What’s it like to travel by yourself to the Vanilla Islands of Mauritius and Reunion Island? Is it possible to enjoy some alone time on an island famous for being a honeymoon destination?
Actually, it’s pretty fabulous.
And solo travel is on the rise globally, according to TripAdvisor’s TripBarometer study, 17% of travellers will try solo travel for the first time in 2016. Yet we tend to think along the lines of Eat, Pray, Love destinations like Italy, India and Indonesia when we imagine visiting somewhere new by ourselves. But where do you go if you just really want to visit a tropical island, and you just really want to do it alone?
Here are my thoughts on the solo travel scene like on two rather popular Indian Ocean islands for South Africans.
Mauritius has long been a favourite destination of South African couples, families and honeymooners, with an enticing combination of short flights, no visa requirements and value for money deals. But white sand beaches, warm turquoise waters and pina coladas served in fresh coconuts are as appealing to solo travellers as they are to honeymooners.
As long as you’re not heartbroken or prone to fits of tears when seeing happy, in love couples, I think you’ll find that Mauritius has a lot to offer the solo traveller.
The resort holiday experience has always been at the bottom of my travel bucket list, pushed aside by solo surf trips to India and Namibian road trips - adventurous and ambitious trips that would challenge me and give me that feeling deep down in my belly, hinging between danger and excitement.
But there comes a time in every traveller’s life when they really just need some downtime. Time to sleep late, read a book, soak up the sun, drink rum with breakfast, stare at the swaying green palm trees against the clear blue sky and not worry about a thing. And where better to do it than a four-hour flight from OR Tambo International?
The best things about travelling solo to Mauritius:
Resorts and hotels take great care to ensure that you’re comfortable and relaxed. The beach is always on your doorstep, your meals are taken care of and your most difficult decision for the day will most likely be which bikini to wear.
If you’ve never travelled alone before, the safety of a resort will help calm your nerves. It’s the perfect place to spread your wings and practise your “flying solo skills”, without having to worry about getting lost, getting scammed or taking the wrong train. Most hotels offer hotel transfers, so you don’t have to worry about haggling with a taxi driver. Resorts also offer watersports and snorkelling, so you never actually need to leave unless you really want to.
It’s really the perfect way to unwind. While travelling solo can sometimes be stressful and exhausting in big cities or new countries, a resort holiday in Mauritius is the exact opposite. Picture long walks on the beach, the chance to read your book uninterrupted, sleep all day with no one needing your attention and work on your tan.
English is widely spoken, so you don’t have to worry about getting lost in translation.
Good to know:
- Air Mauritius flies regularly, direct from Cape Town, Durban and Johannesburg.
- The One & Only Le Saint Geran is the ultimate luxury resort, located on a private peninsula, with everything you could need to relax and unwind.
- Going full-board sounds like the safe option, but is actually a great deal, since ordering a la carte can be very pricey.
- Staying in one resort for the duration of your stay is ideal, since transport is expensive - about R1 000 per hour for a taxi.
- If you’re going in winter, make sure to check where you hotel is located - the north is much less windy
Reunion Island, the French cousin of Mauritius, is another island option for the solo traveller. Located 200kms off Mauritius, Reunion is just as easily accessible, with frequent flights from Johannesburg and no visa requirements. It’s an especially good option if you only have a couple of days off, since you won’t be spending the first 24 hours of your trip in transit.
The ideal option for the more adventurous or experienced solo traveller, Reunion has a multitude of exciting and unique activities like canyoning, hiking, snorkelling and exploring underground lava tunnels. If Mauritius is all about the resort experience, Reunion is the opposite. Don’t expect to spend your days lounging around the hotel pool - not when there’s one of the world’s most active volcanoes to see and a stand up paddleboard waiting.
The best things about travelling solo to Reunion Island:
With the same white sand beaches and warm turquoise waters, Reunion Island is a beach holiday for the active traveller. Accommodation is more basic than Mauritius’ luxe resorts, but you’re likely only going to be indoors long enough to catch some sleep. Self-catering units are available a few steps from the beach on the island’s west coast, with grocery stores just a short walk away.
You’ll need to rent a car (and be brave enough to drive on the wrong side of the road). But the variety of climates, sights and topography just beg to be explored. If you’re into hiking, running, swimming, snorkelling and adventure activities like canyoning and diving, you’ll be busy from sunrise to sunset. For travellers used to solo exploring, this island promises a solo odyssey.
The island is entirely unique, with a distinctly French flair and villages accessible only by foot. Technically, you can tick France off your travel bucket list once you’ve visited Reunion, since it’s a governmental department of France.
You’ll need to know at least a bit of French - “hello”, “what time is it” and “where can I find a cold beer?” are a good start. English is not as common here as on Mauritius, but that’s part of the adventure.
For the solo travellers who have done it all, Reunion Island promises new adventures, with the option of beach days when you need a break.
Good to know:
- Air Austral flies direct from Johannesburg. They often run special offers, so keep an eye on their social media pages to take advantage of reduced rates.
- Accommodation is basic, but you really won’t be spending much time in your room. Booking on the west of the island will ensure that you’re a quick walk from the beach, local bars and magical sunsets.
- Booking a car is essential, so be prepared to drive on the wrong side of the road.
- The island’s three cirques - Salazie, Cilaos and Mafate are must-visits! Each one has a distinct landscape and climate.
- The currency is the Euro.
*Natalie Roos is the writer behind the blog Tails of a Mermaid, follow her on Instagram or Twitter.