Category Archives: Mauritius

Dakar & Mauritius Redux

Updating previous visits by @Honoluluskye and @kkaaria, here are more travel tales from Dakar  and Mauritius  by @kahenya and @carolmusyoka respectively 
Getting There:  My best bet on this would be to fly from Nairobi, through Addis to Bamako and then on to Dakar. Its a more comfortable ride than Kenya Airways (KQ) and from what I heard, has better quality of inflight services. KQ was delayed at take off and was not really worth it. Cost of the ticket return is about US$ 1400 + tax.
Senegal now has an Embassy in Runda, Nairobi – and it’s mandatory that you obtain a visa here, or you’ll get turned back in Dakar. The visa process is not really complicated, but also accept that there are numerous delays at the embassy, and book way ahead of your travel (about  3 weeks. The cost for the visa (for under 30 days) is Kshs 1,750 for Africans and Kshs 3,500 for non-Africans.
On Arrival: In Dakar, getting out of the airport was fairly easy; they scrutinize your visa and picture to ensure that it is you, but once you get your passport stamped, you are good to go. It took about 45 minutes from getting off the plane to getting into the hotel. There were no unexpected taxes or fees, and the cost of a taxi back and forth between our hotel, and the airport was about US$ 15.00.
Getting Around: I stayed in the hotel where the conference was so there wasn’t much commuting taking place. There are numerous ways to get around, from what seemed to be a well-built bus service, but more  common were small taxis which are very reasonably priced for the distances covered. 
Bring your French with you, and it will get difficult, so its always best to get the hotel concierge involved if you are uncertain about where you want to go, but for the seasoned traveller, walk out of the hotel, walk a bit of a distance and then flag down a taxi and you are guaranteed to get reduced rates. Walking is also a good way to get around, and I did that a lot, in the evenings when it was cooler.
Not once, did I feel insecure about walking around at night, and I did walk out as late as 1.00 AM. I was told to mind vendors who can be very pushy but that was it. I could not quite remember being warned about crime and did not see anything happen. Its quite a peaceful place.
Social Scene: For something good, expect to pay about US$ 200+ per night thought it may get affordable. In 3 days, electricity failed once for a few minutes and that was it. I ate dinner out twice, which cost about Kshs 1,000 per meal. There was a lot of fish involved, and rice. I randomly picked meals and they were quite good. 

I used a bit of extremely bad French and English. I did not ever once run into an English written publication. Everything was French. A lot of the Senegal people I met were more interested in telling me where their fabric shops were and talk about Gorée Island, but besides all that, did not quite talk much else. When it comes to Agriculture, I watched a news clip one evening, and if my French was right, the government was encouraging people to focus more on agriculture and was going as far as creating access to clean and safe water for consumption and agriculture.

Stay in Touch:  Making calls was a very easy. I bought a SIM card from Orange/Sonatel, put it into my phone, waited about 30 minutes for it to be activated and that was it. The network also has monthly BlackBerry packages, but it seemed overkill to buy that for 4 days.  Roaming from Dakar is expensive, hence the choice of buying a local SIM-card – and if you save your numbers in the + {country code} {number} format, it is as easy as dialing as if you are at home. Call quality was ok, but sometimes sounded poor as most of their international calls are routed through VoIP. 

Calling from Senegal across Africa and overseas seemed to be affordable, possibly the most affordable city in Africa! I topped up about Kshs 850 ($10) and that was more than enough for me to call Kenya, South Africa, China and USA every single day for a few minutes and text non-stop. I also managed to find the Tablet Cafe at Medina set up by Google which was impressive and the hotel had very good Wi-Fi hotspots that allowed for Skype access.
Odd Points:  The Senegalese are a bunch of really nice people, very warm and affectionate and really go out of their way to make you feel at home. What I found odd was that they also workout a lot, and right outside the hotel, you will find local joggers every morning and evening – more than I have seen anywhere else in the world. A taxi driver pointed to some senior government official going for a jog with 2 bodyguards one afternoon.
Somewhat related, the Minister of Communication, Telecommunications and Digital Economy, Cheikh Abiboulaye Dieye, impressed by arriving on time to give his speech, and then keeping to the allotted time without diverging into political rhetoric or making outlandish statements.
Going to Gorée Island had to be the highlight of the trip, seeing the actual guns used in the making of the movie, The Guns of Navarone, which were actual forward artillery pieces during World War II made it just about the best thing there is to see, but also learning (and seeing) about what slaves had to endure before being shipped off to the New World. Even the movies we watch today have nothing on the reality of what really happened.
Shopping & Sight-Seeing: There are many European style malls – like Sea Plaza which was right next to the hotel, which put places like Westgate and Junction to shame,. I guess many of this malls are there due to the proximity to Europe and actual real focus on investment as well as French and Arab influences which are easy to see. It shocked me that things there are quite affordable even in malls, unlike Kenya where buying some things seems to be a compromise if you are buying for a mall. I bought a lot of fabric and art work, as well as some books to read and catch up on my French.
I spent about US$ 500 for shopping and stuff, managed to get a bit of bowling done, went out for drinks and a cigar at some fancy lounge and stuff like that.
Biggest surprise about the Country? Honestly, after watching news clips about Dakar, I expected a downtrodden backward country, but that was not the case. Dakar is a beautiful and fairly well developed country. There were times you could not distinguish between being in Dakar and being say in Corsica or Ibiza due to the Mediterranean atmosphere. Their Duty Free was also very impressive, featuring a tobacconist where obviously, I had to make a stop and shop.

Getting There: You have two options; Nairobi-Madagascar via Kenya Airways, then Madagascar-Mauritius via Air Mauritius or a direct Nairobi-Mauritius flight on Air Mauritius.  Though direct flights are only on Saturday, Tuesday and Thursday, it is preferable as Madagascar is horrible, and can take up to five hours during which you wait in a room without food and drink. Tickets cost about $700
On arrival, there is no visa requirement just a yellow fever certificate requirement. It was a very busy immigration area but the officials are friendly.
Getting Around: There is a public transport system and taxis are available, but i didn’t use any as ii was at a conference. I also felt pretty safe getting around. They are insane about speeding and there’s deep respect for speed limits in designated zones as there are traffic cameras and strong penalties for breaches.
Communications: Do not use Safaricom roaming…..horrifically expensive. the hotel i stayed in was all inclusive and had Wi-Fi but it was very slow.
Social Stuff
– English is widely spoken. French too and the Mauritians are exceedingly friendly!!!
–  A good hotel will cost about 100 euros all inclusive and the electricity was quite reliable
– In terms of food, there is lots of Indian influence so a staple is rice and curry.
Shopping & sight-seeing: Port Louis market and Gran Baie lovely for shopping and hanging around – and there is plenty of tourist stuff to do like boat tours, swimming etc.
Biggest surprise about the country?  How small it was – 65 kilometers long and about  45 kilometers wide 

Guide to Mauritius

A guest post by @kkaaria after a visit to the land of the Dodo & bargains, and where good life & driving habits are the norm!

Getting There Air Mauritius offers the best rates for direct flights from Nairobi’s JKIA, but double check as prices vary during the year. It can cost as low as Kshs 85,000 during off peak and as high as Ksh125,000 (now ~$~1,250) in peak seasons. The weather in Mauritius with no extreme changes in temperature coupled with its vibrant offshore business sector makes it (depending on your vacation or business interests)- a year round destination. The Air Mauritius flight from Kenya is a once -a-week flight that fills up quite fast so you’re advised to book in time.

Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam (SSR) Airport is quite hassle-free as a recent agreement between the Kenyan and Mauritian government ensures that Kenyans do not require a Visa to visit Mauritius. While there are no unexpected taxes, you will need your yellow fever card. Also, life is pretty good in Mauritius which means they aren’t all that crazy about strangers infiltrating their haven so be prepared for more thorough procedure than at most Sub Saharan Africa countries. They might ask to see your accommodation reservation and return ticket so print & keep them close to show at immigration if asked

Business & Infrastructure: Mauritius is a pretty small Island of about 1.2 million citizens and it will take a little over an hour to cross from one end of the country to the other. Hotel airport transfers will cost you about $90 for one-hour drive. If you have not arranged for hotel transfers, taxis are available at the airport. There is always room to bargain but make sufficient allowance for you taxi trip.

Money: Change your money before travel. I could not find Mauritius Rupees (MRU) in time in Kenya so consider either transacting in dollars once you get there or travelling with another major currency (Euro, pound) currency and changing it once you get there (The Rand is also widely accepted).. The exchange rate was $1= ~MRU 28/29 which translates into circa 1MRU= Ksh 3.5. Most major banks are present in Mauritius so with a Visa card you should be able to get money (dispensed in Rupees).

Accommodation: Mauritius has some of the world’s finest hotels and resorts, golf retreats and spas . Hotels fill up very fast and tend to be a bit pricey compared to Kenya. ‘Cheap’ accommodation here will cost you at least $100 half board, while the bigger resorts (4/5 star) will cost upwards of $350 per person for half board. Depending on your reason for visiting and your schedule, you might want to look into all-inclusive packages that cover all meals and unlimited supply on selected drinks( alcoholic and non- alcoholic) as this saves you considerably on cost.

Electricity: – is very reliable in Mauritius, and you will notice that in the major towns, most houses are fitted with solar panels. There are no power outs in Mauritius (I’m looking at you KPLC). And a family of 5 (from my asking around) pays an average of Rs 1500 per month for power. They use 220/240 volts AC. Plugs vary from two round pins to three square pins Kenya-style but take an all-purpose adaptor just in case.

Communications – Get a local line if you are not roaming – those who were roaming (from Kenya) came back to ridiculous bills *muaha*.

– Orange and EmTel are the two networks in Mauritius. I got an orange line for 100 rupees, which comes with Rs86 of airtime. You can buy reasonably priced data bundles after that.

– Most hotels come with Wi-Fi as part of the package so make sure your package includes Wi-Fi. I didn’t see any cybercafés primarily but they don’t appear to be a vibrant feature compared to Nairobi. Note that, hotel phone calls can drive your bill pretty high. A 5 minute phone call will cost you about Rs800….which is ridiculous. International text messages cost RS0.60 and you can buy airtime in denominations of Rs50, Rs100 etc.

Getting Around: The transport system is quite efficient in Mauritius albeit pricey. There is no overcrowding in public transport, buses run on time, stop only at designated spots (I’m looking at you Citi Hoppa), drivers are very disciplined & courteous and observe traffic lights even at 5 A.M when they are the only car on the roads and you are running late for your flight! So you will need to check your Kenyan road issues at JKIA and pick them up when you return!

Most locals get around by bus, personal means, motorbikes or taxi. There is little traffic, every town/city has a bus service and pensioners (over 60 years) and school kids ride for free. Quite a number of folks drive around or ride motorbikes (Riders and passengers must wear helmets too). They drive on the left, give way to the right just like Kenya so it’s easy to rent a car and drive around for more flexibility and to cut costs.

There are lots of minivans shuttling tourists around. Since the minivans double as personal transport, it might be easier to get a good bargain compared to the regular taxis although prices tend to be in the same range. As always, and while Mauritius is pretty safe, be careful about what transportation you choose. Designated taxis are always recommended and you will find plenty of these outside hotels and at Taxi ranks. As of September, gas prices were for circa RS 49/litre or ~ $1.75/L.

Food & Drink: The staple food is ‘Farata’; a pan-fried flat bread served with various spicy curries. Food in Mauritius is as varied as it’s ethnic mix, derived from a population that is 60% Hindu 22% Christian 1% Franco Mauritians 3% Chinese and 13% Muslim.
Expect lots of spices, curries, chutneys, mutton, chicken, vegetables and of course seafood. Make sure you try the millionaires salad made from palm hearts. Yummy! Smoked marlin is another must try.

The main Mauritian local beer Phoenix is widely available in supermarkets, and also has lemon flavored variant. A 330ml bottle goes for about RS 25 and a 500ml bottle goes for about Rs40. The same bottle will cost you about Rs350 and up in a 4/5 star establishment. Another (less popular) brand is Blue Marlin.

Mauritius grows a lot of sugarcane and makes some good industrial and agricultural rums in their distilleries so DO try Mauritian Rum as well. They have a wide assortment of really good rums (rum cocktails/rum desserts are delish) as well as some local grape juice wines.

Depending on where you eat food can cost as little as Rs50. A single course meal at big hotels will go from Rs 450 and up. Cocktails at the larger hotels will cost upwards of Rs400 and beers upwards of Rs 300. A bottle of water in the supermarket costs Rs20-30 so budget accordingly depending on what you are up to.

Getting Around English is the official language, but Creole (derived from French) is used by everybody, and French is the most commonly spoken language. However, you will get by with English. Their major paper; ‘L’express’ contains a small English section with the major news of the day and ‘News on Sunday’ is a full English edition newspaper every Sunday. Others are Le Defi and Le Mauricien.

Mauritians are nice and friendly. In conversations, they will want to know about you, where you come from etc. and in turn they will freely volunteer any information you seek. They are also very up to date with their current affairs so a quick chat with the waiters, drivers and staff will give you a balanced opinion of ‘the news’ everyday. They receive a lot of tourists from South Africa so they tend to assume that every black person is from SA…and it can get a bit vexing! Through no deliberate effort on my part (I swear), they were willing to talk very openly about HIV/AIDS and not minding as I furiously jotted down statistics on my phone. Nice ☺

Transportation: A 4km distance journey on a bus will cost Rs 22 (Ksh70-80) while the same distance using a taxi will cost anything from Rs400 (Ksh 1500) and up. A full day car rental cost Rs3000, with an extra Rs1000 per day for a driver, and the car rental company will ask for your driving license and ID.

Mauritius is very secure, very friendly. You should be quite safe there but as usual, take the necessary precautions. Most hotels come with safes where you can keep your valuables and travel documents so make use of those.

Shopping & Sight-Seeing There’s plenty to see in Mauritius. While their beaches are littered with Coral; making it quite unpleasant to fully enjoy the beautiful blue waters and low tides, there are plenty of places to visit.

These include the famous 7 Colored Earths in Chamarel, Blue Penny Museum, Chinatown (yes), Sugar Factory Museum, Botanical gardens/Pampalemousses, Balaclava ruins, Shivala, Grand Basin, Rochester falls, Back river Gorge etc. Do have someone experienced take you around and make use of guidebooks to get the best out of it.

Make sure you take the Catamaran cruise to Ile aux Cerfs Island. The Cerf is a small island perfect for swimming, snorkeling and parasailing. It has a white sandy beach and bluest water I have ever seen my entire life. Plan with your guide so you get a chance to swim with dolphins in the ocean! It’s exhilarating!

Finally, watch a Sega dance in the evening. (a Mauritian dance with colorful flowing skirts to beautiful music by very attractive to marginally attractive ladies☺)

Depending on what you get up to, there is no limit to how much you can spend in Mauritius. It is a beautiful place to shop so heavy shoppers might spend more, and you might shop till you drop in Mauritius. There are tons of shopping malls in Port Louis (the capital) Curepipe, Grand Baie etc. If you want a good bargain, make sure to stop by the Grand Baie Bazaar where it is easier to bargain.

There are plenty of famous brand names at duty free prices in the malls if you’re into that stuff but the smaller markets also offer amazing stuff and souvenirs at great prices (again, Bargain!).

Plus there’s lots of Chinese and Indian stuff. You will get plenty of cashmere, rum, spicy teas, pearls, diamonds, hand woven silk & wool etc. for what I found to be truly decent prices after bargaining for about two hours . Also when getting souvenirs, get some Dodo bird inspired items – Dodo snow balls, Dodo fridge magnets, Dodo key holders etc. to bring back as gifts (The Dodo is a now extinct not very clever-ergo extinct- bird that once inhabited Mauritius).

Surprises in the country?: – Bargaining Again, things like car rental could be less if you can bargain harder with Mauritians who despite the free education insist that they need the money to pay for their children’s private schooling or after school tuition. I do drive a hard bargain but they were a tough nut to crack. Good luck with that.
– This is not Coke Country, but Pepsi. You will find Coca-Cola in some areas, but when you ask for a Rum & Coke that means Rum-Pepsi and when you ask for a Sprite, be ready to receive a 7Up.
– Also, dare I add, the suspender clad Mauritius policemen are very hot!! And speaking of policemen, littering in Mauritius will earn you an instant fine of Rs 1000.
– I am used to hotels serving ladies first then men second. I *think* I observed male waiters serving men first then women, while female waiters serve women first then men. I stand corrected but that is the norm at Le Meridien and a couple of other places I visited.

Summary: Mauritius is a lovely place. The weather is fantastic, not as humid as the Kenyan Coast. But their beaches are awash with Coral which puts Kenya way ahead on the beach experience; however Mauritius makes up for that with incredible service and security – a thing Kenyan establishments and staff at the Coast could learn from. So make time to visit Mauritius!