Vacation Essentials for Rodrigues Island:
As we were driving from Plaine Corail airport to our Rodrigues island hotel, our driver laughed as he asked us how many seasons there were. Four of course – at least where I come from. On Rodrigues, they like to keep things simple and there are just two seasons – Summer and Winter. It’s a mild tropical maritime climate with an average temperature in the summer of around 26C and in the winter of around 22C. The hottest months are from January to March. This little island in the heart of the Indian Ocean has a pretty constant breeze from the trade winds and there are occasional cyclones. But for the most part, it’s a comfortable climate which helps enable the island to be self-sustaining. You would think that should make vacation planning easy. But, this is not a typical holiday destination…so I’ve put together a Rodrigues vacation guide to help make things easy for you. Read on to find more about where to stay, what to eat and what you’ll need to pack for a successful visit to Rodrigues.
Rodrigues Island Hotels and Guest Houses:
Unlike its nearest neighbour, Mauritius, accommodation on Rodrigues ranges from simple self-catering through to a handful of three-star hotel resorts and just one four-star. This isn’t the place to come to if you are hoping for butler service and personal plunge pools. But, what you will find on Rodrigues is a genuine form of hospitality which transcends any star rating.
I started my trip staying at Cotton Bay Resort and Spa. It’s owned by Air Mauritius and many of the guests seemed to have come from Mauritius. With 60 rooms and a two bedroom villa on site, it’s still quite an intimate setting where you’ll get to know the other guests at least by sight relatively quickly.
All the rooms were spacious – and all have large sea-facing balconies or patios. My standard room came with a neat and functional bathroom, eco-friendly toiletries a good size desk, plenty of storage and a large comfortable bed.
Honeymoon suites have a bathtub too, but none of the rooms felt compromised for space. I particularly liked my balcony, a lovely restful place to sit and while away an hour or two.
There’s a sea-facing pool, but the hotel is right on Pointe Coton, a lovely sandy beach, so many guests preferred to take advantage of the sea waters. And, there’s a large bar area and a buffet style restaurant.
Like everywhere we went on Rodrigues there’s a lot of attention to being environmentally friendly. This Rodrigues island hotel, like most of the others provides a buffet style dinner between 6.30 and 9 pm but, I suspect in an effort to try and avoid food waste, what is on offer by the end of the evening is limited. The buffet is generally a mixture of local dishes, but there’s sometimes a theme (Chinese or Creole for instance). I particularly enjoyed the freshly grilled fish and salads.
The hotel bar serves a range of cocktails – and a rather excellent Ti’Punch. I would happily have spent every evening sipping on my Ti’Punch and looking out to sea.
In addition, Cotton Bay Hotel has a charming spa – with sauna, steam room and treatment rooms for singles and couples. And a dive school where you can learn to scuba dive.
A simple example of Rodrigues hospitality – I forgot to pack my comb – and when I realised on a Saturday evening, I also knew there would be no shop open the next day. I asked at the hotel reception, hoping they might have a supply of toiletries. Instead, the reception staff promised to find one for me and sure enough the next day I was provided with an immaculately clean but clearly previously loved comb! Was it one of theirs or something they’d found in lost property and cleaned for me? I don’t know and I don’t mind. What I really appreciate was the love and care of the staff who found a way to make things work.
Similarly, none of us had our own equipment to try snorkelling but the boatman said he’d sort things out for us. He turned up with one large blue mask and flipper set and one smaller pink set. We asked him where they were from – it turned out that one set belonged to his mother and one set to his father. It’s a different attitude to hospitality and one which I found remarkably easy to get on with.
I also stayed at Villa Evasion, a charming Villa set high up in the hills. Cooler and more tranquil than the hotels, Villa Evasion offers three double ensuite bedrooms in the main house and one specially adapted for disabled visitors on the ground floor, with its own entrance. It would be perfect for a multi-generational family – the ground floor suite would work perfectly for grandparents wanting a little privacy from the rest of the family.
Other options to consider include Domain de la Paix, an upmarket bed and breakfast which offers individual ‘lodges’ each with their own patio area. Set well apart, each is carefully designed and unique – and you can enjoy buffet-style breakfasts every day with the option of table d’hote dining several nights a week.
Or Rodrigues only four-star hotel, Tekoma which was highly recommended by fellow voyagers to Ile aux Coco. Wherever you stay, anticipate an awareness of the environment – solar heated water, no water at all at certain times of the night (Cotton Bay switched off all water supply between midnight and 4 am) and a far more limited supply of towels than you might be used to provide just the right amount of privacy for grandma and grandma.
There’s an entrepreneurial spirit and a charming, welcoming attitude on Rodrigues Island which goes beyond any taught hospitality. Once you’ve settled on somewhere to stay, one of the best ways to discover more is by exploring food on the island
The food of Rodrigues.
Ask anyone from Rodrigues what product is unique to the island and they will mention lemons. Small, green and rather sweeter and more delicate than its common yellow cousin it’s used to make non-alcoholic lemonade which you will be offered in every hotel and restaurant and the rather addictive Ti’Punch made by adding white rum and honey. It’s also used to make various condiments, from sweet jams to pickles and savoury preserves and piments limon – small pickled green lemons ground and mixed with chillies.
It is particularly appropriate given the quantities of fresh fish consumed on the island. The lagoon which surrounds Rodrigues has plentiful supplies of fish which is grilled or steamed, served in a rougail (a kind of casserole, with tomatoes) or as a kind of curry simply spiced with ginger and garam masala. There are nearly 500 types of fish recorded from the waters around Rodrigues but for the most part we enjoyed wahoo and carangue – meaty tropical fish with white flesh, and octopus.
The island is self-sustaining in fresh fruits and vegetables too and grows everything from coffee, herbs and spices through to onion, garlic and a special kind of chilli. Every family keeps a pig – which is slaughtered at Christmas or Easter. You’ll see homemade sausages hanging up to dry outside And cattle, goats and sheep are kept for meat and dairy products. Although there’s no large-scale farming, there’s still a surplus of meat which is exported to Mauritius.
It’s well worth visiting the only coffee plantation on Rodrigues. A small family business, Cygagnue is a good example of entrepreneurship on the island. 25 years ago, started the coffee plantation at the suggestion of a friend – by planting one tree which after ten years started to produce coffee beans that could be used.
That first tree adapted well to the climate so they expanded production. Before they started the coffee they made honey which they continue to produce. Now, coffee production is a family business – run by the husband and wife team with the help of one of their daughters The coffee is sold across the island – another product which Rodrigues doesn’t need to import.
Book a cookery class and demonstration with one of the lovely ladies who produce jams, preserves and cakes for sale on the island to see more entrepreneurship in action.
Madame Delly Mana showed us how to make torte and a type of jam rolypoly. She’s best know for her local pain d’epice (a kind of gingerbread made with local honey from Rodrigues) but I suspect she didn’t want to share that recipe!
She’s been baking for 20 years, having learnt in Mauritius – but she came back to Rodrigues and started baking Pain d’Epice for the local market. She works with three other ladies to bake produce which is sold at the airport and across the island. She showed us her garden where she cultivates everything from turmeric and ginger to tilleul, citronnelle and rosemary for baking and for health reasons. This self-sufficiency is evident across the island – there’s a pride in doing everything themselves!
The remarkable Valerie introduced us to her range of jams and preserves along with demonstrating how to make a lemon meringue cake – she lost her sight several years ago but has built up a thriving business and manages her kitchen with just one assistant. She still slices the special Rodrigues lemons much far faster than I could!
You’ll get a good overview of the local food by visiting the Saturday market at Port Mathurin where you’ll find everything from fresh fish and meat, vegetables and fruits and a great selection of jams and preserves. I couldn’t resist and came home with a whole selection of little jars!
When you want to try the local cuisine, you’ll be spoilt for choice. There are plenty of small local restaurants in Anse aux Anglais, a small coastal fishing village and in the Island’s main town, Port Mathurin. I particularly enjoyed my wahoo with grenadine at Marlin Blue in Anse aux Anglais – a dish with classic French heritage, and the fresh octopus salad served at Le Panadus in Port Mathurin a well-known and popular guest house looking out over the sea which would make a good base if you wanted to stay in the town.
But, the spirit of Rodrigues comes into its own in an enterprise called ‘Table d’Hotel’ where you can dine ‘at your host’s table’ in family houses around the island. Some but not all offer rooms for the night as well.
We were lucky enough to eat at two Table d’Hote establishments and enjoyed some of the best food of the whole trip. Grand Lagon in Anse Quitor served us a platter of delicious freshly cooked and I suspect freshly caught fish – the owner’s brother is a fisherman. We ate al-fresco on the terrace enjoying the tranquillity of this off-the-beaten-track home.
And, a day or so later we went to Villa Mon Tresor for dinner in Anse aux Anglais. Our hostess was the charming Marie-Louise – she had cooked our supper herself – and we feasted on a whole range of dishes from her own recipes.
While you are on Rodrigues make sure you try the local specialities – dried octopus, pickled Rodrigues lemon and chillies and the pain d’epice and tourte. I’m sharing Madame Delly Mana’s recipe for tourte here just in case you fancy trying it at home (although it is not her recipe for jam and you may wish to try making the tourte first with a shop bought confiture).
- 250 g all purpose flour
- 50 g butter or margarine
- 50 g vegetable oil
- pinch salt
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1.5 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 small firm ripe papaya
- 1 small coconut grated
- 150 g unrefined sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Peel the papaya. Remove seeds, cut into cubes and place fruit in a heavy saucepan.
Add sugar and cook until the mixture browns and thickens considerably. Remove from heat and cool.
Add coconut and vanilla, mix well. Allow to cool
Sift flour, salt, sugar and baking powder together. Cut butter into cubes, add to the flour with the oil and rub into flour until crumb-like in texture.
Knead lightly until the dough comes together, then roll out on a lightly floured surface to around 1/2 inch thickness
Use about half of the dough to line a 7inch pie dish. Trim and roll out the remaining dough.
Add 80g or so of the papaya and coconut jam
Roll out the remaining dough into a neat circle and use it to cover the filling. Seal the edges by crimping with a fork.
Decorate the pie with the remaining dough trimmings and brush the top with milk to glaze.
Bake in a preheated oven at 180C for 30 to 40 minutes until the crust turns golden brown in colour.
Allow the tourte to come to room temperature before slicing to serve. Makes about 8 regular servings.
What to pack for a trip to Rodrigues:
The first thing to remember is that while you can find most things you need on Rodrigues you won’t necessarily get a lot of choice. So, unlike visiting Mauritius or the Caribbean, when you are planning your vacation you need to make sure that you have everything you are likely to want in your case. This isn’t somewhere you’d go on a shopping trip, unless you wanted to buy local crafts (I came home with a lovely sunhat) or food.
The beaches on Rodrigues are stunning but the lagoon is mostly coral so pack flip-flops or proper beach shoes that you can use in the water.
There are plenty of good hikes and there’s also the largest underground cave system, Caverne Patate, in the Republic of Mauritius, you can walk along 700m of the total 1 140 m (2) of passages.
To make the most of this pack good hiking shoes or sandals – particularly in Caverne Patate you’ll find the rock floor very slippery and damp, so it’s necessary to have footwear with a good grip.
Elsewhere, although there are paths through the hikes, the shrubs can be quite invasive and rain, when it happens, is usually short and sharp leading to temporary flooding and slippery routes. I had a pair of walking sandals which were invaluable when we were walking along the Eastern Crics.
The tropical climate means that when you plan your Rodrigues vacation you’ll need plenty of natural fibre, loose clothing. Although trade winds reduce the daytime temperature, the sun is very strong and you should bring long-sleeved shirts to cover your arms and loose cotton trousers for your legs.
If you are planning to hike or try either of the island’s adventures – the zip line or the rope bridge, then a pair of hiking trousers or leggings would be a sensible addition to your packing list. You’ll need longer trousers if you are hiking to avoid getting your legs scratched as you go through the undergrowth too.
It’s never cold enough to need a winter coat, but there are short sharp bursts of rainfall at certain times of the year and a waterproof jacket with a hood would be a good addition to your luggage.
Bring a sun hat of some sort (or be prepared to buy one locally). I didn’t and after one afternoon on a boat, I needed to buy one on the island because my scalp was badly burnt.
Rodrigues is a relaxed island. Even in the Rodrigues island hotels, you’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone wearing formalwear. For the most part, comfortable natural fibre dresses or cotton trousers and linen shirts are appropriate.
What else to pack?
Good mosquito protection. It’s worth bringing your own plug-in repellants for accommodation. Spray protection when you are out is essential. While there’s no malaria, there are plenty of hungry mosquitos who seem to prefer the blood of visitors and it’s important to protect against Chikungunya a viral disease carried by mosquitoes in the region.
Strong sunscreen. As mentioned, the weather is deceptive – sea breezes mask the strength of the sun. Aftersun may also useful!
Travel wipes, tissues and a travel towel.
If you want to snorkel and don’t plan on booking into the dive schools, bring your own equipment, you might not find such a helpful local fisherman as we did…
For women, a two-part bathing suit is a good idea. The islands are great day trips but there’s often little shelter or space to change and a two-part suit or bikini will work much better than trying to wriggle into a swimming costume while keeping your modesty.
A small first aid kit packed with plasters, antiseptic cream, painkillers and any other medication you might need may prove helpful. There are plenty of shops on the island, but finding the right thing isn’t always that easy.
Finally, bring a book when you pack for a Rodrigues vacation! This isn’t somewhere you can stream movies – the internet is flakey or non-existent – and it’s a great time to have a digital detox!
I was a guest of Tourism Rodrigues on this trip.
I flew to Rodrigues Island via Mauritius with Air Mauritius. There are direct flights from London to Mauritius with Air Mauritius four times a week and further daily flights from London via Paris or Amsterdam. Connecting flights from Mauritius to Rodrigues depart three times a day.
For more about Table d’Hote Dining or about visiting any of the destinations in this piece, please contact Tourism Rodrigues – their offices are in Rue De La Solidarite, Port Mathurin, Mauritius and provide a wealth of information