Port LouisPort Louis was used only during summer (due to prevailing winds) by the Dutch and the French since the 1600's, and early 1700's. However, it took all its importance when, in 1735 Labourdonnais decided to make Port Louis the main harbour and the administration headquarters of Mauritius.
Labourdonnais had the city plan made, ordered the erection of buildings hosting services that were essential to the colony... and to the good profits of the "Compagnie des Indes." Among these infrastructures were the government and military headquarters, aqueducts, hospitals, schools, granaries, boat repairs, a printing office, a foundry, and... a powder mill. Some of these works, especially the canals for wastewaters that run across the streets, can still be seen today.
Most medium to large organisations have their head offices or at least a department or agency in Port Louis. Consequently, on week days and in day time Port-Louis is very busy with heavy road traffic but gets very quiet and empty as from 7.00 p.m.; at least in the centre.
Generally dry and sunny, the climate can be either hot or very hot.
Situated on the northwest coast, it lies at the feet of the Moka range of mountains, which almost surrounds it. Being small in area, the topography is regular: flat with a gentle slope to the sea.
Peculiarity: Traffic jams. During rush hours (and now all day long some days,) one must count 20 to 40 minutes to drive across Port Louis. In the morning, the South part of the motorway is so jammed that it can take more than 1 hour to drive the last 25 kilometres. From the North it is hardly better.
Port-Louis itself and as a whole is a place of interest, but more precisely, we would recommend the "Place d'Armes" and Chinatown.
The place d'Armes is unavoidable as it is the converging point of the North / South traffic and the main entrance and exit points of Port Louis.
It is the most ancient part of Port Louis although many of the very old buildings have now been replaced by roads and tall modern buildings.
It is especially a good starting point for visiting the other parts of the town and the few monuments such as the original government house, the most ancient theatre of the Indian Ocean, the few paved roads (rue du vieux conseil, Georges Guibert street,) the St Louis (Roman catholic) and St James (Church of England) cathedrals, the central market, the national and postal museums just to name a few.
Access to the waterfront is easy too.
The China Town
The Chinatown of Port-Louis is also in the old Port Louis and is fascinating as the atmosphere is really different from the neighbourhood. The eldest inhabitants of the Port-Louis Chinatown dress the Chinese way and have kept a deep Chinese accent making their speeches incomprehensible.
Tiny shops, side-by-side all sell the same products obviously, as they ALL SELL ALL products. Second hand spare parts, plastic toys, Chinese paintings, clothes, books and medicines may be found in the same shop.
The heat, dust and the strong smell spread by the ingredients and spices, proper to Chinese cuisine, will give you a real impression of China. For the moment, this very animated region of Port Louis is quite deadly at night. There is an effort to encourage the small restaurants and shops to remain open in the evening but with not much success yet.
By day it is enough to stroll down the small streets and observe the happenings. The shopping centres are interesting as the boutiques are pretty well set and there are some good bargains to make, especially since the Mauritius decided to become a duty-free country. However, it is far more fun to shop in the more typical areas and even at the central market.
The Port Louis Central Market has been renovated in 2004 and is now a far better organised place, but it has of course lost some of its peculiarity. Visiting the bazaar is surely quite fun but is no more a "must" as the same type of goods and more typical atmospheres can be found in the other towns' markets, namely in Mahebourg.
The National History Museum and the other private museums remain interesting, especially when they carry out specific exhibitions.
By night, there is really not much; a few movies (in French), a theatre play sometimes and that's it. Let's hope that the municipal efforts to wake up Port Louis at night will pay as when there is a special event (concert or play,) Port Louis suddenly becomes as glorious as it used and deserves to be.
Updated: July 2010