Rodrigues is remote, a part of Mauritius but 622km further northeast. It is an incredibly special place. There’s something stark about the island and things are decidedly low key. It is not a tropical paradise but those in search of something offbeat will find it a fascinating, peaceful place to explore, with a people whose shy friendliness is genuine.
Life here is slow and refreshingly uncomplicated. People are concerned with the essentials of human existence, like feeding their families and being part of a community, rather than office politics, global recession and conflict in the Middle East. Being such a small island, it has a delightful intimacy and sense of security, and no-one is ever too busy to stop for a chat.
What to see and do in Rodrigues
A visit to Rodrigues is about simplicity, nature and getting back to basics, and any stay here is inevitably enhanced by encounters with the supremely friendly and happy local residents.
The island’s tiny capital is neatly laid out with a grid system of streets running parallel and perpendicular to the sea. Rue de la Solidarité runs the length of the town and emerges to cross over reclaimed land and on to the seaside village of Anse aux Anglais (English Bay).
A walk down Rue de la Solidarité leads past the colonial house of the administrator, La Résidence (built in 1873), with a cannon outside the gates. This is now the office of the island’s executive council. Also on Rue de la Solidarité, and almost hidden by one-storey houses, are the six miniature minarets of the Noor-ud-Deen Mosque, rebuilt in 1979–81.
The large, modern Alfred North-Coombs building on the corner of rues Morrison and François Leguat houses the library. Here you can use computers and access Wi-Fi free of charge. In a courtyard in front of the library are kiosks, where members of the Association Rodrigues Entreprendre au Féminin (an association for local businesswomen) sell their wares, including delicious honey and pickles. Sadly, their opening hours are very hit and miss.
Running parallel to Rue de la Solidarité, along the seafront, is Rue Wolphart Harmensen. This leads to the port, customs office and the offices of the Rodrigues Regional Assembly. At the port, opposite Rue Hajee Bhai Fatehmamode, is a war memorial with three rifles forming a tripod and two cannon shafts beside them. The inscription reads: ‘Aux engagés volontaires Rodriguais 1914–18, 1939–45’ (For the Rodriguans who served 1914–18, 1939–45).
The purpose-built market building is at the eastern end of Rue de la Solidarité, just before Winston Churchill Bridge. The market is the highlight of the week in Rodrigues and it is worth timing your visit to make sure you can make it to either the Wednesday or the Saturday one.
François Leguat Giant Tortoise and Cave Reserve
A popular attraction for Rodrigues, established by the owners of La Vanille Nature Park in Mauritius. The tour begins with a visit to the tortoise nursery, where giant Aldabra tortoises (Dipsochelys elephantina), and radiated tortoises (Astrochelys radiata) from Madagascar (Dipsochelys radiata), are bred. Visitors can sponsor a baby tortoise and receive regular updates on its progress.
The tour then takes you down into a natural amphitheatre, formed by a collapsed cave, where you can walk among adult tortoises. There is also an enclosure of Rodrigues fruit bats. The reserve is planting native and endemic plants in the area, with the help of the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation, gradually returning the landscape to the way it would have been when tortoises covered the island.
You can add a tour of the caves to your tortoise visit. The tours through the cave are informative (although can be rather too long). There is a boardwalk, handrail and lighting, but you’ll have to negotiate some very narrow gaps during the walk and climb some steep steps. The reserve plans to open another cave more suited to those with limited mobility. There is an excellent museum here, which tells the story of Rodrigues, as well as that of the various extinct species of the Mascarenes.
Île aux Cocos
This shallow sand island, around 4km off the west coast, is unquestionably the most popular day trip available, and rightly so.
Île aux Cocos is an incredible place. A nesting site for brown noddies (Anous stolidus), lesser noddies (Anous tenuirostris) and fairy terns (Gygis alba), it was made into a nature reserve in 1986 and has been carefully protected. A few simple measures have helped to keep it pristine: no fires are allowed, watchmen take it in turn to stay on the island and guard it, and all visitors must leave by 15.00 and take their rubbish with them. Until 1955 a family lived on the island for extended periods and even grew crops. Today it is uninhabited except for the watchmen and there is only one building on the island, where visitors gather to begin a guided tour.
The beach here has to be one of the most beautiful on earth. The lack of hotels, bars and crowds makes it all the more special. The best spot to swim is found by walking as far as you can along the beach to the right of the building (as you face it). Stop just before you reach the fence which marks the protected area. The water is shallow here and all you can see as you sit on the water’s edge is sand, the sea, waves breaking on the reef in the distance and the birds flitting across the sky.
Hiking is an absolute pleasure on Rodrigues thanks to the lack of traffic, abundance of tracks and glorious views of the ocean. A good option is a guided hike along Sentier Pasner with a villager who has been trained by the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation and can tell you about the local flora and fauna. A walk along the east coast between Graviers and St François, stopping off at beautiful, isolated beaches such as Trou d’Argent and Anse Bouteille is also recommended.
The vast, pristine lagoon is one of Rodrigues’s greatest assets and offers excellent diving and snorkelling.
For a truly unique experience, you can also explore the lagoon in a transparent kayak. The business is run by a co-operative of fishermen and women as part of a project to provide them with an alternative source of income and reduce the impact of fishing on the marine environment.
Getting to Rodrigues
Air Mauritius flies regularly between Mauritius and Rodrigues, with at least four flights per day in peak season and two per day in low season. Demand for flights from Mauritius is high and reservations need to be made well in advance, and reconfirmed.
The sea crossing to Rodrigues from Mauritius takes around 36–48hours, and is usually quicker on the way back. It can be rough, particularly on the way to Rodrigues. The Mauritius Trochetia is a mixed cargo and passenger ship, and takes up to 108 passengers in cabins. It is worth knowing that much of the cargo is livestock, usually cattle and sheep being exported from Rodrigues to Mauritius. It makes one or two journeys per month between Port Louis and Port Mathurin. The cabins are comfortable, particularly the deluxe ones.