Last updated on March 9th, 2022
Reunion Island is one of the most diverse travel destinations in the world, and the best part is that it doesn’t nearly get as many visitors as it should. With so many thrills packed into a single adventure, choosing this list of the top things to do in Reunion Island was a mighty challenge, but somebody had to do it.
Planning or thinking about a trip to Reunion Island? Have a look at additional Reunion Island travel guides, including a daily itinerary, the best beaches, and the best hikes in Reunion Island!
Here’s a quick video tour of Reunion Island!
While dolphins can almost always be spotted, whales visit Reunion Island’s shores between June and October and that’s the best time to head out on a dolphin and whale watching tour from the St-Gilles area of the island. If the stars align, you might spot a newborn whale and its mother or a pod of dolphins practicing their acrobatic skills.
Reunion island was never inhabited by an indigenous native population so, with the passing of time, arrivals from different parts of the world including former slaves have mixed, creating a shared common culture, a new language, cuisine, and a way of life. They’re known as creoles and in Reunion Island, you’ll not only get to know them but also marvel at their distinct architecture, ranging from charming simple homes to lavish mansions, and their unique cuisine, reliant on local ingredients and rich in flavor.
Though neighboring Seychelles and Mauritius are known for their stunning beaches, Reunion Island also has its fair share of idyllic spots under the sun, as you might expect from a tropical island in the Indian Ocean. From black sand to white sand, Reunion’s beaches offer a blessed opportunity for a break in between hikes. The best beaches in Reunion Island are mostly found on the east coast, with the cream of the crop lying along the sandy shores of its protected lagoon.
It’s certainly not cheap but, if there’s a place in the world where you need to seriously consider splashing out on a scenic flight, Reunion Island definitely tops that list. The view from above is simply out of this world, taking you over remote areas likely to have never been visited by humans. This island is so rugged and so diverse, the colors and landscapes change every few minutes. Highlights include flying in and out of the cirques, right between the summits of the Piton des Neiges and Grand Benare, over the eerie landscape of the active volcano, and flying close to giant waterfalls.
Reunion Island is home to some of the wettest spots on the planet, some of which get 6-7 meters of rainfall annually! The abundance of rain combined with the mountainous terrain blesses the island with spectacular waterfalls, most of which can be admired either from a safe distance, marveled at from the air, or used as a natural massage. The grandest of them all is the Trou de Fer (“The Iron Hole”), a 300-meter deep chasm that funnels a number of rivers and culminating in a 695m waterfall that is the highest in France and her territories.
In Reunion Island, getting from one place to the next is actually an adventure in its own right and some of the island’s most scenic roads are a true engineering marvel considering the remote locations they reach. Without a doubt, the most scenic drive on the island is the road into Cirque de Cilaos, 35kms of pure thrills and extreme scenery. It takes a lot of courage and patience to negotiate its 400 turns, some of which are almost full circle going uphill. Other notable mentions include the drive to the timeless hamlet of Ilet a Corde and the road leading to Piton de la Fournaise in a Martian-like landscape.
From scenic drives to scenic lookouts, Reunion Island has plenty of those as well, so plan for extra time on the road as you’ll often stop to admire the view. The island’s most memorable scenic lookouts include Le Maido, from where you can peer into the Cirque de Mafate, La Fenetre des Makes, “the window” into Cirque de Cilaos, Pas de Bellecombe with views of the active volcano, Takamaka, right across a lush cloud-covered ridgeline teeming with waterfalls, and Belvedere de Bois Court which gazes over “Mini Mafate” and its secluded waterfall.
Piton de la Fournaise (“Peak of the Furnace”) is one of the world’s most active volcanoes and continues to shape Reunion Island even as you’re reading these lines. This shield volcano is right up there with the likes of Kilauea on the Big Island of Hawaii in terms of activity. The best way to experience the volcano is by using your feet and hiking to the rim of the Dolomieu Crater over a plain of hardened lava. The climax is reached the moment you take the final step that reveals the size and depth of the crater, spanning 400 meters across and 300 meters deep. What a wonderful place for a picnic lunch!
Towering to a height of 3,069m above sea level, the Piton des Neiges is the highest peak in Reunion Island. As its name suggests, it is so high that it occasionally sees snowfall. Summiting the peak is the most exceptional hike in Reunion Island, very challenging yet rewarding, as the summit offers unobstructed 360-degree views of the entire island. Hikers from around the world visit Reunion just for this hike but you certainly don’t need to be a pro to take on this challenge.
With no roads linking it to the outside world, Cirque de Mafate is the most inaccessible part of Reunion Island, home to a few picturesque hamlets with a small population that lives entirely off the grid. Completely enclosed by walls towering several hundred meters, the only way into the cirque is either on foot or by helicopter. Essentially, Cirque de Mafate is an “island within an island”, a place of extreme beauty and serenity. One of the most memorable things to do in Reunion Island is to hike from the ridgeline that separates Cirque Salazie with Cirque de Mafate and to spend the afternoon exploring life off the grid in the hamlet of La Nouvelle.
Surely, this list of the top things to do in Reunion Island gets you excited about visiting one of the most diverse destinations in the world. Be sure to check out the rest of the Reunion Island travel guide collection, including day-by-day Reunion Island itinerary, the best hikes on the island, essential travel tips, and lots more.
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