A destination that left me yearning for more.
Found off the east coast of Africa, with Mauritius and Madagascar its closest neighbours, Reunion Island is a Department of France, with the laid back Réunionese people fully-fledged and proud French citizens. Here French is spoken, the Euro is used and a rich culture abounds.
Yet beyond this and the delicious food, excellent infrastructure, variety of accommodations and many tourist attractions, is the island’s spirited sense of adventure. Drawing you in, it will leave you wanting to further explore the lush forests, turquoise waters and striking landscapes so characteristic of this unique Indian Ocean island.
My Adventurer’s Guide to Reunion Island will direct you to the most exciting activities on offer.
Explore the Island’s Natural Heritage
Covering over 1000 square kilometres, the Reunion National Park traverses the middle part of the island including the Circus, the Massif de la Fournaise and the High Plains. Established in 2007, the park protects and regenerates the exceptional biodiversity of the land. 42% of Reunion is protected national park and is distinguished by the UN for its outstanding universal value, and was registered as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2010.
Hike the Trails from the volcano to the coastline
The island is home to the Piton de la Fournaise, a volcano at the island’s southeastern tip that erupts most years, sending lava flowing toward the coast and tumbling into the sea. One of the world’s most active basaltic volcanoes, Piton de la Fournaise doesn’t pose a threat to the residents, but rather draws them to proudly bask in its fiery glory. There are 1000kms of hiking trails through lush forests, rocky volcanic mountains and desolate landscape. The best part is that there is no entrance fee to any of the national park and anyone can camp anywhere around the island.
Walk the island from tip to top and hike routes that link the coast and the summit. For the best view of Piton de la Fournaise, there’s a drive that climbs through lush forested terrain before thinning out to present the fascinating Plaine des Sables, a wide windswept plain made of ashes. No vegetation grows in this highly acidic volcanic soil with the top of the volcano resembling a lunarscape.
Climb into the three circuses: spectacular inhabited canyons
The three cirques, the spectacular canyons of Cilaos, Salazie, and Mafate, are home to inhabited villages in the centre of the island around the Piton des Neiges. Cilaos in the southwest and Salazie in the east are accessible by car, while Mafate can only be reached by a network of hiking trails. One of the more popular activities is to hike there for an overnight stay.
Swim off the Coral Reef
The Natural Marine Reserve on the west coasts extends along 40km of coastline of which 20 km is protected reef, from Cap La Houssaye in Saint-Paul, to la Roche aux Oiseaux in Etang-Salé. A rich habitat for soft and hard corals that provide food for an abundance of fish and shellfish, making it an excellent spot for snorkelling, sailing, kayaking, and stand up paddling. Reunion Island’s coral reef is where sun-seekers flock for time in the calm warm waters and to lounge on the white beaches. There is something for everyone and the ocean invites your presence.
Note: When visiting Reunion Island be aware that swimming is only recommended in demarcated areas.
Scuba dive the blue waters
Diving in Reunion island will reward divers with some of the bluest and clearest waters and the chance to spot 150 different species of coral and 500 species of fish. Keep in mind though that even with numerous dive spots around the island, only certain areas are suitable all year-round. For the best and easiest diving, head to the west coast off Saint Paul or Saint Pierre. Strong winds make the east coast more challenging, but when possible is worth exploring as it houses incredible underwater lava flows. It is advisable to book with an organised tour to be best directed.
Canyon and aqua hike down Waterfalls
Among the high-adrenaline sports, canyoning or aqua hiking is one of the most popular in Reunion. There are more than 100 diverse sites, spectacular waterfalls, slides and zip lines to enjoy, with the Fleurs Jaunes in Cilaos – a spa town in the centre of Réunion Island – the most legendary. Book a guide to show you the way and in your wetsuit and helmet, you will swim, slide and jump as you head down the river. It is great fun and an activity that can be enjoyed by all, as long the 10m drop and diving under rocks isn’t too much of a challenge. The scenery is incredible with lakes and waterfalls to appreciate.
Crawling in Lava Tunnels
This is an incredibly unique experience. Take a tour of the volcanic tunnels that have formed throughout the centuries of eruption and lava movement. You will be led by a guide through a small opening in the ground into a network of majestic and natural tunnels that have been fashioned by the pressure of the lava. Shaped when ribbons of red hot lava drain from a volcano, the edges cool down and thicken into an insulating crust, creating a roof over the still-flowing lava.
In some areas, you’ll find yourself in cathedral size halls, and in others crawling from one point to the next. The colours change and with your headlamp, you are able to catch the folds that are still moving heavily forward. You need to book a tour for this – and if you’re claustrophobic it’s not for you.
Take a Helicopter flight
The best way to get a perspective of the island, its varied landscape, size and offerings is from the air. I recommend a 45-minute flight with one of the operators out of Saint-Gilles. A flight allows you to discover the Cirques of Cilaos, Mafate and Salazie and the stunning National Park, villages and farmland. Fly over the Piton de la Fournaise, and on your way back, get a good look at the azure blue lagoons. A unique and magical experience. I recommend Corail Helicopters for this.
Look out for the waterfalls cascading into pools throughout.
The Essential Details
- South Africana don’t need a visa to visit.
- It’s only a four-hour flight from Johannesburg to Saint-Denis, Reunion Island on Air Austral.
- Allow yourself plenty of time – at least a week. There is much to see and experience and you can hire a car and drive yourself, or book a guide to show you around.
- Pack for all seasons, it’s very hot and humid on the coastline in Summer, yet cool when you go inland, especially in the mountains.
- My trips to Reunion Island were by invitation of the Reunion Island Tourism Board. When you start with your travel plans, do let me know if there is anything that I can help with.
- Read my Reunion Island. Geographical Grandeur, Botanical Wonders, Distilled Magic.
- For more information on the ultimate island, please visit https ://bit.ly/LaReunion-TheIncidentalTouristBlog
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