Mauritius. What a place. When I first visited, it was to see my wife's home country and family so I had no real expectations or preconceptions. All I really knew was that it was a very small Island off the coast of Africa. But after two weeks there, I was shocked at how unique the place really is.
Mauritius was initially inhabited only by animals, many of which are not seen anywhere else in the world. Then the humans came along. The Dutch first settled the Island and famously killed and ate all of the Dodo birds. Later the French came along and fought the Dutch off, then named the island Isle De France. While continuing to wipe out much of the natural land and wildlife, the French planted many sugar cane fields there, creating essentially an Island of a giant sugar cane farm. Of course the people farming were not the settlers themselves, instead they brought many slaves from Africa. This is how the population of Mauritius started, many white settlers mixed with many more black slaves. The British later took the Island from the French and renamed it back to Mauritius.
Despite the British now owning and running the Island, essentially as a sugar cane business, the French culture had already taken roots. Many of the islanders continued to talk French, and in fact generated their own language, popular among the slaves, which was a sort of broken French, named Mauritian Creole. You can still hear this spoken today.
Once the British became one of the first countries to abolish slavery, the country started to gain a presence of it's own, and this was enhanced more when the Island gained independence. During this time, the population changed dramatically. While the island was predominantly an African-European mix, more and more people started arriving from Asia (especially China) and India to seek work, while others were indentured labour. Many of these people built houses and brought their food, clothing and cultures with them. The culture that became predominant in many areas was that of Hindu, and today you can see towering sculptures and statues to Hindu Gods, as well as huge prayer lakes.
So enough history, what does Mauritius offer today? Well as a tourist, the part you go to will be wildly different depending on the culture that took root there. There are still many African descendents there, but also many Indian and those two cultures and DNAs have mixed, along with smaller cultures to create a few unique Mauritian identities. As mentioned, you can visit the amazing Hindu Temples, yet you can also visit Catholic or Anglican churches, brought from the older settlers. Beaches too have different feels, those in the North are frequented by the richest travellers from all over the world, including Europe, USA and South Africa, while the beaches further south are often populated by the locals.
One of the most exciting parts of Mauritius is it's food. Just like with the cultures, the ethnic mixes, the food too is a blend. There are many Indian inspired dishes containing lentils, including Dhal Puri, Dhall Curry and Rotti. But also there is still a strong French presence with Croissants, Baguettes and good cheese imports. Of course the more tourist areas have great Chinese restaurants and the usual imports such as Pizza and Burgers. I would also recommend Mauritian Fried Noodles (Mine Frite Special), the Asian inspired fried noodle dish, popular among locals.
All in all, there's a lot to Mauritius. A lot of history, for a relatively recently populated island. A lot of cultures. A lot of great food to try but mostly many very friendly people with fantastic beaches that will make you think you've arrived in paradise