Only a 30 minute journey away from Mauritius is a natural paradise you’ve probably never heard of before. Misty cliffs, emerald canyons and shield volcanoes all thrive on this rugged island called Réunion. The catch is that none of these landmarks are easy to come by and require some level of hiking. Once you add the country’s shark reputation into the mix, most people go running in the other direction. But if you like a challenge, you’re bound to find Réunion’s outdoorsy spirit enthralling.
A Hiker’s Guide
Its mountains reach higher than 3,000 meters and the gigantic Piton des Neiges volcano is the highest point in the entire Indian Ocean. Réunion Island may be an off-the-beaten-track destination, but its peaks are the stuff that serious hikers can only dream of.
You can only reach the top of this extinct volcano by foot, so expect a long journey ahead of you. This hike takes over 8 hours to complete, but many choose to break the trail into a two day trek. It’s a highly challenging trail and should only be attempted by experienced adventurers. But the work involved is worth it when there’s nothing quite like that first glimpse of dawn from the top of the Indian Ocean.
It would be fair to say that Réunion’s terrain is better suited for experienced hikers. Good things don’t come easy, and so when you finally reach famous viewpoints like Maïdo or Mafate (one of the three UNESCO canyon cirques), the adrenaline rush only heightens the experience.
With that said, Réunion’s tourism board has put together a list of 75 different hiking trails that you could take whilst visiting. 22 are counted as easy, plus a further two which are super easy.
Find out the top 10 best hiking trails in Réunion here. The top five are considered to be hard.
Be aware, not afraid, of the sharks
A few years ago, Réunion made the headlines due to the concerning number of shark attacks on humans. Although Réunion’s shark population is not exceptional, many are either bull or tiger sharks — who are known for their more aggressive behaviour. The last recorded attack was in 2019.
Unfortunately, this led to a decline in tourism pre-pandemic, and Réunion is still trying to recover from the loss. It’s a controversial topic on both sides and is being worked through by island officials and scientists.
Don’t rule out a trip to Réunion just yet. The island has a “better safe than sorry” approach and has banned diving, swimming and water sports in almost all areas except for a few handpicked beaches. Many of them are on the milder West Coast, and all of these areas have safety measures in place. And you are still welcome to visit other beaches — just don’t go into the ocean.
Another area where you don’t have to worry about sharks are the lagoons, as they are unable to cross the coral reef. This peaceful area belongs to the wider Réunion Nature Reserve, which is dedicated to protecting the coral ecosystem. Whilst certain spots are prohibited for sustainability purposes, you could easily spend a day relaxing on the water. Kayaking, kitesurfing and paddle boarding are all popular activities here, as well as snorkelling.
Refresh your taste buds
The longer you stay in Réunion, the more you’ll recognise its multifaceted nature. Its nature is not the only thing about this island that is diverse. Réunion is home to a variety of different cultures from all over the world — including Indian, African and European. Though the majority of people identify as Réunion Creole.
Nowhere is this more apparent than at the delectable farmers’ markets. The Indian and Sri Lankan influences are especially prominent here as the most popular dishes in Réunion are curries, masalas and roti (which is essentially curry rolled into flatbread). In addition to all the spices, you’ll find rows of fresh fruit and vegetables which look just as good as they taste.
The restaurants in Réunion are more traditional, however. Since Réunion is an overseas department and region of France, the majority of restaurants reflect this in their menu. So, after an exciting lunch, you can sit down for a substantial dinner.
As French cuisine centres around meat, vegetarian or vegan travellers might find themselves limited whilst in Réunion. We recommend checking out this list of restaurants in Réunion that are approved by vegan travellers. If this doesn’t appeal to you, you may be better suited to staying in Mauritius as it is one of the most vegetarian friendly destinations in the world.
Getting there and around
Réunion has two airports, but you’ll most likely be flying into the Roland Garros Reunion Airport (RUN) as it handles international flights from nearby regions as well as Europe.
The airport is only a few kilometres away from the historic capital of Saint-Denis. This Northern city is most famous for its cultural heritage and religious sites. Not only are there are two Chinese temples, but a Mosque, a Church, and an astonishing temple that is reminiscent of India’s rainbow Sri Ranganathaswamy temple.
Despite the mountainous terrain, getting around the island has become quite easy thanks to the Car Jaune network. Offering 16 lines, these accessible and comfortable buses enable travellers to move around different parts of the island freely.
You’ll also find other forms of public transportation across the island, including shuttle services and more traditional buses. At the bus stations you’ll find taxis which leave for villages once there are enough people inside.
While many people choose to self-drive in Réunion, the roads can be winding and quite steep. It is a great option for more experienced drivers, but don’t underestimate your petrol budget. Gas costs the same amount as it does in Mainland France.
If you’re staying in Mauritius but are curious about Réunion, we highly recommend taking a day trip to the island. You can get here one of two ways: by an overnight ferry service, or via a 30-minute plane journey.
Even though nearby islands like Mauritius and the Seychelles are romantic, there’s something memorable about Réunion. Unruly, wild, and intimidating, Réunion is not for everyone. There aren’t many destinations left that make you work hard in order to see its top attractions. But those who are happy to get their boots dirty won’t be leaving any time soon (it has nothing to do with a shark circle beneath their toes).