Named after the French King Louis XV, Port Louis or ‘Porlwi’ is Mauritius’ capital city located in the north-western part of the island. Founded in the 18th century (1735) by the French governor Bertrand Francois Mahé de La Bourdonnais, Port Louis has a land area of 42.7 sq km and consists of a diverse population of 120,376 (estimated in 2014).
Bustling with activities during the day, Port Louis was chosen as the ideal port and fort in the colonial period due to the fact that it was well-protected from the strong winds of the cyclones by the Moka Mountain ranges. Today the city is made up of historical and modern buildings, shops, restaurants, shopping malls, iconic places such as China Town, Champ de Mars, Caudan Waterfront, the central market and many more, where one can experience the cultural side of Mauritius.
While heading to Port Louis you can get stuck in traffic (one of the longest in the country) especially in the morning and afternoon when people are heading to their office or returning home.
Most of the commercial activities are concentrated in this area of the island, since most of the banks, government offices, and other important institutions are located over here. The city can get warmer during the day with an average temperature of 22-26 degrees Celsius so you can always bring a bottle of water with you.
Being a tourist you can enjoy the warm sunshine while venturing in the streets where you can taste the local food & drinks and shop for interesting and affordable items such as accessories, handicrafts, souvenirs and clothing. There are also cultural events such as the successful Porlwi by light and Chinatown food and cultural festival which will give you a real taste of the culture of Mauritius.
Iconic And Must-visit Places In Port-louis:
The Central Market of Port Louis
If you are yearning to taste some of the local products then you must visit the central market of Port-Louis at the Farquhar Street. The central market is quite famous for its fresh vegetables & tropical fruits, artisanal products, spices & herbs, souvenirs, delicious local food and many other items that might grab your attention.
Built in 1844, the central market locally known as the ‘Bazaar Central’ underwent a renovation in 2004 in order to make it more accessible and clean. Parts of its structures like the market’s ironwork gates still have the Victorian designs.
If you are looking for some local, fresh fruits and vegetables then you will find an open space with several stalls. Just near the vegetable stalls you can also find Chinese herbal medicines which are ideal for those who suffer from any ailments and aches.
There is also a small snack area where you will find an eclectic range of local food and drinks such as the dhal puri, roti, alouda, bread with curry, chilled juice, tea and coffee. And if you are looking for souvenirs, gifts, handcrafted jewelries, t-shirts, bags and similar items, then you need to take the stairs up to the first floor.
To avoid the heat and the crowds, it is recommended to visit early as the market opens every day at six in the morning (06h00).
You can always bargain in order to get a better price.
Discover the history of Mauritius by visiting the Aapravasi Ghat- a World Heritage Site located on the bay of Trou Fanfaron in Port Louis. The Aapravasi Ghat served as an immigration depot by the colonial British government in 1849.
The immigration depot remains a crucial part of Mauritian history as it is from this port that the Mauritian population became more diverse than ever.
Just after the abolition of slavery in 1834, the then British government initiated the ‘Great Experiment’ whereby indentured labourers were brought from India, China, Southeast Asia, Eastern Africa and Madagascar to work on sugar plantations.
Due to the success of this experiment there was consequently a massive worldwide migration of more than two million indentured labourers, of which Mauritius received almost half a million.
The buildings of Aapravasi Ghat are among the earliest explicit manifestations of what would become a global economic system. It represents not only the development of the modern system of contractual labour, but also the memories, traditions and values that these men, women and children carried with them when they left their countries of origin, to work in foreign lands. It also showcases how they subsequently bequeathed their millions of descendants for whom the site holds great symbolic meaning. Today, nearly 70% of the Mauritian population can trace their roots back to Aapravasi Ghat.
While visiting the Aapravasi Ghat, you will get the chance learn more about the historical events through the Beekrumsing Ramlallah Interpretation Centre (BRIC). There are displays of artifacts such as pipes, phials & medicine bottles (from the hospital on the site), leftover gin and rum bottles (probably drank by British officers) and all other remains found during archaeological excavations at the Aapravasi Ghat. You may also view a replica of the ship, similar to the one that the contracted workers had to endure.
Natural History Museum in Port Louis
Built in 1842, the Natural History Museum is located on the ground floor of the Mauritius Institute Building, just in front of the ‘Jardin de la Compagnie’ at Port Louis.
The museum is recognized as the oldest museum in Mauritius and displays a huge collection of natural science exhibits where the reconstruction of the world famous dodo is found.
The museum is sectioned into three permanent galleries where you can witness the past 500 years of natural history of Mauritius.
The first gallery displays the skeleton of dodo which was collected by E. Thirioux in 1900, and you can also see skeletons of the extinct Solitaire bird from Rodrigues Island which was discovered at Caverne Patate in 1900. There are also mammals, reptiles, and birds.
The second gallery is dedicated to the marine life including fishes, crabs, echinoderms, molluscs, marine mammals, whales and dolphins. The fish display comprises of sharks, eels, rays and the poisonous, commercial and sport fish. Interestingly, there is a very rare sea urchin, notably the Acanthocidaris curvastispina.
And if you have a peculiar interest about the geology then the third gallery is where you can find some really interesting displays. There is an illuminated model of a volcano and the various types of Mauritian rocks which are shown. The different varieties of corals which constitute of the beauty of the reefs and lagoons are also exhibited in this gallery. Several specimens of giant land tortoises from the Seychelles, and a large collection of butterflies, including the rare Papilio demodocus var. carrei and hawk moths are exhibited.
Blue Benny Museum
Located at the Caudan waterfront, the Blue Penny Museum takes you on a captivating journey of the historical and cultural wealth of Mauritius. The museum was inaugurated in 2001 and houses some prestigious collections of the colonial Mauritius. Visiting the museum might take you approximately an hour, where you will have the chance to get a general overview of the history and culture of Mauritius in a modern and attractive setting. There is a unique presentation of Port Louis and of its heritage through an abundance of historical testimonies, and the chance to discover the first edition of the novel, “Paul et Virginie” and the statue sculpted by Prosper d’Epinay.
The Blue Penny Museum prides itself on the two issues of the famous ‘Post Office’ stamp dating back to 1847. The stamps are considered as the two most precious items of worldwide philately- the unused one penny orange-red stamps, and one of the four unused two pence indigo-blue stamps in existence. These stamps are considered a national treasure and are probably the most valuable objects on the entire island.
The collection also includes a series of treasures: old marine maps, paintings, sculptures, stamps, engravings and old documents that bring forward the richness of Mauritian history and culture.
Another interesting place to discover the history and get a hint of the culture is to visit the Photography Museum which is down a cobbled lane (la rue du vieux Conseil) opposite the Municipal Theatre of Port Louis. The museum was created by Tristan Bréville– a local photographer who turned his passion into a collection of historical photos of Mauritius.
Here is a chance to immerse yourself in a world of photography as you walk around to discover more about Mauritius.
You will likely find Mrs Marie Noelle Bréville who is usually at your disposal to talk about the different old camera equipment and photos exposed.
You might also see some amazing 3D historical pictures of ‘La rue du Gouvernement’.
You will find three little rooms in the center of the museum where various cameras are displayed which are quite particular.
There is also an amazing wide collection of books on photography and some of the very first ‘daguerreotypes’ (the forerunner of photography) on metal or on ceramic. These were brought back by Ferdinand Worhnitz in December 1839, not long after the technique had been discovered.
As you walk further through the museum you will also see various types of machinery used for different things. One of the machines took photos in order to make out maps with a scale; others were used in the printing industry. There are also old signs announcing the very first movie projection. They carry you straight into another world- where movies were shipped to the island and were shown only once or twice.
Champ de Mars
Fun and entertaining, the Champ de Mars Racecourse in Mauritius is located in a prestigious avenue in the capital city. The race course was inaugurated by the Mauritius Turf Club which is the oldest horse racing club in the Southern Hemisphere. The club was founded by the first British Governor, Sir Robert Townsend Farquhar in 25th June 1812.
Very popular among the Mauritian horse racing fans, Champ de Mars could be a nice place to spend your weekends for a fun and exciting moment. This is where you will get in touch with the local race enthusiasts who might be at the tiered seating enjoying the race. You might also spot some people standing close to the finish line who probably like to enjoy the race on the big screen. It can eventually get a bit heated up with shouts of support especially when there is a close finish. In case you wish to experience the horse racing events in a comfortable environment then you can choose the private lodges which are usually reserved for members of the Mauritius Turf Club or for members of the stables.
An interesting fact about this horse-racing course is that Mauritius celebrated its first independence on 12th March 1968 at this very place. Since then and for many years, the racecourse has seen the annual celebration of the accession to independence.
Marie Reine de la Paix
If you are searching for an outstanding view of the capital city, and to pay homage to the Virgin Mary, then Marie Reine de la Paix is the place to be. This modern chapel consists of a 26ft-statue of the Virgin Mary on a platform with an altitude of 175 ft .
Here Christians, Mauritians and tourists come to pray and spend a blissful and serene moment of reflection. It is believed that Pope John Paul II gave his first Mass here during his visit to the island.
The views are simply breathtaking and you have to climb seven terraces and 82 rock-cut steps in order to reach the monument.
Each of the terraces have gorgeous patches of bougainvillea flowers with a variety of colours. The gardens surrounding the church is one of the best maintained in Mauritius. You can definitely come to spend a quiet moment with the cool breeze and beautiful city and ocean views while enjoying a little picnic with your family.
Capital City Festivities
Porlwi by Light Festival
Porlwi by Light is a festival promoting contemporary urban culture and Mauritian heritage altogether, usually towards the end of the year. This initiative was first created under the UNESCO theme ‘’ International Year of Light’’ which has been followed all around the world such as the Festival of Lights in Lyon and Vivid Sydney.
This cultural project is supported by the local government and other firms in Mauritius in order to showcase the Mauritian heritage to the world.
Tourists visiting the island in December have the privilege to discover the cultural facet of Mauritius, and will surely have the chance to mingle with the rainbow population. What you can expect is a whole lot of fun and live entertainment!
Other than, savouring Mauritian cuisines you will have the chance to discover talented comedians, singers, musicians, dancers, luminous LED lighting, plastic art, and video projections.
Chinatown Food and Cultural Festival
The Chinatown Food and Cultural Festival is an annual cultural festival dedicated to the Chinese heritage.
The festival deals with a display of special Chinese menus across the restaurants of the region of China Town (close to the motor vehicle traffic) in Port Louis.
The streets are flooded with captivating decorations in parallel to the theme, and the public gets to enjoy cultural shows performed by Chinese troupes as well as local artists such as Kung Fu demonstrations and lion dances.
The idea behind this cultural event is to bring Mauritians of different origins and cultures together to enjoy the pleasant and harmonious atmosphere. You can stroll the streets while enjoying the shows, visit the Chinese shops, pharmacies, tailors and many other interesting sections.
This is a fantastic opportunity to experience shows performed by musicians, artists, athletes and dancers in the art of the Chinese spirit including calligraphy, martial arts, music and classical and modern dancing at one place.