Rodrigues is one of the most pleasant surprises Mauritius has to offer. Blissfully isolated over 500km northeast of the mainland, this tiny island is a volcanic creation only one million years old, a stunning, mountainous gem where it’s hard to feel connected to even Mauritius, let alone the wider world. Often sold rather misleadingly as a ‘mini-Mauritius’, Rodrigues’ differences from its distant master are what actually make people who come here fall for it. Entirely mountainous, far drier than the mainland and with no sugar cane but fruit and vegetables planted everywhere, the vibe is very different indeed. The beaches, while fewer and farther between than on the mainland, are superb and the population, almost entirely African and Creole, is a far cry from Mauritius’ ethnic melting pot; most people speak Creole rather than French or English, and over 90% are Roman Catholic.
Rodrigues’ unlikely, remote location belies the fact that it’s a relatively heavily populated place: although it measures only 8km by 18km, Rodrigues supports a population of about 37, 000 people. There’s a very autonomous spirit here; while few actually believe independence would be beneficial in the long run, there’s a fiercely proud island identity, one no doubt much informed by the population’s almost entirely African heritage: most residents are descendents of freed slaves who left Mauritius in the 19th century to enjoy a life free from their former oppressors.
As well as beach holidays and walking, the island offers some of the best diving in Mauritius, being surrounded by extensive coral reefs. Rodrigues is receiving heavy promotion as a back-to-nature destination for holiday-makers from throughout the region. The government seems keen to go the route of sympathetic, small-scale development, with the emphasis on B&B accommodation, and there is much talk of ecotourism. Sadly, it remains the poorest part of the country with people having a far worse quality of life than on the mainland.