If you are an adventurer at heart, the Reunion Island may well please you. An Overseas French department located just next to Mauritius, Reunion is a small volcanic island perfect for hiking. With an area of about 2,512 km², Reunion has a unique tropical ecosystem and fabulous landscapes for the pleasure of hikers.
A large UNESCO World Heritage National Park occupies 42% of the total area of the island. The region is well known for its three Cirques: Cilaos, Mafate and Salazie. They are natural formations with steep slopes and circular shapes, formed by a volcanic depression. A must-visit for all lovers of hiking and nature.
While visiting Reunion Island, don’t forget to bring along your best walking shoes as the island offers over a 1000 kilometer of trails through forests, ramparts, circuses and volcanoes. The island has 40 different hikes with a lot of options for beginners. In total you will find 18 hiking trails and 22 long-distance hiking trails. Here is a small guide for hiking in the island of Reunion:
The best time for hiking in Reunion Island
Hiking is an activity that can be practiced throughout the year on the island. However, the ideal period is between May and November when particularly mild conditions are present. During this period, a dry wind from the windward coast ensures a pleasant climate for wildlife and also optimal conditions for hiking even the highest peaks. Hiking is also possible in summer as long as the rainfall remains low as heavy rainfall often bring mud slides and rivers overflowing from their beds. As for all tropical countries, there are two seasons in Reunion:
Summer, which is from November to April, has temperatures ranging between 23 and 30 ° C. During this period we also note partial rain and high humidity.
Winter , which is from May to October, is mild and rather dry, with temperatures varying between 20 and 25 ° C.
As on many tropical islands, weather conditions are quite unexpected, especially in summer. The island has a mild microclimate and the island can be cut in half revealing the windward coast (east) and the leeward coast (west).
It is always advisable to start the hikes only after consulting the weather forecasts. Expect to hike in real tropical conditions with fog, sudden showers. If this is your first visit to Reunion, make an easy hike or moderate difficulty to acclimatize!
If in doubt about a hike or an excursion, do not hesitate to seek the advice of the inhabitants or to inform you at the different tourist offices around the island.
Always check your gear and of course, never go on a hike alone or without warning someone. Also bring plenty of water and high energy bars.
Reunion: trekking paradise!
Reunion Island offers an exceptional range of wide open spaces; mountains, peaks, majestic waterfalls, cirques, peaks and ramparts. You will discover lava fields lined up on vast plateaus, glabrous peaks overlooking stocked valleys, rough waterfalls sinking into deep basins.
Here are the most beautiful places (and most known) for hiking in Reunion:
Reunion National Park – UNESCO World Heritage
Reunion National Park brings together the largest collection of animals and plants on the island. You will spend long days exploring its many wooded cliffs sheltering a remarkable biodiversity. It is the core of the island that covers more than 100,000 hectares, preserving most of the fauna and flora of Reunion.
The “volcanic landscapes, valleys and plateaus” were declared National Park in 2007. This nature reserve is home to many native species. Since 2010, the national park is also listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A site that can be hiked and even inhabited!
The roof of the Indian Ocean: Piton des Neiges (3,071m)
The extinct volcano that gave birth to the island of Reunion; The Piton des Neiges. Located in the heart of the island, this volcano is 3 million years old and died about 12,000 years ago. According to scientific experts, the collapse of the volcano’s vault has created gigantic cliffs that are now clover-shaped around the summit.
You can hike the cliffs of the volcano to enjoy the spectacular views of the island and the Indian Ocean. There are many tour operators and guides who offer hiking as an activity. However, if you want to hike on your own, you can. The starting point is 3 kilometers from Cilaos.
You can take the bus from the village of Cilaos or walk to the starting point. There are hikes for all levels. You can hike the volcano in one day, but many prefer to rent a cottage to spend the night and continue hiking at dawn. As it appears, in clear weather, one can even distinguish the silhouette of the nearest land; Salazie.
Salazie is the largest and greenest of the island’s three natural amphitheaters known for its abundant flora, its great cliffs and its extraordinary waterfalls. With its humid climate, the Salazie circus is covered with a vegetation so dense that we almost forget that it is of volcanic formation. Nature has made its wonders and visitors can watch a spectacle of verdant valleys with tropical scents unfolding on both sides of the road.
The circus trek begins in the village of Hell- Bourg known to be one of the most beautiful villages in France. It is a small corner where nature, Creole culture and authenticity meets. If you want to stay, Salazie does not lack accommodation, restaurants and local craft shops.
Continuing your day to the circus, you will discover a breathtaking site, a true wonder of nature, “La Voile de la Mariée”. This waterfall provides an optical illusion resembling the veil of a wedding dress because of its many streams. Hikers describe the Salazie circus as rugged and beautiful. You will discover a long and deep canyon, surrounded by more than a hundred waterfalls along the valleys. For motorists and hikers, special attention is required in Salazie because the humid climate often creates fog. Due to its attitude and climate, it is best to hike the Salazie circus in summer or during sunny days.
The Cilaos Circus is a real bastion for hiking, and extreme sports like canyoning, climbing and hiking. Cilaos is the most animated of the three circuses, probably because it is the one that receives the most sun of the three.
Its interior relief is characterized by many small peaks. The village is accessible by road and you will surely hear about the Cilaos 40 Turn Road. The route offers a good overview of the hikers’ show. The Cilaos Circus has experienced a significant erosion with the Bras Rouge River, the most important river in the amphitheater creating deep gorges that over time have given way to cliffs more than 100 meters high, real playgrounds for extreme sportsmen.
The village of Cilaos is located at more than 4000 feet. For hikers, there are several trails. The two best-known are the Taïbit Pass at the north-west point, where hikers come from Mafate and the northeastern route that leads to Piton des Neiges.
The shortest hike will take you to the foot of the Piton de Sucre crossing the cracks of a magical waterfall. Cilaos is an excellent starting point for many hikes and also a surprising stop for hikers.
Mafate is the wildest and most intact of the three circuses. This marvel is only accessible by helicopter or hike. With an area of 95 km², the Mafate circus alone offers more than 100 kilometers of hiking, including the famous GR R3 hike. Around the basin of the Mafate Valley, the mountains form a protective wall at over 2,000 m altitude. From here, a 2-3 hour hike into the mountains is enough to reach the remote villages of Mafate that served as a refuge for slaves fleeing slavery in the 19th century. It is also a cultural walk, to hike the same routes used by slaves.
Between forests, gorges and rocks are many small mountain villages, called Îlets. Do not hesitate to stop in the small villages, you will discover the authenticity of the locals cut off from the rest of the world.
Piton de la Fournaise
The last active volcano of the island, Piton de la Fournaise (2,631 m), is a place not to be missed for all visitors to the island. The volcano emerged more than half a million years ago and is today one of the most active volcanoes on the planet.
Nevertheless, the Piton de la Fournaise is considered safe for visiting and hiking. This volcano produces an effusive eruption that does not project lava from its summit.
The lava arrive by numerous small lateral openings on the surface, which then move towards the sea. With an average eruption per year, the volcano gradually adds to the surface of the island and the lava flows have formed huge underground galleries, caves and tunnels. We recommend guided tours to discover tunnels and caves.
The volcano offers devastated landscapes. The sudden change of scenery from the lush forests to the apocalyptic red land is quite shocking. At 1000 m altitude, between the Piton de la Fournaise and the Piton des Neiges mountain ranges, the plateaus connect the south of the island to the east. Visitors will find particularly varied landscapes, which can be completely different from the rest of the island. The N3 road, coming from the south, crosses the plateaus and climbs up to 2,000 m, where the fantastic lunar landscape of La Plaine des Sables extends.
From there, north towards the rainforest on the Plain Palmistes, nestled between the magical Bébour forest and the volcanic massif of Piton de la Fournaise.