Isle of Réunion, France: When to go and what to see

Reunion Island vacations

The island of Réunion has the status of an overseas department of France in the Indian Ocean, with all its implications: – prices in Euros – an abundance of French wine and champagne, as well as cheese from France – license plates on cars are Euro-French with the code 974 – to visit Reunion you need a Schengen multivisa from 6 months

Reunion Island vacations

Visa for visiting the island of Réunion

Since the island of Réunion is considered an overseas department of France, a Schengen visa is required to visit it. The duration of multivisa must be 6 months and longer. But you can visit the island, if you have a residence permit in one of the Schengen countries – we have cards with the Italian residence permit, and it worked, although the border control for a long time consulted, called somewhere, and generally – a tiresome experience.

Reunion Island vacations

Reunion Island vacations

It is mandatory to have return tickets from the island and hotel reservation on Reunion: we had return tickets to Madagascar and one night reservation in an apart-hotel. My answer, “We’ll sleep on the beach,” to the border guard’s question, “Where are the other reservations,” put them into an even greater stupor. And when the question of which city we will be in the Irinka said Saint Paul …, and I continued … Belmondo – laughed all the ….

Reunion Island vacations

Transportation on the island of Réunion

Of course, renting a car. In advance, on the website to find the best prices to rent a car, I booked the cheapest option – it was a Peugeot 208 from the rental company ITC Tropic Long time ago got the “cheap can’t be good” bump, but nevertheless. And as it turned out, 25 again:

Reunion Island vacations

The company has one employee (a woman). Takes care of everything: accepts cars, inspects, gives out. Composted brain for about 30 minutes ahead of the French: in a hatchback had no back shelf and drove it out of town, the other had some other problems Nonetheless, other windows were not in line and their staff were yawning and picking their noses, namely in ITC Tropic was a queue

Reunion Island vacations

Nevertheless: 25 euros pay if you return the car dirty and 29 euros pay city tax. So don’t use ITC Tropic when choosing from the list of offers from the Reunion car rental search site, no matter how great their offers may be.

Reunion Island vacations

Airfare to Reunion.

The best option would be to combine a trip to the island of Mauritius with a visit to Reunion. Several flights a day. Fly 250km on a turboprop ATR: before you know it, you’re already in Reunion. You can find and buy air tickets to Reunion here

Reunion Island vacations

Traffic, navigation on the island of Réunion

Although the island is small and most of it is not adapted for life: mountains, volcanoes, lava fields, however, the island is home to 900 thousand people: white French, Indians, Creoles, that is, the island is overpopulated. And you understand it as soon as you get on the road: traffic, traffic jams, lots of cars. The green hills of Reunion are no longer green because of the houses that have been built, and they keep getting built. Everywhere you look, there are houses everywhere. And if you look at a map of the area (for example, in the navigation or google), but you’ll be surprised by the layout of the cities and villages smoothly turning into each other – a continuous serpentine and spiraling streets. Therefore, without a GPS navigation on the island can not do. It can be rented together with the car for 10 euros per day.

Reunion Island vacations

Beaches on the island of Reunion

There are several beaches on Reunion Island, all on the west side of the island. In this place, the ocean waves and sharks block the way of the coral reef. But after Mauritius, we can say that there are no beaches on Reunion Island.

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Reunion Island vacations

Reunion Island vacations

Although I will not take responsibility – if someone likes the rest in Yalta with stepping on the way to the water over the sprawled out bodies (like the wolf in “You wait!”), or maybe like floundering near the shore, knee-deep in water – then on Reunion you will find a beach holiday

Reunion Island vacations

In other places to swim is not recommended – statistics say about constant attacks of sharks on daredevils and surfers. And when you dive from a rock – God forbid, the surf will smash you with black pumice frozen lava.

Reunion Island vacations

Accommodation on Reunion Island

The choice of housing on the island, oddly enough, is very mediocre. It is dominated by apart-hotels or private hotels As the French tend to do – the living space in the rooms is limited to a small area.

Reunion Island vacations

But you can pick up something: the proposed housing options on the island of Reunion Also, you can look at what is offered on Reunion private individuals on Airbnb – usually it’s also apartments or houses

We stayed at the Résidence Tropic Appart Hotel – it’s better to stay on the second floor, a family apartment. On the first floor you can stay for one night. Cottages at Iloha Seaview hôtel – not a bad choice and quite picturesque, as a bonus they give binoculars to look at whales (who likes to peep).

Reunion Island vacations

What to see on the island of Réunion

People do not come here for the beaches, but for the views. To see the volcano you have to take the road, which is called the “road of 400 turns,” and then a 5-hour hike. To see the rock complex “Three Slaves” you will have to drive a little more turns, many waterfalls you are unlikely to get to….

Reunion Island vacations

But there is a way out – see all the sights of Reunion from above for an hour and go to a more comfortable place – for example the island of Mauritius or the island of Nossy Be (Madagascar) About how to rent a helicopter to fly over Reunion Island I will tell separately: Over the island of Reunion by helicopter

Reunion Island vacations

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“Where are you going, you’re going to get eaten!” How a trip to a tiny French island changed the life of a Russian woman forever

Réunion is a tiny French island in the middle of the Indian Ocean that few tourists have heard of. Nevertheless, those who have managed to get there at least once in their life, cannot stop thinking about this place and literally yearn to return to Reunion. Volcanic landscapes, stony gorges, mighty waterfalls, hospitable people and azure coast – all this is firmly embedded in the memory of guests of the island. Russian Natalia Nikitina, who has lived on Reunion for seven years, told about its main pearls, which you must see with your own eyes. Her impressions of the island – in the report “Lenta.ru”.

In the middle of nowhere

The passengers leaned against the portholes, and those who were sitting on the other side of the show jumped up and tried to see something through the window. Everyone was screaming, and I, not understanding a word of the screams, was staring in horror at the red glow and the top of some rock sticking out of the clouds, where our plane was flying. “Well, this is the end of my life in the middle of nowhere. Okay, but it’s beautiful,” I thought at that moment.

I couldn’t make a sound out of fear. But, as it turned out, there was no accident, we just had a rare sight: on landing, the plane flew just two kilometers from the top of Piton de Nege, one of the most powerful dormant volcanoes on the planet and the highest point of the Indian Ocean in the southern hemisphere. Thus began my introduction to the island of Réunion in July 2012.

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“Where are you going! You’ll be eaten, it’s Africa, and for sure there are cannibals in the forests,” my sister sobbed as I flew off to my adventure. She would have been frightened out of her wits if she had seen what I had just seen.

Reunion Island

Photo: Laurence Fusco / Unsplash

But the next picture out the window shocked me even more. Imagine a heavy cloud cover, through which you can already see the outline of the island. Suddenly, through the haze, something strange appears: a red mass is slowly creeping across the terrain, glittering and shimmering… “Oh my God, lava! Are we sitting next to boiling lava?” – I panicked again as I suddenly saw the other passengers quietly gazing into the scenery.

Later I learned that it was only the Littoral highway on the coast, one of the most dangerous roads in France: it snaked between the cooled volcano and the ocean, and due to soil erosion, pieces of rock constantly collapsed on the road, burying drivers beneath them. That is why a new highway is now being built in Reunion – in the open ocean, at a height of 12 meters, already recognized as the most expensive road object in the history of mankind.

The famous cordiality

And so the landing gear finally touched the ground. My long flight from Peter to Dubai to Mauritius to Reunion is over. Roland Garros airport, named after the famous French pilot born in Reunion, amazes with its scope, service and absolute comfort – everything is clear and measured.

And right away, while still in the terminal, you are enveloped by that famous Reunion hospitality. It seems that no other country you have ever been in has been so happy to see you. They smile with all their thirty-two teeth, chirp something in French, and, realizing that you do not understand a word, switch to broken English. And the customs officer looked at my passport, opened his phone, and, peeking into the translator, smiled broadly: “Welcome.” I wept with tenderness.

Waterfalls on the island of Reunion

Waterfalls on the island of Réunion.

Photo: Harry Laub / Globallookpress.com

I flew to Reunion like I was in the tropics – flip-flops, T-shirts, shorts in my luggage. I thought there would be almost thatched roofs, dirty cheap cars, and poorly dressed people. In fact, I thought I would be greeted at the airport by a hustler with racy black teeth and wrinkled hats. But there was no hullabaloo, no vendors, and no straw hats. Roland Garros airport was no different from St. Petersburg’s, only the heat. People were dressed differently-some in saris, others in business suits-but there was none of the insular laxity and poverty that many take for color.

The parking lot in front of the airport blew me away: Bentley, Bugatti, Maserati, not to mention Mercedes and Range Rover. Where did I end up, on an island in Africa or on Patriarch’s Ponds? Of course, there were economy class cars there too, old and shabby, but the number of expensive ones was many times more than in mainland France! Réunion surprised me every minute. And when I was driving from the airport, I was also amazed by the quality of roads: convenient intersections, understandable road signs, and even the rules of the road are respected without question! There was no chaos and no heart-rending shrieks of klaxons, like in Italy or Cambodia.

In six years I’ll hear from the tourists the phrase that was on my tongue the day of arrival: “Oh, and we thought you had here panty beads. It’s an island!”.

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Every day is different.

No matter how eloquently the person who invited me here tried to describe Réunion to me, and no matter how vivid the pictures I saw, it was nothing compared to reality. I was literally crying with emotion and screaming at the top of my lungs with delight. Reunion knocked me down with its unreality – as if some designer-programmer gathered the most beautiful places of the world in one layout, intensified the colors, added a couple of objects from other planets and from his dreams, and then mixed it all.

Photo: Natalia Nikitina

I remember I said in the first days of life on the island: “If there was no internet and I was not communicating with my family in messenger, I would have thought I was in some parallel world.

Reunion – it’s a mosaic of different things: here you have India and Hawaii, Tenerife and Crimea, Georgia and Cyprus, North American prairies and flying Avatar cliffs, fairy forests and giant ten-meter ferns, wrapped in mist, tree roots, entangled houses, just like in Cambodia, giant rifts and colorful sands, thousands of waterfalls and volcanic lakes, boiling lava and snowy peaks. All the beauties of the Earth in one place on a tiny island the size of Moscow!

In eight years of living here, I never got to see all the corners of the island, although on average I walked about 40 kilometers a week. According to statistics, about half of the island’s natural treasures have not even been explored yet.

Only the endemic plants in Réunion per unit area are three times more than in Hawaii and five times more than in the Galapagos Islands. And in 2002, a species of forest orchid, unknown to science, was discovered in the Mafat Volcanic Circus and named Eulophina bourbonica.

For example, one of the world’s most beautiful waterfalls – the Iron Hole (Trou de Fer) – was discovered only 30 years ago. Can you imagine? A small island the size of Moscow – and a waterfall discovered only four centuries after the settlement. At the same time the scale of the gorge, where the cascades fall with a roar, is gigantic. When I flew over there in a helicopter, I was even frightened that it was about to be swept away by these streams into a giant funnel.

One day, after following the marked trail to the natural arch, intricately built of volcanic boulders, I decided to see what was next, and after the hard and dangerous hike I showed photos of Bras de la Plaine to the locals, who seemed to me to have explored the island length and breadth of the gorge. They asked me in amazement, “And where is this? So this island can be rediscovered endlessly! All newly discovered places are uploaded to Reunion hiking sites, and the data is sent to the tourism department – IRT île de La Reunion.

Relief chaos

The toughest question tourists have asked me is, “What to see on Reunion Island? You need to see everything, and you need to fly here for at least 10-15 days, and if money and time allow, two months.

Volcano Piton de la Fournes

Millions of years ago, the volcano Piton de Nege (means “Snowy Peak”) created the islands of Reunion, Rodrigues, Mauritius, the Maldives and the Chagos Archipelago. Now the volcano and its cooled lava flows occupy about three-fifths of the islands, and scientists and travelers call it a natural architect because it managed to create the most real relief chaos in the middle of the ocean.

When answering a popular tourist question, the first thing I mention is the Bras de la Plaine gorge, which I first visited in 2016. It is still at the top of my list of unearthly beauties on the island.

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The route runs along the bottom of the lava river of a cooled volcano. To get to the canyon, you have to descend a cliff, walk about two kilometers between stone blocks, from which pieces periodically break off, and overcome a turbulent mountain river.

And then you turn around the reservoir and stop believing your own eyes: these very rocks are huge hollows, overgrown with greenery, as if the lair of some unearthly creatures. And grottoes, in which flows turquoise water, and strange multi-colored fish. Absolutely fabulous place with a ringing silence, interrupted only by the murmuring of the river and the cries of birds.

Hollows and craters

Another incredible point on the map of Reunion is Maido, the coolest viewpoint of the island. On foot, of course, you can not get here – only by car to climb from the coast along a mountain road for about an hour.

Near the volcano Piton de la Fournes

Near the volcano Piton de la Fournez

Photo: Alain Pitton / Globalookpress.com

The views along the way make you want to eat with a spoon! In addition, it’s along the route to Maido that most of the relic tamarind groves grow – this tree is now in the Red Book and is considered the best insulating material in the construction of wooden houses. When you see buildings made of wooden planks on the island, it’s a tamarind. There is even a road named after this tree that connects the resort town of Saint Gilles with the island’s first capital, Saint-Paul.

Maido is a volcanic peak, towering at 2,200 meters, overlooking the Mafat Volcanic Circus. The beauty of the Maido is that it is a three-tiered site, and each floor offers a new spectacular view.

In addition, around the Maido, as elsewhere in Réunion, there are many kiosks – as they call the island wooden gazebos for picnics. They are completely free, equipped with seating and trash garbage cans.

But the main attraction of the island, of course, are the volcanic cirques. Contrary to what is said in Russian-language resources, volcanic cirques are not craters. They are huge depressions that have formed due to soil erosion and collapsed several meters downwards

There are three volcanic cirques in Reunion, Mafat, Salazi, and Silaos, which formed around the volcano Piton de Nege several million years ago. Roughly speaking, when chaotically spewing lava from the main crater of the volcano flooded everything around it, at some point due to natural phenomena soil erosion began, and in three places there were collapses – giant craters. These sinkholes are volcanic cirques.

Photo: Natalia Nikitina

The volcano itself rises between the cirques above the island and is visible from everywhere, and the ascent to Piton de Nege is the most challenging trek in Réunion. In 2019, the hiking route through all three volcanic cirques and the ascent to Piton de Nege was recognized as the most beautiful route of the Republic of France. And the island itself won the highest award of the World Travel Awards the same year – Reunion became the best natural place in the Indian Ocean, leaving behind Mauritius, Madagascar and Seychelles.

An island from another planet

Piton de la Fournaise (literally translates to “Hot Oven”) is another gem of the island, though both I and many tourists were slightly disappointed with this attraction. After all, in its dormant state, this volcano seems from afar to be just a small hill that can be reached by walking along the caldera.

But the calderas themselves are striking in their monumentality and scope. Catalytic Plaine des Sables (“Sand Plain”), created 40,000 years ago, is a giant lifeless desert of reddish-orange basalt, called the Martian Valley, and it does resemble alien landscapes. Even NASA research has shown that Reunion Island’s lava landscapes and tunnels have a similar geological composition to the surfaces of Mars and the Moon, so since 2018 Reunion has been a testing ground for new technologies and materials for open space. If you see people in spacesuits in any of the caves, don’t be alarmed-they are test subjects.

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It takes at least three hours to get to the Piton de la Fournes volcano, which from the observation deck looks like a hill. Regular sneakers are contraindicated for this trek; special trekking boots are required. On the way to the volcano there are a lot of sneakers – surprisingly, even the strongest soles fly off after a kilometer.

Photo: Natalia Nikitina

The only guest house near the volcano is rather a shelter for travelers: there are double beds in several rooms and no kitchen. This is where either those caught unawares by bad weather at the volcano spend the night, or those who want to meet the sunrise at the summit.

Piton de la Fournez eruptions occur six to seven times a year and turn the island into one gigantic traffic jam, with people queuing for hours on the only road to the volcano, which is regulated by the police. The eruptions, even the frequent and multi-day eruptions, always gather a huge number of spectators. However, the volcano does not always erupt in the caldera or along the slopes – the crater can suddenly open up anywhere, even in a populated area. In 1977, for example, the volcano began erupting in the town of Sainte Rose and literally swept part of the town off the face of the earth.

Come back again and again

The real tourist happiness of the island is that there is not the slightest danger to humans here. There are no snakes, sometimes you just can meet a little urchin (they’re called “kulev” here) – and that’s it, the representatives of reptiles end. There are no beasts of prey or dangerous insects. You can sleep in tents without fear and anxiety.

Many people expect from Reunion multi-colored parrots and a lot of wild monkeys, but this is a delusion: here though the tropics, but motley world of fauna is not. But as for the flora, Reunion will surprise the most sophisticated ones: it has the unofficial name of the “island of orchids”, and these flowers are everywhere! The tropical forests are painted with a variety of colors, and in the reserve there are even placers of the famous black orchids.

In the media you can often find news about bloodthirsty sharks, and this is partly true – sharks are plentiful here, especially during the tropical winter, from May to August. But the island has great sandy beaches, protected by a natural barrier reef (which, incidentally, is the National Biosphere Reserve of France), and a couple of beaches are even protected by metal barrier nets.

Photo: Natalia Nikitina

Plus, lifeguards are constantly on duty in all coastal areas of the island and go around the coastal waters on jet skis. In case of danger, such as strong waves, with which sharks can get behind the reef, they hang a red flag on the coast. Most shark attacks occur where swimming is strictly prohibited – in the open ocean and in an unprotected area.

The largest number of Russian-speaking tourists arrive in Reunion from October to April, as part of cruise trips. Liners call on the island at 1 p.m. every Thursday and leave the next day around 7 p.m. According to my personal statistics, four out of ten cruise passengers, return to Reunion for a longer period of time. And some, having been there, come back for a third or fifth time, because despite its tiny size, Reunion Island is a huge, mysterious world that can be explored endlessly.

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