You can get around from town to town and to villages by using the bus transport on the island. Buses to major destinations such as Port-Louis, the capital, and the towns and bigger villages are very frequent. However, bus timetables and information rarely exist. You will have to ask around for where and when you will get your bus. Local people who take the bus regularly will know. Along roads, bus stops are often no more than a pole with Bus Stop written on it and partly hidden by an overgrown hedge.
This is perhaps one of the facets that make the island exotic. Your bus will come at the time that it will come. As there is no stated time, it cannot be late! You will find people living a rather slow pace of life, except perhaps in the capital where the daytime population density due to commuting workers and office hours are very noticeable.
Bus timetable and routes
Buses usually run from 05 30 to 20 00 on main routes and from 06 30 to 18 30 in villages.
You can find several bus timetables and bus route numbers to download on the government website and the routes and timetables of Rose-Hill Transport here. Use these timetables as a rough guide only. Buses are not fitted with satellite tracking devices (yet) and there is no real-time information available.
Buying your ticket
The ticket system is simple. Children pay half, students used to pay three quarters but now get free transport along with pensioners. There is no such thing as season tickets in Mauritius so far so you just hop on your bus and wait until the ticket officer comes to you to tell him your destination. You need a ticket to every single destination. So if you need to change buses or you will use the bus on and off all day, you will need a ticket every time. There is no such thing as a return ticket or a day ticket. When paying for your ticket, it is useful to pay in slam denominations. So keep hold of some spare change such as Rs10 coins which are very handy.
There are two companies that operate throughout the island: the United Bus Service (UBS) and the National Transport Corporation (NTC), locally known as the blue bus. These 2 companies, along with Mauritius Bus Transport, are run by the Government under the National Transport Authority. There are also other smaller companies running fleet of buses on the same routes where demand is high. You may encounter for instance RHT, Rose-Hill Transport, on routes to and from the town of Rose-Hill and TBS, Triolet Bus Service in Triolet, a village in the north.
On destinations to villages where there is less demand, individual bus operators run the bus service. As there are several individual operators serving the same routes, there is fierce competition between them. This has led to a few funny scenes. Buses race each other to get to the next bus stop first and get all the customers first. If there are no competing buses around, a bus might linger at a bus stop to get more passengers. At bus stations, the ticket officer will shout like a hawker to advertise his destination and get people to take his bus instead of his competitor’s just next to him who is shouting out equally loudly. To get an edge over the competition and give the impression that the bus is on the verge of leaving, the driver will move the bus forward slightly and then reverse back again, each time moving a few centimetres ahead until the bus is halfway on the road. This little dance can go on for a good 10 minutes. Apart from the colours and company names painted on the buses, this is perhaps the best way to identify an individual bus operator at the bus station!
Comfort and access
Most buses lack air-con. When you travel in summer and get stuck in traffic at 9 am as the intense sunshine filters through the window, the crowded bus quickly becomes a green-house. However, there have been substantial improvements in the quality of the buses in recent years. On main routes to the capital, a new fleet of buses called Blue Line are available. These Blue Line buses have powerful air-con that even gives you a slight chill at the peak of summer. They also have improved suspension and sound insulation so that it is easy to forget that you are in a bus. Other bus companies have followed suit and introduced some of these type of buses in their fleet. The Express buses from Grand Bay to Port-Louis have air-conditioning and RHT also run some air-con buses within their fleet for example.
One thing that hasn’t change is the access to the bus. There are a couple of steep steps to get inside the bus. The emergency exit located at the back is about a metre drop to the ground. So do bear that in mind when planning to use buses in Mauritius if you are not so young anymore or are used to low floor buses in Europe and America. However, unlike the notorious bus drivers of England, buses in Mauritius are driven surprising smoothly, even the very old ones, to the extent that you often don’t need to hold on to anything. At your own risk, that is!
You might want to take a bus or two just for the sake of the experience and to interact with the locals. However, buses don’t go everywhere on the island, only to populated areas. So getting around the island by bus is convenient only if you travelling within these areas. If you are visiting tourist attractions, going to nature parks or hitting the beach, you might struggle to get a bus, especially late in the evening.