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Mauritius - 50 reasons to celebrate its 50th anniversary of independence

Mauritius - 50 reasons to celebrate its 50th anniversary of independence

Last 12th March Mauritius celebrated a very special birthday with a big bang, amid fireworks and nationwide parties. It might surprise you to learn that Mauritius has only been an independent nation for half-a-century and that it only achieved the 50th-anniversary milestone last March. Yet, for all the brevity of its history as an independent nation, it has achieved socio-economic stability and success that other older republics in Africa and the Indian Ocean can only dream of.

Mauritius celebrates its 50th anniversary of independence

On its 50th anniversary as an independent country, Mauritius has a lot to be proud of, a mixed heritage that's fascinating to discover and a multi-faceted society where a mix of cultures and religions peacefully coexist. With its famously postcard-perfect turquoise lagoons fringed by carpet-like stretches of fine white sands and backed by dramatic verdant mountains, it's little wonder this is the destination of choice for honeymooners, couples and families seeking romance, natural beauty and tranquillity. This beautiful country is so irenic and idyllic it could be wrongly mistaken as "boring" but there's plenty of sights to discover to enrich a stay and many exciting attractions to visit away from the lure of beaches and five-star resorts.

Africa's Success Story

Mauritius

Famous for its political, sociological and economic stability, many soon forget that Mauritius is not just an island on the Indian Ocean, but part of the African continent, geographically speaking (due to its proximity to African mainland), and as such a member of the African Union, but also of La Francophonie (an international organisation that unites French-speaking countries) and the British Commonwealth.

If that gives you a hint about its mixed heritage, you're only half-way there as the nation's intricate ethnic tapestry includes Indians Hindus, Muslims from Madagascar and mainland Africa as well as Dutch, French and British descendants and Chinese immigrants.

Fort Adelaide overlooking the city of Port Louis, Mauritius

After achieving independence from British rule, it managed to not only successfully develop on its own but do so peacefully, a feat not to be underestimated given the possible tensions that could have easily arisen (and at times have emerged but have been successfully appeased) between its different racial, bi-racial and religious groups. That's not to say it's a perfect country or without its faults, but it's a leading example for much of the world, in some particularly great aspects that we want to highlight.

50 reasons to love Mauritius after 50 years of independence

Now let's take a closer look at the 50 reasons to love Mauritius after 50 years of independence:

    Proud people of Mauritius

  1. Proud (and diverse) national identity — forged early in school and instilled later on in the workplace, Mauritians are taught about their national identity to respect the unique mixture of cultures in the island. Given there's no defining national culture that unites all different cultures, it means you can experience many in one single place.

  2. Named after a Prince — even the island's name has a regal ring to it. After being discovered by the Dutch in 1598, Admiral Wybrand Van decided to name it after Prince Maurice van Nassau of the Dutch Republic.

  3. Home to two UNESCO World Heritage Sites — despite its tiny size (just compare it to nearby Madagascar) Mauritius boasts not one but two UNESCO Sites - Le Morne Landscape and Aapravasi Ghat, which means it has the same amount of cultural UNESCO-declared wonders as Madagascar, a far larger island that more than quadruples it in size.

  4. An ideal climate islandwide — one of its biggest draws is Mauritius' year-long pleasantly balmy temperatures, which rarely dip below 20 degrees Celsius in winter and oscillate around 25 degrees Celsius in summer. Never too hot and never too cold makes it an ideal year-round holiday destination.

  5. The purest air — a survey conducted by the World Health Organisation in 2011 ranked Mauritius as the second best country in the world in terms of air quality. You can breathe easy knowing that the air here is among the cleanest on earth.

  6. First Dutch, then French, then British — if the island wasn't beautiful enough, its mixed heritage offers an interesting blend of roots to explore in various places. Its kaleidoscopic past contributed to its colourful present.
    You can follow the trail these different European cultures left behind in the form of architecture, old fortresses and domains with distinct character.

  7. Ideal for kids — with calm shallow waters that go on for metres, fine, powdery soft sands ideal for sand-castle building and a plethora of family-friendly resorts with all manner of facilities for the youngest in the family, it's little wonder Mauritius is a popular family destination.

  8. A multi-layered, multi-lingual society — locals are a mix of the descendants of African slaves, Indian indentured workers and a minority of Dutch, French and British settlers. Locals speak at least two to three languages (mainly Creole, but also French, Cantonese, Bhojpuri-Hindustani and English. In terms of religion, Mauritius is the only country in Africa to have an overwhelming Hindu majority (51.9%), followed by Christians (31.4%), Muslims (15.3%) and Buddhists (0.4%). According to the 2011 census, the remaining population (0.7%) reported themselves as non-religious while 0.1% didn't give an answer.

  9. Multi-layered society in Mauritius

  10. A proud member of the Commonwealth — after 24 years of independence Mauritius was self-proclaimed a republic and joined the Commonwealth of Nations on 12th March 1992.

  11. A wonderland — yes, like the one that inspired Lewis Carroll to write about Alice's adventures...well, sort of. The now extinct Dodo bird endemic to Mauritius achieved world fame thanks to the book. The image of the bird is often used to represent the island.

  12. The Pearl of the Indian Ocean — Mauritius has earned this title due to the absolute perfection of its blue lagoon waters, surrounded by lush hills and dormant volcanoes, with 330 km of coastline sheltered by beautiful coral reefs almost entirely. Mauritius is a true paradise on earth.

  13. A gateway to Africa — Mauritius' geographical location means it sits at the doorstep of other popular African destinations. You can be in Madagascar in less than two hours (via a direct flight with Air Mauritius) or head to South Africa (4 hours flying time) and Kenya (also 4 hours from to Nairobi) which makes it a great twin-centre destination to combine with the rest of Africa, but also the Middle East.

  14. A British-style democracy — highly praised and ranked for its economic and political freedom, ever since its first president assumed power, Mauritius has adopted a Westminster-style model, with a president (instead of a head of state), a prime minister who presides over the Cabinet of Ministers and British-style parliament.

  15. Traditional architecture in Mauritius

  16. Traditional architecture to fall in love with — Mauritian architecture is, like its society, a hybrid of different European styles with Indian and East African styles. There are French colonial structures reminiscent of New Orleans and although historic buildings are dwindling due to demand for new infrastructure there are still old gems to admire, some of which are decaying (like Maison Morengo) while others have been transformed into museums (Eureka in Moka). Other heritage sites have been converted into luxury retreats for holidaymakers to stay at and drink in the history of the place.

  17. Port Louis, Mauritius

  18. The historic allure of Port Louis — precisely where the majority of historic buildings still standing are to be found (despite the 90s seeing an alarming disappearance of them to give way to new builds) this is an essential place to discover Mauritian history and culture.

  19. Luxury hotels and resorts — oozing romance but also adding to the experience with authentic touches of heritage, Mauritius is famous for its ideal honeymoon hotels and luxury retreats, some of which are set on former plantations and

  20. Enchanting people — while they may appear aloof at first, Mauritians are a delight to meet. Yes, they tend to mind their own businesses and not interact with foreigners much, but if you make the effort you will be positively surprised and your trip positively enriched.

  21. Delicious cuisine, Mauritius

  22. Delicious cuisine — the result of a mix of cultures and influences, Creole Mauritian food is a treat for the palate, with seafood being the main ingredient in most dishes. Mauritius is a pescatarian's heaven. With Indian, French and Chinese influences, Mauritian delicacies are refined yet exotic. You must try Fish Vindaye, Dholl pori and French favourites like bouillon, coq au vin and civet the lievre.

  23. Religious freedom — is constitutionally guaranteed in Mauritius, which means that the four main religious groups peacefully coexist and respect each other.

  24. New and pristine — according to the Portuguese that first landed here, Mauritius was uninhabited in the early 16th century (although Arab and Swahili sailors knew of the island well before 1500) so it's one of the world's newest countries. There never was a native population, prior to colonisation this was a desert island.

  25. Pristine Mauritius

  26. More than one island to discover — Mauritius is part of the Mascarene Islands, along with Rodrigues and Reunion. While Reunion is French overseas territory, Rodrigues is part of Mauritius' outlying islands, which also includes the twin Agalega islands and the Saint Brandon archipelago.

  27. The old-world charm of Rodrigues — many say that Rodrigues has the laidback, unfussed and enchanting appeal that Mauritius had 40 years ago. Its rustic feel continues to captivate travellers from all over the world (including some very famous ones...read on for more).

  28. Mysterious Cavern Patate — Mauritius might be famous for its beaches but it has one amazing speleological wonder to discover. The longest cave in the island is found in Rodrigues and has impressive stalagmite and stalactite formations.

  29. Market in Mauritius

  30. Very low unemployment rates — Mauritius has an astonishingly low unemployment rate of 7.1 per cent in 2017 (and falling in 2018's first quarter) , especially for an African nation, with a figure comparable to that of the U.S. (7.3 per cent) and beating European nations like Spain, Italy and Greece by a long shot.

  31. Free public health system — basic primary health care for all is guaranteed for Mauritius at no cost to the patient.

  32. Free education for all — from pre-primary to tertiary levels education is one of the pillars of Mauritius' welfare system.

  33. The Queen opened the University of Mauritius — on 24th March 1972 during her first and only visit to Mauritius, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, in the company of her husband, His Royal Highness, the Duke of Edinburgh, inaugurated the University of Mauritius in Reduit, Moka, the country's largest and oldest university.

  34. More British than it looks — even when Britain was Mauritius' last ruling power, the pervading Creole language (the most widely spoken) the French colonial architecture and the name of pretty much everything may make you scratch your head at finding any Britishness anywhere. But not only was the Mauritian government shaped after the Westminster model but there are some British landmarks to admire like Fort George and Fort Adelaide, built by William IV and named after Queen Adelaide.

  35. Sega music and dance, Mauritius

  36. Sega music — this is Mauritius' traditional music and it is as lively as it is infectious. Sega music is often accompanied by traditional Sega dancing, often performed by men and women in traditional Mauritian costumes. If the liberating beat of the drums doesn't get you on the dance floor I don't know what will! Oh, and by the way, Mauritian music and dance have been recognised by UNESCO.

  37. Colourful festivals — with a total of 15 annual holidays, there's no shortage of occasions for Mauritians to celebrate! Many of these have a religious base and turn into lively festivals that are sure to be the highlight of our visit. From the body piercing at Thaipoosam Cavadee to the Hindu pilgrimage of Maha Shivaratri (the biggest outside India), Chinese New Year, Christmas and Diwali, to name a few, there's always a celebration whatever the season. More than one for each month.

  38. A strong women workforce — whilst Mauritius can by no means be regarded as an exemplary egalitarian society (but then which country truly can?) women have achieved increasing recognition in the workplace and now account for nearly half the working force in the country. Oh, and it's the only country in Africa to have had a female head of state (no, not the Queen), President Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, who ruled Mauritius from 2015 to 2018 (she resigned last March due to a scandal, but let's focus on the important - first elected female African president ever!). Now that's ground-breaking Mauritius for you!

  39. A book made the island famous in French-speaking countries — an 18th-century novel and compelling love story was inspired by Mauritius and the plot develops in this blessed island. Written by Jacques-Henri Bernardin de Saint-Pierre, a French novelist who lived on the island from 1768 to 1771, Paul et Virginie was almost an instant hit since its publication, making the island famous all over the French-speaking world. It is also considered the author's finest work. Now you know what book to bring for your next Mauritius holiday (yes, it's available on Amazon!).

  40. Veranda Paul et Virginie — and if you want the aforementioned book to come to life in style, then there's no better place to stay than at the resort it is named after, Veranda Paul et Virgine. And, yes, as expected, it is an adults-only romantic hideaway.

  41. It was named Ile de France for nearly a century — OK, so this technically isn't a reason to love Mauritius (unless its French heritage it's of particular interest to you) but it's a fun fact worth mentioning. The island wasn't always called Mauritius; during times of the French colony, its name was changed to Ile de France. When the Brits took over they reverted the name back to Mauritius.

  42. Pirate ship, Mauritius

  43. It was a base for French corsairs during the Napoleonic Wars — if you like pirate stories, you can conjure up all manner of fantasies imagining when this little isle was home to fierce corsairs. Tales of piracy in the Indian Ocean abound on the internet, so read up before you go if you're into that sort of thing, or if you want to enthuse the kids about their next holiday destination.

  44. Highest Human Development Index in Africa and the Indian Ocean — together with Seychelles, Mauritius' impressive score on the United Nation's Human Development Index is one of the highest in the region. OK, so strictly speaking, it comes second to Seychelles but only by one point (according to the latest report it ranks 64th among 187 nations in the study).

  45. Gandhi was here — and he left a trail of inspiration behind. During his two weeks in Mauritius, he urged the local Indo-Mauritian community to turn to education and play a more active role in politics. His encouragement seems to have worked as all six presidents of Mauritius have been, without exception, Hindus of Indian descent as well as most Prime Ministers (with only one exception).

  46. A gay-friendly destination — despite Mauritius being a rather conservative society where some prejudices towards homosexuality still prevail, it is one of 96 countries to have signed the UN Declaration on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, condemning discrimination and violence against the LGBT community. Oddly enough, sodomy is still illegal but most Mauritians' attitude toward homosexuals takes a laissez-faire approach. Constitutionally-speaking homosexuals are protected from discrimination and guaranteed privacy. Same-sex couples won't have problems to share a room in hotels and La Mariposa, close to Tamarin, openly advertises itself as gay-friendly.

  47. A flag with a meaning — the coloured stripes of the Mauritian flag haven't just been haphazardly chosen or aesthetically designed. Each band has its meaning. The red strip represents bloodshed during times of slavery and colonisation (as well as the struggle for independence), the blue stripe stands for the colour of the Indian Ocean, the yellow one symbolises the new shining light of independence and a brighter future while the green band represents the island's greenery.

  48. It has an Olympic medal — Mauritius achieved its first ever Olympic medal at the 2008 games in Beijing. Boxer Bruno Julie won his country's first ever bronze medal. That's more than any of its neighbours can say, including giant Madagascar next door

  49. Third best tourism destination in the region — in the Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Index Ranking 2015, the World Economic Forum ranked Mauritius as the third best tourism destination in Africa.

  50. Kalaisson Temple Port Louis, Mauritius

  51. The many religions also mean a wider variety of attractions — from quaint Christian churches to colourful Hindu temples beside sacred lakes, Buddhist pagodas and elegant mosques, there's no shortage of places of worship to admire in Mauritius. You must endeavour to check out a few during your holiday here.

  52. A royal family favourite — it's not all about official royal visits to Mauritius. The royal family also like to come down here to enjoy some off-duty downtime. Prince Harry was famously photographed here during a post-Christmas getaway with his then-girlfriend Chelsy Davis back in 2008. Prince William first visited Mauritius on his gap year to work on an environmental project and later returned with Kate Middleton and some friends whilst still at university, when they stayed at the island of Rodrigues. So, Mauritius provided the backdrop to what was probably their first romantic holiday.

  53. Multi-coloured earth of Chamarel, Mauritius

  54. The only place to have a multi-coloured earth — no less than seven different colours make up the astounding natural phenomenon that is Chamarel. This wondrous site encircled by greenery all around is like a mini desert of rolling sand dunes with an astonishing colour variation (red, brown, violet, yellow, blue, green and purple. It must be seen to be believed!

  55. It has a wild side to it — beyond the lure of pristine beaches, there is beautiful wildlife to discover at Black River Gorges, home to crab-eating macaques, mongoose and rusa deer. With great hiking routes, this national park protects most of Mauritius' remaining rainforests and its inhabitants, with endemic species to watch out for including the Mauritian flying fox, Mauritian parakeet, pink pigeon, Mauritius fody and Mauritius cuckoo-shrike.

  56. Pink Pigeon, Mauritius

  57. It saves endangered species — in the 1970s, the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation was created to save species on the brink of extinction. Thanks to the foundation's amazing work rare species like the Mauritius Kestrel, Echo Parakeet and Pink Pigeon now thrive and have become a tourist attraction for visitors.

  58. You can cover all of it in a day — with a total land extension of 2,040 km2 and a population of around 1 .3 million, Mauritius feels more like a small city than a country. It won't take you more than two hours to traverse the island from east to west (or vice versa) and the same goes from north to south. Of course, if you want to explore the island at a more leisurely pace, you can plan to split your stay at all four Mauritian corners and enjoy a richer, more diverse holiday.

  59. French at heart — despite English being the official language used by the government for administrative purposes, most locals (84 per cent of the population) speak Creole (or Morisien), a local dialect that's a variation of French, and the vast majority of the places in the island have a French name. It seems that nearly a century of French influence is deeply ingrained in Mauritian society. After all the British used to complain that hardly any inhabitants spoke English in their own colony after more than a century of British rule!

  60. It has won numerous tourism awards — starting in 2012 Mauritius began receiving prestigious global awards for its booming tourism industry. It won the title of World's Leading Island Destination for the third time in a row at the World Travel Awards 2012 as well as the title of World's Best Beach. More recently, in 2015 Mauritius scooped a wide range of tourism awards following a record upsurge in visitor numbers the previous year. Among others, it received awards as a top honeymoon destination as well as recognition for its sustainability practices and luxury enclaves.

  61. An award-winning national airline — having celebrated its first half of a century last year, Air Mauritius has indeed a lot to celebrate. Over the years it has earned recognition as one of Africa's best airlines, having received a 4-star rating by Skytrax for the quality of its onboard product and service. More recently, it scooped up two awards at the World Travel Awards 2017, one for having ‘Indian Ocean's Leading Airport Lounge' and another as the Indian Ocean Leading Airline, Economy Class.

Horse riding on the beach in Mauritius

Now you see that besides having out-of-this-world scenery and dreamy beaches, there's a lot more of Mauritius to love. However, as is the case with most countries in the world, this long list of reasons to love Mauritius shouldn't translate as the country being perfect, as it isn't without its challenges, but it sure has gone a long way since achieving independence and has managed to stand very well on its two feet without external rule.

Here's to 50 more years of successful development for lovely Mauritius!

Mark twinning with Mauritius

Talking about Mauritius and the fierce love its locals have for their homeland, I end with a quote from Mark Twain after his visit in 1896:

"This is the only country in the world where the stranger is not asked ‘How do you like this place?' This is indeed a large distinction. Here the citizen does the talking about the country himself; the stranger is not asked to help. You get all sorts of information. From one citizen you gather the idea that Mauritius was made first, and then heaven; and that heaven was copied after Mauritius."

Susana Corona

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Susana Corona

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