
Mauritius is not very big but it is also not a small island. From where we were staying in Beau Bassin – Rose Hill, we could drive:
- into Port Louis in about 20 minutes
- to Grand Baie in the North in 50 minutes
- to the South Western tip of Le Morne in about an hour
- to the Eastern coast of Belle Mare in about an hour
- to the SSR International Airport in the South East in about 40 minutes.
Having your own car just gives you so much more freedom. Sure you can use taxi’s but I am sure that would get quite expensive. And using the public buses would have been unnecessarily time-consuming. But most importantly, having our own car meant we could get going whenever we were ready, stop whenever the mood struck and see places most tourists miss.
Having a car makes it tempting to focus on getting somewhere – driving to a destination. But take the time to explore: Take weird side roads (they all eventually link up again), get a little lost and don’t rush. Pack lunch (or if you are as lucky as we were – your Airbnb host will pack you some lunch), stop often and take it all in. You will be amazed at the beautiful roadside scenes as you go.
What is it like driving in Mauritius?
Driving a rental car in a foreign country is always a bit daunting. You never know what to expect in terms of the road condition and general driving practices. But Mauritius was really doable. Here are some things we thought you should know before renting a car in Mauritius:
- Like South Africa, Mauritians drive on the left hand side of the road with right side steering.
- There is a single “highway” connecting the airport in the South East with Port Louis and the North. I say “highway” because, even though the speed limit was 110km/h, there were traffic circles every few kilometers forcing you to slow right down.
- Besides the highway, most roads are quite narrow, have no shoulder nor sidewalk. This would be okay if it was not for the fact that people loved stopping just about anywhere – making it your problem to find a way around them. No jokes, on one occasion we had to drive around a traffic circle against the traffic because a car had decided to stop right in the middle of the circle.
- The roads were in pretty good condition and there weren’t any giant potholes or anything like that to worry about. Every now and then we would come across a stray dog napping on the road – the island vibes even effect animals it seems.
- Our biggest issue with driving was that Google Maps did not always know when roads were one ways (and sometimes it seemed the roads also didn’t know). We came across one road which was a one way in one direction on the one side and a one way in the other direction on the other side, with traffic in both directions in the middle. It was very confusing when people shouted at us on exiting on either side.
Tip #3 Grab Lunch at the Local Market
Two buffet dinners at a nearby resort (which we luckily didn’t have to pay for) came to about 4,000 Mauritian rupees (more than R1,500). The lesson being that you should always chose an all-inclusive package if you decide to stay at a resort.
Mauritians seem to love a snack – every street corner had some sort of small shop selling deep-fried snacks. So you really do not need to worry about going hungry. Instead of pigging out at the vast array of South African restaurants in Mauritius (including Spur, Vida E Cafe, Panarotti’s) we decided to check out the local market for lunch. (You can also try Winners for groceries).
Try some dholl puri and alouda
Dholl puri is a favorite amongst Mauritians regardless of race or income. They might just look like pancakes but are actually made from split peas. They are normally paired with a bean curry and pickled vegetables. At just 12 rupees a pop (about R5) it is really such a cheap and delicious snack.
Wash your dholl puri down with some alouda. This traditional drink contains vanilla, basil seeds, agar jelly and milk and is served over ice. It is sweet and milky and cold – very refreshing.
Tip #4 Find out what it means to be Mauritian
There we were singing “for he’s a jolly good fellow”, to a French-speaking, Indian couple on an African island, celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary by dancing the night away to “Seggae” music (a blend between Sega and Reggae).
Mauritius started off as an uninhabited island. It was first colonized by the Dutch (who left their mark by killing off all the dodo’s). Next came the French (who left behind their language and love for bread). Finally it was the turn of the British. Over the years slaves and later laborers from India, China and Africa also made their way to Mauritius. Today everyone is Mauritian and all these cultures are intertwined.
Being shown such hospitality by complete strangers. Seeing the value they place on family and friends. Sharing the real joy they have for life while young and old dance the night away. These all seem central to being Mauritian.
Tip #5 Meet the Locals
Mauritius is beautiful and diverse and exotic – in ways we could never have expected. Its people are warm and friendly and intriguing – in ways we could only get a glimpse of. We loved them so much we did an entire photo essay about them: Forget What You Know, This is the Real Mauritius.
Tip #6 French Lessons with our Mauritian Airbnb Host
The main language of the Mauritian government is English. French is spoken most often in formal settings as well as in the media. Mauritian Creole (French-based creole incorporating English, Dutch and Portuguese words) is the most widely spoken language.
We asked our Airbnb host, Devina, to help us with some basic French words and place names. This is both hilarious and very useful:
Of course it is almost impossible to really understand a culture and its people in only two weeks. We definitely feel grateful that we got to see this side of Mauritius. And we will definitely be back for more.
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