Whether you’re partaking of tea and curried dishes from Central Market or sunbathing on the white beaches of Belle Mare, Mauritius will remind you of an equatorial British colony. Located in the Indian Ocean, about 2,000 miles off the southeastern coast of Africa, this island nation is surrounded by barriers of coral reefs that form natural, safe, crystal-clear lagoons. Mauritius was known to Arab traders as early as the 10th century, but was officially “discovered” in 1505 by the Portuguese navigator Pedro Mascarenhas. The island was occupied by the Dutch (1598-1712) and the French (1715-1810), and was ceded to Great Britain in 1814 in the Treaty of Paris. On March 12, 1968 Mauritius became an independent nation. For breathtaking images as well as information on the island’s geography and culture, visit the official Mauritius Web site.
The terrain of Mauritius varies from the serene, sandy beaches of Le Mourne Peninsula to the thick expanses of forest in Black Gorges National Park. The woodlands are home to more than 300 species of flowering plants and nine species of birds that are unique to Mauritius, including the famous pink pigeon, which is gradually returning from the brink of extinction. Take a look at Lonely Planet’s guide to everything to see and do in Mauritius.
The Mauritian Wildlife Foundation (MWF) is the only Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) in Mauritius to focus exclusively on conserving the endangered plants and animals on the island. Explore the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation’s Web site to see ruins of the French-built lime kiln (which led to deforestation on Mauritius) and to read about other points of interest within the MWF’s wildlife sanctuary, Ile Aux Aigrettes.
The dodo was a flightless bird found only on the island of Mauritius. The Portuguese were the first Europeans to discover the dodo, around 1505. However, by 1681 it had been driven to extinction by humans and the feral dogs, pigs, rats, and monkeys introduced to the island by European settlers. For information on current (and extinct) bird species, as well as maps and descriptions of bird-watching locales, navigate the Mauritian bird-watching Web site.