beaches

Gabon

Since independence from France in 1960 has had just two presidents, with the late, Omar Bongo, in power since 1967. Despite being made up of more than 40 ethnic groups, has escaped the strife afflicting other West African states. As ’s oil reserves diminish, eco-tourism has been growing in economic importance. The country’s rainforests teem with , including lowland gorillas and forest elephants. National parks make up around one tenth of the land area. Tourism in is in its infancy and while the areas that we have selected for our holidays are absolutely wonderful in terms of flora and fauna, it should be remembered that can be humid for large parts of the year and while very clean and comfortable is not five star – yet!

 

General Information on Gabon:

Location: West of Central Africa

Size: 267, 670 sq. km

Population: 1.2 million

Climate: Tropical, always hot and humid

Status: Republic; multiparty presidential regime

Capital: Libreville

Main towns: Franceville and Port Gentil

Currency: CFA franc

Language: French (official) and 40 living African Languages

Religion: Christians (60%), Animist and Muslim

International telephone code: +241

Time: GMT +1

Electricity: 220v

 

Gabon’s most popular areas:

Libreville and the Estuary

Libreville

Gabon’s capital lies in the far northwest of the country, spread along the Atlantic Ocean for some 15km. Libreville is French for ‘free town’. The French lieutenant Bouet-Willaumez chose the name inspired by the example for Freetown in Sierra Leone when slaves freed from captured slave ship L’Elizia were settled here in 1849. This date is generally regarded as when the city was founded, although people, mostly the Mpongwe, had been living here long before then.

In fact, in preceding years the French has been making great efforts to increase their power on this part of the coast. In 1839 the local Gabonese chief Rapontchombo put his mark to a treaty placing his territory under the French flag, the first of many such treaties signed with local chieftains.

By 1860 Libreville is thought to have consisted of the village of the freed slaves, a trading post and a handful of missionaries. The city grew a bit after World War II, but the real sparks to its growth were independence in 1960 and the petrol boom in the 1970s, which made the city an irresistible magnet for immigrants from neighbouring countries. The city’s population increased in great leaps. Today Libreville has an official population of 450,000, which accounts for about 40% of the country’s inhabitants.

The coastal road runs from the airport to the north of the city centre – through the city and on to the port of Owendo, to the south on the Gabon estuary. On the way, roads lead away from the waterfront to the different quartiers. Batterie IV is the city’s grandest area full of embassies and large houses and Quartier Louis is primarily an entertainment district. The grand boulevard Triomphal Omar Bongo was built on what was once the marshland on the Sainte Marie Valley. The next big road junction leads up to Mont-Bouet, the busiest part of the city. Stretching from the Presidential Palace as far as avenue Felix Eboue is the commercial centre of the city, known as  Nombakele, and butting up to it is the old colonial Quartier Glass, where many trading companies once had their headquarters. Continuing brings you to the industrial area Oloumi, then the lively residential area Lalala, and finally the train station and port of Owendo. All distances in Gabon are measure from the Bessieux roundabout, ‘le point kilometrique zero du Gabon’.

President Bongo had big ideas for his capital back in the days when the coffers were overflowing with petrol money. For most of the 1970s the city resembled a massive building site. A new presidential palace was built, the first skyscrapers, big roads, new ministries, luxury hotels, plus the futuristic buildings of boulevard Triomphal. Recession in the mid 1980’s slowed construction, but there’s no denying that on one level Libreville lives up to the image of the flourishing international capital that Bongo envisaged. The buildings and hotels are still impressive, and you can dine on food from anywhere in the world if you can stomach the international prices – les Librevillois, immigrants and expats all agree the city is ‘tres, tres cher’. But of course, there is another, less visible side of the city behind the modern buildings, ‘les matistis’ or shanty towns.

 

The Estuary

Within the Estuary region are a number of places where it is only too easy to forget the proximity of the big smoke. Just minutes out of Libreville on the airport road the forest begins. Both along this coast and on the other side of the estuary, there are dreamy beaches where it is possible to walk for miles along the shore at low tide. On the southern side of the estuary is Pongara National Park., which incorporates the tourist resort of Port Denis. Neither side of the estuary is short on birdlife – kingfishers, little egrets, reef herons, sanderlings and other fast-moving waders abound.

 

The Middle Ogooue

The Ogooue splits into two channels at Lambarene, before re-joining a large alluvial plain with a series of picturesque lakes fringed by papyrus marshes, reed beds and dense forests. This is one of the largest deltas in Africa, extending from Lambarene to Port Gentil, and it is hoped it will be granted protective status such as a Biosphere Reserve. Lake excursions can be made from either Lambarene or Port Gentil, but the Lambarene lakes are more accessible and less pre-planning is required. Aside from the lakes this region is known for two reasons: the hospital founded by Albert Schweitzer and the peculiar fierceness of its mosquitoes.

 

The Ngounie

The Ngounie region takes its name from the River Ngounie – an important tributary of Ogooue – which feeds its forests and lakes. It is sometimes also known as Mitsogho country, after the people who have traditionally lived here. To the south lies the Congo, along this region’s eastern flank rise the du Chaillu , and along its western flank the Ikoundou . Sandwiched between there forested lies the grassy Ngounie valley, location of the town of Ndende. The Ngounie must be one of the least visited regions of Gabon. If it welcomes any visitors they are invariably passing through on their way to or from Mayumba, or making a brief southerly foray from Lambarene to Fougamou and Sindara. Those who linger a while, however, and venture deeper into the Mitsogho country, are rewarded with the beauty of a little changed part of the country.

 

Coastal Ogooue

The Ogooue Maritime, or Coastal Ogooue, is a region that combines economic resources and diverse beauties in its 23,000sq km. The region’s capital is Port Gentil. From the late 15th century, Europeans, notably the Portuguese, descended on the coastal peoples to trade in ivory and timber. Later, in the 17th century, their commercial interests turned to slaves, while by the 19th century the missionaries were arriving to battle for souls. In the 20th century the attraction was oil, and that of the 21st century looks set to be tourism, thanks to the spectacular scenery and plentiful wildlife. The camps here have long been a place of pilgrimage for tarpon fisherman, and are now broadening their net to welcome birdwatchers and wildlife enthusiasts.

The coastal Ogooue region has many different ecosystems harbouring enormous biodiversity. It is a region that includes forests, lagoons, lakes, floodplains, savannahs and over 200km of coastline. This is one of the richest and most beautiful areas in Central Africa, and preliminary research has shown it to have one of the highest densities of elephants and apes. Yet such riches have not been a guarantee against exploitation. The government has been in the past given logging and oil companies the right to operate in the region, and their presence has both improved access routes for poachers and increased the demand for illegally hunted meat. Now the Gabonese government, in conjunction with the conservation agencies, has given the region two national parks of Loango and Moukalaba-Doudou. They are keen to find a workable solution to the twin issues of conservation and economics by encouraging tourism. Loango National Park is probably the only place on the African continent where western lowland gorillas, forest elephants, buffalo and hippopotami can all, with luck, be seen on the same beach. Even have been spotted on the beach. There is also the chance to see manatees and crocodiles, and at the right times of year, nesting leatherback sea turtles, humpback whales and dolphins.

 

Port Gentil

Port Gentil is located on the north-eastern edge of an island some 30km by 6km, an island surrounded by ocean and swamps. At the end of the 15th century it was named Lopez Island by the Portuguese sailor, Lopez Gonzalvez. The name did not stick, although the island’s furthest point is still know as Cape Lopez. Instead, the island became known as Mandji Island, a name chosen by the Myene people because of the concentration of mandji trees growing here.

The city itself takes its name after a certain Frenchman, Emile Gentil, an administrator for Afrique Equatoriale Francaise (AEF) who was sent to perform a mission here between 1890 and 1892. Port Gentil at this time was little more than a handful of villages and a mission, and was to remains so until at least the end of World War 1. Today Port Gentil is the economic capital of Gabon, a city that got rich quick, and in the process acquired a disproportionate number of hotels, restaurants and expats (mostly French and Lebanese). The residents of Port Gentil claim there are three separate groups of people here: the Gabonese, the expats and those working for Elf. The question on everybody’s mind is what will happen to the city when the petrol runs out?

 

Loango National Park

The Loango National was created in 2002 when the Iguela and Petit Loango Reserves were merged to become one. The Iguela Reserve has covered an area of 230,000 hectares surrounding the lagoon alternatively called Iguela or Nkomi. Neighbouring it to the south was the smaller coastal reserve of Petit Loango. Visitors come to Loango National Park to enjoy the irresistible combination of scenery and wildlife – ocean, lagoon, forest and savannah – and the different ways of exploring them: namely by boat, 4WD or on foot. The attractions change depending on the time of year. The whale season begins around mid-July and continues through to mid-September, the tarpon season October to mid-November, and the turtle season is October to mid-January. At all times, you will see at least some of the following: buffaloes, hippos, crocodiles, manatees, elephants, chimpanzees and gorillas.

 

The Nyanga

Nyanga is in the far southwest of Gabon, its limits defined by the ocean to the west and the border with Congo to the south. The provincial capital, Tchibanga, lies beside the River Nyanga in a low-lying corridor between the Mayumba Mountains and the Ikoundou mountains, paralleling the Ngounie valley to the east. It is a fairly wealthy region with fertile soil. Its agricultural industry – based largely on rice and some vegetables – is centred around Moabi, and marble is quarried near Tchibanga. Tourism is an embryonic industry at the coastal town Mayumba, famed for its pristine beaches. Talk of building a port on Gabon’s southwestern coast has raised fears about the future of Mayumba, but it seems an unlikely choice as long as oil is not found here.

 

Woleu-Ntem

This region takes its name from two large rivers, the Woleu and the Ntem. It is a frontier region, separated from Cameroon to the north by the river Ntem, and butting up to Equatorial Guinea to the west, and around the Crystal Mountains to the south. The regional boundaries were created by the French in the early 20th century. Woleu-Ntem fell under German colonial control in 1912-15 – the German legacy lives on in the cocoa they planted – but the factor to impact on the region today is the influx of immigrants from these neighbouring countries.

Woleu-Ntem has an estimated population of 220,000 people, making it second only to the estuary in terms of population density. The majority of its inhabitants are Fang, who are known for the Mvet, the name of a Fang stringed instruments and musical tradition. There are also villages of Baka pygmies near the Cameroonian border. As well as being one of the country’s most densely populated regions, Woleu-Ntem is one of the wealthiest. An immediate indicator of its importance is the beautifully surfaced main road, which allows produce from Cameroon to be easily transported south through Bitam, Oyem, Mitzic to eventually join the road to Libreville.

The region’s wealth is based in agriculture, and specifically on the company Hevegab, which carved massive hevea plantations totalling thousands of hectares of the forest here in the early 1900s. These work opportunities not only meant less of an exodus of the young from Woleu-Ntem compared to other, less-wealthy regions, but also acted as magnet for jobless young men from across the borders. Unfortunately, Hevegab is now experiencing difficulties. Jobs can no longer be taken for granted and unemployment is rising.

Because of the region’s higher altitude, the weather tends to be colder than most of the rest of the country, with a longer rainy season. Seen from the sky, the region’s overwhelming feature is the dense and breath-taking forest, broken only by the dramatic inselbergs that give shape to the landscape, and the occasional roads with their pretty villages dotted with avocado, mango and banana trees. The far northeastern corner of the region, and the country, is uninhabited impenetrable forest broken only by massive granite outcrops.

 

The Ogooue-Invindo

The Ogooue-Invindo is one of the least populated regions in Gabon. It is traversed by the Ogooue and Ivindo rivers, and two main roads. The regional capital is the small town of Makokou. East of Makokou the road passes through some villages before arriving in Mekambo, the furthest town before the road splits and crosses the frontier into Congo in two different places. Away from the roads, this region is inaccessible and uninhabited, except for the Pygmies living along the length of the River Ivindo and the gold panners sifting through the small streams around the River Nouna. The other people living here are mostly Fang, Kwele and Kota. They are eking out a subsistence existence, growing, fishing and hunting their food. There are iron deposits around Mount Belinda that were once a source of great hope, but the quality is simply not good enough to justify the expense of mining it and transporting it to the coast. Now the government, in conjunction with environmental organisations such as WWF, hope that ecotourism will provide a boost to the economy in a region that is after all one of Gabon’s richest in terms of flora and fauna. Until now, Lope has been the only real options for tourists, from those in search of the little-known Dja River Warbler or a rare species of orchid, to those interested in primarily in a ‘ experience’. The formation of three new national parks means an explosion in tourist possibilities is imminent.

 

Lope National Park

Lope National Park is a vast expanse totalling 2,069 square miles. It is bordered by the Ogooue to the north, the Offoue to the east, the du Chaillu mountains in the south and the River Mingoue to the west. Lope was created as a national park in 2002 (prior to this it had been a reserve since 1946). More than 1,500 plant species have been recorded here, of which 40 represent new species for Gabon. Lope is home to 400 of the 680 species of bird recorded in Gabon, and according to the ECOFAC there are 60 different species of mammal within the reserve. Little wonder Lope is the chosen research centre for long term studies on gorillas and mandrills. In the region of 1,350 mandrills are thought to inhabit the reserve and the surrounding area. They are particularly visible in the dry season (July – August), when they hand around in super-groups numbering hundreds in the north of the reserve for up to two weeks at a time. There are estimated 3,000-5,000 western lowland gorillas roaming within the reserve.

 

Ivindo National Park

Southwest of Makokou is the Ivindo National Park. The highlights of the park includes its two waterfalls, the Koungou and the Mingouli. By far the greatest are the Mingouli falls – a magnificent series of falls that crash down into the river from every direction. A pirogue trip through the forest to the falls provides plenty of opportunity to glimpse birds, monkeys and hippos. The dry season is not the best time to go, as the river can get dangerously low and it will be necessary to drag the pirogue over the rocks in places.

 

 

The High Ogooue

Historically, the high Ogooue region as it stands today has been very cut off from the rest of the country. It even became a Congolese territory in 1925 – because of the building of the railway from Brazzaville to the ocean – and was only reunited with Gabon in 1946. Even then, it was to remain isolated from the other regions until the roads to Libreville and the airport were built in the 1970s, followed by the Transgabonais railway and the Intercontinental Hotel in the 1980s.

The rich resources in the mining towns of Mounana and Moanda in the west of the region played an important role in ensuring that Franceville be brought closer to the capital, but arguably the most important factor was President Omar Bonga himself. Of all the people in the High Ogooue – Ombaba, Bawoumbou, Banjabi and so on – the dominant people are the Bateke, the president’s people. Bongo hails from Bongoville (originally named Lewai), a village lying between Franceville and Leconi. He has been unceasingly committed to developing his region, but has not yet succeeded in fulfilling his dream to transform it into an important place on the international stage. The airport never handles international flights, and the Intercontinental is never full.

 

The Ogooue-Lolo

The Ogooue-Lolo is crossed by the Ogooue and its tributary the River Lolo, hence its name. A third important river, the Ofooue, marks the natural border between this region and the Ngounie region. It terms of landscape these two regions are remarkably similar, both being green and mountainous. The dense forest has long attracted forestry companies, and more recently scientists and conservationists. The du Chaillu Mountains are rich in endemic species – just how rich is not yet known – and excursions on foot guarantee encounters with numerous monkeys and birds. Climbing Mount Iboundji represents the biggest challenge, but there are other, less strenuous alternatives. The road directly south of the region’s capital, Koulamoutou, leads to the Congo border via Pana.

Kenya

Perhaps the most diverse wildlife on the continent can be found migrating through the endless, unfenced of Kenya. Famed for the annual great migration of wildebeest, Thompson’s gazelle and zebra, Kenya offers more than 15 000 square kilometres of spectacular game viewing.

Masai Kenya Pulse Africa

It’s not just the of animals that brings visitors back every year. Kenya offers the breathtaking beauty of and deserts, beaches and untouched .

Track a plethora of wildlife through the Masai Mara, interact with colourful nomadic tribes, ride a horse in the foothills of Mt Kenya or catch a mighty marlin off Kenya’s sparkling coast.

 

General Information on Kenya:

Location: East Africa, one of 53 countries on the African continent, straddling the Equator. Borders Ethiopia and Sudan to the north, Uganda to the west, to the south and Somalia and the Indian Ocea to the east.

Size: 586,000km², of which about 10,700km² comprise the lakes of Victoria and Turkana. It compares in size to France or Texas. The tropical coastline stretches for about 480km.

Climate: Tropical to alpine – averages dry temperatures; two rainy seasons

Time: GMT +3

Electricity: 220 volts

International telephone code: +254

Status: republic

Currency: Kenya Shilling

Population: 30.7 million

Economy: Major earners: tea, coffee, horticulture, agriculture, tourism

Capital: Nairobi

Main Towns: Mombasa, Kisumu, Eldoret, Nakuru

Language: English (official), Kiswahili (national), multiple ethnic languages

Religion: Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism, Islam and traditional beliefs

Flag: Red, black and green, shield and crossed spears

 

Kenya’s most popular areas:

Nairobi

The sprawling cosmopolitan city of Nairobi combines the first-world glamour of reflecting-glass skyscraper buildings with the abject third-world poverty. It originated in 1899 from a handful of shacks that marked the end of the railhead during the building of the Uganda railway. Subsequently it was given township status in the 1900 and city status in 1950. The area known by the Maasai as enkare nyrobi, a reference to the cool waters where they came to water their livestock. The name became corrupted to Nairobi, and as the city grew – and with it an increase in crime – it’s become referred to wryly as ‘Nai-robberi’.

 

South and Eastern Kenya

The south and eastern part of Kenya encompasses the largest part of the country where wildlife is protected. It includes two of Kenya’s oldest and most famous national parks – Amboseli which lies in the lee of Africa’s highest mountain, Kilimanjaro, with its sugarloaf doem rising high above the savanna plains, and Tsavo, dry thornbush country for the most part, intersperesed with giant baobabs, In Tsavo the Athi and Tsavo rivers join to form the Galana which then becomes the Sabaki River, reaching the Indian Ocean to the north of Malindi. These two parks dominate the southern safari circuit from Nairobi and are also popular for coastal safari excursions, Amboseli and Tsavo West being the prime gameviewing areas. This region was a favourite hunting patch for he likes of Ernest Hemingway and are still synonymous with Tsavo. On the surrounding Maasai ranches some of the Maasai are becoming involved in ecootourism ventures. These projects are helping to maintain vital wildlife migration corridors and the intergrity of the greater Amboseli and Tsavo ecosystems as well as broadening the choice of game-viewing options and activities. Other highlights within the region are Lake Magadi and the Nguruman escarpment at the southern extreme of Kenya’s Rift Valley, the Chyulu and Taita Hills which border Tsavo West National Park and the Tana River which runs through Garissa and Garsen to branch into a huge delta as it enters the sea south of Lamu.

 

Central Highlands

The rugged, snow capped peaks of Mount Kenya, Africa’s second highest mountain (5,199m) and the Aberdares range (4,000m), are the dominant lanscape features of this fertile, highly populated region. It stretches northeast of Nairobi to Meru, as far as Isiolo and Maralal, includs the entire massif of Mount Kenya and the Aberdares, and west across the Laikipia Plateau to Nyahururu and Lake Baringo. Containing a microcosm of the country’s scenic diversity, landscapes range from semi arid savanna to the Laikipia PLteau and Meru National Park, to the fertile foothills around the Aberdares and Mount Kenya, with a tapestry of wheat farms around Nanyuki and Timau and small-scale farming by the Kikuyu and Meru tribes around the Aberdares and Mount Kenya, and the magnificent forests, moorland and sub-alphine flora in the Aberdares and Mount Kenya national parks. The most fertile land originally belonged to the Kikuyu tribe, and was parcelled out to ‘white settlers’ during the colonial era – the areabecame know as the ‘White highlands’ – who pioneered cash crops liek coffee and pineapples as well as mainstream wheat and livestock farming, and more recently horticulture, which are still mainstays of the agricultural economy today. It was small wonder that this area was the seat of discontent amoung the Kikuyu people and the stronghold of the Mau Mau rebellion which subsequently brought about the end  of the colony and independence in 1963. The main highlights if the region are the superb scenery and wildlife – greater Laikipia being second only to the Masai Mara for game viewing – the tree hotels in the Aberdares and Meru and the community lodges of the Laikipiak Maasai and Samburu on the northern fringes of the Laikipiak  Plateau. In addition, there’s a surprising choice of activities in the region, with plenty of opportunities to get off the beaten track – by foot, bicycle, horse, camel or helicopter, depending on the size of your pocket.

 

The Rift Valley

The Rift Valley bisects Kenya from north to south, giving rise to spectacular scenery with dramatic escarpments and an intriguing necklace of freshwater lakes of Naivasha, Baringo and Kamnarok, the soda lakes of Elmentaita, Nakuru and Bogoria and their environs. The other lakes in the Rift Valley system are Turkana in the north and Magadi in the southeastern Kenya.

 

Western Kenya

The appeal of western Kenya lies in its varied landscapes and rich tribal cultures. Its main draw is the Masai Mara, a wildlife Mecca mingled with colourful, traditional Maasai pastoralists. It encapsulates the epitome of how you imagine Africa’s wildlife to be: large herds of roaming bleached plains, with rolling hills, endless vistas and dramatic skies. Apart from the Masai Mara, the remainder of western Kenya is little visited by tourists, but it’s an ideal area for touring and hiking, often well off the beaten track. Highlights of the region include the Masai Mara National Reserve, the of Lake Victoria, Kakamega Forest, Mount Elgon, Saiwa Swamp and Ruma national parks, the Elgeyo escarpment and the Cherangani Hills.

 

Norther Kenya

Northern Kenya covers a third of the country, for the most part arid rangelands sparsely inhabited by nomadic pastoralists – Pokot, Turkana, Samburu, Boran, Rendille and Gabbra. Remote and inaccessible, interspersed with isolated, forested mountain ranges and bisected by the northern Rift Valley lake of Turkana, the region boasts two World Heritage sites at Sibiloi and Central Islandnational parks and a biosphere reserve at Mount Kulal near Loyangalani. It’s also central to the discoveries of early man at Koobi Fora.

 

The Coast

Kenya has an idyllic coastline, a magnet for all who visitthe country with its 480km of tropical beaches – white sands fringed with palm trees, with aquamarine turquoise waters sheltered by reefs close to shore, or golden sands flanked by dunes. Temperatures average 28°C, tempered by the monsoon winds – the southeast monsoon, the Kaskazi, blows from April to October, while the northeast monsoon, the Kazi blows from November to March – and there’s a daily average of  eight hoursof sunshine. Apart from the obvious attraction of the beaches, the coast is steeped in history. Fron the 9th century onwards, Indian and Arab traders mingled with the indigenous inhabitants to create a Swahili culture which still thrives today, and the remains of early Swahili settlements may be found along the entire coastline, the most significant being the 15th century Gedi ruins south of Malindi, while Lamu town has been designated a World Heritage Site due to its significance as a Swahili centre. During the 15th century, the Portuguese stamped their mark on the coast, fighting with the Omani Arabs, their main legacy being Fort Jesus in Mombasa’s Old Town. The coast remained an entity in itself with little connection to the interior apart from the Arab caravans which trekked inland for ivory and slaves. At the turn of the 19th century, the British established a foothold and declared the coast, which at the time was in the hands of the Omani Arabs, a British Protectorate. Subsequently, Mombasa became pivotal in the development of Kenya as a British colony, being the starting poing for the building of the Uganda railway. Today it still plays a vital role as the hub commodity transportation inland and is a strategic port on the East African coastline. The coast also boasts unique and diverse habitats, both in maritime and terrestrial national parks and reserves. Highlights of the coast include Mombasa Old Town and Lamu, the Gedi ruins, Arabuko Sokoke Forest REserve, Mwaluganje Elephant Sanctuary and the Shimba Hills National Park and the underwater treasures of the marine national parks and reserves.

Seychelles

Named after Vicomte Moreau de Sechelles, this collection of islands offers every traveller an isolated island paradise with fine beaches, turquoise seas and tropical weather.

One would naturally expect to find surrounding the island and one wouldn’t be disappointed. Board a to see a variety of and a rainbow of fish. Or stay on the soft, white and explore an island rich in that flourish nowhere else on the planet.

Seychelles Pulse Africa

to the islands every year to view up to two million as well as the world’s largest colonies of lesser noddies, and other .

Why not visit the World Heritage Site on the second largest island, Praslin. Explore the world’s largest atoll. Dive with giant manta rays. On the granite island of Fregate, spot the neat extinct magpie robin and of course, find you very own Coco de Mer.

 

General Information on Seychelles:

Location: Indian Ocean

Islands: 115 islands

Size: 455km² across 1.3 million km² of ocean

Climate: Equatorail; temperature 24 – 30°C

Status: Republic

Population: 81,755 (2002)

Main islands: Mahe, Praslin, La Diguw and inner islands

Capital: Victoria (on Mahe) (population 24, 994 including surrounding districts)

Economy: Fishing, tourism

Currency: Seychelles rupee (SR)

Language: English, French, Creole

Religion: Predominantly Roman Catholic

International telephone code: +248

Time: GMT +4

Electricity: 240 volts

Flag: Five colours (green, white, red, yellow and blue) radiating out from bottom left

National flower: Tropicalbird Orchid

National bird: Black Parrot

Seychelles most popular islands:

Mahe

Mahe is the largest island in the Seychelles. Granite hills and mountains rise steeply from the sea providing a dramatic backdrop to the irregular coastline. Mahe is 27km long, only 8km wide and covers an area of 152km². It has a circumference of about 120km with breath-taking bays, intriguing coves and glorious long stretches of soft, white sand. Coconut palms and badamier and takamaka trees fringe the shoreline creating welcome shade and beautiful vistas.

The highest peak, Morne Seychellois, reaches up to 950m and, even on the hottest day, is frequently bathed in swirling mists. Much of the natural vegetation was destroyed in the early years of Seychelles settlement but the rich soils and high rainfall coupled with keen conservation by the Seychelleois have been conducive to a remarkable recovery, and the slopes are now clad with many indigenous trees, ferns, palms and orchids.

A necklace of coral encircles this truly magnificent island, protecting and sheltering the bays and beaches. Every beach or cove of any size or importance is named Anse, from the French word for ‘cove’, and although there may be a small billafe with a church, school, clinic and shop, it is simple known by its beach name – Anse Royal, Grande Anse, Anse aux Pins, etc. The only town on Mahe, or the whole of the Seychelles for that matter, is Victoria, named in 1841 after the young queen of England.

Mahe is surrounded by groups of satellite islands. Closest to Victoria on the east coast are Ste Anne, Cerf, Moyenne, Round and Long Islands. All these are situated within the Ste Anne Marine National Park. Therese and Conception are located off Port Glaud on the Western side, while Silhouette and North can be seen off Beau Vallon. On a clear day with good visibility, other, more distant islands like Praslin, La Digue, Mamelle and may be seen.

It is possible to drive almost all the way around Mahe, and there are only a few short stretches in the western and southern extremities with no linking roads. A good system of well-maintained roads has been developed. However, they are not without their dangers. The roads climbing the steep slopes are narrow and twisting with some hairpin bends and few, if any, shoulders. To accommodate the tropical downpours, deep channels have been constructed along the sides of the roads. But, beware, there are no protective barriers, and frequently the white or yellow lines have been worn away and are hardly visible. There is an easy going attitude among the drivers, who will frequently stop to chat to a fellow driver or pedestrian pal, with scant regard to traffic travelling in either direction. This, combined with the tourists in their hired cars who are unfamiliar with the geography, makes for some interesting situations. The saving grace though, is that speeding is not often possible except along Providence Highway, the dual carriageway near the airport.

 

Praslin

The lovely island of Praslin, home to the coco de mer palm, has a gentle, unhurried pace and an ambience of quiet tranquillity. Long stretches of fine, white sand, framed by palms and shady takamakas; or small, secluded coves bounded by granite boulders, characterise this strangely shaped island which is surrounded by coral reefs. An assortment of islands lie beyond the coral reefs like chunks of emeralds in an azure sea.

Areas of great natural beauty surround Praslin but the romantic ‘island of palms’ is the only place on earth where you will see coco de mer palms growing in magnificent profusion. The tall, elegant female coco de mer palm produces a huge seed, astonishingly shaped like a female belly and thighs, and the taller male palm has a remarkably phallic-looking flowering catkin. As can be imagined, these erotic shapes have resulted in the perpetuation of many myths and legends.

The first recorded visit to Praslin, when it was covered in virgin equatorial hardwood and palm forests, was made by Lazare Picault in 1744, and he gave it the name of Ile de Palme. Marion Dufresne leading an exploratory expedition from Mauritius in 1768, named the island Praslin, after Gabriel de Choiseul, Duc de Praslin, the French minister of marine affairs.

Although a large amount of the original forest has disappeared as a result of deforestation, there is still a valley where the remarkable palms are protected and flourish – the Vallee de Mai, a World Heritage Site. There you can enjoy the majestic splendour of the forest and see all six of Seychelles’ endemic palms plus array of other trees and plants. The nearby island of Curieuse and the proposed new national park on fond Ferdinand in the south of Praslin are the only other places where coco de mer palms can be found growing naturally. Praslin is not only famous for the palms but is also home to the rare endemic black parrot, and though these birds are never easy to find, they can be seen in any of the natural areas on the island.

 

La Digue

La Digue, with its dramatic, sculptured granite rocks and exquisite beaches is a laid-back, inviting island in the sun. It lies 50km northeast of Mahe, 4km east of Praslin and is the fourth largest of the granite islands. The 10km² island is almost completely encircled by coral reef and has no natural harbour. A jetty has been built at La Passe on the west coast and recently, a breakwater has been constructed to provide more shelter, particularly during the northwest monsoons. The island is about 6km long, a little over 3km wide, and rises up 33m at Nid d’Aigles, ‘Eagles Nest’, the highest peak.

Marion Dufresne, in his ship La Digue, made the first recorded discovery of this picturesque island in 1768, and the French took formal possession of it in 1771. Amid the lush vegetation, streams and swamps, the worst thing the early settles had to contend with were the crocodiles, and they were soon eradicated along with the tortoise. The birdlife managed to cling on to a precarious existence, and the rare black paradise flycatcher is still present in low, but increasing numbers.

Coconut palms, magnificent white beaches, few shops, plenty of bicycles and a couple of ox carts all add up to a totally relaxed island-style way of life. At L’Union Estate copra is still processed in the old fashioned way using an ox to turn the grinding wheel for extracting the coconut oil. Boats are built and repaired using traditional methods, and nobody is ever in a hurry. There are some lovely examples of Creole architecture nestling among the lush vegetation. Most of the 2,000 residents are involved in the tourism industry, others are fisherman and some are boat builders. On La Digue you will find small, welcoming hotels, coconut and vanilla plantations, art studios, and the most seductive beaches. Although the public telephones may not always work, the schooners and ferries do arrive and depart on time.

 

North Island

North Island lies almost 5km north of Silhouette and 30km north of Mahe. It covers an area of 210ha and reaches rocky heights of 214m. It has four superb beaches, framed by massive granite slabs and palm trees.

North Island had been in the Beaufond family since it was first awarded to Madame Cereline Beaufond in 1826. Like most of the Seychelles islands, it had large colonies of breeding seabirds which contributed considerable guano that was mined and sold for fertiliser. The island later became a coconut plantation but, after the collapse of copra industry, it was sold. It remained as a farm, but neglected, it became overgrown with many alien plants. Cattle, goats and pigs became feral and cats and rats proliferated decimating birds and other animals.

The potential for tourism and restoration of the island was recognised when Norisco bought it in 1997. Their aim was to remove the alien plants and animals, restore the natural balance of the island and create a small, exclusive lodge in harmony with the environment. An extensive rat eradication programme was carried out to make North Island one of the few rat-free islands in Seychelles and an area of land was cleared for construction of the lodge. Impressive indigenous plant nurseries were established and over a hundred thousand plants of 73 species were grown from seed. At least half of these have been planted out already and reintroduction of some of the rare and endangered Seychelles bird species is planned. A resident ecologist and a marine biologist work closely together, running conservation programmes on all aspects of the environment. Hawksbill and green turtles nest on the beaches and now that the vermin animals have been exterminated, the hatchlings stand a better chance of survival. A turtle monitoring and tagging programme is running in collaboration with others in Seychelles. Tropic birds are returning to nest, and kestrels and sunbirds have been sighted.

 

Fregate

Fregate, 55km east of Mahe, is a privately owned island with an exclusive lodge. The island reaches a height of 125m and massive slabs of glacis dominate the plateau. Like so many islands of the Seychelles, Fregate also saw removal of endemic trees and plants to make way for coconut plantations. Nowadays, although the island is still dominated by coconut palms, large areas of woodland have been rehabilitated with a variety of indigenous trees including takamakas, badamiers, palms and screw pines. Sadly, many of the mighty sandragon trees have died as a result of a fatal wilt disease that has attacked the species throughout the Seychelles.

The efforts of the conservation team on Fregate are famous for the recovery of the endangered magpie robins. The smart black and white birds had declined to a critical number of only 24 but the total population now stands at around 100, with almost half on Fregate. When the numbers started increasing, some were relocated to Cousin, Cousine and Aride. It is also one of three islands supporting a population of the Seychelles fody, which are now so numerous they even come into the restaurant to share in the breakfast crumbs. Some of the rare Seychelles white-eyes have been relocated to Fregate and are thriving. Much of the success of the rehabilitation process has been due to the replanting of hundreds of indigenous trees and plants, the extensive rat eradication programme and the construction of an impressive rat-proof fence around the harbour area.

Remarkably, Fregate is the only known home of a strange insect, the 4cm-long giant tenebrionid beetle. This weird but harmless creature has long legs and rough bumpy wing cases but cannot fly. Small groups of these beetles can be seen on tree trunks around Fregate. A small herd of reintroduced Aldabra tortoises has an easy life on this beautiful little island. The juvenile tortoises are held in captivity until they are sufficiently mature to be released among the free herd.

Fregate is also famous for its stories of Arab sailors and pirate treasures which are fuelled by a few scattered ruins, some ancient graves, an old well and some interesting artefacts discovered on the island. Lazare Picault made the first recorded visit to the island in 1744 when he sailed from Mauritius via Chagos on his second exploratory expedition. He named island Fregate, after the stately frigate birds which occur in the area. Other early explorers noted the presence of giant tortoises, turtles and dugongs as well as the absence of crocodiles. Hawksbill and green turtle still haul up on to the beaches of Fregate to lay their eggs. Countless noddies and white terns breed on the island and large fruit bats can also be seen hanging in the trees.

 

Denis

Denis, on the moth northerly part of the shallow Seychelles Bank, lies about 95km north of Mahe. This privately owned island is only 2km long and, at most 1.5km wide, and covers an area of 120ha. It is an emerald-green flat coral island edged by white beaches with coral reefs protecting the southern side. Denis de Trobriand, master of the Etoile, was first to discover the island in 1773; he claimed it for France and gave it his name. It suffered the same fate as many of the other islands as, firstly guano mining was undertaken, followed by the development of coconut plantations. Since then, a rat eradication programme has been successfully carried out and several species of endemic birds are slowly being reintroduced. A lighthouse was erected in 1910 to warn passing ships of the hazards of the shallow area close to the northern side of the island.

The present owner bought the island in 1976 as his own little piece of paradise. He proceeded to build chalets to accommodate guests, and the island now operates as the ultimate tropical getaway.

 

Bird

Remote Bird Island, another privately owned sandy speck in the ocean, lies 105km northwest of Mahe on the edge of the Seychelles Bank. It is in fact the most northerly island in the Seychelles, being a mere fraction further north than Denis. It covers only 70ha of land, is, 1,500m long and 750m wide. Very little is known of the early history of Bird but the first recorded visit was in 1771 when the master of The Eagle chartered the island. In 1808, a French privateer, Hirondelle, with 180 people on board, was wrecked on the reef and the survivors remained on the island for three weeks while they constructed a raft, before sailing to Mahe. Bird was originally called Ile aux Vaches Marines (‘Island of Sea Cows’) after all the dugongs that lazed around in the clear waters. They have become extinct but the island is still often referred to as Ile aux Vaches and it appears on many maps as such. In 1896 guano was already being mined on the island and 17,000 tonnes were removed between 1900 and 1905. At the end of that phase, coconuts were planted for the copra industry. The present owner bought the island in 1967, an airstrip was cleared, and a small tourist lodge was developed. The owner declared the island a wildlife sanctuary in 1986 and the lodge was upgraded. Over the years it has been enlarged and refurbished but it maintains its integrity as an unpretentious hotel with a blend of hospitality, relaxation and simplicity in a non-sophisticated natural environment.

 

Malawi

The name “Malawi” comes from the Marvi, a Bantu people who emigrated from the southern Congo around 1400AD. Sharing its border with Tanzania, Mozambique and Zambia and boasting the third largest lake in , offers a unique getaway experience unlike any other. Home to the idyllic Lake Malawi, schools of rare tropical fish wait to be discovered by scuba and skin divers. Above the azure water, once can enjoy a variety of water sports. And because it’s surrounded by , sandy coves and beaches, there is plenty to discover along its banks.

Lake Malawi Malawi Pulse Africa

Visit Nyika National Park and the Vwasa Marsh Wildlife Reserve in the northern region. Sip a cup of tea in colonial style at the famous Livingstonia Mission, with its interesting museum nearby. Explore Lilongwe, Malawi’s capital. Hike to the 3000m summit of Mulanje Massi – Malawi’s highest mountain range.

 

General Information on Malawi:

Location: Malawi

Southern Africa, east of

Size: 118 484km²

Climate: November to April, hot and wet; May to August, moderate and dry; September to Octber, very hot and dry.

Status: Democratic republic

Population: 10 701 824 (July 2002)

Capital: Lilongwe

Other main towns: Blantyre, Mzuzu, Zomba and Koronga

Economy: The economy is predominately agricultural. The economy depends on substantial inflows of economic assistance from the IMF, the World Bank, and individual donor nations. The performance of the tabacco sector is key to short-term growth.

Currency: Malawian Kwacha (MWK)

Language: English (indigenous languages important regionally)

Religion: Approximately 50% Christian, 12% Islamic and the remainder a selection of other faiths and sects.

International dialling code: +265

Time: GMT +2

Electricity: AC 240V

Flag: Three equal horizontal bands of black (top), red, and green with a radiant, rising, red sun centred in the black band.

 

Malawi’s most popular areas:

Blantyre

Blantyre is Malawi’s unofficial commercial capital, and the oldest European settlement in the country. The Blantyre mission was founded in October 1876 by the Established Church of Scotland, and named after the small village in which David Livingstone was born. Under its first leader,  Rev Duff Macdonald, the Blantyre Mission ruled over the surrounding hills a despotic cruelty, flogging and killing suspected thieves and murderers with out even the pretence of a trial. The behaviour of the early Blantyre missionaries caused a scandal in the British press, forcing many of them to retire, and Macdonald to be replaced by Rev Clement Scott in 1881. The healthy, fertile climate around Blantyre proved attractive to European settlers, and the mission’s strategic position served as an excellent communication centre for the traders who operated between Lake Malawi and the Zambezi Valley.  Blantyre rapidly became the most important settlement in Malawi, a status it retains to this day, with a population of around 500,000, almost double that of the capital, Lilongwe.

Blantyre is more intrinsically attractive than Lilongwe, lying at an altitude of 1,038m in a valley ringed by low hillls, the largest of which are Michuru (1,473m), Soche (1,533m) and Ndirende (1,612m). For all that, the city lacks any discernible character and cannot, by any stretch of the immagination, be thought of as a tourist attraction. But it remains the focal point of travel in southern Malawi, as well as the springboard for bus transport to Harare via Mozambique’s Tete Corridor. Most visitors to Malawi spend a night or two in Blantyre at some point.

 

The Shire Valley

Southwest of Blantyre, the M1 snakes and slithers over the Thyolo Escarpment, offering fantastic views across the hills of Majete Wildlife Reserve and Mozambique, before it descends to the steamy lowlands of the Shire Valley. Despite a reasonably dense human population, the Shire Valley retains much of the atmosphere of wild, untrammelled Africa. In large part, this is due to the sluggish presence of the wide and lushly vegetated Shire River, still home to sizeable populations of hippopotamus and crocodile. But even among the people, the Shire Valley seems less influenced by the West than much of modern Africa. The Shire Valley was the first part of Malawi to be visited by Europeans. In January 1859, Livingstone’s Zambezi Expedition steamed up the Shire until its path was blocked by cataracts that lie on what is now the southern border of Majete Wildlife Reserve. When Livingstone travelled up the Shire again in 1861, to help Bishop Mackenzie established the first mission in Central Africa, much of the region was under the indirect control of Portuguese slavers. Worse still was to greet Livingstone on his final trip up river in 1863 – the Shire had become, in the words of Dr Rowley, another member of the expedition, ‘literally a river of death’. The banks were lined with dead emaciated Africans; one member of the expedition calculated that a corpse floated past them every three hours. The malaria that is hyper endemic to the Shire River claimed the lives of several members of Livingstone’s expedition. In 1862, Bishop Mackenzie died on a now-sunken island at the confluence of the Ruo and Shire near Bangula. Two other clergy men, Rev Scudamore and Dr Dickinson, and a 25-year-old geologist Richard Thornton, all died in the Chikwawa area in 1863. Today the Shire Valley does not see a great deal of tourism, but it is not short of worthwhile attractions. Aside from the River itself, rich in atmosphere and historical connections, this area boasts two little-visited wildlife reserves, Majete and Mwabvi, as well as the Lengwe National Park.

 

Thyolo and Mulanje

The M2 south of Limbe winds to Thyolo through a highland area quite different in character to any other part of Malawi. This is tea-growing country, strikingly reminiscent of the Kericho district of western Kenya: breezy, rolling hills swathed in orderly rows of tea bushes and still supporting the occasional remnant patch of indigenous forest in valleys and along watercourses.

As you cross the plantation-covered hills around Thyolo, you can hardly fail to be aware of the staggeringly proportioned granite outcrop that dominates the eastern skyline. This is the Mulanje Massif, the highest mountain in Central Africa, rising almost 2km above the surrounding Phalombe Plain to an altitude of 3,002m.

Tourism to this part of Malawi is inevitably, and rightly, centred around Mulanje, which arguably offers the finest hiking in the country, and is renowned, by mountaineers for its exceptional rock-climbing. Thyolo, too, is worth a stop, as a base from which to explore the biologically rich mahogany forest on the upper slopes of Thyolo Mountain.

 

Zomba and Surrounds

This is a lovely part of Malawi, a relatively low-lying plateau interrupted by a number of large , most notably the vast Zomba Mountain above the town of the same name. The most popular tourist attraction in the region is undoubtedly Zomba Mountain, a hikers’ with plentiful birds and small mammals, as well as wonderful views across to Mulanje and Mozambique. Also growing in popularity, especially since Mvuu Camp was privatised and thoroughly refurbished, is Liwonde National Park, one of the most atmospheric reserves in Africa, dominated by the palm-fringed, crocodile and hippo infested waters of the Shore River.

 

The Lakeshore from Mangochi to Cape Maclear

The southern shore of Lake Malawi is well developed for tourism. All but one of the major tourist-class hotels on the lake lie on the stretch of shore between Mangochi and Cape Maclear, and Cape Maclear itself is far and away the most popular backpackers’ haunt anywhere in the country.

The largest town in the region, Mangochi, does not actually lie on Lake Malawi but on the west bank of the Shire River a short way south of Lake Malawi and north of Lake Malombe. Nevertheless, Mangochi is best grouped with the southern lakeshore – not least because its main source of tourist traffic comes from travellers who have arrived at Cape Maclear to discover that Mangochi is the nearest place where you can change foreign currency into local money.

 

Lilongwe

Lilongwe is the blandest of capitals. Arriving as most visitors do, in the so-called ‘old town’, what you will see is indistinguishable from any number of small southern towns. And you are in for a major disappointment if you head up to the new town – Capital City – expecting something more ostentatious. The Capital City sprawls unconvincingly over lightly wooded hill; what many maps show as the city centre amounts to little more than a of shopping malls and a few restaurants and government buildings melting into leafy suburbia.

Bland though it may be, Lilongwe is one of the most equable capitals in Africa: the climate is comfortable, getting in and out of town is simplicity itself, cheap accommodation is abundant and conveniently situated, shops and markets are well stocked, and the city is almost entirely free of the sort of tourist-targeted crime that makes so many other African cities a potentially treacherous initiation for visitors.

Lilongwe was founded in 1906 on the banks of the Lilongwe River, initially as a settlement for Asian traders, though its pleasant climate is rapidly attracted European business. In 1909, the fledgling township’s future status was assured when it became the terminus of the first road connecting Malawi to Zambia. By the 1930s, Lilongwe boasted a hotel, a hospital, a European sports club, and a mosque and Muslim Sports Club built by the thriving Asian business community. In 1947, Lilongwe was accorded full township status. By the time of Malawi’s independence, Lilongwe was, with a population of around 20,000, second only in size to Blantyre, and its central position made it the obvious choice to replace the colonial capital of Zomba. Lilongwe was formally made the capital of Malawi in 1975, since when its population has easily doubled.

Lilongwe holds little that is likely to be of interests to most tourists. Capital City is worth a look, and the old town is a pleasant place to stroll around, particularly the market and the nearby Asian quarter. The only genuine tourist attraction is the underrated and little-visited Lilongwe Nature Sanctuary which lies between old town and Capital City. But, in all honesty, it is tempting to recommend that tourists who have no specific reason to visit Lilongwe bypass the city altogether.

 

The Lakeshore around Salima

The Lake Malawi shore around Salima has become popular weekend getaway for Lilongwe residents. As a result, the 5km stretch of beach between Senga Bay and Kambiri Point is as well developed for tourism as any part of the lake. The Salima area, is a must be said, has neither the natural beauty of Nkhata Bay or Cape Maclear, nor the sense of isolation of some of the resorts on the northern lakeshore. It is popular simply because it is closer to Lilongwe that any other part of the lake. Nevertheless, it is an attractive enough spot, relatively rich in birds and mammals, and a very comfortable place to settle into for a few days.

Salima itself lies 15km from the lake; it is a thoroughly dull small town, and purely if interest as a route focus and as the gateway to Senga Bay on Lake Malawi. The only motivations for exploring Salima beyond its bus station are practical: it has a bank, a post office, a bustling market, and a couple of well stocked supermarkets. Most visitorssimply head straight onto Senga Bay.

Main points of interest around Senga Bay are the Mpatsanjoka River (excellent birding and resident hippos), Island, and the tropical fish farm near Kambiti Point.

 

Nkhata Bay

Nkhata Bay’s attractions are manifold. The lakeshore is gloriously lush and scenic: a twin pair of bays spilling into the wooded mainland and separated by a long, narrow peninsula. Just as alluring to many is the strong sense of traveller community that has developed in the village. The place is addictively laid back, to the extent that it seems to paralyse the will of many travellers, but Nkhata Bay’s fortunes have fluctuated. From being one of the best-kept secrets, this small port overtook Cape Maclear as the most popular travellers’ congregation point on the lakeshore, if not anywhere between Zanzibar and Victoria Falls.

 

Likoma Island

The island of Likoma, 8km long and 3km wide, lies within Mozambican waters but is territorially part of Malawi, mainly as a result of its long association with Scottish missionaries. In 1886, Likoma became the site of an Anglican mission, established by Bishop Chauncey Maples with the help of his close friend and fellow Oxford graduate, the Rev William Johnson. Maples was consecrated as the first bishop of Likoma in London in 1895, but he never actively assumed this post as he drowned in a boating accident near Salima, caused by his enthusiasm to return to Likoma despite stormy weather. Maples was buried in the church at Nkhotakota. Johnston went on to become one of the most fondly remembered of all the missionaries who worked in Malawi. He arrived at the lake in 1882 and for 46 years he preached from a boat all around the lakeshores, despite being practically blind and well into his 70s when he died in 1928. Johnson’s grave at Liuli (on the Tanzanian part of the lakeshore) remained for several decades a popular site of pilgrimage for Malawian Christians.

Historical interest aside, Likoma’s main attraction for travellers is its isolation and mellow atmosphere. This is no conventional tropical island paradise, though the beaches really are splendid with the mountainous Mozambican shore rising above them, while the interior has a certain austere charm, particularly the southern plains which are covered in massive baobabs and shady mango trees and studded with impressive granite outcrops. Likoma has always generated a great deal of interest among travellers, but it remains surprisingly little visited.

 

Mzuzu, Nyika and Vwaza Marsh Wildlife Reserve

Mzuzu is the largest town in northern Malawi and the region’s major route focus, lying on the junction of the M1 between Lilongwe and the Tanzanian border and the lakeshore road from Nkhata Bay. Mzuzu and the nearby town of Rumphi hold little of interest to tourists, but they are springboards for visits to two of Malawi’s finest : and Vwaza Marsh Wildlife Reserve, a beautiful rolling highland plateau where visitors can walk freely amongst a variety of big game species. Vwaza Marsh is less publicised than Nyika, and sees very few tourists, although it is readily accessible both to motorised travellers and to backpackers, and it offers exceptional game viewing, elephants being particularly numerous.

Mauritius

It is wonderful to visit Tropical Island that boasts some of the finest cuisine. An island that offers many of the best golf courses this side of paradise. We could tell you that the reason you’ll visit the seven hundred and eighty square mile volcanic island for the breathtaking mountainous backdrop that can be explored on horseback, 4X4 or on foot. But we know that the real reason thousands of visitors flock to Mauritius is of course for the sandy white , the warm azure sea and what lies below. After achieving independence in 1968, Mauritius has quickly earned its place as one of the top tropical island destinations for honeymooners as well as families. Little wonder, with sunny days that seem to last forever, the world’s third largest reef, 5 start hotels and a selection of private villas. And because the island is malaria free, it’s an ideal destination for the whole family.

Mauritius Pulse Africa

Enjoy water sports such as , explore the multi coloured coral reef on an underwater walk, in a submarine or a semi-submersible scooter. Climb Le Pouce (The Thumb) at 812m and take in the spectacular 360 degree view of Port Louis. Bargain and barter your way around the city’s market where you can find everything from souvenirs to high end fashion. Swim on the northern beaches, shaded by casuarinas. Dive off the west coast with sharks, turtles and a myriad of multi coloured fish.

 

General Information on Mauritius:

Location: In the Indian Ocean, south of the Equator and just north of the Tropic of Capricorn

Size: 1864km²

History: Discovered by Arabs then the Portuguese, was first settled by the Dutch in 1598. It was claimed by the French in 1715 as Ile de France and captured by the British in 1810. It was a British colony until 1968 when it became an independent member of the Commonwealth. It became a republic in 1992.

Climate: Hot summers ( November to April) with average coastal temperature of 30°C and warm winters ( May to October), averaging 24°C. Interiors are 3-5°C lower. The rainy season is January to May with the possibility of a stray cyclone from January to March.

Nature: Mountainous with plateaux; flowers, forests and crops; rare and nothing dangerous; fine beaches within .

Visitors: Tourists come all the year around; November to January and August most popular months; May to October most pleasant.

Population: 1,206,000 of Indian, , European and Chinese origin

Capital:

Economy: Based on industry and agricultural exports, tourim and financial services.

Currency: The Mauritian rupee (Rs), which is divided into 100 cents (cs). The international exchange rate fluctuates daily, linked to a basket of currencies.

Language: The official language is English but creole is the most widely used. Most people speak (and read) French, with Hindi, Tamil and Chinese as the main alternatives.

Religion: Hinduism, Islam and Christianity, and also Confucianism and Buddhism.

International telephone code: +230

Time: GMT +4

Electricity: 220 volts

 

Mauritius’s most popular areas

Port Louis

Port Louis looks best from the sea. It is a booming city that combines new buildings with old, contrasting with the spires and peaks of the threadbare mountain range behind. In the centre is Pouce, poking 811m into the sky like Jack Horner’s thumb. On its left is Pieter Both, a peak named after a Dutch notable who drowned in the bay, distinguished by the boulder balanced precariously on its tip. To the right the city’s boundary extends along a switchback of daunting crags: Snail Rock, Goat Rock, Spear Grass Peak and Quoin Bluff. The sheer sides of Signal Mountain (323m) dominate the western flank of the town.

Solid Victorian warehouses and modern concrete towers, like sawn-off skyscrapers, crowd the flat expanse of the city. Houses claim the land right up to the foothills of Pouce Valley, leaving open spaces only on the plain of the Champ de Mars and the isolated 86m-high hill in the middle of the city, on which perches the battered vulture of a fort called the Citadel. Tall royal palms have somehow survived the city’s growth to form an avenue of greenery leading from the waterfront up the centre of the Place d’Armes to Government House.

It is a city of boundless charm and has preserved a village soul, perhaps because the crowds of people who descend from the plateau towns during the day to work leave the city alone at night. Its streets are empty then, echoing with the sound of recorded music from wedding parties in upstairs halls, the click of dominoes from Chinese club rooms, or the call of the muezzin.

 

Northern Mauritius

Northern Mauritius is divided into two districts: Pamplemousses in the west and Riviere du Rempart in the east. The coast of Pamplemousses is largely given to tourism and includes the lively resort of Grand Baie. Its boundary is the mountain range encircling Port Louis, with Creve Coeur, behind Pieter Both, as its southernmost village. It cuts through the sugar plantations east of Pamplemousses town and runs northwards to the coast at Pointe aux Canonniers.

Riviere du Rempart is a compact district of contrasts, encompassing the tourist hot spots to the east of Grande Baie, the industrial/agricultural area of Goodlands and the rugged northeast coast around Poudre d’Or. The town of Riviere du Rempart is in the east of the district, originally named Rampart River for its steep banks.

The importance of sugar in the north of Mauritius gave rise to the construction of the island’s first railway line in 1864. The Northern Line, which connected Port Louis to Pamplemousses and Placq, was used to transport sugar to Port Louis. It stopped carrying passengers in 1956 and was closed down completely in 1964.

 

Eastern Mauritius

The district of Flacq occupies most of the east of the island, which for our purposes extends from the Roches Noires in the northeast down to Bois des Amourettes in the southeast.

Much of eastern Mauritius was covered with ebony forest when the dutch settled here in the 17th century, but it didn’t take them long to start felling the trees to make a road northwards from their settlement at Grand Port. The French continued attacking the forests, using the timber to build ships and houses. The land is now primarily devoted to agriculture and the area boasts two of the island’s largest sugar estates.

The beaches around Belle Mare are glorious, and have attracted swarms of upmarket hotels. Nevertheless, there is sufficient mid-range and budget accommodation in the area.

The uninhabited Ile aux Crefs, off Trou d’Eau Douce, is one of the best-known tourist attractions of the east, with its miles of beaches, new championship golf course and copious water sports facilities. The area south of Trou d’Eau Douce is largely undeveloped owing to the lack of beaches. Driving along this coast is a real pleasure, with the road sandwiched between the sea and unspoilt fishing villages.

 

Southern Mauritius

The south extends from historic Vieux Grand Port in the southeast to Baie du Cap River, on the border between the districts of Savanne and Black River, in the southwest.

Saved by a lack of beaches, the south of Mauritius has avoided much of the tourist development that has taken place elsewhere. The southeast is most visitors’ first experience of the island, having arrived at the international airport at Plaisance. Many simply pass through the area, returning only to catch another flight, yet there is so much for the visitor to see.

The ruins and monuments around Vieux Grand Port attests to its dramatic past: the first landing of the Dutch in 1598 and the naval battle between the English and French in 1810. Nearby is the south’s main town, Mahebourg, a sleepy fishing community crammed with colourful houses.

There is a small beach resort around Pointe d’Esny and Blue Bay, with a good selection of accommodation. Just off the coast here is Ile aux Aigrettes, a nature reserve run by the Mauritius Wildlife Foundation, which is well worth a visit.

Savanne is the southernmost district of Mauritius, stretching westwards from the sugar-growing villages of Savannah along a coast that is the island’s most rugged.

Cane Fields interspersed with fishing villages dominate the coast, while the interior around Grand Bois is tea-growing country. In 2004, this area changed foe ever when the Bel Ombre Sugar Estate, prompted by the downturn in the sugar industry, allowed three upmarket hotels to be built on some of its coastal land. Thankfully the hotels were built in such a way as to minimise any negative impact on the local area and the community. For visitors looking for tranquillity, the area now offers a peaceful alternative to the north and east coast.

 

Western Mauritius

The district of Black River covers the west coast of Mauritius, extending from the southwest, by Baie du Cap, northwards to the boundary of Port Louis. It was called Zwarte River by the Dutch and Riviere Noire by the French, who created the district in 1768. The river itself is not black, so the name probably refers to the black rocks of its bed and banks.

Black River is mostly mountainous and sparsely populated, its inhabitants employed in fishing tourism and sugar. It has no towns, only village communities, and is the most ‘African’ part of the island. Creole lifestyle dominates, with Catholic churches rather than Hindu temples providing the focal point for communities. The region is also famed for its sega music and dancing.

The Black River Gorges National Park is by far the island’s largest nature reserve. For walkers and nature lovers, the park offers spectacular scenery and wildlife.

The west is the driest and sunniest of the island’s coasts and it boasts dramatic sunsets. Its climate, combined with some superb beaches, makes this a popular weekend escape for Mauritians. There is also plenty of accommodation for visitors, particularly around Flic en Flac.

The west is the best coast for deep-sea fishing. This is particularly so around the area of Grande Riviere Noire, where the ocean floor drops away to a great depth, attracting large predators to feed on smaller fish.

 

Central Mauritius

Two districts make up central Mauritius: Plaines Wilhems to the south and west of centre and Moka to the north and east.

At around 600m above sea level, the centre of the island is noticeably cooler and wetter than the coast. Temperatures are generally 3-5°C lower so a visit to the centre can be a welcome break from the heat of the beaches.

The central plateau is characterised by extinct volcanic craters, lakes, rivers and waterfalls. Some of the island’s most spectacular scenery lies within the Black River Gorges National Park, which protects Mauritius’s remaining forest and offers good opportunities for hiking.

Another attraction which draws tourists to the centre is the abundance of discount clothing and souvenir shops in the plateau towns. These towns are largely residential, linked to each other and to Port Louis by the motorway that cuts through the centre of the island.