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 on 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.
Réunion is located several hundred miles east of Madagascar and 150 miles south-west 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, a smouldering volcano and splendid beaches to its credit. It holds the world record for the most rain in a single day – but don’t let that ridiculous fact put you off because let’s face it, you’re in the Indian Ocean where the sun shines for the most of the year!
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.
Until the late 17th century the island of Reunion was uninhabited so there was no local population and no indigenous language. When the island started being inhabited it was initially by people from France and Madagascar, later by slaves from East Africa.
Creole and its many varieties also evolved as a patois on the overseas plantations of Europe. It is the common language emanating from the culture of people who have evolved in a Creole environment when French masters living far from France adopted their life style.
When slavery was abolished in 1848 indentured labourers were brought in from India and China. All these factors led to a linguistic melting-pot, with French dominating but with input from Malagasy, Portuguese, Tamil, Gujarati and Hindi, and this led to the development of Réunion Creole.
Following are a few examples of Reunion Creole words and their origin:
- carri – the name of the main type of dish in Reunion (from the Tamil kari)
- papang – a bird of prey (from the Malagasy papango)
- Le Tampon is a local place name which comes from the Malagasy tampona, meaning ‘summit’.
- macatia – a type of sweet bread roll (from the Swahili mkate)
- malbar – person of Indian origin (from the Portuguese malabar)
- bringèle – aubergine (from the Portuguese berinjela)
To really get your tongue around Creole, here is a non-exhaustive list of vocabulary taken from a translator’s guide to Creole French in Reunion Island.
The majority of the people in the Indian Ocean are from African, Indian, and Chinese descent. 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.
70 percent of Réunion’s less than one million population is Catholic, with Hindu, Buddhist, and Muslim minorities.
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.
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 compared to the honeymoon islands of the Seychelles and Mauritius. Expect to spend around 50 Euro a day for budget travel, 100 Euro a day for something more deluxe.
For up to date currency information, check the Currency Converter.
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.
In Reunion, the cuisine is a melting pot of different influences. Local cuisine blends flavours from Africa, India, China and Europe. As an island a typical menu includes a wide variety of ocean fish – the cooking style is known as La Cuisine Réunionnaise.
There are also a huge variety of tropical fruits, vegetables, herbs and other ingredients not usually found in French mainland cuisine such as Manioc (cassava), Mangue (mango), Goyavier (guava), Chevaquines (dried shrimp), Baba-figue (banana flowers which are stuffed and fried), Songe, and Ti-jacques (jack fruit).
Local vegetables are ‘chow-chow’, jackfruit and palm hearts cooked in various sauces, including the famous relishes made of vegetable/fruit cut into strips and marinated in a spicy sauce. Spices and chillies like the “piment zoizeau”, can make explosive dishes. Specify if you prefer your dish without chilli!
Meat or fish curries are served with rice, pulses like the lentils from Cilaos, beans, Cape peas, greens and chutneys made from tomato, eggplant, green mango or lemon. A dish not to miss is ‘bichiques’ called ‘caviar of Réunion’. Caught at the mouth of rivers, they are cooked in a curry sauce.
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).
Drink – Rhum Arrangé
Rhum Arrangé is the Creole drink of choice: fermented sugar cane juice served up with traditional herbs and spices in many different flavours. The word literally translated means ‘arranged rum’ but can be loosely translated as ‘macerated flavoured rum’.
The types of flavours you might come across are varied and each household proudly carries their own secret blend but most common are Rhum Vanille with vanilla pods, Rhum Bibasse with a fruit called medlar, and Rhum Faram has an orchid in it.
One or several ingredients such as vanilla, geranium, lychees, pineapple, berries, ginger and so on are added to a bottle of white rum and left to macerate for several weeks or months (the actual length of time depends on the ingredients and how potent a flavour you wish to develop).
It’s taken as an after dinner drink and most homes in Réunion always have a bottle or two at least. If you eat out during your stay, most restaurants will offer you a shot after dinner.
Check out the following blog post for more info some great Rhum Arrangé arrange recipes and make your very own type of Rhum!
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 Kreol, 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 hitch-hikers.
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.
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.
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.
Where to Stay
For an Island based in the Indian Ocean it is a relief to find out that there are still keenly priced hotels and B&B’s on Reunion Island unlike it’s honeymooning neighbours of the Seychelles and Mauritius.
There aren’t many 5 star mega resorts on La Reunion as most visitors come for the dramatic scenery, lush hiking trails, challenging mountain biking terrain and of course it’s still active volcano! More a mini-Hawaii than a post wedding flop expect plenty of adrenalin junkies, surfers, hikers, bikers, parachutists and more.
If it is the Luxe you are after, then try LUX* Ile de la Reunion. Boasting that it’s the “only 5* on the Island” this smart hotel was formerly known as ‘Les villas du Lagon‘ and is situated on one of the best beaches on the Island, which for an Island with mostly mountainous and jungle terrain you’ll be glad for a spot of the white sandy stuff!LUX* Ile de la Reunion
28 rue du Lagon | L’Ermitage (après le Leader Price), Saint-Gilles-Les-Bains 97434,
For an altogether more authentic experience of Island life and genuine creole hospitality (never mind the owners Thierry & Carine are from Belgium!) , check into the Bleu Austral, situated on the west of the Island, near the pretty bay of St Leu.
The owners’ enthusiastic love for Island life is infectious and their near encyclopaedic knowledge is astounding – from where to find the best Rhum Arrange or the unique history and geography that makes Reunion so different from the other Indian Ocean islands. Coupled with the fact that they are volcano enthusiasts (the Piton de la Fournaise situated in the East is one of the most active volcanoes in the world!), we think you’ll be in safe hands.
Each of the five comfortable rooms come with a terrace and a magnificent view of the Indian Ocean. Add a heated outdoor pool and Jacuzzi from only 65 euros a night (with breakfast) you’d be forgiven for thinking there might be a catch! Well, perhaps just one minor drawback – you might want to look into hiring a car or motorbike for the duration of your stay as it’s a 10-15 minute drive from the main port.
Leu Bleu Austral
15 Chemin des Perdrix, Saint-Leu 97436, Reunion Island, Tel: 00 262 692 14 64 65
by Zaynin Kanji