More paradise awaits us in the final stop of our trip.
After 3 days in Mauritius, the 4 of us leftover boarded Air Mauritius flight MK 238 at 3:30pm, landing 45 minutes later at 4:15pm in Réunion Airport.
I’ve been hitting it out of the park with these airport pickup names:
After being picked up by our arranged taxi for 31 euros, we checked in at probably our favorite digs of the trip with Villa Angelique:
First discovered by the Portuguese before it was handed off to the French, and previously known as île Bourbon, this enchanting destination is more known for its sweeping mountain paths and formidable landscapes than it is for sandy beaches.
Within the capital of Saint Denis, take a walk around for buildings and monuments mixed with French, Chinese, Indian and African Architecture.
The State Garden may be worth a visit to begin your walk around the city, featuring a fountain pool flanked by Palm trees.
Then heading up north and starting from Église Notre-Dame-de-l’Assomption de Saint-Denis . . .
. . . you can pass by the following sites mostly along Rue de Paris:
49 Rue de Paris: An example of colonial architecture in the créole vernacular style.
18 Rue de Paris, another colonial-style villa with an outstanding portico that was built from 1973 to 1804 for Baptiste Lestrac, the first mayor of Saint-Denis. Now it has become the Ministry of Culture:
Hôtel de Ville de Saint-Denis, the old City Hall and Mayoral Residence (my DSLR briefly malfunctioned due to a speck of sand lodged in somewhere, so I resorted to the iPhone):
Cathedral Of Saint Denis Reunion:
Palais Rontaunay, a prestigious villa built in the early 19th century in the créole vernacular style. Julien Rontaunay Gaultier lived here, before it was renovated to become the location of the government and Consul General of the island.
Préfecture de La Réunion, which originated as the warehouses of the French East India Company, and is the both one of the first large public buildings and oldest extant structure on Réunion Island:
Le Barachois is the waterfront promenade with its distinctive cannons facing the sea.
Off from Rue de Paris and a stroll down a pleasant pedestrian mall, there’s also the Great Mosque which you can freely enter:
Our Lady of Deliverance Church, across a small river to the west:
and the Taoist Temple Chane et Temple Lisi Tong:
We winded down our first night together with excellent Shabu Shabu at the appropriately named Shabú:
And then kicked back at our villa outside with rosé all day:
Next day lunch was particularly pleasant, right before we had to say goodbye to Sarah:
And for our third and last lazy day of the trip, we booked a last minute helicopter tour of Réunion for approximately 280 euros per person with Helilagon, who was gracious enough to arrange a tour for us at 10am.
Even though everything seemed booked up online, a simple phone call, finger crossing, and 20 minutes did the trick.
On our 45 minute tour from the Gillot airport by Saint Denis we saw —
Saint Denis itself:
Plain of Sands and its moon-shaped scenery:
The Furnace Peak volcano, one of the most active in the world:
Mafate and its remote islets of human civilization:
Salazie and its luxuriant flora:
Cilaos and its incredibly steep ramparts:
Belouve / Bebour and its primary forest:
And last but not least, the impressive waterfall in the Iron Hole where a beautiful rainbow waited for us:
Ugh, what a way to end a trip.
Looking forward to my return home: the longest domestic flight in the world — Réunion to Paris!
- At time of posting in Réunion , it was 21 °C -
Humidity: 73% | Wind Speed: 11km/hr | Cloud Cover: cloudy
I first heard of Mauritius back in 2009 when a former girlfriend of mine idealized it as her top honeymoon destination. It has never escaped my mind since, and after so many unbelievable coincidences, happenstances, and stories in the past 10 years of travel (looking at you Keneesa, Emily, Nicole, even you Maria…) that has beckoned me closer and closer to this place, I can now see why she and many others would choose to retire to this isle of paradise.
And now I’m finally here. It’s is a personal big deal.
To get here, we said goodbye to our impromptu travel companion Duaa (whom we had met at our hostel only 4 days ago in Madagascar, leading her to join us on our trip through Seychelles!) and boarded a 2.5 hour Air Seychelles flight HM 49 at 10:30am from SEZ to MRU airport.
We also celebrated Evan’s birthday on the plane!
We landed at 1:05pm local time.
First impressions after landing? This country is developed.
Their passport control kiosks even look like check-in counters!
Instead of the usual taxi pickups on this trip, this time in Mauritius birthday boy Evan opted to rent a minivan and drive us to our accommodations at Citadelle Mall.
The company Evan found was so legit they didn’t even bother to send a guy to greet us. His sign was left on the window.
We were actually pretty lucky to have found the only 7-person minivan on the island that drives automatic.
But again, whatever Evan found was so legit that the entire transaction took place on a corner of the airport parking lot. No office, no paperwork. And the gas tank was empty.
Once we got settled in and filled up on gas for $50 USD, we began a road trip and scenic drive towards Port Louis via the southern coast. These guys in front of us on the pickup was just kicking it with the sugar cane:
Along the south coast in the Baie du Cap area, we briefly stopped for photos at Captain Matthew Flinders viewpoint:
We then drove up to take a look at La Morne, infamous for the sad but true story where slaves in hiding threw themselves off these cliffs as they saw police approaching, not knowing they were simply coming to deliver them the news that slavery had been abolished.
Then we drove up to La Morne viewpoint while on the way towards the Seven Colored Earth:
However, we found that the Seven-Colored Earth site had closed promptly at 5pm so we turned around and drove along the western coast just in time to catch the sunset.
We arrived back to Port Louis at 7:30pm and checked into our lodgings at Citadelle Mall Apartments.
Then I would meet Celine an hour later, who stopped by our apartment with a birthday cake and candles for Evan!
Celine is the elder sister of Emily, whom I befriended last year in NYC at a rooftop party. She had grown up in Mauritius and thanks to our time together in the city the following year, she referred her sister Celine to come by and show us around when I arrived!
Celine soon took us for dinner at the Caudan Waterfront, a meeting place for teens and young lovers and comprised of a shopping centre, kiddy carnival and a huge food court.
The Blue Penny Museum is also right next door — a charming museum with stamp, coin & art exhibits devoted to Mauritius and its cultural heritage.
There in the parking lot I ran into and reunited with Keseena, one of my favorite monsooners simply for the crazy story how 16 months ago she followed the signs: Within 24 hours of meeting me randomly while backpacking through NYC (Thanks Dave!) she would change her plans from Panama to join me for 3 days in Bratislava, Budapest, Vienna, and Linz instead.
Our story is proof of magic in travel because not only do we have that story, but that she also had not expected to even be in Mauritius until she flew here from South Africa 3 days ago for an emergency work assignment.
To top it off, I had joked to her 16 months ago that if I would ever come to Mauritius, she better be there (when she had said she never expected to return). WTF?!!!!!
15 months ago
Mark Twain once wrote that “heaven was copied after Mauritius.” With all the coincidences in my life that have led me here, it’s hard not to believe Mark Twain knew what he was talking about.
After dinner Keseena, Celine, Ann, Keseena’s cousin Joanne, and I continued on to celebrate Evan’s birthday by dancing with local Mauritians at Backstage in the Hennessy Park Hotel. The videos and photos turned out awful (we were too busy dancing!), and we eventually headed back to our apartments at 2:30am (but not before enjoying Celine’s chocolate mud cake that she brought us!).
The next morning we woke up to this view on our balconies at Citadelle Mall:
After a slow morning, we headed north at 10am for the laidback beaches at Pereybere:
Then after a quick Thai lunch at nearby Wang Thai, we set out at 2pm to drop off Evan and Ann for their 4pm flight out to South Africa. About 45 minutes into the drive, we were met with fire and brimstone:
We nevertheless made it to the airport on time at 3pm. Bye Evan and Ann! See you in less than a week back in NYC!
Afterwards Sarah took over the driving and we headed out about 18 minutes from the airport for Vieux Grand Port: the cradle of Mauritian history. This is where the first human inhabitants of the island landed on September 9, 1598 under the command of Wybrandt Van Warwyck to first settle this slice of paradise.
Then driving an hour back to Port Louis, we stopped at the Aapravasi Ghat World Heritage Site, a former immigration depot for indentured labor that came from India. It is now an Interpretation Center.
Heading back into the city, we got out of the car for a quick walk by the Jummah Masjid:
It just so happens to be located in the middle of Chinatown:
We were recommended to then walk down and stop by Corner House a few blocks back west. It’s known as a stationery shop selling all kinds of pens, pencils and books. Its the most eccentric shopkeeper may be worth the visit.
Finally, we finished off with some shopping at the Central Market. Here we found varieties of exotic food, fruits and other items. Mauritians from all over the country come here to shop!
Then we turned around at St Louis Cathedral:
And quickly stopped at Port Louis Theatre before turning in for a night:
If you have time, Champ de Mars Racecourse to our southeast remains the oldest racecourse in the Southern Hemisphere and the second oldest in the world. The first races were held in June 1812, the same year that British forces took over the island from the French. Mauritius declared its independence right here at the racecourse 156 years later.
For our 3rd and final day in Mauritius, we enjoyed a lazy Sunday morning dim sum at First Restaurant with Celine.
And thanks to Celine’s unceasing hospitality, the goodbye was united in their appreciation for her patience with us:
We then drove the 46 minutes over to the airport, dropped off our sketchy car rental via a simple phone call, and checked into what probably is the nices airport lounge of the trip so far, the Air Mauritius Amédée Maingard Lounge:
Boarding in 5 minutes for Réunion!
- At time of posting in Mauritius, it was 22 °C -
Humidity: 74% | Wind Speed: 10km/hr | Cloud Cover: sunny
After a few days adventuring in Madagascar and picking up an extra monsooner we met at our hostel along the way, we flew out to the Seychelles (at Evan’s insistence a few months ago) on a 2.5 hour 4pm flight from TNR to SEZ.
We landed at 7:35pm local time.
Once landing we proceeded through arrivals. No visa is required, but Seychellois (pronounced say-shel-wa) authorities want to ensure you are not planning on becoming a permanent resident. Make sure you have the following on you:
A passport valid on the date of entry to and exit from Seychelles
A return ticket
A copy of a hotel booking
Proof you have finances lasting at least 150 USD per day. Whether cash or credit cards, show them; you may even be asked for the credit balance you have
A statement of good health and a statement that you are not importing plants or infected animals (these papers would be provided by your flight attendants on your flight to the Seychelles)
If you happen to not have accommodation pre-booked they may force you to one at the airport before being allowed to leave.
Afterwards we were picked up for our accommodations at Sailfish Beach Villas and had a late dinner.
But what a view to wake up to!
We were picked up at 6:30am the next morning by Creole Travel Services and at a rate of around 200€ per person, we visited Seychelles most iconic landmarks in one day.
By 7am we reached the passenger ferry leaving from Mahe Island for Praslin at 7:30am.
We arrived 1 hour later at 8:30am on the island of Praslin:
From there we were shuttled 15 minutes over to the Vallee de Mai, home of the legendary Coco de Mer.
The Coco de Mer is the world’s largest seed at 20 kg on average. It is known as the double lobed coconut that takes the form of a female pelvis and currently grows high in only one place in the world — here in these very ancient palms among a shaded glade once believed to be the site of the biblical Garden of Eden (with the Coco de Mer as its forbidden fruit).
Wait til you see the male version nearby: Yikes! It is spoken of that actual sexual intercourse occurs at night when nobody is watching.
Here we were taken on a guided tour along meandering pathways beneath the canopy of centuries-old palm trees.
At 10:30am we briefly stopped by at Praslin Museum before heading on the 15 minute 11:45am ferry from Praslin Island to La Digue.
Do you know I still don’t have my driver’s license?
Don’t worry, Captain Kirk at the helm.
“Iceberg, right ahead!”
After an hour buffet lunch in town on La Digue, we stopped at L’Union Estate where we learned of old plantation life. At this point, however, half of the group — including yours truly — rudely began to meander off to the world famous beach of Anse Source D’Argent:
I mean, with this around the corner, how could you not wander off?
Of course an apology was followed afterwards with our worried guides for the mutiny and I offerred even to write the incident report for them.
I’m such an ethical rebel.
Then it was back to paradise and the planet’s most photographed strand.
After about 2 hours here, we returned about face back to our villas via the return ferries from La Digue to Praslin and from Praslin to Mahe Island. We were back home by 6:30pm.
We’re figuring out how to get food right now. There’s no such thing as delivery here.
Update: we settled on pizza.
- At time of posting in The Seychelles, it was 26 °C -
Humidity: 82% | Wind Speed: 5km/hr | Cloud Cover: sunny
Much like Dar es Salaam in Taznania, there’s nothing much to see in the capital of Madagascar either in terms of tourist trappings, but that may be part of the allure of this place.
Perhaps the most well known site would be the Queen’s Palace aka the Rova of Antananarivo, a royal palace complex (aka a rova) that served as the home of Kingdom of Imerina in the 17th and 18th centuries, as well as of the rulers of the Kingdom of Madagascar in the 19th century. It sits on the highest point on Analamanga, formerly the highest of Antananarivo’s many hills, thus giving a great panoramic view of the city.
A suspicious fire in late 1995 damaged all the structures within the Rova complex shortly before it was placed on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. It has since been restored.
If you really want to explore further, there’s also Parc de Tsarasaotra, famous for being the home to a man-made heart shaped lake a king made for his wife.
I think Evan speaks on behalf of some of us where this was him before:
And Evan morning after:
The next morning we barely made it to the airport on time for our onward flight to the Seychelles. Even though Google says the traffic from the city to the airport takes 33 minutes, it took us twice as long! But we made it.
- At time of posting in Antananarivo, Madagascar, it was 17 °C -
Humidity: 69% | Wind Speed: 16km/hr | Cloud Cover: n/a
After a morning hiking 4 hours around Tsingy de Behamara, we flew back on our private charter flight to Morondava at 2:30pm to catch a walk along Baobab Avenue at sunset.
We were over the avenue at about 40 minutes into the flight.
Landing at around 3:30pm at an air strip 20 minutes away from Morondava, we quickly freshened up at the airport.
From here we drove about 45 minutes out from Morondava to the Avenue of the Baobabs, an alleyway of unique species of baobab trees specific only to Madagascar.
The reason why they look so unreal is that the “branches” grow like tree roots, giving the trees an upside-down appearance.
Couple that with the sunset glow along an “avenue” of trees with locals going to and fro as if were their everyday living (which it is), it takes on a truly magical and surreal feeling.
That is, except for all us tourists.
But ignore them and you can almost feel like you’ve lost yourself to another world.
After about 2 hours here and after the sunset, we headed for our fancy lodgings at Palissandre Cote Ouest Hotel, booked ahead for us by Cactus Tours. We turned in soon after dinner at around 10:30pm.
The next morning we woke up at 4:30am for a one hour drive back to the Baobab Avenue to enjoy the magical lights at night.
Well worth the lack of sleep.
And as we sat on a dirt patch of grass with our dreams laid out before us, the sun began to rise behind us, illuminating an unknown but audacious future of endless possibilities.
Hard to say goodbye to this. But alas, the journey must go on.
Afterwards we returned to the hotel for a last 2-3 hours of breakfasts, sunbathing, and general laziness before a fantastic seafood lunch.
By 1:30pm we transferred to the airport and flew back to the capital city of Antananarivo for a night of debauchery at the hostel (check out facebook/IG stories if you want a behind the scenes detail).
- At time of posting in Baobab Avenue, Madagascar, it was 24 °C -
Humidity: 58% | Wind Speed: 23km/hr | Cloud Cover: sunny
MADAGASCAR! We’re here! The original plan was to arrive to Madagascar directly from Mayotte via a 4:40pm Ewa Air flight ZD 210. That would’ve been a personal accomplishment as about a few months ago I was struggling to book these flights online on Ewa Air’s website; only after directly emailing them at firstname.lastname@example.org to turn on their system and allow an online payment was I able to make an online payment go through.
However, about a week ago Ewa Air e-mailed me again informing me that they changed the flight to depart 2 hours earlier at 2:45pm instead, landing somehow an hour later at 6:45pm in Madagascar.
Obviously this would be very weird if I were to assume that the flight would remain direct if it were to somehow leave 2 hours earlier and land 1 hour later, but I would later learn they wanted to change the flight to add in an extra leg from DZA airport in Mayotte to HAH airport in Moroni (Comoros) before heading onwards to TNR airport in the capital of Antananarivo, Madagascar.
Then when we checked in the day of the flight after our day in Mayotte, they had no records of our flight in their system. But after I showed them the original Ewa Air booking, this led airport personnel to find our reservations now being operated by Air Madagascar on flight MD150 instead. Ewa Air was nowhere to be found. The flight would depart an hour later at 3:45pm and include the brief stop in HAH airport in Moroni before heading onwards to TNR airport in Madagascar. Thus we can confirm on the ground there is currently a roundtrip Air Madagascar MD150 flight that flies from TNR-DZA-HAH-TNR.
True to their word this time around, we were back at HAH airport in Moroni, Comoros at 5:00pm, taking off at 6:00pm, and landed at 7:00pm local time in TNR airport.
All foreign visitors require an entry visa. Initial visas are for up to 30 days, and your passport must be valid for at least six months after the last day of your stay. I was able to get mine online a few months advance directly with the government (which supposedly skips the middlemen and saving a ton of money): Madagascar E-Visa.
Although it originally was marked up as a 27 euro fee on arrival, they just increased it to 35 euros per person instead. And even though we had an e-visa set up beforehand, it still was an inefficient madhouse of a process where it took just as long to let us through as it did for those who didn’t sign up online beforehand (ex. it took a row of 4 border agents in a manufacturing-like line to process a single passport).
I think they got a lot more kinks to work out here before they can go primetime.
Once you get past baggage claims, you will be greeted by a mass of entrepreneurs offering assistance with your luggage to the waiting taxis, in return for a gratuity, and offering directions to other services. This may be helpful to some, but others may find the presence of the “Skycaps a la Tana” a little annoying. Remember to change money at the airport bank (which you have to do, since the Madagascar Ariary is not a convertible currency).
Airport Taxi to the City center is 50,000 MGA to 70,000 MGA. Another option is using airport bus Narvette, which will take you to the front door of your hotel for 10,000 MGA. We opted for our hostel’s pickup services for 70,000 MGA.
Once at the hostel for check-in I was immediately on the spot befriended by a group of Peace Corps volunteers (here’s looking at you Melissa!) and a traveler from Iraq named Duaa who also happened to have similar plans as ours to see the Avenue of the Baobabs tomorrow. We were also greeted by one of the directors of Cactus Tours Madagascar for a quick briefing on our adventure via charter flight tomorrow.
As a person who survived 50 hour bus rides through Vietnam and overnight buses across India, I’m always down for a rough road trip as anyone else would be, so why do a flight instead of conventional overland travel? Because of value and the fact the roads remain in such disrepair that a 1 hour flight = 12-16 hour drive. Value is important
For example, if we wanted the traditional “cheaper” route from Antananarivo:
Day 1: Domestic commercial flight to Morondava or a 12-14 hour bus ride from 7am to 7/9pm, stay overnight
Day 2: Hire a 4WD for a 12-16 hour drive up to Tsingy of Bemaraha NationalPark before arriving to our lodgings tired and cranky, then stay overnight
Day 3: Explore the national park, stay overnight
Day 4: Drive back 12-16 hours to Morondava for Avenue of the Baobabs at sunset, stay overnight
Day 5: Fly back to Antananarivo on a domestic commercial flight or a 12-16 hour bus ride from 7am to 7/9pm.
This calculates to 2x domestic flights or 2x 12-14 hour bus rides, 2x 16-20 hour 4WD rough drives, and 4 overnight stays across 5 days.
However, if you book a charter flight from Antananarivo leaving at 7:30am, it would look like this:
Day 1: Morning flight from Antananarivo to Amborodia’s airstrip located next to Tsingy of Bemaraha NationalPark, take 4-6 hours from morning to afternoon to hike and explore the national park, return to Amborodia in the afternoon, fly less than half an hour to Avenue of the Baobabs for sunset viewing before staying overnight
Day 2: Fly the one hour back to Antananarivo
This calculates to 1 private charter flight and 1 overnight stay. If you have a group of 6-10 to fill up a plane, the price ends up nearly the same. You do the math and determine what has more “value.”
That said, the next morning we were picked up at 6am and taken to the airport for our private charter flight to Amborodia. Duaa actually woke up with us at 6am as well and almost considered joining our private flight at the last minute! But after a bit of shared decision making, rationality prevailed and she opted to stay with us at our hotel in Morondava, and at the very least see if she could beat us there by overland driving and see the Baobabs with us for sunrise. The race is on!
We arrived at the private airstrip at 7am where we were individually weighed, given Nespresso coffee, and a red carpet treatment before boarding.
The views over Antananarivo:
About 45 minutes into the flight, I was able to see a glimpse of Tsingy of Bemaraha below:
Upon our arrival at Amborodia’s airfield, we hopped in our 4WDs for the 30 minute bumpy ride to the trail leading to Tsingy of Bemaraha National Park.
Then we got strapped into our harnesses.
By 10am we began our hike.
Madagascar’s isolation from other continents has resulted in a unique mix of plants and animals, many found nowhere else in the world. This has led some ecologists to refer to Madagascar as the “eighth continent.” The very existence of Tsingy of Bemaraha National Park is a prime example of this as we went on our one hour hike through 2 forests there.
For example we found a ficus, aka a strangler fig:
Here you can also find an array of indigenous plants and 13 species of lemurs. We saw just 2.
We then spent about 1-2 hours carefully navigating up and down Tsingy de Bemaraha, a gigantic limestone cathedral (aka a “stone forest”), made up of a dense network of sharp limestone blocks found in only two places in Madagascar.
The hike is intense as you have to scale up cliff edges while strapped to a harness.
One wrong move and you can fall to a painful ankle sprain!
At some point you have to carabiner yourself to cliffside cables; drop something here and you lose it forever:
You also have to crawl through low-lying caves:
But once you make it to the top . . .
. . . the views are well worth it.
This is one of those moments where you know you’ll probably never get to do this ever again in your life.
After about half an hour up here, we crossed the notorious footbridge.
Afterwards we took some photos before climbing back down through cathedral like trenches.
We then stopped for a brief picnic lunch in the shade.
Then after lunch we headed back along the same trail back to our 4WDs. Overall, the hike took the 6 of us 4 hours to do at a relatively fast paced on a difficulty level I would classify as moderate.
After driving back to the Amborodia air strip, we then boarded our one hour flight to Morondava. Considering again the other option would have been a 12-16 hour overland drive over horrible roads that could have delayed our trip by up to 2-3 days, I feel that the price adjustment — especially discounted given our group size — was more than justified!
Let’s see if Duaa keeps her end of the bargain and makes it to our hotel!
Update: she did!
Update #2: And she’s joining for the rest of our trip through Seychelles!
- At time of posting in Tsingy de Bemaraha Strict Nature Reserve, it was 21 °C -
Humidity: 62% | Wind Speed: 6km/hr | Cloud Cover: sunny