The island of Reunion is a tiny bit of France with a tropicaltwist, situated 500 miles (805km) east of Madagascar, deep in theheart of the Indian Ocean. Nicknamed 'l'Ile Intense', Reunion is adramatic, mountainous paradise created and shaped by volcanoes. Thescent of vanilla, stretches of black and white sand beaches,forest-covered peaks, rugged valleys, gushing waterfalls and anincredibly diverse and friendly population make this an idyllicdestination. Reunion is first and foremost an alluring tropicalisland getaway, but its interesting mix of cultures and peoplesadds another interesting element to the island.
The history of Reunion island is reflected in its people. ThePortuguese stumbled across the unoccupied territory in 1513, but itwas the French that descended in 1646 and really made their mark.French exiles and colonists, Malagasy slaves, Chinese indenturedlabourers, Indians and Pakistanis have subsequently created a richmelting pot of cultures, as well as contributing to the creation ofthe island's most widely spoken language, Reunion Creole.
Reunion was hard hit by the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869,as it lost significance as a stopover on the East Indies traderoute, and to this day it relies heavily on France for financialsupport. Its main industries are the cultivation of sugarcane, rum,vanilla, geranium oil for perfumes and, not surprisingly, tourism.Although inequality and the resulting socio-economic strife is anoccasional concern for locals, for the most part everybody seems tolive relatively equably side-by-side on this beautiful island, witha heartening bonhomie shared between the many different racial andreligious groups.
Reunion is home to one of the world's most accessible activevolcanoes, Piton de la Fournaise, and has three major (amphitheatre-like craters): Cilaos, Mafate andSalazie. This rugged topography, in many cases overgrown by lushforest, provides breathtaking scenery and world-class trekking andcanyoning with many waterfalls to admire along the way. Theinterior is home to small mountain villages and rich birdlife andthe lack of commercial development is refreshing. The island'sbeaches are also worth writing home about, with the black volcanicsands at Etang-Sale particularly remarkable. The beaches are lappedby the warm Indian Ocean and the abundance of underwater creaturesmakes snorkelling a delight. The popular St Gilles-les-Bains offersclassic palm-fringed shores on a wide lagoon and Saint Leu boastswonderful surfing.
As if all this natural splendour wasn't enough, the unusualcultural melting pot of Reunion ensures travellers can sampledelicious creole cuisine, and revel in the island's unique musicand dance offerings, while still enjoying a little taste of Frenchsophistication.
Reunion is a fascinating geological destination, with its ruggedvalleys and volcanic landscapes softened by lush forest. The Plainedes Sables is a stark ash and lava rock plain at the foot ofReunion's volcano, which feels like a moon landscape. The Piton dela Fournaise Volcano, the only active volcano on the island, andindeed one of the most active in the world, is thrillinglyaccessible to the adventurous. The Riviere des Remparts Canyon is asteep and beautiful river valley, and the three , deep circular canyons, lure visitors with scenicoverlooks and exciting hiking trails.
Of course, Reunion is also a celebrated beach getaway, with itstropical climate and lovely coastline. Visitors should note thatthe beaches on the western coast of the island, between StGilles-les-Bains and Hermitage-les-Bains (where many hotels can befound) are sandy and comparatively safe, making this the beststretch of coastline for families and those seeking calmer waters.Much of Reunion's coast, though beautiful, is rocky, with roughsurf. Those snorkelling and swimming should also bear in mind thatshark attacks do occasionally occur off the coast of the island; itis worth researching where the attacks most commonly take place andconsulting locals and the coast guards when in doubt. Those fond ofmarine life should visit the Kelonia Marine Turtle Observatory,dedicated to the study and conservation of Reunion's residentturtles.
The Musee Leon Dierx, in Saint-Denis, houses an impressivecollection of modern art, with works by some of the great mastersof the genre such as Gauguin, Matisse, Picasso, Vlaminck andMorisot. Much of the collection was once that of the French artdealer, Reunion-born Ambroise Vollard, and was donated to themuseum by Vollard's brother, Lucien, after Ambroise's death in1939. The museum is a must for art lovers and is lauded as the bestart collection in the Indian Ocean. Tours of the permanent andtemporary exhibitions can be arranged but must be booked inadvance. The museum is closed on Mondays.
The Museum d'Histoire Naturelle (Natural History Museum) ofSaint-Denis opened its doors in 1855 and was the first of its kindin the Indian Ocean. The museum houses fascinating exhibits of theregion's creatures, from shells to rare birds and mammals, as wellas books and engravings. In the 1940s, cyclones destroyed much ofthe museum's collection and it was forced to close its doors forseveral years, but today it boasts roughly 42,000 specimens. Themuseum is within the State Gardens (Jardin de l'Etat), a beautifulbotanical garden home to numerous species of trees from around theworld and numerous beautiful plants, ponds and walkways. Aparticular favourite in the gardens are the flowering lotusplants.
Reunion is blessed with spectacular natural beauty and one ofthe island's most remarkable features are the three main cirques,Cilaos, Mafate and Salazie. A cirque (or caldera) is a naturalamphitheatre, created by the movement of ancient glaciers or, as isthe case for Reunion, volcanoes collapsing in on themselves.
Salazie is perhaps the most striking, home to roughly 100waterfalls, most notably The Bride's Veil () near Hell-Bourg, as well as lushvegetation. Cilaos has long been the site of a spa resort,providing thermal baths for the wealthy inhabitants of the areasince the 1800s. It was also once a refuge for runaway slaves.Today it is still known for the Irene Accot Thermal Centre; a mustfor weary hikers. Mafate is the most remote of the cirques and itsname is derived from the Malagasy for 'lethal,' illustrating thedifficulty of accessing the area. Mafate is dotted with tinyhamlets (the largest is La Nouvelle) and there are no proper roads,so the only access is on foot. The cirques provide unparalleledhiking opportunities and unspoilt wilderness, and are within a fewhours of Saint-Denis.
Reunion's volcano last erupted in 2016 and is currently one ofthe world's most active, along with Kilauea in Hawaii. The volcanois spectacular and is one of the island's principal attractions,rising 8,565 feet (2,611m) above sea level. High cliffs, deepcraters, (the burnt slopes) and lava streams create a stunningscene. In the past, lava streams have flown into the sea,destroying the main highway along the way. Eruptions usually occurwithin the caldera and therefore pose little threat to people.
The walk to the summit takes roughly five hours and it is wellworth finding out in advance about weather forecasts as cloud covercan roll in quickly, preventing hikers from being able to make theclimb. An alternative way to explore the area is by helicopter,although this is naturally a more expensive option.
Saint Paul, former capital of the island, is the closest town tothe volcano and has a lovely street market (on Friday afternoonsand Saturday mornings), two miles (3km) of black-sand beaches, fineexamples of traditional Creole houses, a seaside cemetery and otherhistoric sites.
Close to Saint-Paul, on the northwestern side of the island,Saint-Gilles-les-Bains is a highly popular weekend destination,offering a beautiful 12-mile (20km) lagoon and gorgeous white-sandbeaches. Saint-Gilles was once a sleepy fishing village, but now itis Reunion's most popular resort, attracting crowds of visitorsintent on enjoying the leisure activities, watersports and lovelybeaches. Snorkelling, scuba diving and swimming are a must, butthose tired of the beach can head to the Garden of Eden, a lovelybotanical garden with roughly 700 species of tropical plants.Saint-Gilles has plenty of hotels and restaurants, though thesetend to get very crowded at peak holiday periods and weekends.
Like the rest of Reunion, Saint-Denis has a tropical climate.November to April is hot and rainy, while the rest of the year isslightly cooler and drier. In Saint-Denis the summer temperaturesaverage between 73°F (23°C) and 84°F (29°C), and in wintertemperatures average between 64°F (18°C) and 75°F (24°C).Saint-Denis is home to the Indian Ocean's only tropical cyclonemonitoring centre, although the island itself is seldom affected.The cyclone season runs from mid-November to mid-April and theisland is occasionally affected.
Saint-Denis is a pleasant holiday destination year-round and isnever cold, though it may be humid and rainy. Travellers generallyprefer to visit in the cooler dry season, between May andOctober.
Reunion's climate is tropical, with temperatures varyingaccording to elevation. Humidity is generally high. There is not abig temperature range between the seasons, but the year can bedivided into summer and winter: November to April is hot and rainy,while May to November is usually dry and cooler, and is the mostpopular time for travel to Reunion. In Saint-Denis the summertemperatures average between 73°F (23°C) and 84°F (29°C), and inwinter temperatures average between 64°F (18°C) and 75°F (24°C).Rain patterns vary hugely according to region, with the east of theisland much wetter than the west. The cyclone season runs frommid-November to mid-April and the island is occasionallyaffected.
Reunion is an overseas departement of France and uses the Euroas its official currency. There are plenty of banks and ATMs on theisland, and most shops and hotels accept major credit cards (thoughmany require a minimum amount for card payments). Most businessesdisplay their prices in their windows and restaurants and hotelsshould have their rates visible from the exterior.
French is the official language but the most widelyspoken language among locals is Reunion Creole. English is taughtat school level.
Electrical current is 220 volts, 50Hz. European-styleplugs with two round pins are standard.
US nationals need passport valid for the period of intendedstay. US nationals do not require a visa for stays of up to 90days.
UK nationals do not require a visa for stays of up to 90 days. Apassport valid for period of intended stay and endorsed 'BritishCitizen', 'British National (Overseas)', or 'British OverseasTerritories Citizen with Right to Abode' is required.
Canadian nationals do not require a visa for stays of up to 90days. A passport valid for the period intended stay isrequired.
Australian nationals do not require a visa for stays of up to 90days. A passport valid for period of intended stay is required.
South African nationals require a passport valid for period ofintended stay. A visa is not required for touristic stays of up to90 days.
Irish nationals do not require a visa. A passport valid forperiod of intended stay is required.
US nationals need passport valid for the period of intendedstay. US nationals do not require a visa for stays of up to 90days.
New Zealand nationals do not require a visa for stays of up to90 days. A passport valid for period of intended stay isrequired.
Passports must be valid for length of intended stay. Travellersmust have proof of return or onward tickets, sufficient funds orlodging certificate and all travel documents needed for onwardjourney. A Schengen visa is also valid if endorsed "also valid forReunion". It is highly recommended that passports have at least sixmonths validity remaining after your intended date of departurefrom your travel destination. Immigration officials often applydifferent rules to those stated by travel agents and officialsources.
There are no real health risks associated with travel toReunion. A yellow fever vaccination certificate is required fortravellers arriving from countries with a risk of yellow fevertransmission. Vaccinations are recommended for hepatitis A andhepatitis B. There is no chance of contracting malaria butprecautions should still be taken against mosquito bites as thereare occasional outbreaks of mosquito-borne diseases like denguefever and chikungunya.
Reunion's medical facilities are very good. Most towns havedoctors and clinics, while the principal hospital is inSaint-Denis. Tap water is usually safe for drinking. Public watersources are unsafe if labelled 'Eau non potable'. There is areciprocal health agreement with the UK and most EU countries,whose citizens are entitled to emergency medical treatment onpresentation of a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC).
Tipping is not necessarily expected but is usually appreciatedin Reunion. Some restaurants do add a service charge to the billbut if they don't a tip of about 10 percent is appropriate for goodservice.
Most visits to Reunion are trouble-free. Crime levels are lowbut visitors should still be vigilant and avoid extravagantdisplays of wealth. Swimmers should be aware of currents andriptides; take note of signs on the beaches and, if unsure, ask thelocals. Shark attacks are a concern off the island. The cycloneseason is from November to April and travellers in Reunion duringthis time should keep track of storm alerts. The Piton de laFournaise volcano is still active and an eruption is alwayspossible, but volcanic activity is carefully monitored.
Broadly speaking, Reunion follows French tradition and culture,although the island is influenced by its many different populationgroups. There is a mix of Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Islamon the island and visitors should respect the different religiousgroups and their customs.
The business culture is quite relaxed in Reunion and only themost formal of occasions will require suits. French is the languageof business and an interpreter should be brought along if needed asthere are few professional interpreters on the island. Businesshours are generally 8am to 12pm and 2pm to 6pm, Monday toFriday.
The international access code for Reunion is +262. The outgoingcode is 00, followed by the relevant country code (e.g. 0027 forSouth Africa). City/area codes are not in use. Three local mobilephone companies provide service, and some international roamingagreements exist but these tend to be expensive. Internet cafes areavailable in the main centres and hotels generally provide internetaccess but it isn't always free.
There are no restrictions on the import of local or foreigncurrency but amounts exceeding €10,000 or equivalent must bedeclared if arriving from a country outside the European Union.
Travellers over 17 years of age entering Reunion can bring inthe following items duty-free: either 200 cigarettes, 50 cigars or250g tobacco; one litre of spirits, four litres of wine and 16litres of beer; perfume for personal use; and goods up to the valueof €1,000 if arriving from an EU country, and €430 if arriving froma non-EU country.
Official Reunion Tourism Portal: en.reunion.fr
French Embassy, Washington DC, United States: +1 202 9446000.
French Embassy, London, United Kingdom: +44 (0)20 7073 1000.
French Embassy, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 789 1795.
French Embassy, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 (0)12 425 1600.
French Embassy, Canberra, Australia: +61 (02) 6216 0100.
French Embassy, Dublin, Ireland: +353 (0)1 277 5000.
French Embassy, Wellington, New Zealand: +64 (0)4 384 2555.
United States Embassy, Paris (also responsible for Réunion): +33(0)1 4312 2222.
British Embassy, Paris (also responsible for Réunion): +33 (0)14451 3100.
Canadian Embassy, Paris (also responsible for Réunion): +33 (0)14443 2900.
South African Embassy, Paris (also responsible for Réunion): +33(0)1 5359 2323.
Australian Embassy, Paris (also responsible for Réunion): +33(0)1 4059 3300.
Irish Embassy, Paris (also responsible for Réunion): +33 (0)14417 6700.
New Zealand Embassy, Paris (also responsible for Réunion): +33(0)1 4501 4343.
There is a good local bus service that operates withinSaint-Denis, while another bus service links the city to the restof the island. The roads are well maintained and car hire agenciesare available. Renting a car is a good option for those who wantthe freedom to explore independently, but really shouldn't benecessary for a stay in the capital alone. Taxis can also be foundat taxi stands or ordered by phone within the city. The historiccore and seafront area of Saint-Denis can easily and safely beexplored on foot.
A holiday in Saint-Denis, with its brasseries and bistros, cafesand Creole character, is a great jumping-off point for exploringthis island paradise while absorbing the town's architecturalbeauty, lively ambience, shopping for souvenirs (especially spices)and sampling its many good restaurants. Anyone who is seeking atropical getaway with the added bonus of French flair, will enjoy aholiday in Saint-Denis. The city is usually just a pit stop on aReunion itinerary, as the island's main attractions are notactually in Saint-Denis, but the city is rather charming and wortha day or two of exploring.
Tourist attractions in Saint-Denis include the Parc du Colorado,a park and playground which is ideal for a picnic or a barbeque andboasts beautiful views; the Jardin de l'Etat, a pretty littlegarden in the heart of the city; the Musee Leon Dierx, with itsimpressive modern art collection; and the Natural History Museum,where visitors can learn about the animals, plants and geology ofReunion. Of course, there are many glorious excursions possiblefrom Saint-Denis, which is best used as a travel hub forexplorations of the natural wonders of the island.