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The islands East of Africa: Mauritius, Rodrigues, the Seychelles, Madagascar, Réunion, the Comoros
The islands of the Indian Ocean have always been popular destinations for tourists all over the world. Among those, destinations such as the Maldives, the Seychelles, Mauritius, Réunion Island, Madagascar, and to a lesser extent, Rodrigues Island are perhaps the most well-known, namely because of the various celebrities and personalities who often go there for their holidays.
Among those islands, the Republic of Mauritius and the Republic of the Maldives receive the most tourists each year.
The Republic of Mauritius is comprised of several islands, such as Mauritius itself, Rodrigues island, Agalega, Saint Brandon, Tromelin and the Chagos Archipelago. The main island is where most inhabitants (around 1.2 million) currently live. The capital of the country is Port-Louis. The island went from an economy exclusively based on agriculture at the time of its independence in 1968 to a more diversified one based on several industries, such as textile, sea food, business process outsourcing, finance and tourism.
Over the years, the island of Mauritius has become a much appreciated touristic destination and a good number of luxury hotels have sprung up all around its coasts. Furthermore, the government recently liberalised land ownership, opening the real estate market to foreigners and companies who then build private luxury villas. While some of those are inhabited by the owners themselves, most of them are rented out to visiting tourists, further expanding the total number of beds available in addition to hotel rooms.
The majority of tourists coming to Mauritius are from France, followed by the French island of Réunion. The next countries in order of arrivals are South Africa, United Kingdom, India, Germany and Italy. In 2012, 965441 tourists visited Mauritius.
The most popular touristic attractions of the island of Mauritius are its lagoon and beaches, with most hotels being built a few metres from the sea and directly in front of the beaches. The lagoon provides ample entertainment for tourists and locals alike. Despite Mauritius being well on its way to become a developed country, the authorities and local companies have capitalised on green tourism and a number of natural parks and reserves have been set up and attract lots of visitors each year. Mauritius is also known for the various cultures that make up its population. This cultural diversity is also part of the touristic appeal of the country since it permeates all aspects of Mauritian life such as clothing, gastronomy, architecture, etc. This characteristic is put forward by the various actors of the tourism industry as a unique selling point to attract more tourists to the country.
Reasons to go to Mauritius:
For its rich history
Having been colonized successively by the Dutch, the French and the British, and because these settlers brought with them people from Africa and India, Mauritian culture has enriched itself with a little bit from all those cultures. A great way to discover Mauritian history is to visit the several museums and monuments which dot the island.
For its leisure parks
The beaches and the lagoons are not the only attractions in Mauritius: all around the island, several leisure parks and nature reserves have been set up and are managed in cooperation with private companies who provide a great number of attractions and activities. Some of those, like the Chateau de Labourdonnais and the Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam Botanical Gardens are intricately tied to the history of the island.
For the food
The population of Mauritius hails from different cultures: European, African, Indian, and Chinese. This diversity is reflected in the food. All around the island as well as at your hotel you will find a variety of restaurants serving the most diversified meals of all the Indian Ocean. Mauritians aren’t afraid to experiment with their food either: during your holidays in Mauritius you may find yourself eating a tasty dish that can be found nowhere else on earth!
For the golf courses
The island of Mauritius is home to several world-class golf courses, designed by some of the best golf course designers. Most of those are located on luxury hotel properties, but remain accessible to visitors for a fee. The Gymkhana Club in Vacoas is home to the oldest golf course in the southern hemisphere and is accessible to the public for a fee.
For the luxury
Tourism being a major industry in the island of Mauritius, a great number of luxury hotels has been set up around the island to provide the best experience to visiting tourists. But whether you’ll be staying at a 3, 4 or 5-star hotel in Mauritius, the service will always be top-notch as Mauritians are known for their warmth and hospitality. Most of those hotels are equipped with splendid pools, outstanding restaurants and great spas where you’ll be able to unwind and forget all your worries.
For the sports
A lot of sports activities can be practiced while on holidays in Mauritius. For example, most coastal hotels will also have a diving centre on its premises so that tourists will have the opportunity to discover the underwater treasures of the blue lagoons of the island. Kitesurfing is also practiced in Mauritius and has been gaining popularity. Other sports which can be practiced in the lagoons of Mauritius are windsurfing, surfing, paddleboarding, stand up paddle surfing, water-skiing, etc. Big game fishing is also a popular sport, and competitions are regularly held to see who can reel in the biggest catch. Lots of sports can also be practiced inland, such as abseiling, hiking at the Black River National Park, canyoning, rock-climbing, zip-lining, quad biking, horse riding excursions etc.
Rodrigues Island is located at about 560 kilometres to the north-east of Mauritius. It is part of the republic of Mauritius and its capital is Port-Mathurin. As of 2012, the local population was of 38,242 people. Its economy is based primarily on fishing, agriculture, farming, handicrafts and a still nascent tourism sector. The touristic appeal of Rodrigues lies in its lagoon and its lack of urban development. The island is also known for its white sandy beaches which remain mostly desert even in week-ends. Most of the arrivals into the island are from Mauritius, followed by France, USA, Australia and others.
Why you would go to Rodrigues:
For the rural feel
Rodrigues has a more rural feel than Mauritius which is more urbanized in comparison. The roads are less busy and thus the island is less noisy than Mauritius. It is a great destination for people looking for complete relaxation during their holidays.
For the environment
Rodrigues island being less developed; the lagoons are in better shape than those of Mauritius. All around the island you will find crystal clear waters teeming with fish: the perfect place to go snorkeling or scuba diving. The people of Rodrigues island also show real enthusiasm for the preservation of the island and some nature reserves have been set up to help protect the environment. The landscape is varied, ranging from plains to hilly terrain, all covered with greenery and perfect for hiking and long bicycle rides.
Several beaches can be found around Rodrigues Island. Most of them will be desert most of the time. Night time is always a special treat for visitors as there are low levels of light pollution in Rodrigues Island. One only has to look up to see the Milky way in all its magnificence.
For the islets
The best feature of any visit in Rodrigues Island is a tour of some of the 18 islets which are scattered in its lagoon. Some can be visited such as Ile Cocos and Ile aux Chats and they are the perfect opportunity for bird and photography enthusiasts to snap some beautiful pictures of rare birds.
For the food
A good deal of what you’ll eat in Rodrigues during your holidays there is locally produced. Just like Mauritius the cuisine is a mix of African, European and Asian cuisines, but with a few differences. Rodrigues Island is also well-known for its chilies, chili pickles and chutneys. You will also have lots of opportunities to savor locally grown fruits as well as the locally produced honey.
The Republic of the Maldives is an island nation consisting of 26 atolls and 1192 small islets which are located south of India. It is the smallest Asian country both in population with 328,536 people and in land area. The average ground elevation is of 1.5 metres above sea level, making it, the lowest country of the planet. Its highest natural point is only of a height of 2.4 metres above sea level. Due to global warming, the Maldivians are very concerned that their country may one day disappear completely.
The Maldivian Economy is largely based on Tourism. The second leading industry is fishing. Agriculture comes third, followed by other industries such as boat building, garment production, and handicrafts. The capital of the country is Malé. In 2012, 958 027 tourists visited the country, with most tourists coming from China, followed by Germany, United Kingdom, Russia, Italy, France, Japan, Switzerland, India, and Korea.
The main attractions of the country are its un-spoilt nature, its little islands, the simple way of life of its inhabitants and its clear lagoons. The Republic of the Maldives is home to some of the most prestigious hotel chains. Most of these hotels each occupy a whole island composed of sand and coral and rising to a maximum height of 2 metres over sea level. Due to the clarity of its ocean waters and the diversity of its aquatic fauna, the Maldives is ranked among the best diving destinations of the planet.
Why you would go to the Maldives:
For the incredible luxury resorts
The government of the Maldives only allow one resort per islet. Most of the major hotel chains of the planet have a resort there. As you may have seen in numerous postcards, brochures, magazines and websites, some of the hotel villas are built on stilts and thus provide a great view on the open sea. Service is always guaranteed to be top-notch and the whole experience unforgettable.
For the crystal clear lagoon
The Maldives is known all over the world for its magnificent lagoons. There, you’ll be able to participate in many activities such as SCUBA diving, windsurfing, jet ski, surf, banana boat rides and fishing trips.
The Republic of the Seychelles is a 115-island country located 1500 kilometres east of Africa and northeast of Madagascar. The capital of the Seychelles is Mahé, which is located on the island of Victoria. The Seychelles is composed of inner and outer islands, with the inner islands being the most populated. The islands of Mahé, La Digue and Praslin hold more than 98% of the population. Tourism is the main industry of the Seychelles, followed by the manufacturing industry and the agricultural sector.
In 2012 the total number of touristic arrivals was of 206 623 people with most visitors coming from France, followed by Germany, Italy, Russia, the United Arab Emirates, South Africa and others. The main attractions of the republic of the Seychelles are its islands and white sandy beaches. In fact, the Seychelles is known to have some of the most beautiful beaches on the planet as well as the best-preserved lagoons which attract divers worldwide.
The government of the Seychelles has realized the importance of the un-spoilt environment of the country as a source of touristic income and is determined to do the maximum in preserving the environment.
Why you would go to the Seychelles:
For the islands and the lagoon
The Seychelles is composed of 115 islands. Some are private, some are off-limits as they are nature reserves, but the rest are ideal for island-hopping. The Seychelles is also known to be one of the best places in the world to go SCUBA diving. Its crystal-clear lagoons are full of aquatic life and it’s not unusual to see giant whale sharks cruising off the coasts, as well as manta rays. Other water sports that you can practice are surfing, windsurfing, snorkeling, kayak, etc. Motorised water sports are currently restricted to Beau Vallon in Mahé to protect the beauty of the lagoons and for the safety of beach goers.
For the most beautiful beaches of the planet
Everyone agrees that the Seychelles have the most beautiful beaches of the planet. One beach which gets regularly featured everywhere is Anse Source d’Argent on La Digue Island because of the smooth granite rocks which surround it.
For the food
The Seychelles is surrounded by water, so it’s only natural that its inhabitants have learned to prepare seafood to perfection. Expect the food to be always fresh as they are plucked each day from local gardens or fishing boats. The cuisine is a mixture of African, European and Asian cuisine but has evolved separately from the gastronomy of the other islands of the Indian Ocean.
For the wildlife
The Seychelles having been separated from India for millions of years has evolved its own ecosystem, complete with endemic species of plants and animals such as the giant Aldabra tortoise, the Seychelles Giant tortoise, the Seychelles saddle-backed tortoise, the land bronze gecko, the Fregate Island Giant Tenebrionid Beetle, the Coco de Mer, etc. The Seychelles is also home to several unique species of birds. Some islands, such as Bird Islands have been bought by individuals who have set up nature parks exclusively to protect the endemic birds of the Seychelles. Bird island is also open to the public for a fee.
The island of Madagascar is located off the south-eastern coast of Africa. It is the fourth largest island on the planet. This island was formed when it separated from India due to tectonic shifts about 88 million years ago. Due to its isolation, more than 90% of all animal and plant species are endemic. Madagascar is mostly known for its many species of endemic primates, called Lemurs. It is also known for being home to two thirds of the planet’s chameleon species. Agriculture is the main industry of Madagascar, followed by manufacturing, commerce and tourism.
A small part of the Madagascar’s economy is based on mining. In 2012, 255 922 tourists visited Madagascar, with most coming from France. Although it possesses considerable resources, Madagascar is also one of the poorest countries on the planet and thus the touristic sector is underdeveloped. The major touristic attractions of the country are its beaches, national parks, and biodiversity, plus some unique geological formations such as Tsingy de Bemaraha, a forest of limestone pillars.
Why you would go to Madagascar:
For the wildlife
Although Madagascar doesn’t have really big and dangerous animals, its fauna is one of the most diversified of all the Indian Ocean: it has over 200 mammal species, which include over 100 species of lemurs, about 300 bird species, more than 260 species of reptiles and about 266 amphibian species. Madagascar is also home to two thirds of the world’s chameleons. Whale watching is also a popular activity in Nosy Be and Ile Sainte Marie. The wildlife alone is the best reason anyone should go to Madagascar.
For the culture
The people of Madagascar originate mainly from Asia and Africa. The island has a rich history and culture as the first people settled there over 2000 years ago. The people of the remote villages have their own particular traditions and taboos.
For the arts
Practice of the arts is an important factor in the economy of Madagascar. During your visit you will be able to purchase lots of cheap artisanal products like wood carvings, valhia, toys made from woven raffia, paintings, models, etc. The Malagasy people are very resourceful in the manufacturing of those artifacts and are able to manufacture the cutest objects out of the most improbable materials such as plastic bottles and tin cans.
Réunion island is a French island with a population of 837 868 inhabitants. It is one of the overseas departments of France and is located to the south-west of the Island of Mauritius. It is known mostly for its active volcano, the Piton de la Fournaise, its biodiversity its beaches and its rugged landscape. Its capital is the town of Saint-Denis. The main source of income for the local economy is agriculture, closely followed by tourism. As mentioned before, the island is mostly known for its volcano, its biodiversity, its beaches and its rugged landscape, around which a number of touristic activities have been set up.
The island is one of the world’s top hiking and cross-country destinations. It is also known for being a great paragliding destination as well as for a good surfing destination, although recent shark attacks have driven surfers away from the island.
Why you should go to Réunion Island:
The local culture
Réunion Island was first settled by the French in 1638 who brought with them slaves from Africa. For a short time, the British occupied the island and brought in indentured labourers from India after they abolished slavery. This cultural diversity contributes to the unique local culture. This culture can be found in every aspect of local life like in architecture, gastronomy and music. Furthermore, Réunion Island is home to several museums of all sizes which house artifacts related to every aspect of local life and industry.
The landscape and eco-tourism
Réunion Island is mostly known for its volcano, the Piton de la Fournaise. The landscape is all mountains, canyons and valleys. Tourists will be delighted by the magnificent views and the isolated remote villages of the cirques. A lot of sports activities have been organized around this rugged landscape such as hiking, canyoning, abseiling, mountain biking, etc. The island is also home to lush forests which have remained untouched since the island was first discovered, because of their inaccessibility.
Since Réunion Island has been cultivating sugarcane for much of its history, it is only natural that its inhabitants would be experts in the production of rum as well. Réunion Island is home to only a handful of rum distilleries and yet they produce a respectable variety of rums. Visiting tourists should try the local “rhum arrangé”, literally “arranged rum” in which various fruits, roots and herbs are left to macerate, lending their flavour to the liquor.
The local festivals
The different communes of Réunion Island each have their local culture and they like to celebrate their uniqueness during different festivals which take place all year round. Some communes celebrate the local agricultural products, such as lentils, honey, etc. Others have festivals for art, singing or as part of their local tradition and customs. Some festivals are obviously attempts by local governments to promote local commerce and arts but they are great opportunities to socialize and discover what life on Réunion Island really looks like.
The Union of the Comoros, are a group of islands which lie at the northern end of the Mozambique Channel in between Madagascar and Africa. The archipelago of the Comoros consists of four major islands in addition to some smaller islands: Grande Comore, Mohéli, Anjouan and Mayotte, although Mayotte is now a French department. The country’s population is of 790 913 people. The country is sadly known for having endured 20 coups or attempted coups since gaining its independence from France in 1975. It is one of the world’s poorest countries where most people live on less than $1.25 a day. The country’s capital is Moroni, which is located on Grande Comore.
Local languages are French and Arabic. An active volcano can be found on Grande Comore: the Karthala. There is also a dormant volcano called La Grille on the same island. Tourism in the Comoros is not very developed. Only 28500 people have visited the island in 2006. The economy is mainly dependent on agriculture, fishing and farming. The main exports of the country are vanilla, clove, aromatic plants like ylang-ylang, and spices.
Why you would go to the Comoros:
For the natural settings
The Comoros possess a good proportion of endemic species.. Aquatic life is very abundant in the form of sea turtles, dugongs, whales, etc. Perhaps the most well-known animal of the Comoros is the Coelacanth; the fish that was thought to have gone extinct for 66 million years and which is often described as a living fossil.
In Grande Comore, the Karthala is one of the biggest attractions and it is possible to climb up its flanks. The beaches of Bimbinin and Moya are great places to relax and on Moheli the marine park attracts lots of visitors because of the numerous turtles who go lay their eggs on its beaches. All around the Comoros, SCUBA divers will find great diving sites.