Responsible tourism in Mauritius

Tourists have been visiting the beaches, lagoons and wild corners of Mauritius for over 50 years. But the environment and wildlife we go to visit are also the things most at risk from rapidly increasing visitor numbers. As inbound tourists have risen from around 18,000 in 1970 to 1.4 million in 2019, beach resorts and watersports centres have kept expanding to accommodate travellers.

But our partners in Mauritius are writing a new chapter for a previously single-minded holiday offering. Hiking guides, ecolodge hosts, PADI Green Star scuba diving tour operators, and farmers growing permaculture forests offer a different kind of holiday. Keep reading to find out more about responsible tourism in Mauritius, and how your holiday can positively impact the beaches, forests, ocean and rivers – and the people and wildlife that inhabit them year-round.

Wildlife & environment

Under the sea

The volcanic origins of Mauritius created an island ringed with coral that’s often likened to a natural aquarium. The reefs are a great story in biodiversity, with staghorn and cabbage varieties attracting everything from butterflyfish, sea turtles and nudibranchs to white tip reef sharks and barracuda. Shipwrecks shelter rays and lionfish, while spinner and bottlenose dolphins surf the waves.

All in all, this tiny patch of the Indian Ocean is a treasure trove for marine lovers, and a major draw for tourists. However, wildlife watching regulations haven’t kept up to speed with the increase in visitors keen to get as close to the sea life as possible. The day in, day out whine of motorboats disturbs fish and underwater walking experiences damage coral.
The more travellers that travel sustainably – genuinely sustainably; no greenwash – is the best chance we have to really shift the industry.
– Gerald Ami, from our partner Mauritius Conscious
“There are those who are just focusing on doing what they have been doing for the past 50 years, and they will not change because why would they?” says Gerald Ami, who co-founded our partner Mauritius Conscious. “They’re already very well established, they have a name, they have a market, they have huge partners in Europe and the world that supply them with a huge number of tourists every year – so why change? If the supplier in Europe doesn’t say that they want them to be sustainable, the guy here in Mauritius won’t say anything… And the guy that is benefitting indirectly from these guys thinks everything is fine and will do business as usual. So this makes a vicious circle.”

Our holiday choices really make a difference. And when you travel with our responsible holiday companies, you don’t have to worry about whether your itinerary is good or bad for Mauritius: they’ll never offer an activity that doesn’t do the island – and you – good.

From shrinking forests to rewilding

Four hundred years ago, Mauritius was mostly shrouded in forest, but when the Dutch, French and British colonised the island, they used enslaved people and indentured workers to fell forests for wood, sugarcane fields and tobacco plantations. Only two percent of native forest remains, and these days its biggest threats are expanding towns, beach resorts and invasive species. The government reforestation programme is slow-going, so lots of independent projects have cropped up, trying to revive endemic flora and fauna – including the Ebony Forest. A holiday that visits here will provide an insight into the efforts being made to rewild the island.

Not many people go to Mauritius to hike, so many of its trails remain wild. However, litter is a problem in Mauritius. Some walking holidays offer you cleaning kits in collaboration with My Green Trip, an NGO that gives you the chance to actively clean up trails as you go, and leave the environment better than you found it.

Gerald Ami says: “As local tour operators, we have the responsibility of giving something that is truly sustainable... That is what we and the people we work with are waking up daily to do.”

The climate crisis

As an island nation in the Indian Ocean, Mauritius is uniquely vulnerable to the rising water levels and warming sea temperatures associated with climate change. Removing trees for resorts increases beach erosion, while unpredictable weather causes flooding.

Gerald has noticed a growing awareness in both Mauritians and travellers about the environmental impact of travel, including the importance of reducing our carbon emissions: “People are more aware of the impact that travel can have – positive and negative. They know everything that has to do with carbon, they know about the degradation of the marine ecosystem.”

He adds: “And you know, you inform one person, and suddenly it becomes two, it becomes three. And suddenly, it’s hundreds… It’s one step at a time, but we are confident that we will get there.”

What you can do

Read more about low carbon holidays in Mauritius. You can’t avoid flying to Mauritius, but staying for longer, avoiding internal flights when possible, eating local food and staying at guest houses that use renewable energy are all effective and enjoyable ways of lowering your output of planet-warming carbon. Wear reef-safe sunscreen that avoids ingredients that can harm animals and coral. Choose non-motorised watersports when you can, such as sailing on a traditional pirogue, sea kayaking and snorkelling. Only go scuba diving with watersports centres that have a PADI Green Star certification. Use guides who can show you how to navigate the marine environment, rivers and forest national parks with care. Our holiday partners usually hire local guides. Visit projects like the Ebony Forest to directly support the revival of native forests. Help plant a tree and learn about its rewilding programme. Avoid staying in big beach resorts that have removed forests and sand dunes to create flat beaches and watersports centres. A B&B that makes its own rum next to a hideaway cove is much more enjoyable. Try public transport. Mauritius is a small island with a great bus network that reaches all over the island. If you’ve got time to slow down a little, give it a go.

People & culture

Gerald grew up in Mauritius, and became frustrated by a tourism industry that didn’t truly benefit local people and visitors. “Five years ago, people were locked in the hotel on an all-inclusive basis, and taken from the hotel to the excursion and back to the hotel. Growing up, I really felt that people were not experiencing the best my country had to offer.”

The best that Mauritius has to offer includes fishing villages along the Riviere Cocos, organic lychee vineyards, beachside permaculture forests, and the street food stalls of capital city Port Louis. It also includes switching out resort hotels for river lodges, independently run hotels, and forest campsites.

Still, few tourists are encouraged to explore outside their resort in Mauritius, which means that they miss out on one of the most multicultural islands in the world. Indo-Mauritian, Creole, Sino-Mauritian, Franco-Mauritian and Southern African cultures influence everything: politics, food, architecture, language and festivals.

Some of the best tours highlight the influence of enslaved and indentured people brought to Mauritius – from the grand colonial buildings they built under Dutch, French and British rule, to the legendary stories of the Maroon rebellions on Le Morne. You’ll be taught how sega dances were never just for performance – it was the folk music of enslaved people brought to Mauritius from Southern and Eastern Africa. Over the years, it’s evolved into seggae: a mix of (you guessed it) reggae and sega that’s become the most popular music genre in Mauritius.

Honest insight and great travel trips come from the tour guides. “All our guides are local Mauritians,” says Gerald. “They are little gems... Something that is leisure for them, a hidden treasure that they know, now provides them a livelihood. Every one of our guides has something to show you.”

What you can do

Stay in guest houses and locally run hotels. Our holiday partners can put you up in beach B&Bs, guest houses made from recycled wood, hotels that sell local art, and solar-powered lodges. Try inclusive city tours that introduce you to hidden craftspeople like jewellers, printmakers, street food chefs and shoemakers. If you’re not in a rush, travel by public transport. Buses are slower than cars, but give you more opportunities to look around you and meet other people. Use local guides who can reveal the invisible trails, wildlife tracks and forgotten histories you’d otherwise miss. Mauritius has a high rate of female education, but far fewer women end up going into employment, often falling into traditional roles such as caring for family and the household. Go on a holiday that supports female entrepreneurs and creates work for women in tourism.
Photo credits: [Page banner: Kirikk Umrikhin] [Under the sea: prilfish] [Climate change: Colours of Mauritius] [People and cultures: Easycab Mauritius]
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