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Surrounded by moderate indigo waters, the Republic of Mauritius could rightly be called the melting pot of the southern Indian Ocean. Not only is this island nation an enchanting place to sail, it has a rich and sometimes surprising history. Mauritius and its twin island, Reunion, is part of the Mascarene Islands. Volcanic eruptions under the Indian Ocean created the archipelago millions of years ago. Mauritius lies at 20 degrees 9 minutes south latitude and 57 degrees 29 minutes east longitude, approximately 560 nm east of Madagascar. The republic includes the Cargados Carajos, Rodrigues and Agalega Islands.
Mauritius is notable for a number of reasons; not least of which is that it is the only known habitat for a large, flightless relative of pigeons—the dodo. Hunting and the introduction of predators drove dodoes to extinction by the end of the 17th century, however. In 1812, the Mauritius Turf Club founded the Champ de Mars racecourse in Port Louis. Champ de Mars was the first thoroughbred race course in the Southern Hemisphere, and is one of the oldest in the world.
Most of the recent development on Mauritius has occurred in the north, but there is an abundance of activities and sites of interest to sailors, including a red-roofed church that overlooks the lagoon at Cap Malheureux. There are several exciting scuba diving sites in this region including Gunner’s Coin, Whale Rock and Holt’s Rocks.
In addition, there is a group of small islands off the north coast that are favored by sailors and divers because of their crystalline waters and opportunities for swimming, snorkeling and picnicking. Round Island and Ile aux Serpents further to the north are nature reserves under conservation management to protect native species of palms and reptiles. Permits, which are available locally, are required to visit these sites.
Eastern Mauritius features a coastline with some of the island’s best white-sand beaches, including Belle Mare. Sailors will delight in secluded coves and bright green lagoons, and appreciate the slow pace of life. Captivating villages dot the landscape between the mountains and the sea. Visit the open-air markets in the village of Flacq, and remember that bartering is how business is done here.
An entirely different landscape unfolds in the south. Beaches give way to dramatic high cliffs; the protective coral reef disappears and the Indian Ocean rolls ceaselessly against the shoreline. For a sense of what 16th century explorers might have found when they first made landfall here, we recommend a visit to the Île aux Aigrettes Nature Reserve. Here, the remnants of the island’s original flora and fauna can be found. These include ebony forests, endangered birds and reptiles, rare orchids and pink pigeons.
Continuing west around the island in the direction of Île aux Benitiers, sailors might encounter dolphins in Tamarin Bay or Flic en Flac. Dolphins use these protected waters to breed and rest. In the hills around Chamarel is a rum distillery that bears the name of the village. This is an opportunity to learn about sugar cultivation on the island and about the production of rum. What sailor could resist a free taste? On this side of the island, visitors will also see the peak of the Le Morne peninsula which rises more than 589 meters (1,800 feet) above the sea. Le Morne is listed as a World Heritage Site, because it is where runaway slaves sought refuge before slavery was abolished in the mid-1800s.