Exploring Mauritius’ captivating Chinatown on foot

Posted on 4 April 2018

Famed for its beaches and alluring water, Mauritius has a fascinating cultural side often missed by tourists who remain glued to resort loungers. Like Mauritius’ Chinatown.


Captured through the fence of Aapravasi Ghat, the capital’s harbour was colourful even through the drizzle. Photo by Melanie van Zyl.

For the April issue, I got to see another side of the island (though the beaches, palm trees and seductive sunsets are nothing to scoff at). One of my favourite days was spent exploring the capital with just R80 to find some food. Using Otentik Discovery, a geo-location smartphone app, I set off on a self-guided walking tour of Port Louis.


Mauritian rupee (Rs.) is the local currency and each denomination bears a hand-engraved portrait of a prominent Mauritian figure. Here is the Rs. 100 bearing the face of Mr Renganaden Seeneevassen, the first Mauritian Minister of Education. On the right is a colourful Sino-Mauritian facade in Port Louis. Photo by Melanie van Zyl.

The walking tour comprises 12 stops, starting near the harbour then made its way to the buzzing Victorian-era Central Market, which was overflowing with tropical fruit and giant vegetables. Traders shouted their wares and customers moved from store to store stocking up on the fresh produce. There were a lot of less-enticing touristy items too, but the ambience buzzed and it was certainly an exhilirating, aromatic stop.

The buzzing central market in Port Louis. Try visit in the early morning before the heat sets in and get the freshest produce. Take some cash and sample some of the best local cuisines – fritters, roti, curry and noodles are all on offer. Photo by Melanie van Zyl.

Bright, fresh limes is just one of the tropical options on offer. Photo by Melanie van Zyl.

From here, we moved into the Chinatown area of Port Louis. I was surprised to find such a strong cultural district here in Mauritius, but looking back at the history of the island I really shouldn’t have been. Labour was brought onto the island from all over the world and the resulting contemporary cultural patchwork quilt that exists today, as a result, makes the capital an invigorating place to visit. There were Parisian Chinese supermarkets bookmarking a colonial past and an enormous, typically Chinatown, arch marked the entrance.

Welcome to Chinatown. Photo by Melanie van Zyl.

Red, blue and white colours dominate the street palette and intricate street art spruced up bare spaces on the walls between traditional lanterns, delicate Chinese script on peeling signposts and hole-in-the-wall Asian bakeries, that served delicious sticky sesame-studded buns from an unassuming doorway.

Zinzli cakes are prepared with sweet potato, rice flour, and lentil paste. Photo by Melanie van Zyl.

Incredible street art in the capital reflects the district’s identity. Photo by Melanie van Zyl.

Port Louis

Typical historical architecture lines the busy streets in the Chinatown area of Port Louis. Photo by Melanie van Zyl.

People spilt out onto the sidewalks at lunchtime from busy Chinese restaurants at lunchtime and owners welcomed me into their grocery stores, where they happily explained all the exotic goods on offer.

Traditional signage mixed with old lettering on ageing buildings. Photo by Melanie van Zyl.

Blue and red were dominant colours on these streets. Photo by Melanie van Zyl.

The streets in Chinatown were busy on the weekday exploration and scooters rushed up and down the roads. Many snacks on offer in these streets have long been part of the local French-Creole culture, including my favourite dish, boulettes, which is a Hakka-style meatball broth dotted with dumplings.

Delicious dumplings! Sometimes, the boulettes are served like this without the broth. Photo by Melanie van Zyl.


Explore Mauritius’ Chinatown yourself

Use the Otentik Discovery app to do a self-guided walking tour. It’s free to download for Apple and Android and there are options for many areas on the island, but I loved this streetfood-themed one that crisscrosses Port Louis and took in the authentic streets of Chinatown.

This year, Mauritius celebrates 50 years of independence – just another reason to visit. Photo by Melanie van Zyl.


Read more about exploring Mauritius in the April 2018 issue of Getaway magazine.

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Our April issue features 7 of our favourite campsites in Kruger, a winding exploration of a rejuvenating Eden we like to call Knysna, an affordable cultural exploration of Mauritius and much more.