Two interesting islands off the African coast in the Indian Ocean are Mautirus and Reunion. Both are easily visited by air from South Africa, as well as direct flights from Europe. Mauritius is British but has French ties and is sometimes called Ile Maurice. Reunion is a French overseas department, and is just as much a part of France as Alaska is part of the USA.
There are beautiful beaches in Mauritius, and many hotels ranging from simple to luxurious, though none are cheap. There are many South African tourists as well as charters from Australia, and some European travelers venture so far south, too. I rented a car and drove all over the island in one long day. They drive on the left and the tiny car was $100 for the day, but it's the only way to get all around the island.
I drove to the capital, Pt. Louis, and walked around on the dirt streets. There wasn't much to buy and the stores didn't look very interesting. I drove further up to Pamplemousse Gardens which is beautiful. There are huge ponds with mushroomy-type flowers and lily pads in the water--it is striking and a very beautiful place.
Then I drove to the far north of the island, Grand Baie, where there is a very nice beach and many tourists, souvenirs and tasty food from the beach vendors. I drove around the west side of the island at that point to see the Royal Palm Hotel, the Ritz of Mauritus!! It is beautiful, elegant, amazing, and worth the extra money since all the hotels are roughly the same price but the quality is vastly different.
I then went to Chamerel, a desert-like place where the sands separate by colors. You can really see the different colors swirling against other colors, yellow and red and brown.
As I drive back to my hotel on the south side of the island, the Beachcomber Club, it's getting darker and I must be even more careful, as people walk in the street indiscriminately and the roads are never bigger than 2-lane if that!! But I make it back safely.
The next morning I fly to Reunion, a beautiful island with stunning hotels and wonderful French food. I rented a car and drove all over. They cautioned me, "we drive on the right here", and I responded that Americans do too, so they felt OK in renting me a small Peugeot. Reunion is very posh and green, and the capital St. Denis has many beautiful buildings. Reunion is very clean and has paved roads and well organized.
I had a fantastic helicopter ride around their volcano, which is still orange and gushing smoke. It is easily fogged in so you must be ready at 6 am but it is well worth it. You see the lava shooting up and the chopper gets very near the trees then voila, volcano!! It felt just like Hawaii Five-O because you aren't dropping at all but when the land gives way you feel like you're jumping off the side, it was great!! There's a small village near the volcano with life as it's been for hundreds of years and friendly people.
The beaches are nice and clean, the food is great, the people are pretty friendly, especially if you speak French!! I preferred Reunion to Mauritius but both islands are very interesting. It would be a shame to miss them if you're in the area.
Photos by Cristy Trembly and courtesy of Mauritius Tourist Board - More Info
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