The Indian Ocean islands beckon travelers looking for the best of sun and sand with a melting pot of cultural flair. You won’t need much but beachwear to fit right into this version of paradise, but you should know a few things before you go.
Seasons in the Tropics
- Mauritius: Summer (October to April) temperatures range from 64°F to 95°F (18°C to 35°C). Winter (May to September) temperatures range from 61°F to 86°F (16°C to 30°C). You’ll find cooler weather mostly in the central plateau regions. Cyclones typically occur in Mauritius and Réunion between January and March.
- Réunion: In general, average coastal temperatures range from 70°F to 80°F (21°C to 27°C). In the higher interior elevations of the Cirques, temperatures can fall as low as 36°F (2°C). The best travel periods are the beginning (October/November) and end (April/May) of summer to avoid cyclones, downpours and French school holidays.
- Seychelles: Temperatures always remain pleasant—between 75°F and 90°F (24°C and 32°C). Cyclones don’t affect these islands, except for occasional grey and windy weather from December to March. Winter (May to September) tradewinds cause increased wave activity, so you may need to find sheltered beaches. Seasonal turnaround periods (March/April and October/November) are generally calm. July and August are the driest months, while January is the warmest, wettest month. You’ll find much higher hotel prices and lower availability during peak seasons (December to January, July to August, and Easter).
Colonized at different times by the Dutch, French and British, the Indian Ocean islands are inhabited by people from Africa, India, Egypt, Cyprus, Palestine, Zanzibar and China. As a result, this melting pot of cultures translates into a mix of languages.
- Mauritius: Although English is the official language of government and education, French dominates the media and public life. Locals speak mostly Creole (a French-based vernacular peppered with Indian and English), but you might also hear Indian and Chinese spoken.
- Réunion: French is the official language, but locals commonly speak Creole in casual settings. Since the vast majority of tourists are from France, it’s a good idea to brush up on basic French phrases and numbers since many tourist-industry employees aren’t fluent in English.
- Seychelles: English, French and Creole are the official languages, but many islanders also speak Italian and German.
Visitors should bring adapters and converters to conform to the islands’ voltage, frequency and outlets, which follow British and French standards. Check your device to see if it’s compliant with the following:
- Mauritius: 220V; 50Hz
- Réunion: 220–230V; AC 50Hz
- Seychelles: 220–240V; AC 50Hz
What to Wear
The warm and humid climate of the Indian Ocean islands calls for dresses, skirts, shorts and shirts in lightweight, breathable fabrics. Swimsuits, sarongs/cover-ups for women, sandals and flip-flops are the basic necessities. Pack a pair of sturdy shoes for walking and trail hiking. Winter (May to September) tradewinds call for light sweaters and pants, especially in the highland areas.
Each island is unique, so be sure to dress accordingly:
- Mauritius: Bring your best beachwear and casual wear to this resort haven. Pack shoes that slip on and off easily so you can remove them quickly when visiting Hindu temples.
- Réunion: Pack a jacket and rainwear, along with comfortable walking shoes to navigate the rugged terrain of this laid-back island. Cover your arms and legs to ward off the mosquitoes that call this lush, tree-filled paradise home.
- Seychelles: Smart-casual eveningwear (long pants for men, dresses for women) is perfect for most of the hotels and casinos on these islands.
Staying Safe in the African Sun
The sun is powerful in the African tropics. Pack hats, sunglasses and sunblock for all the islands. Don’t be fooled by overcast days—the sun’s strong UV rays can still burn your skin. Take it easy the first few days by limiting sun exposure, and wear a UPF-rated T-shirt, tunic or cover-up. Before staking your place in the sand, look for shade from a palm tree or pack a sun umbrella for shelter.
What to Try
Cooking influences from African, Chinese, Creole, Indian and European kitchens make these islands exotic eateries. Don’t miss some of the edible specialties:
- Alooda Glacé (aka: Falooda): A sweet Mauritian drink with milk, rose syrup, crushed ice, tapioca-type strips, basil seeds, vanilla and almond essence.
- Bourbon vanilla: The French first brought vanilla cuttings to Réunion, once named “Ile Bourbon” (Bourbon Island). Considered one of the world’s best varieties, Bourbon now describes the vanilla grown on the Indian Ocean islands, including Mauritius and the Seychelles—inspiring the regional nickname “Vanilla Islands.”
- Coco D’amour: The local coconut liquor in the Seychelles.
- Rum: Visit a distillery on any island and the L’Aventure du Sucre in Mauritius, [link to: Inside Track on L’Aventure du Sucre] a great museum that showcases the history and process of sugar production on the island.
- Seafood: It doesn’t get much fresher than on the islands. In Mauritius, shellfish is served with sauce rouge (red sauce), a sweet, tangy tomato delight. Octopus is a specialty in the Seychelles, served in a coconut curry or seafood cocktail. Tuna and kingfish are usually deep-fried with a spicy Creole tomato sauce, while smaller fish are cooked in curries and stews.
- Street food: The Mauritian capital of Port Louis is ripe with food stalls peddling local specialties like curry, dhal pouri (ground split peas wrapped in tortilla-like bread), rougaille (tomato sauce with onion, garlic, chilies and spices), samosas and gâteaux piments (deep-fried split pea and chili balls). If you’re feeling brave, try larves de guêpes (fried wasp larvae)—a local delicacy in Réunion and Mauritius. Look for the camion-bars (food trucks) in Réunion for cheap, local eats.
The Best Cultural Events & Markets
While you’re on the islands, be sure to go to a market or time your travels to coincide with a festival to experience the local culture and find authentic handicrafts, food and traditions.
- Mauritius & Réunion
- Chinese New Year (February): Chinese islanders celebrate with parades, dances, and food.
- Festival of Cavadée (January/February): The Tamil community comes out in force to celebrate. Devotees carry wooden yokes adorned with leaves, flowers and pots of milk to the temple, piercing their bodies to symbolize devotion to the Lord Maruga. Parades of floral floats, drumming, singing and bright clothing accompany the festivities.
- Bazar Labrinn (year-round): Fresh, local delicacies and souvenirs— Wednesdays and the last Saturday of the month in Beau Vallon Beach, Mahé.
- Bazar Ovan (year-round): Known for vibrant Creole music—the last Sunday of the month in Baie Lazare, Mahé.
- Bazar Victoria (year-round): Exotic Seychellois Creole culinary delicacies and handmade crafts—every Friday in Victoria, Mahé.
- Feast of the Assumption Mary (August 15): Locals flock to La Digue island to celebrate the feast dedicated to the church of La Digue.
- Festival Kreol (end of October): The biggest and most important event of the islands’ cultural calendar is a weeklong Creole celebration filled with colorful costumes and parades, musical rhythms and delicious cuisine on all the main islands.
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