Reunion Island lies just off the east coast of Africa, not far from its famous resort mecca neighbour, Mauritius. A tropical climate, warm water and loads of action-packed activities make it the ideal holiday destination for South African travellers. If spending 10 days lying on the beach has always sounded boring to you, you’d better start planning your visit to Reunion Island, where boredom is a foreign concept. With so much to do and see, you’ll be busy from sunrise until sunset, exploring mountains and beaches, an active volcano and a uniquely French island culture. Here’s my guide to the top 10 things to do in Reunion Island.
Top 10 Things to do in Reunion Island
Although Reunion Island is part of France and you’re technically entering Europe, South Africans don’t need a visa to visit the island. It’s just a 4 hour flight from Joburg, with Air Austral flying twice a week. The currency is the Euro, although the cost of living is not as high as Europe.
If you’re travelling in a group or you prefer to self-cater, there are some stunning options for every budget on Airbnb (We stayed in this awesome Airbnb ,with a pool, an ocean view and a wonderful host. Check out the other properties I added to my Reunion Island Airbnb Wish List here). I recommend booking your accommodation in Saint-Gilles-Les-Bains, which is within a short distance of the lagoon.
The ocean is not safe for swimming, but the lagoon is protected by a stunning coral reef and completely safe for all-day dips. Although public transport is available, it’s more ideal to rent a car.The island is famous for some seriously intense mountain bike races and ultra-marathons. It’s also crisscrossed with thousands of kilometers of hiking trails. It plays host to one of the world’s top paragliding competitions and is a favourite destination for kite surfers. But even if you’d rather spend your holiday swimming, tanning, exploring and sightseeing, you’ll find loads of that too. So although it’s hard to sum up the top 10 things to do in Reunion Island, I’ve done my best to put together a list of things I’d recommend for you, my friends.
1. Spend (at least) A Day on the Beach
You can’t visit a tropical island like Reunion without being tempted to spend at least one day on the beach. The weather is pretty fantastic all year-round, with average temperatures of 26° Celsius. The water is warm and clear and the lagoon, which stretches across the whole western side of the island, is like a natural aquarium – perfect for snorkelling. There are lots of beach bars and restaurants to choose from and the sunsets are unbeatable.
You can rent a transparent kayak at La Saline Les Bains, which is an awesome way to check out the coral and colourful fish. After a long day of swimming and snorkelling, spend the afternoon sipping on Dodo beers at Coco Beach as you end the day feeling salty, happy and tanned.
Cost: 1 hour guided kayak experience, €20
2. Visit the Peak of the Volcano
Reunion Island’s Piton de la Fournaise is one of the most active volcanoes in the world and is closely monitored round the clock by seismic experts. You can drive right up to it, winding through strange lunar landscapes that make you feel like you’re on a different planet. If you happen to be planning your trip and the volcano suddenly starts erupting, don’t worry – due to the shield around the peak, the lava runs down the southern side of the island into the ocean and away from the areas inhabited by people. You won’t be able to see lakes of lava, but you will be able to see some crazy landscapes.
Cost: There’s no cost at the volcano
3. Shop for Delicious Eats at the Saint Paul Market
The colourful weekend market at Saint Paul is a must-visit. Open on Fridays and Saturdays, it gets packed, so go early and hungry. With a huge variety of local and imported French foods on offer, I highly recommend grabbing a few items for dinner at home. If you’re travelling with friends, it’s fun to have a potluck dinner. Each person has the same budget (like 10 Euro) to shop for whatever catches their imagination, and it all gets shared over a bottle of local Charette rum for dinner.
Cost: There’s no entry cost at the market
4. Canyoning at Rivière Langevin
Canyoning is an adventurous water-based activity that involves jumping off waterfalls into natural pools, sometimes using ropes to assist you with climbing up slippery rocks. It’s so much fun and really exciting. It’s also incredibly beautiful, with clear pools and water cascading over glistening rocks. You can book canyoning on Reunion Island by emailing the Reunion Island Tourism board at email@example.com or calling +262 (0)262 90 78 78. Drive back home along the Wild South, stopping at highlights like Manapany and Grand Anse.
Cost: A half-day canyoning experience costs €50
5. Traditional Creole Dinner at La Bonne Marmite
A traditional Creole dinner starts with rum and ends with rum. At La Bonne Marmite you can sample the flavours of 15 different Creole dishes and try the local rum, which is infused with a variety of local flavours – from pineapple to vanilla and even fragrant orchid leaves. The most popular local foods include samosas and falafels, rice, beans and a delicious stew made from pork sausages called rougail saucisse.
Cost: Dinner costs €32 for a huge buffet, a couple of alcoholic or soft drinks, coffee and dessert
6. Hike to the Remote Cirque of Mafate
The Cirque of Mafate is a collection of tiny villages in the heart of Reunion Island. Completely cut off from the rest of the world, the “island within the island” is only accessible by foot. It’s absolutely fascinating to visit and to experience the Mafate way of life. You can hike in and out over 2 days, starting at Col des Bœufs in Salazie. For anyone with a bit of thru-hiking 101 knowledge, this hike might sound like one of those, but it’s not as intense (still pretty intense) and doesn’t take weeks. It does get pretty tiring though, so it could be like a practice for your upcoming thru-hike (if you’re considering one, that is!) Not to mention that it can be quite exhilarating. There’s a big parking lot here, where you can park your car for 10 Euros per night. Hike for a couple of hours into the village of La Nouvelle, where you spend the night. Accommodation ranges from around 17€ per person for a 6 bed dormitory or 40€ for a double room. Dinner is served family-style and costs 25€ per person, with breakfast at 7€.
Read my Reunion Island Hiking Guide here.
Cost: The whole trip costs about €70
7. Waterfall picnic at Langevin or Trois Bassins
Spend the day swimming and picnicking at the waterfall Langevin, situated in the south of the island. Or, if you’re already planning to visit for a canyoning experience, you can have your picnic at Trois Bassins, which is closer to the west coast. It’s the stuff dreams are made of! Pack a picnic basket filled with fresh baguettes and cheese and a cooler with a couple of Dodo beers.
8. Party in Saint-Gilles
After watching the sunset from a beach bar in Boucan Canot, make your way to Saint-Gilles for a party. The area has lots of bars and “dance bars” to choose from. Start at the Carré d’Or, then move on to QG bar, Balcon (where they serve food, in case you’re hungry), Chez Nous, Escobar or Cubana. From 1am, the Tititwister on the Marina starts to liven up and becomes interesting. The Loft is located about a 5 minute drive from Saint-Gilles if you’re into Karaoké – it’s open during the week if you’re looking for a school night party.
Cost: That depends on your partying
9. Check out the vibe in Saint-Denis
The capital city of Saint-Denis feels decidedly European, with Parisian architecture and high street boutiques lining the streets. It’s a street art-lover’s dream, with colourful murals from world-famous artists like the island’s own Jace Ticot.
Street art duo Kid Kreol & Boogie use the medium to visually depict many of the island’s myths and legends, preserving stories that were previously only shared verbally for future generations. There are also some stunning bars and restaurants that you need to make the most of. We had dinner at Apoteek, which was a highlight!
Cost: Expect to spend around €70-€100 on drinks and dinner if you want to visit the hotspots
10. Explore the Cirques of Cilaos and Salazie
With over 200 micro-climates, the small 2500 square kilometer island is home to some seriously diverse landscapes. In the Cirque of Salazie, you can expect rain or mist, with an abundance of tropical flowers and vivid green plants. In Cilaos, you’ll find some of the best canyoning in the world. The drive itself is an adventure, with over 100 intense switchbacks and hairpin bends along the 40km drive. It’s terrifying, but an entirely unique experience!
Cost: That depends on what you get up to
Bonus: 11. See the Island from the Sky
This might be on the pricier side, but it is totally worth it! Seeing the island from the sky is such a trip – but it really helps you to get perspective. You’ll get to see the lagoon, three Cirques, volcano and some of the island’s most breathtaking views. And considering the fact that your flight from Johannesburg to Reunion Island is on the more affordable side (ours were R5500,00) you might be able to stretch your budget. We flew with Corail, and I can vouch for them.
Cost: From €210
Reunion Island is known as The Island of Adventure, and it’s not difficult to see why. No matter how many times you visit, there will never be enough time to explore everything it has to offer. Trust me – this was my 5th visit! I hope you find my guide to the top 10 things to do in Reunion Island useful! Let me know in the comments if you have any questions!
How to book your Reunion Island Experience
The easiest way to book your visit to Reunion Island is through the Reunion Island Tourism, via firstname.lastname@example.org. You can email them directly with your travel dates and the size of your group, as well as your accommodation preferences.
*My recent trip to Reunion Island with friends was hosted in-part by Reunion Island Tourism, who sponsored my flight and car. The rest of the trip was for my own cost.