The Indian Ocean Islands are out of this world – an indisputable paradise on earth with luxurious resorts beside thousands of sun-kissed beaches leading to deliciously inviting turquoise seas. Africans, Indians, Europeans, and pirates have all settled here – even the now extinct dodo made its home in this timeless, tropical paradise.
Mauritius, Réunion, and the Seychelles lie adrift in the West Indian Ocean off the east coast of Africa. Mauritius and Réunion are part of the Mascarene islands – volcanic islands dating back eight million years. The Seychelles, however, is an archipelago of granite islands and coral atolls.
The Western Indian Ocean was colonised by the Portuguese, French, and English from the seventeenth century who milked it for its slavery based plantations. Today, Mauritius and the Seychelles are republics but Réunion has chosen to remain an overseas department of France.
Mauritius was first explored by the Portuguese in 1511 but it came to be colonised proper by both the French and the British in the eighteenth century. It’s been a republic since 1968. It’s the most visited and easy to access island in the Indian Ocean, offering tropical landscapes far cheaper than the Seychelles or Tahiti.
The Republic of the Seychelles is made up of one hundred and fifteen granite islands and coral atolls. According to local legend, they are diamonds scattered by God ‘to create something marvellous’. They are the only islands in the world that came from the planet’s original continent, formed over 200 million years ago. World famous for its beaches, which feature in glossy magazines and travel brochures, the Seychelles was once a refuge for buccaneering pirates and their buried treasures.
Réunion is located several hundred miles east of Madagascar and 150 miles southwest of Mauritius. Although only around 30 miles wide and 50 miles long, it is known as the ‘island of adventure’ because of its great hike-able mountains and a smouldering volcano, as well as splendid beaches to its credit. It holds the world record for the most rain in a single day – but it shouldn’t put you off because, in the main, the sun shines here.
Mauritius’ official currency is the Mauritius Rupee (MUR). Budget travel will cost around 500 rupees a day ($16 US), mid-range travel will cost around three times this and you can easily spend 8,000 rupees ($260 US) a day staying in deluxe resorts.
The official currency of the Republic of Seychelles is the Seychelles Rupee (SR). It’s an expensive place to visit, even by Western standards. Expect to pay 50 SR for a cheap meal ($10), 400 SR for a cheap room ($77), and up to triple this price for deluxe resorts. You can only pay in foreign currencies in hotels, and on leaving the Seychelles make sure you’ve spent all your rupees as you can’t change them back into foreign currency.
As it is part of the French Commonwealth, Réunion’s official currency is the Euro. It’s the cheapest island on the region to visit: expect to spend around 50 euros a day for budget travel, 100 euros a day for something more deluxe.
For up to date currency information, check the Currency Converter.
The majority of the people in the Indian Ocean are from African, Indian, and Chinese extraction. Their ancestors were slaves brought over to work the sugar cane, vanilla, and tea plantations. Through intermarriage and interracial relationships, Africans fused with French, Indian, and Chinese to create a set of people commonly known as Creoles.
Two thirds of Mauritians, who number just over one million, are Indian and half the population is Hindu. They were brought over during the British occupation in the nineteenth century to work the tea plantations. The most populous and powerful of the Indian population is the Vaish Subcentre North Indian Hindu Community. To date, every Mauritian Prime Minister has come from this caste.
The largely Catholic population of the Republic of Seychelles number just 80,000, forty percent of whom live in the capital city of Victoria. The Seychellois are of mixed African, Indian, and European descent.
70 percent of Réunion’s less than one million population is Catholic, with Hindu, Buddhist, and Muslim minorities.
The official languages of Mauritius and Seychelles are English and French, with Hindi and Urdu widely spoken in Mauritius. French is the official tongue of Réunion, although Creole patois is also spoken.
Rhum Arrange is the Creole drink of choice: fermented sugar cane juice served up with traditional herbs and spices in many different flavours – Rhum Vanille with vanilla pods, Rhum Bibasse with a fruit called medlar, and Rhum Faram has an orchid in it.
Mauritian culinary treats include river shrimps, Gateaux Piments (deep fried lentil balls), Dholl Puri (a spicy pancake filled with lentils), Bimbalou Confit (a very bitter fruit dressed with vinegar) or, for the intrepid traveller, srevettes – tiny shrimps washed down with agar alouda – a jelly-like seaweed drink.
Seychelles treats include chilli cakes, moutay (a rice and sugar delicacy), and black pudding, drunk with calou (sugar cane juice), todi (a white coconut rum), and bakka (a type of rum).
Climate and when to go
The dry season of May to November is the best time to visit Mauritius and the Seychelles, when the average temperature is a pleasant 77°F (25°C).
Avoid the cyclone and monsoon season of December to March.
Réunion’s climate is more variable because of its mountains, and it suffers from higher rainfall – especially on the east coast. Visit here in the cool, dry winter of October to March when the average temperature is 70°F (21°C).
Seychelles is a largely Catholic region, so major events on the Catholic calendar like Easter, Corpus Christi (10th of June), Feast of the Assumption (15th of August), and the Immaculate Conception (8th of December) are a cause for celebration.
The major non-religious festival is Festival Creol, held annually for a week at the end of October to celebrate Creole culture.
Réunion islands celebrate the same public holidays as France.
Wear light cotton for Mauritius and Seychelles, although there are strict dress codes in most hotels and restaurants, especially in the evening so no shorts, sandals, or t-shirts.
Bring warmer clothes for the mountains and canyons of Réunion.
Respect all religions by removing your shoes in mosques and hindu temples and covering shoulders in Catholic churches – although people are generally quite relaxed.
Motorbikes are a great way to get around the different islands. They can be hired for about a hundred and fifty US dollars a week, but make sure you are properly insured. Driving in Réunion is crazy: people overtake around corners and cut you up; it’s more like Italy than France.
10 Av Gaston Moneville
97400 St Denis
Telephone: 262 347080
Email: maxmoto *at* guetari.fr
Max Moto offer rentals of 125cc to 750cc bikes at a really good price. Remember that wearing a helmet is compulsory and riding a bike in Réunion means dealing with hair-rising mountain roads and energetic and impatient drivers.
To get to Mauritius, there is a boat service from the Mauritius Shipping Company weekly from Rodrigues Island to Mauritius, a 24-hour journey, and a service from Port Louis in Réunion, but book in advance. On the island, buses connect to all parts of the island and metered taxis are prolific.
Sailing schooners around the Seychelles sail between Mahé, Praslin, and La Digue. Mahé and Praslin have decent bus services along the coast and to tourist spots and metered taxis can be caught from the airport or outside hotels. A typical Seychellois way to get about the Seychelles is to hop on someone else’s vehicle – especially if it’s going your way. Trucks regularly cram in many hitchhikers.
Visitors from Commonwealth countries, the European Union, Japan, Scandinavia, and the United States do not require a visa, all other nationalities do. All visitors must have a minimum of six month prior to expiry on their passport, a return ticket, and proof of funds.
No visitors require a visa but a passport valid for six months is required plus proof of sufficient funds and pre-booked accommodation. You will be granted a 30-day permit on arrival which can be extended at the Immigration Office.
Americans, Canadians, New Zealanders, and most European citizens do not require a visa for a three month stay, but other will require a French visa. Proof of onward journey and pre-booked accommodation is usually required.
Réunion and Mauritius
A yellow fever certificate is required and a cholera vaccination if arriving from certain countries. A typhoid vaccination is also advised. Be aware of a slight risk of rabies in Réunion and bilharzia and malaria in the rural north of Mauritius. Avoid drinking tap water or milk unless boiled, unpeeled fruit and vegetables, and dairy products.
A yellow fever certificate is required if you are entering from a country at risk and there is a risk of typhoid and rabies in rural areas. Milk and tap water are safe to drink.
Guide by Susi O’Neill
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