The third island in the Mascarene archipelago, Rodrigues, is so small (130 km2) that you have to look carefully to locate it on geographic maps, about 650 km northeast of Mauritius.
Nicknamed the "Cinderella of the Mascarenes," natural and without artifice, Rodrigues offers a lagoon with magnificent waters twice its surface area. Long beaches bordered by casuarinas, a relief of volcanic origin dominated by Mont Limon (390 m), terraced crops, and deep valleys to discover while hiking. Not to mention low rainfall and mild temperatures all year round.
Discovered by Diego Rodrigues in 1598, the island did not take the name of this Portuguese navigator until 1691, when the first French arrived ... seven Huguenots who quickly left it for Mauritius! It was not until another century that Rodrigues was inhabited by French people, accompanied by Malagasy and African slaves.
Anxious to control the "Roads to India," the English take possession of the island to launch their offensive on Mauritius better. In 1815, Rodrigues became a dependency, subject to the same laws as Mauritius. Then began a period of growth: the population rose from 200 inhabitants in 1825 to 8,000 inhabitants in 1930!
Upon independence from Mauritius (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 also! Today, the Rodriguans, proud of their particularity, watch over their destiny, anxious to manage their drought and drinking water problems.
The island has 38,000 souls, mostly distributed in the north, around Port-Mathurin, and the east coast. When arriving from Mauritius, the visitor is struck by the difference in population: predominantly Indian in Mauritius, African here! Hence the nickname, no doubt, of "red and black island," an allusion to the color of the earth and that of the ebony skin of the inhabitants ...
Given its isolation, the island has not seen 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 go to Rodrigues?
Two types of travelers are found in Rodrigues Island: those who seek tranquility, the authenticity of people and landscapes, fleeing the crowds of tourists, and large hotel structures. They will rather practice gentle and discovery activities, baths, walks, excursions, meetings with the inhabitants.
The others, instead "initiates," come to devote themselves to sports practiced in Rodrigues, suddenly take on another dimension, mainly because of this fabulous lagoon and these extraordinary green, turquoise, or deep blue colors. You guessed it; these are board sports enthusiasts (kitesurfing, windsurfing).
Even if their activities differ, these two populations ultimately come together around a few fundamentals that they share: beauty, freedom, authenticity and are won over by the welcoming of the Rodriguans.
From the sea to the table: the cuisine of Rodrigues Island
Rodrigues can be tasted. Here, cooking is an art of living, a culture, a tradition. Consider that there are as many pickles, those little spicy sauces served as a side dish, as there are traditional dishes. And each dish has its occasion… Rodriguan cuisine is Creole, mixed, inspired by external contributions (gratins and stews) and its terroir.
Half of the Rodriguans are fishermen! The fish - raw, grilled, stewed - has its feast, on March 1, the very popular opening of "fishing with the Senne," an ancestral (and ecological!) Lagoon practice, on canoes, using large nets.
Another important fishery is that of ourite, an octopus that is dried on poles in the sun. Reserved for women, "the ourite stings" at work on the port Sud-Est side is practiced feet in the water using a harpoon. Ourite is delicious in salads or cooked as a "rougaille."
To protect the lagoon, fishing is prohibited from mid-August to mid-October. Whoever finds ourites out of season condones poaching or has the assurance of eating frozen! As for Kono-Kono, appreciated for their aphrodisiac virtues, they are also protected.
Pig, goat, and poultry farms supplement protein intake. They are found in stew, curry, and rougaille… accompanied by tropical and local vegetables (corn served in mash, red beans, scrunchies - a kind of melting pumpkin -, garlic and onions).
What to do on the island of Rodrigues?
A paradise for hikers, Rodrigues is an island that can be easily discovered on foot. However, its unsuspected charms are revealed when you walk the many paths that dot it.
4 kilometers to the west, Île aux Cocos is a must-visit during a stay in Rodrigues. This perfect sandbank, classified as a nature reserve, looks like a paradise with its whiteness and the transparency of the waters that border it. For birdwatchers, the site is home to thousands of seabirds such as white terns and noddis.
The François Leguat reserve is also an exciting visit. This huge reserve is home to Seychellois turtles which were reintroduced to Rodrigues 6 years ago. Turtles evolve in a protected area managed by enthusiasts. The objective is to gradually reintroduce these reptiles into Rodriguan nature.
Rodrigues' paradisiacal beaches and islets
The beaches of Rodrigues are comparable to those of Mauritius. Rodrigues, surrounded by a lagoon, is a beach destination par excellence, with that charm and authenticity that can hardly be found on the big neighbor.
Long stretches of fine white sand, bordered by casuarinas, some of them sometimes bear names that are not very revealing: the Fumier beach is a true paradise! Secret coves are sometimes accessible only by water, so there are almost deserted islands and islets.
The most beautiful beaches and bathing sites are located in the east, between Pointe Coton and Port Sud-Est. This stretch of coastline alternates between long beaches with a series of small coves bordered by cliffs, such as creeks: Anse Ali, Saint-François, or Anse Bouteille, one of the prettiest beaches on the island, embedded between the rocks, with pretty offshore snorkeling spots.
Don't miss the famous Silver Hole, which must be earned! You can get there by a small paved road, then a good walk under the casuarinas, or by the coast along the beach from Pointe Coton (be careful, not always easy, and strong currents). The beaches of Graviers and Port-Sud-Est are also superb: the descent from the winding road to these beaches offers an idyllic panorama of the lagoon and its 50 shades… of blue!
The hustle and bustle is in full swing on the weekends, when families come out for the day with their picnic—less tranquility, of course, but a good slice of life for Rodriguans to share.
Sand Islands, Hermitage… The lagoon is not lacking in treasures. Islands and islets are even inhabited by protected fauna, such as Île aux cocos, a nature reserve located 1.5 hours west of the coast. Colonies of seabirds can be observed here, traveling by canoe in water so shallow that you sometimes have to get out of the water to push the boat.
Take advantage of a stay in Mauritius to discover Rodrigues. But spending only 2 nights there as most tour operators propose would be a mistake, Rodrigues deserves more.