Long-favored by newlyweds and resort-lovers, the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius isn’t known for being the most wallet-friendly destination. Being smack bang in the middle of the ocean doesn’t help keep flight costs down either — but once you’re there, the best things about Mauritius are free. It doesn’t cost a single rupee to stretch out on a white sand beach or to go waterfall hunting in one of the island’s deliciously green national parks. So, if you’re ready to do paradise for a pittance, it might be time to pack your swimsuit, because it is possible to plan a Mauritius vacation without spending the equivalent of a down payment on a house. Here’s how.
1. Travel by bus
Eschew expensive taxis that race from one corner of the island to the next and instead take the local bus. While timetables are nearly impossible to figure out, if you have no time constraints and an adventurous heart, you’ll probably reach your destination eventually. After all, it’s a tiny island — you can’t go too wrong!
Buses vary dramatically in comfort. Some come with air conditioning and comfy seats, others have seats like old springy mattresses and will give you heart palpitations as they take downhills at the speed of light. That said, it would be hard to spend more than 50 rupees ($1.50) on a bus ride. Tickets are bought onboard from the conductor, and it doesn’t hurt to double check the destination with the driver — sometimes they are incorrectly labeled.
If you want to get somewhere quickly on your Mauritius vacation, an express bus is your best bet. They’ll set you back a few more rupees, but you won’t end up pulling into the driver’s family home for a chat. There’s even a bus from the airport — just ask the locals to point you in the right direction when you land. The are also taxis, which will be less expensive than having your hotel arrange transportation, but still pricier than public transportation. As of 2023, Uber and ride shares aren’t available on the island.
2. Leave the resorts to the newlyweds
Leave the luxury resorts to the cashmere-wearing crew (or those with shiny new rings) and experience the rough, charming, and real Mauritius. There plenty of budget places to stay on a Mauritius vacation that aren’t several hundred a night, from small mom-and-pop bed and breakfasts to local Airbnbs.
If you’re a rugged traveler and are keen to save your rupees, camping is allowed on most public beaches. If you avoid popular areas like Grand Baie or Blue Bay, there is a good chance you’ll have the beach to yourself when everyone heads home for the day. Most public beaches in Mauritius have immaculately clean bathrooms with showers, and food sellers wander up and down the beach during the day selling everything from cotton candy to fresh coconuts. You’ll be sharing the same stretch of coastline as the resort-goers for a fee of absolutely nothing (suckers!). If camping isn’t quite your style, there has been an influx of Airbnbs over the last couple of years, and prices start at around $40 for the night.
3. Swap Mauritius for its sister island Rodrigues
Rodrigues is isolated, friendly, and laid-back. Honestluy, the rest of the world could be going up in flames, and the inhabitants of Rodrigues wouldn’t even know about it. With an underdeveloped tourism industry and a way of life that can only be described as “chill,” it’s a fair bit cheaper than the mainland. Spending a few days here can help you save money on the overall costs of your Mauritius vacation.
Fresh seafood is pulled from the colorful pirogues and cooked on the shore, Gateaux Piment (chili cakes) are deep fried for a cheap (heart-clogging) snack, and like Mauritius, camping is easy and encouraged. Having avoided the large-scale resorts that crowd Mauritius, Rodrigues has plenty of locally run guesthouses and bed and breakfasts. Prince William was a regular visitor to one such guesthouse; it was rumored he liked to holiday in Rodrigues because no one had a clue who he was. For a few hundred rupees you can visit one of Rodrigues star attractions, Caverne Patate, a series of underground caves, or you could do what the locals do and spend the long afternoons with a beer (or rum) in hand watching the squids dry like laundry in the wind. Being a little bit drunk is the national pastime in Rodrigues.
4. Eat what the locals eat
Eating for under 5 dollars a day in Mauritius is easy — but only if you take your meals streetside. Across the island, food is trundled around on the back of motorbikes, ice creams are handed out of psychedelic ice cream trucks, and fresh baguettes are baked and sold for a few coins. One of Mauritius’s best and cheapest meals is dholl puri, a chickpea flatbread, though curries of all types are also popular.
Different versions of this same meal are available almost everywhere you go, and two is plenty for a filling lunch (or breakfast). One will set you back around 15-20 rupees or 50 cents, easily putting a full lunch, with a glass bottle of coke, at under $2.
5. Chase waterfalls, or hike through misty mountaintops
Like Hawaii, Mauritius was created by volcanic eruptions, leaving the island with a unique and haphazard landscape. Craters, sharp cliff-faces, and sloping mountains are all ready to be climbed, some with more difficulty than others. For an easy climb, Le Pouce takes a few hours and offers a vantage point that allows you to see all four corners of the island, and for something more difficult (read: steep), Le Mourne Brabant in the southwest is a spectacular hike that overlooks Mauritius’s famous underwater waterfall. If waterfalls are more your thing, or you want to get that envy-inducing Instagram shot, Mauritius has plenty. Check out Rochester Falls in the south for a good swimming spot, or Chamarel Falls in the Black River Gorges for its massive 272-foot drop.