If you live in South Africa you’ve probably either been to Mauritius, you know someone who has been to Mauritius or you’re busy planning a trip to Mauritius right now. It’s long been a popular holiday destination for South African families and honeymooners thanks to it’s white sand beaches, close proximity to SA and value for money packages.
You might not have heard about Reunion Island though. Located a few hundred kilometres off Mauritius, Reunion is also just a four hour flight from South Africa and with tropical waters, beautiful beaches and what’s more – one of the world’s most active volcanoes, it should really be at the top of every South African’s travel bucket list!
When I tell people about Reunion Island, the most common questions I’m asked are “is it like Mauritius?” or “what’s the difference between Reunion Island and Mauritius?”. While both are small tropical islands in the Indian Ocean, they have distinctly different cultures and different things to offer. So let me give you some info about Mauritius vs Reunion Island.
Mauritius vs Reunion Island
Both Mauritius and Reunion are very easily accessible from South Africa. Air Mauritius flies direct from all major South African airports. Air Austral flies direct from Johannesburg. You don’t need a visa for either of these islands. There are often all-inclusive packages to Mauritius, which are great value. Air Austral often has flight specials, with tickets going for as little R5500 return.
Both Mauritius and Reunion are French islands. However, Reunion Island is an official department of France, so the culture is more French and English is not as widely spoken. In Mauritius, everyone speaks English and it’s very easy to communicate – especially with anyone in the tourism industry. In Reunion, you’ll need to know at least some very basic French, or carry around a phrase book.
Mauritius is famous for its resorts, and with good reason. Amazing beachfront properties with breakfast buffets and sparkling pools are part of the experience. If you’re dying to spend a holiday soaking up some luxury, ordering cocktails on the beach, reading your book and not doing much else, Mauritius is the right place!
Reunion Island has 3*, 4* and 5* properties, but only one or two luxury resorts the likes of Mauritius. Here, it’s more about spending time outside of your accommodation, so if you’re planning a holiday packed with activities, you’ll be happy in a 3* spot.
Most of the resorts on Mauritius offer water sports like skiing, snorkelling and diving, and many of them complimentary. My experience is that it’s best to live it up at your resort, where things are included because the resorts are so fabulous, and also because transport is very expensive on the island – whether you’re taking a taxi or renting a car. So unless there’s something you expressly wanted to do that doesn’t involve water, I’d never leave my resort.
Reunion Island is a hotbed of activities, from hiking to canyoning, so you’re probably going to be busy from sunrise to sunset. There are three cirques (small villages) that you absolutely have to see, so plan at least a day per cirque for day-trips. Then there is the volcano, which you cannot leave without seeing. Canyoning is another must-do activity, which involves hiking and jumping off waterfalls and cliffs into creeks.
The resort food in Mauritius can be excellent, especially at resorts like the One&Only Le Saint Géran, which I recently visited. Think lavish buffet breakfasts including exotic fruit spreads and French pastries and seafood lunches cooked on the beach.
It can also be pretty average, with nothing much on the menu in terms of authentic Mauritian cuisine. I’d recommend asking a local or someone who works at the resort to recommend a local spot you can walk or take the bus to.
The food on Reunion Island is a blend of French and Creole. I’m a big fan of a plate of “Creol Tapas”; samoosas, dumplings and falafels and of the very popular rougail saucisse, which is a sausage stew, served with rice and lentils. Self-catering can be an inexpensive option, while French restaurants can be pricey.
I definitely found the people on Mauritius to be really friendly. The tourism industry is huge, so everyone who works in hotels and tourism is great. To be honest, I didn’t too much of the culture outside of the resorts.
Reunion Island is home to people of Asian, Indian, European and African decent, which is celebrated all year round with religious and cultural festivals. Depending on the time of year, you can participate in the festival of light, the annual freedom festival or the massive New Years Eve celebrations along with many others.
Mauritius has a variety of packaged options that really can suit any budget. This is great because it means that once you’ve paid for the package, you might not have to open your wallet once while you’re on holiday. So whether you’re scraping together the cash for a quick break or ready to splurge on a luxurious dream holiday, you’ll find the right package to make the most of your trip.
Reunion Island doesn’t have too many packages to choose from, so you’ll need to manage your own budget. Booking a self-catering spot on the beach and shopping for local beer, rum and food in the grocery store will save you loads of cash. There are also a lot of free activities to choose from, like hiking and waterfall-hunting. However, if you’ve got luxury in mind, a 5* hotel and a selection of French restaurants will satisfy your craving. Just bear in mind that the island does not have the same kind of luxury offerings as Mauritius.
So, depending on the kind of holiday you’re planning, you’re likely to love either one of these stunning islands. As a general overview, I’d say that if it’s a relaxing luxury-fest you’re after, book a package to Mauritius. If you need some adventure on your next holiday, book a self-catering spot on Reunion Island. You won’t be disappointed, whatever you decide!