Rainbow Tours Sales Specialist Laura Brander visited the French island of Réunion, in the Indian Ocean. She discovered an incredible place filled with over 200 microclimates, spectacular scenery and adventures aplenty.
Here she explains the top 10 things you need to do when visiting the Island.
- Volcano viewing
- Self Drive tour
- Helicopter ride
- Whale watching
- Saint Pauls Market
- Rhum Distillery
- Snorkel and Transparent Kayak
Why: Get up close and personal to Reunion's Cirques
Hiking is always popular on Réunion, and I quickly saw why. With 550 miles of marked hiking trail it’s a fantastic way to really get up close and personal with this magnificent island. I breathed the scents of the forests, walked through red-roofed villages, and met some truly wonderful people.
I’d particularly recommend a walk into and around Cirque de Mafate, as you can’t actually enter the caldera by car—it’s feet, bikes, or helicopter only. Whichever cirque you walk in, you’re guaranteed exceptional views and incredible hikes sure to keep even the most avid trekker happy.
2. Helicopter Ride
Why: Get an aerial view of the Cirques
Although everything was amazing, if you asked me to pick a highlight, it would have to be the helicopter ride we took over the cirques. Réunion is famous for its three cirques: Salazie, Mafate and Cilaos. These emerald bowls are simply breathtaking, sheltering dense forest, rolling fields, and picturesque towns nestled among the crags. The helicopter flew right over them, so we could peer down at the cliffs, waterfalls, and all around beauty below us.
On the way back, we flew down the coast. I had settled back to drink in the views when suddenly a flash of movement caught my eye. Below us, a humpback whale was swimming serenely just below the waves.
3. Whale Watching
Why: See whales in their natural environment
Between June and October, the waters around Réunion teem with humpbacks, but somehow I never thought I would see one. Her size and majesty took my breath away as she breached and dove. That would have been magical enough, but when we saw her little calf swimming alongside her, the experience just became out-of-this-world. In all honesty, I couldn’t stop the tears from coming.
4. Self Drive Tour
Why: Beautful roads and beautiful views
Reached by the longest domestic flight in the world (11 hours total, from Paris to Roland Garros), Réunion rears proudly out of the ocean, a Jurassic Park-esque adventure paradise. I was surprised when I arrived to find out not only that the island was more densely populated than I expected (with around 800,000 people calling it home), but that the infrastructure is incredibly well-developed.
This infrastructure makes Réunion a dream for self-drives. We drove along so many beautiful roads I almost couldn’t believe it. The lush, green mountains so often pictured can certainly be found, but there is a whole treasure trove of microclimates waiting to be discovered too. In fact, there are over 200 of them on the island, from those paradisiacal white sand beaches to the lunar-like landscapes around the volcanoes. Wherever you look on Réunion, there’s another stunning vista waiting to take your breath away.
Driving wasn’t all we did, and not by a long way.
Why: Discover over 900 different species of fish
Swimming in the sea is only recommended in certain areas where there is protection from sharks by the reef in the form of a lagoon. This is found on the west coast of the island and are a haven for hundreds of species of fish. Therefore, the majority of the “beach resorts” are here. Such as Palm Hotel and the Lux St Gilles. This does not mean that the other areas of the island are not worth visiting, though, and my favourite hotel was the Diana Dea on the east coast.
6. Volcano Viewing
7. Rhum Distillery
Reunion has a long history of Rum distillation and to visit a distillery is to get to understand a little bit more about the island. During your self drive tour why don't you visit one of the distilleries in operation. This could be:
- Savanna Distillery
- Isautier Distillery or
- Riviere Du Mat Distillery.
Here you can also discover "Rhum Arrange" which is rum macerated with spices, herbs, plants and fruits to provide a unique and delectable cocktail.
If you need more of a Rum hit, then you can visit La Saga Du Rhum - a museum dedicated to rum distillation in Reunion. As it is based at Isautier distillery, you really don't have to go far to immerse yourself in Rum fun.
8. Saint Pauls Market
Why visit: Sample delicious Creole Food
Sitting on the west coast of Reunion is the town of Saint-Paul where, from Friday AM to Saturday AM, the market stalls sell a cornucopia of local fruit and vegetables.
Once you have worked up an appetite walking around the market stalls you can feast upon the Creole delights that exists amongst the cafes and stalls. I particularly enjoyed the Pains Bouchones Gratines (a type of sandwich) but other Reunion delicacies include:
- Sweet potato cakes
- Chicken curry
- Saucisse Rougail (tomato and chilli sausage dish)
9. Snorkel and Transparent Kayak
A transparent kayak does exactly what it says on the tin. Here you can discover the diverse sea life of the lagoon in a see-through kayak.
Wherever you go in Reunion, there are plenty of opportunities to go canyoning. Whilst you can certainly enjoy the gorges and waterfalls on foot, I definitely feel you get a different viewpoint is you are abseiling, ziplining or scrambling.
The best placet to dip your toe into canyoning is at Fleurs Jaunes. Here the mini Fleurs routes gives you the perfect introduction to canyoning and great opportunities to jump into the lakes.