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A natural jewel dotted with mountains, valleys, lagoons and caves, Rodrigues is the smallest of the three islands of the Mascarene Archipelago and the little sister of Mauritius.
A little history
Located 650 kilometers northeast of Mauritius, Rodrigues owes its name to the Portuguese navigator Diogo Rodrigues to whom its discovery is attributed in 1528. Often presented as "Mauritius of 50 years ago", Rodrigues is home to 42 000 inhabitants on 108 km². Rural and authentic, it is a small piece of land that can be crossed by car in barely 30 minutes. On its roads, the main means of transportation is the bus. There are 67 of them, decorated with all the colors they criss-cross the island every day, giving it a watercolor look.
The capital, Port Mathurin, is a strategic place for the Rodriguans who go there every Saturday morning to do their weekly shopping.
Here, people live at the rhythm of the sun and are extremely kind. Everywhere, trust reigns so much that the doors of the houses remain constantly wide open. At school, classes are taught in English, but French is still spoken in all four corners of the island. At home, we speak Rodriguan Creole.
In Rodrigues, it is impossible to take a step without seeing the sea. Moreover, fishing is one of the main economic activities of the island. It is practiced in family or between neighbors and when on the water, it is not uncommon to come across someone you know. There are also octopus spearfishermen, a tradition reserved for women and practiced at low tide.
Third island of the Mascarene archipelago, Rodrigues is so small (130 km2), that it is necessary to search carefully to find it on the geographical maps, some 650 km north-east of Mauritius.
Nicknamed the "Cinderella of the Mascarenes", natural and without artifice, Rodrigues offers a lagoon with mirific waters twice its surface, long beaches lined with filaos, a volcanic relief dominated by Mount Limon (390 m), terraced cultivation and deep valleys to be discovered while hiking. Without forgetting a low rainfall and mild temperatures all year round.
French, English and Mauritian in turn, populated since the end of the 18th century by African and Malagasy slaves, the island has been able to take advantage of Western contributions as well as of the African heritage. The traditional music, dance and cuisine testify to this rich mix of cultures of which it is so proud today.
Discovered by Diego Rodrigues in 1598, the island only took the name of this Portuguese navigator in 1691, with the arrival of the first French... seven Huguenots who quickly left for Mauritius! It was not until another century later that Rodrigues was inhabited by the French, accompanied by Malagasy and African slaves.
Anxious to control the "Routes to India", the English took possession of the island to better launch their offensive on Mauritius. In 1815, Rodrigues became a dependency, subject to the same laws as
Maurice. A period of growth then began: the population increased from 200 inhabitants in 1825 to 8,000 inhabitants in 1930!
When Mauritius became independent (1968), Rodrigues was attached to it as the 21st constituency. It finally obtained its autonomy on October 12, 2002. The official language is English, but French is spoken there! Today, the Rodriguans, proud of their particularity, watch over their destiny, concerned with managing their problems of drought and drinking water.
The island counts 38,000 souls mainly spread in the north, around Port-Mathurin and on the east coast. When arriving from Mauritius, the visitor is struck by the difference in population: mostly Indian in Mauritius, African here! The island is also know as the "red and black island", due to the color of the earth and the ebony skin of the people...
Because of its isolation, the island has not experienced waves of immigration. The population is Creole and 97% Catholic. To appreciate the fervor of the Rodriguans, do not miss the Sunday morning mass in Saint-Gabriel. Finally, the population is divided into two poles of activity: agriculture inland and fishing on the coast.
Why would you go to Rodrigues?
Two types of travelers can be found on Rodrigues Island: those who are looking for tranquility, authenticity of people and landscapes, escaping the crowd of tourists and large hotel structures. They will rather practice soft and discovery activities, baths, walks, excursions, meetings with the inhabitants.
The initiated come to practice sports, which, when practiced, take on another dimension, mainly because of this fabulous lagoon and its extraordinary colors of green, turquoise or deep blue. You guessed it, it is the amateurs of gliding sports (kitesurfing, windsurfing).
These two populations, even if their activities differ, finally meet around some fundamentals that they share: beauty, freedom, authenticity and are conquered by the welcome of the Rodriguans.
An ecological awareness of utmost importance
For many years, Rodrigues is working hard towards becoming the prefect ecological island. Several measures have been taken to achieve this goal, such as the banning of plastic bags, the transition to green energies and, very recently, the installation of a selective sorting garbage can.
In this perspective, Rodrigues also takes care of its coastline. Here, harpooning is forbidden, no jet skiing and only one beach is authorized for kite surfing. In order to preserve the lagoon, the regional assembly of Rodrigues also proceeds to the closure and periodic reopening of the fishing of the octopus.
The cuisine holds a very important place in the heart of the Rodriguan culture. It obviously has some similarities with that of Mauritius, but is much less spicy and gives pride of place to local products.
The culinary inspirations of Rodrigues is drawn from its different peoples who have stopped here through the ages. The English in particular have left their mark with the famous preparation of braised ham. An advice, do not leave Rodrigues without having tasted an authentic local dish, the famous ourite prepared in salad or curry, as well as the delicious lemons called limons.
Rodrigues is to be savored. Here, cooking is an art of living, a culture, a tradition. Consider that there are as many achards, these small spicy sauces served as accompaniments, as there are traditional dishes. And each dish has its own occasion... Rodrigues' cuisine is Creole, mixed, inspired by external contributions (gratins and daubes) and its soil.
Half of the Rodriguans are fishermen! Fish - raw, grilled, stewed - has its own celebration on March 1st: the very popular opening of the "Senne fishing", an ancestral (and ecological!) practice in the lagoon, on pirogues, with the help of large nets.
Another important fishery is that of the octopus, which is dried on stakes in the sun. Reserved for women, "les piqueuses d'ourites" (the octopus fisherwomen) who work in Port-Sud-Est, they use a harpoon to catch them with their feet in the water. The octopus is delicious in salad or cooked in "rougaille".
To protect the lagoon, fishing is prohibited from mid-August to mid-October. Anyone who finds octopus out of season is supporting poaching, or is guaranteed to eat it frozen! As for the kono-kono, appreciated for their aphrodisiac virtues, they are also protected.
Pigs, goats and poultry complete the protein supply. They can be found in stews, curries and rougaille... accompanied by tropical and local vegetables (maize served as puree, red beans, chouchous - a kind of melting pumpkin -, garlic and onions).
Mangoes, papayas, limes (small limes of local production) decorate the salads and the dishes in the form of candied condiments.
Desserts are based on coconut or honey, as the island produces excellent ones... we advise you to try a piece of Rodriguan pie with a ti'punch, before going on with a polka step!
What to do on Rodrigues Island?
A paradise for hikers, Rodrigues is an island that can be easily discovered on foot. Its unsuspected charms are revealed when you walk along the numerous paths that line it.
Four kilometers to the west, Cocos Island is an essential visit during a stay in Rodrigues. This immaculate sand bank, classified as a nature reserve, looks like a paradise with its whiteness and the transparency of the waters that border it. For ornithology enthusiasts, the site is home to thousands of marine birds such as white terns and noddis.
The turtles of the François Leguat reserve
The François Leguat reserve is also an interesting visit. This huge reserve is home to Seychelles turtles which were reintroduced in Rodrigues 6 years ago. The turtles live in a protected area and are managed by passionate people. The objective is to progressively reintroduce these reptiles in the Rodriguan nature.
Originally, Rodrigues was populated only by turtles... No more fortunate than the famous dodo of Mauritius and its alter ego the Solitaire of Rodrigues, the endemic turtle of Rodrigues met a tragic end, hunted down to extinction by the colonists who filled their holds with them for its fresh meat. It was not until 2006 that two similar endemic species were reintroduced.
The WWF-supported project has been a great success, with promising results: there are now nearly a thousand of them.
In the extreme south-west of the island, in the desert area of Plaine Corail (where the airport is located), the site of the François Leguat reserve is absolutely remarkable: at the bottom of the gorges where there are no less than 11 limestone caves, in the hollow of a steep valley, there are indigenous species, which are in turn the object of very special care, and on which the turtles feed.
The visit of the reserve can be completed by the cave of the Big Cave (whose visit is easily substituted to the one of the Potato Cave) and the visit of the museum which traces the history of the island.
Diving and water sports on Rodrigues Island?
With stronger winds from June to October and a lagoon of 200 km², Rodrigues is the unavoidable destination for kitesurfing, and has not much to prove in this respect.
Sprinkled with about twenty islets, its marine surroundings abound in fishy bottoms and still conceal very healthy corals. The island offers various diving spots: coral gardens, passes, or caves for experienced divers.
The quality and diversity of the fishing spots also allow you to try many techniques and to catch more than 25 different species. For the main ones: blue marlin, black marlin and sailfish.
The arrival by plane is striking because it allows to apprehend the immensity of the lagoon, its beauty, its intensity and its infinite palette of blues, all in shades. In Rodrigues, diving is a key activity. However, if many hotels and organizations offer deep-sea diving trips, snorkeling (fins, mask and snorkel) is enough to get a good view.
The Aquarium site in Cotton Bay is the most famous, but it requires a little bit of practice because it is relatively deep and close to the coral reef, so it is often turbulent.
For less experienced divers, or divers with children, the following two sites are much more suitable: Couzoupa Canyon, perpendicular to the main channel, near Anse Enfer (visible from far away when you fly over the island) is wonderful. A bunch of barracudas often hang out there!
The other site is the one called Rivière Banane, quite close to the shore, shallow and calm, it corresponds completely to the idyllic image of snorkeling in a lagoon of the Indian Ocean: ballets of multicolored fish and corals of all species. Ideal with young divers.
Note that this fantastic lagoon also lends itself to all sorts of activities such as board sports: windsurfing and, more recently, kite-surfing are very popular.
Where to stay in Rodrigues?
Forget the luxury imposing resorts, here you can only find small hotels and charming guesthouses. Our favorite place to stay in Rodrigues :
The Tekoma Boutik Hotel.
A real haven of peace located in Anse Ally. 15 minutes from Port Mathurin, this intimate place, far from any habitation, borders one of the most beautiful beaches of Rodrigues. The food is wonderful and the icing on the cake, the hotel has a diving club run by Jacques Degremont who opened the very first one on the island 20 years ago.
Total disconnection is guaranteed on this island with postcard landscapes, where hotels and kite schools can be counted on the fingers of one hand, ensuring absolute tranquility.
The sega, Rodrigues Island in music
Another treasure of Rodrigues: music, played with the diatonic accordion (there are about twenty of them on the island), whose keys have the particularity of producing two notes each. The Rodriguans have appropriated this accordion, which arrived on the island at the end of the 19th century, by adding their own instruments and enriching the scores with lyrics. In Rodrigues, people dance the pokarisse (Russian polka), the laval (waltz), the mazok (mazurka), the scotis (Scottish).
All Rodriguans like to meet around this music. A surprising mixture of jerky rhythms, repetitive pulsations with a very African character, and traditional European styles.
The mixture of the two musical genres allowed the emergence of the sega, a Creole musical genre, specific to Rodrigues. The typical sega orchestra is composed of a ravane (a wooden drum covered with goat skin), a diatonic accordion, a bobre (wooden percussion), a triangle, mallets (two pieces of wood that are struck together) and empty cans to grate.
One distinguishes the "ségakordéon" and the "séga tambour", whose names refer to the main instruments. Some segas are accompanied by words, accompanying the work in the fields (sega planted, sega bean) or commenting on the life of families, political events (sega war)... This image is conveyed today by folk groups with evocative names: Ben Gontran's "Racines", Tino Samoisy's "Ambiance Tropicale", "Rayon de Soleil", "Génération Douk"...
In Rodrigues, people dance all the time, on all occasions. But, if you pass by there at the beginning of December, do not miss the Creole festival and its sega contest.
Port-Mathurin, small capital of Rodrigues Island
On the northern coast of the island, with its steep contours, lies Port-Mathurin. This small "provincial" capital bears the name of the first inhabitant of the region, the colonist Mathurin Bréhinier. Port-Mathurin is not lacking in charm with its streets at right angles, its colonial houses with worked tin roofs and long varangues, its boutiks with colorful facades...
The city lives at the rhythm of its shops and administrative services. Port-Mathurin is the only port on the island and is an excellent place to stay (many accommodations are available in Anse aux Anglais). Don't miss the weekly market on Saturday morning, which is as much a sight to see as it is a taste. A great mass towards which all Rodrigues converges!
At the entrance of the city, just in front of the bus station, the Bazaar of Port-Mathurin shelters a very lively and picturesque market. The "gardeners" sell their vegetable production there: colorful stalls of limes, papayas, carambolas, tomatoes and other vegetables. There is also a good selection of specialties such as canned peppers and achards, local cow cheese from Medgée and Patrick, and Marylou Augustin's famous pies.
The "tourte rodriguaise", made with shortcrust pastry, is a classic of the local family cuisine. Marylou garnishes them with coconut or papaya jam, lemon, mango - there is no shortage of flavors -, and decorates them like works of art!
You will also find basketry, simple and artisanal. The artisans work with vacoa or vetiver, local essences, and make baskets, hats (called "tents") and various utilitarian or decorative objects. But beware of the colorful baskets and accessories: they all come from Madagascar without exception!
Beaches and paradise islands of Rodrigues
The beaches of Rodrigues have nothing to envy to those of Mauritius. Rodrigues, surrounded by a lagoon, is a beach destination par excellence, with this charm and authenticity that one hardly finds on the neighboring island.
Long stretches of fine white sand, lined with filaos, some of them have names that are not very revealing: the Fumier beach is a real paradise! The secret coves and creeks are sometimes accessible only by water, so we find islands and islets almost deserted.
The most beautiful beaches and bathing sites are located to the east, between Pointe Coton and Port Sud-Est. This stretch of coastline alternates long beaches with a series of small creeks lined with cliffs, such as Anse Ali, Saint-François or Anse Bouteille, one of the prettiest beaches of the island, embedded between the rocks, with nice snorkeling spots off the coast.
Don't miss the famous Trou d'Argent, which has to be earned! You can reach it by a small paved road, then a good walk under the filaos or by the coastline along the beach from Pointe Coton (be careful, not always obvious, and strong currents). The beaches of Graviers and Port-Sud-Est are also beautiful: the descent from the winding road to these beaches offers an idyllic panorama of the lagoon and its 50 shades of blue!
The agitation is in full swing on weekends, when families arrive for the day with their picnic. Less tranquility, but a good slice of Rodriguan life to share.
Îles au Sable, aux Chats, Hermitage... The lagoon is not lacking in treasures. Some islands and islets are even inhabited by a protected fauna, such as the Coconut Island, a natural reserve located 1 hour and a half west of the coastline. You can observe colonies of seabirds there, by taking a pirogue in such shallow water that you sometimes have to get out of the water to push the boat.