Markets in Mauritius are feasts for all senses. Hustle and bustle; vendors calling out their wares and prices in Creole; the smell of sweat, incense, salted fish and sweet pineapples; bargains and rip-offs. My favourite part of any market is the fresh fruit and vegetable section. I love watching the symmetrically stacked plump, red tomatoes; the piles of cassava; baskets full of herbs for making creole curry; and a multitude of other colourful things that I have no idea what they are.
Usually, I give the touristic parts a wide berth though. The last thing I need is some vendor (aggressively) trying to convince me that I need a plastic dodo made in China, or a frilly sega dress for my child (I don’t even have a child, leave me alone!). But there are also some markets that sell incredibly good quality clothes that I always make sure I visit. Textile used to be one of the Mauritian economy’s Three Pillars together with sugar and tourism. Although IT and commerce have now overtaken the traditional industries, there is still high quality clothes and textiles produced here that can be bought at real bargain prices.
These are my three favourite markets in Mauritius:
The foire de Mahébourg is located close to the central bus station and the waterfront. It is relatively small, and not too touristic. Personally, I actually think that the best day to visit is any day but Monday. On these days, only a few stands selling anything from socks to pots are open, but the fresh produce section is as big as always and the streetfood corner is bustling with locals. I also recommend that you take a stroll up to Royal Road for a bit of everyday streetlife.
The waterfront is usually pretty deserted, but if you are looking for somewhere to have lunch Les Copains d’Abord at the southern end serves local Mauritian dishes and has the best view in town. Mahébourg also has a beautiful Hindu temple called Kovil, along the main road out of town towards the airport, that is well worth a visit. Take your shoes off and stroll around the richly decorated, pastel coloured buildings.
Port Louis (every day)
The market in Port Louis is tourist heaven and hell at the same time. You will definitely get hustled here, but the fresh produce section is the best (and most photogenic) on the whole island. Unless you are looking to buy (and haggle for) cheap souvenirs, give the tourist section a miss. Instead, take your time soaking up the atmosphere in the large fruit and vegetable hall where the locals come to shop for dinner. If you can handle the smell of unrefrigerated, raw meat take a look in the various halls opposite the road from the vegetable section, each dedicated to a particular product (beef, goat, poultry, fish etc.).
For a more hassle-free experience, take a stroll along the streets leading up to Chinatown and the Muslim quarters around Jumma Masjid (one of the largest mosques in Mauritius). The road between the Chinese gates (Royal Road, between Dr Joseph Rivier and La Paix streets) is mostly hardware shops but the side streets are bustling with little shops and stalls selling everything from roasted peanuts to Chinese medicine and Muslim takiyah (caps).
Quatre Bornes (Thursdays and Sundays)
The main attraction at Quatre Bornes is textile. This is where the locals come to buy their stuff, and the tourists are in minority. The hustling is much less aggressive than at Port Louis, but expect it to be seriously crowded. You can find excellent quality clothes here, at absolute bargain prices. My hubby bought some really nice shirts at Rs 250 each (abt EUR 6); the fit and quality are perfect! There is also plenty of beautiful fabric, and a plethora of Indian adornments alongside the usual brick-a-brack.
Along one side of the market, streetfood stalls line the street and you can get anything from dholl puri to chinese noodles and seriously sweet mithai. The fruit and vegetable section at Quatre Bornes market is disappointingly small, but make sure you take a look in the fish hall. Most of the stuff for sale looks like it should belong in an aquarium, not on a plate!