Getting there & around
It’s sometimes possible to imagine that every adult male in Mauritius is a taxi driver. Taxi drivers will often shout out at travellers they see wandering around Port Louis or Grand Baie, while ranks outside hotels usually overflow with drivers. Negotiation is key – meters are rarely used and you’ll usually be ripped off if you get in a taxi without agreeing a price. During the journey most cabbies will also tout for future business; if you aren’t careful you may find that you’ve agreed to an all-day island tour. If you aren’t interested, make this very clear, as many drivers won’t take no for an answer.
Many guesthouse managers/owners have attempted to mitigate their guests’ constant frustration with rip-offs by arranging prices with local taxi drivers. The quotes given under such arrangements, particularly those from small guesthouses, are often acceptable; they can usually arrange competitively priced airport pick-ups as well. Once you’ve got a feel for the rates, you can venture into independent bargaining.
Taxis charge slightly more at night and may ask for an extra fee if you want the comfort of air-con. It’s also worth remembering that some taxis charge around Rs 1 per minute waiting time. It seems minimal, but it adds up if you stop for lunch or do some sightseeing on foot. Your best bet is to negotiate a set fare with the driver that includes waiting time.
For between Rs 1500 and Rs 2500, you can hire a taxi for a full-day tour of sights around the island (the fare varies with how much ground you intend to cover). You can cut costs by forming a group – the price should not be calculated per person. If you want to squeeze a tour of the whole island into one day, keep in mind that this won’t leave much time for sightseeing. You’re better off splitting the island tour into two days. Once you’ve agreed to a price and itinerary, it helps to get the details down in writing. Although most drivers can speak both French and English, double-check before setting off to ensure you won’t face a day-long communication barrier. If you’re lucky, you’ll get an excellent and informative guide, but note that most cabbies work on a commission basis with particular restaurants, shops and sights. If you want to go to a restaurant of your choice, you may have to insist on it. Again, small guesthouses can usually recommend a reliable driver.
When individual fares are hard to come by, some cabs will cruise around their area supplementing the bus service. For quick, short-haul trips they pick up passengers waiting at the bus stops and charge just a little more than the bus. Their services are called ‘share taxis’ or ‘taxi trains’. Mind you, if you flag down a share taxi, you’ll only be swapping a big sardine can for a small one, and if you flag down an empty cab, you may have to pay the full fare.
Anyone on a budget will fare well using the network of bus routes that criss-cross the island. Bus travel is cheap and fun – you’ll usually find yourself chatting to gregarious locals – and although you won’t set any land-speed records, it’s generally a fairly easy and reliable way to get around.
It’s best to stick to express buses whenever possible, as standard buses seem to stop every few metres and can take up to twice as long to reach the same destination. To give an idea of journey times, it takes approximately an hour by standard services from Mahébourg to Curepipe, an hour from Curepipe to Port Louis and an hour from Port Louis to Grand Baie.
Long-distance buses run from around 6am to 6.30pm, though there is a late service between Port Louis and Curepipe until 11pm. Generally there are buses every fifteen minutes or so on the major routes, with less frequent buses on the express services. Buses in country areas can be few and far between.
As an indication, fares range from Rs 12 for a short trip up to a maximum of Rs 30 for the run from Port Louis to Mahébourg. Air-conditioned express buses may be a couple of rupees extra. Tickets are available from the conductor; keep some small change handy. Retain your tickets, as inspectors often board to check them. Press the buzzer when you want to get off.
The buses are single-deck vehicles bearing dynamic names such as ‘Road Warrior’, ‘Bad Boys’ and ‘The Street Ruler’. It’s perhaps not surprising that some drivers harbour Formula One racing fantasies; fortunately, the frequent stops slow things down a touch. Though the buses are in varying states of disrepair, the fleet is gradually being upgraded.
The buses are almost always packed, especially on the main routes, but turnover is quick at all the stops. If you start the trip standing, you’re likely to end up sitting.
Be warned that you could have problems taking large bags or backpacks on a bus. If it takes up a seat, you will probably have to pay for that extra seat. A few travellers have even been refused entry to a full bus if they have a large bag.
There is no country-wide bus service for Mauritius. Instead there are five large regional bus companies and scores of individual operators. Unfortunately, there are no published timetables available. Your best source of information is to phone the company or the umbrella body, the National Transport Authority (202 2800). Locals also usually know the best way to get from A to B.
Mainland Mauritius has only one airport, the well-run Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam International Airport (mauritius-airport.intnet.mu). There are two domestic airlines, Air Mauritius and Catovair, both of which connect mainland Mauritius with the island of Rodrigues.
Air Mauritius also offers helicopter tours and charters from SSR International Airport and a number of major hotels. A full one-hour island tour costs Rs 26,000 for up to four passengers; a quick 15-minute jaunt will set you back Rs 10,000. For information and reservations, contact Air Mauritius Helicopter Services (637 3552; firstname.lastname@example.org) or ask your hotel to organise a transfer or trip.
By far the easiest and quickest way to get around Mauritius and Rodrigues is to hire a car. Prices aren’t as low as they could be, considering the numbers of visitors who rent vehicles, but you should be able to negotiate a discount if you’re renting for a week or more.
Mauritian roads range from the one stretch of motorway – running from SSR International Airport to Port Louis and Grand Baie – to heavily potholed minor roads. Even on the motorway you’ll find people wandering across the road and a generally relaxed attitude. As in most places, the greatest danger comes from other drivers, not the roads. Mauritian drivers tend to have little consideration for each other, let alone for motorbikes. Buses are notorious for overtaking and then pulling in immediately ahead of other vehicles to pick up or drop off passengers; always show extra caution when a bus comes in sight. At night be aware you’ll face an assault course of ill-lit oncoming vehicles, totally unlit bikes and weaving pedestrians. Motorcyclists should also be prepared for the elements, as sudden rain showers can come out of clear skies.
Hitching is never entirely safe in any country in the world, and we don’t recommend it. Travellers who decide to hitch should understand that they are taking a small but potentially serious risk. People who choose to hitch will be safer if they travel in pairs and let someone know where they are planning to go.
Getting a lift in Mauritius is subject to pretty much the same quirks of luck and fate that you experience hitching anywhere. The only place where it really does come in handy is Rodrigues. Since few people there own cars, hitching is a popular way to get around, especially on Sundays, when buses are few and far between. Those driving in Rodrigues will make friends by offering lifts to locals who’ll try and flag you down almost anywhere. Obviously, proceed with caution and don’t offer lifts to groups if you’re alone.
Cycling isn’t really a practical means of long-distance transport in Mauritius – there is simply too much traffic – but bikes are fine for short hops along the coast. Given that the coast is pleasantly flat, it’s amazing how much ground you can cover in a day. The coast roads are also quieter than those in the interior, so you can relax and take in the landscape.
In general, the roads are well maintained, but look out for potholes along country lanes. Avoid cycling anywhere at night, as most roads are poorly lit and traffic can be erratic.
You can rent bikes (usually mountain bikes) from most hotels and guesthouses and also from some tour agents and car-rental outlets in the main tourist centres such as Grand Baie, Flic en Flac and Trou d’Eau Douce. The cheapest deals will start at around Rs 100 per day. You’ll usually be asked for a deposit of Rs 5000, either in cash or by taking an imprint of your credit card. Most bikes are in pretty reasonable condition, but be sure to check the brakes, gears and saddle (some are mighty uncomfortable) before riding off into the blue-beyond. The bike should have a lock; use it, especially if you leave your bike at the beach and outside shops.