Reunion is located off the coast of Madagascar and is politically an overseas territory of France. It is geographically part of the Mascarene Islands, which is a group that includes Mauritius and Rodrigues. Reunion is volcanic in origin. The island’s most striking feature is the Piton de la Fournaise (“furnace peak”), a still-active volcano that occasionally sends streams of lavas down the slopes and into the sea. Also dominating the skyline is Piton des Neiges (“snowy peak”) which reaches more than 10,000 feet high.
Much of Reunion consists of high plateaus and rugged mountains enclosed by coastal plains. Parts of the interior are thickly forested, mixed in with extensive fertile lowlands streamed by rivers that sometimes overflow during rainy seasons.
Hiking, Trekking, Climbing
Reunion is more known for its hiking, trekking, and climbing opportunities than its beaches and water sports. The island’s mountains offer excellent hiking opportunities. There are more than 370 miles of marked trails and footpaths.
Some notable hikes include up the Piton des Neiges, which is the highest peak on the island. The Grand-Ilet, meanwhile, has some nice rugged scenery. Cilaos is a mountain that reaches 4,000 feet with some incredible views of Ilet a Cordres and Le Bras Sec. During the French colonial era, Cilaos was known as a refuge for escaping slaves. You can also trek around the Plaine d’Affouches in La Montagne, where lush tamarind trees and wild figs color the scene. In Brule, there is a footpath that leads to the 7,300 foot summit of Roche-Ecrite, which overlooks the north end of the island.
Beaches and Water Sports
Reunion has some beautiful beaches that are pretty to look at and great for sunbathing. But some of the sandy spots are dangerous or unsuitable for water sports because of the presence of sharks, especially in the more remote beaches. The best place for swimming, scuba diving, and other water sports is along the Sous le Vent coast. At Saint Gilles-des-Bains, for example, there is a reef-protected lagoon that makes it just a little safer.
Some of the best beaches are those found along the west coast where the sands can be yellow, white, or black, but the coral reefs are all shallow. Among the best beaches are Etang-Sale, Saint-Leu, Saint-Paul, and Saint-Gilles. These areas are great for scuba diving, snorkeling, and surfing. Be sure to visit the Coral Turtle Farm nearby if you visit the Saint-Leu beach.
Reunion also has some interesting natural features and sights. La Fournaise, for example, is a still-active volcano on the island. At its 8,630 feet peak, you’ll find the Enclos Fouque crater, as well as the nearby Brulant and Bory craters, both of which are still active.
Nez-de-Boeuf provides views over the Riviere des Remparts, which is 3,300 feet below the Belle Combe and Plaine des Sable pass.
In Mafate, enjoy one of the most secluded valleys in the world where there are no roads in, out, or nearby.
The cirques are a unique feature of Reunion. These enormous volcanic valleys are surrounded by mountains, creating natural amphitheatres that are more than six miles in diameter. The most beautiful is the Salazie, which has some spectacular waterfalls, particularly the ones near Hell-Bourg known as Le Voile de la Mariee.
Reunion is also famous for its tropical scented flowers, fruits, and trees. Numerous unique plant species are found on the island. Many of them are showcased at the Botanical Gardens in Saint-Denis.
The climate in Reunion varies depending on location and altitude. The coasts enjoy a tropical climate while the mountainous interior is more temperate. Rainfall pours in on the east side of the island much heavier than in the drier western regions. The coast is sometimes the victim of devastating hurricanes and cyclones.
The people of Reunion are mostly descendants of French settlers. There are also a mix of Africans, Chinese, Indians, and Malaysians. Most people speak French and Creole and practice Roman Catholicism, Hindu, and Islam.
The first Europeans to explore Reunion were the Portuguese. Pedro Mascarenhas sighted it in the early 1500s. At the time, the island was uninhabited. The French claimed the island in the 17th century and established permanent settlements. Since 1946, Reunion has been governed as an overseas department of France. The island has an elected assembly and is represented in the French legislature.