Phuong Nguyen

In his travelogue “Following the Equator”, the great American writer Mark Twain wrote: “Mauritius was made first, and then heaven; and that heaven was copied after Mauritius.” So, is Mauritius the “original” heaven?

Mauritius' most notable feature is its more than 150km of coastline

Stunning climate and geography

Located in the far southeast of the Indian Ocean, the island of Mauritius looks round when viewed from above. In terms of topography, the island is relatively similar to Phu Quoc in Vietnam, although it’s three times larger, with an area of roughly 2,000 square kilometers. Mauritius’ most notable feature is its more than 150km of coastline, which offers quiet bays and smooth sandy beaches.

Like other islands in the South Pacific, Mauritius was created by ancient volcanic eruptions. In the center of the island lies a plateau with a temperate climate, in stark contrast to the island’s coast, which is hot and sunny. With such unique natural topography, Mauritius is not only a resort island, but also a place where nature-lovers will find splendid flora and fauna. There is a geo-park with colorful rocks and dreamy waterfalls. Visitors can enjoy picturesque scenery of blue sea, white sand, and golden sunshine. They can also choose from a range of adventure tours to explore the island’s rich flora and fauna.

The Chamarel Waterfall is over 80m high

I was surprised to learn that Mauritius is home to baobab trees, like Madagascar, which lies about 800km to the west. Upon arriving in Mauritius, I asked the owner of my homestay, a robust and kindly lady who was originally from India. She was surprised too: “Baobabs? I thought baobabs could only be found in Africa!” she said.

I had to laugh and asked: “Isn’t Mauritius part of Africa?” 

She was dumbfounded for about three seconds before laughing along with a group of guests. Indeed, in terms of administration, Mauritius is considered part of Africa. However, as the island lies within the Indian Ocean, more than 70 percent of its inhabitants are of Indian descent. As a result, most islanders think of Africa as some distant land, far removed from their peaceful paradise.

A peacock shows off in a wildlife reserve

The school system in Mauritius teaches in English, but most students can speak French fluently and enjoy reading French novels. People drive on the left, as in the UK, Singapore, and Hong Kong. However, thanks to French colonial influences, the government still applies some Napoleonic laws. These are strange but lovely contradictions that make visiting here interesting and enjoyable.

Slow living

I landed at Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam Airport on a clear afternoon. Gentle golden sunshine and sea breezes filled the cramped space outside the passenger terminal. This is the island’s only commercial airport. Its sole runway welcomes a multitude of large aircraft from every continent.

From here, I headed straight to Mahebourg, a small town on the island’s southeast, set on a narrow strait, where a river calmly pours water from the plateau into the sea. While Mahebourg boasts few luxurious resorts, it offers great opportunities to blend into local life. I rented a lovely homestay with a balcony overlooking the end of the narrow river. After crossing a nearby bridge with lush coconut trees on both sides, I enjoyed the view of the vast ocean.

The world's largest water lily species - Victoria Amazonica

Life in Mauritius is slow and restful. In economic terms, Mauritius is not a rich country. However, people enjoy their material and spiritual lives as if they were prosperous. A hospitable local invited me to their home, which they jokingly called a “tent”. In fact, it was a resort villa set on a beautiful beach. I was treated to English tea and delicious French toast.

Living slowly and enjoying life aren’t only for tourists and well-off locals. Every islander, rich or poor, finds special ways to relax. I came to the island during the biggest holidays of the year – Christmas and New Year. On the beaches and in  parks, many families arrived in pick-up trucks to share picnics and sing together. Vibrant music filled every corner. In public places, although there were many people, it was rare to see litter.

I found Mauritius more attractive than other paradise destinations. Blessed with magnificent natural scenery, this island has undergone a lot of turbulent history, having been colonized by the Netherlands, Great Britain, and France. I was impressed by the diversity of cultures and faiths, and the harmonious blends of local personalities. Mauritius is like an unforgettable dish full of different but complimentary spices.