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Unlike the Seychelles and Mauritius, its two Indian Ocean neighbours, Reunion's main attraction is not its beaches. True, St-Gilles-Les-Bains is packed up with bathers and bakers during holiday periods and it is a mighty fine beach, but if beaches are what you want, you'd be better off in either of Reunion's neighbours. That said, Reunion's volcanic origins grant it an extraordinarily beautiful landscape, one characterised by high peaks, deep canyons and plains. Trekking is the most obvious activity and is perhaps also the most rewarding: whether you're gazing up at proud volcanic peaks, or staring down from those same peaks, you're in for fantastic scenery. The towns are adorned with colonial architecture and are excellent starting points for inland adventures.
Like many other French overseas regions, Reunion is unfortunately an extremely expensive destination, one which is more or less off-limits to the budget traveller. There are a few options, but you have to book beforehand.
The Portuguese are thought to have been the first European visitors, finding it uninhabited in 1635, and naming it after Saint Apollonia. The island was then occupied by France and administered from Port Louis, Mauritius. Although the French flag was hoisted by François Cauche in 1638, Santa Apollonia was officially claimed by Jacques Pronis of France in 1642, when he deported a dozen French mutineers to the island from Madagascar. The convicts were returned to France several years later, and in 1649, the island was named Île Bourbon after the royal house. Colonization started in 1665, when the French East India Company sent the first twenty settlers.
“Réunion” was the name given to the island in 1793 by a decree of the Convention with the fall of the House of Bourbon in France, and the name commemorates the union of revolutionaries from Marseille with the National Guard in Paris, which took place on 10 August 1792. In 1801, the island was renamed "Île Bonaparte," after Napoleon Bonaparte. The island was invaded by a Royal Navy squadron led by Commodore Josias Rowley in 1810, who used the old name of “Bourbon”. When it was restored to France by the Congress of Vienna in 1815, the island retained the name of "Bourbon" until the fall of the restored Bourbons during the French Revolution of 1848, when the island was once again given the name “Réunion”.
From the 17th to the 19th centuries, French immigration supplemented by influxes of Africans, Chinese, Malays, and Indians gave the island its ethnic mix. The opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 reduced the importance of the island as a stopover on the East Indies trade route.
During the Second World War, Réunion was under the authority of the Vichy Regime until 30 November 1942, when the island was liberated by the destroyer Léopard. Réunion became a département d'outre-mer (overseas départment) of France on 19 March 1946.
Reunion is about 63 kilometres long and 45 kilometres wide, covering a total of 2,512 square kilometres and is located in the Indian Ocean. Its nearest neighbours are Mauritius and Madagascar. The Piton de la Fournaise, a shield volcano on the eastern end of Réunion Island, rises 2,631 metres above sea level and most recently erupted on 2 January 2010. The Piton de la Fournaise is created by a hotspot volcano, which also created the Piton des Neiges and the islands of Mauritius and Rodrigues. The Piton des Neiges volcano is the highest point on the island at 3,070 metres above sea level and is located northwest of the Piton de la Fournaise. The slopes of both volcanoes are heavily forested. Cultivated land and cities like the capital city of Saint-Denis are concentrated on the surrounding coastal lowlands.Réunion also has three calderas: the Cirque de Salazie, the Cirque de Cilaos and the Cirque de Mafate. The last is accessible only by foot or helicopter.
Réunion is made up of 4 arrondissements.
The Cirques (mountain basins) of Reunion are a fine exemple of geology with three huge excavations a dozen kilometres in diameter, bounded by vertical almost unclimbable walls. For example there is the Cirque de Salazie, which can accessed by road on the northeast coast. The vegetation here is extremely lush and waterfalls tumble down the mountains and in some plaes even over the road. Salazie is the wettest of the three cirques that Reunion has and has even holds several world records for rainfall including the records for most rainfall in one hour and one day! Cirque de Cilaos is almost equally as beautiful but less lush and less popular and Cirque de Mafate is the third one and has some great viewpoints.
Located in the east of the islands are the plains, with heigh moutains and volcanoes. The Plaine-des-Cafres and the desert volcano country with the Plaine-des-Palmistes are the most impressive. There even is Volcano Road and there are several hiking trails to Piton-des-Neiges and Cilaos. The most fantastic viewpoint is at Plaine-des-Sables which is a vast extent of red and black colours and resembles almost a lunar landscape. You can climb back up to some old craters and enjoy a even greater view from the balcony which is 300 metres high. From here you can see the almost perfect cone of the Fournaise, at a hight of 2631 metres above sea level. It last erupted in 1998 which was great for the visitors being there at the moment watching without danger. There is some great hiking in this region but with a car you can also come pretty close to the great interior of Reunion.
Although Reunion probably is one of the worst beach destinations in the Indian Ocean and is beaten by far by neighbours like Mauritius, the Maldives and the Seychelles, there are some fine beaches where you can rest after some activities like hiking in the mountains. The southern and southeastern coasts are probably the best but all around the island you may find some small hidden gems. Don't expect the palm fringed white beaches though, but that only means it can be a lot less crowded as well. Saint Paul is one of the examples, closest to the capital Saint Denis.
Often regarded as the best of Réunion’s festivals, the Leu Tempo Festival brings artists from all over the world to take part in the many theatrical performances around Saint-Leu. This fun event takes place in May each year.
Unsurprisingly, the fruit Guava takes center stage during reunion’s Guava Festival. The major cities and towns of Réunion all celebrate this event with gusto, as markets and street stalls are infested with guava products. Plaine-des-Palmistes is where the largest guava carnival is found during this June festival.
The Adventure Film Festival is where adventures come alive. Tourists can visit the movie theaters in Le Tampon and in Saint-Denis and watch some incredible productions. From inside the cinema, viewers can experience amazing natural landscapes, including thunderous waterfalls and searing deserts.
Held across three eventful days, the Safiko Musik Festival hosts the best local and international musical talents. Billed as one of the top 25 musical festivals in the world, the Safiko Musik Festival is home to rock, reggae, and a mix of other musical genres. Tourists are advised to make hotel reservations in advance, as the island gets quite busy during the June event.
On July 14, France celebrates the start of the French Revolution, and since Réunion is a department of France, so too does the island. Visitors are highly recommended to stay in Saint-Denis, Saint-Pierre, or Saint-Gilles, where the best fireworks displays are held. Even after the amazing light shows are completed, locals celebrate long into the night.
If tourists are fit, enjoy being challenged, and are looking for an adventure of a lifetime, then taking part in Le Grand Raid is highly recommended. This race is one of the most grueling events in the world. Competitors travel from the northern reaches of Réunion, through the mountainous interior, and finish in the south. The October event usually lures more than 2,500 competitors.
As there is a large Indian population in Réunion, it is not surprising that Divali, the Festival of Lights, is held in high regard here. The brightest Hindu festival of the year is celebrated with performances, feasts, and other cultural activities in the main cities, especially Saint-Denis. Divali is celebrated in November.
Reunion has a tropical oceanic climate with moderately high temperatures and humidity throughout the year.
Temperatures average between 25 °C and 30 °C during the day, warmest being November to April, coolest between June and September. Nights are around 23 °C in summer, 18 °C in wintermonths.
Rain occurs in all months but the wettest period is from December to April. During these months tropical cyclones occasionally strike the island or pass near enough to give very heavy rainfall and violent damaging winds.
Higher in the moutainous inland of Reunion, rainfall is extremely high and intense: between 15 and 16 March 1952, Cilaos at the centre of Réunion received 1,869.9 millimetres of rainfall, the highest 24-hour precipitation total ever recorded on earth. The island also holds the record for most rainfall in 72 hours, 3,929 millimetres at Commerson's Crater in March 2007 from Cyclone Gamede.
Air Austral is the main airline of Reunion, based at Roland Garros Airport (RUN) near the capital Saint-Denis. International flights include Antananarivo, Bangkok, Johannesburg, Lyon, Mahé, Marseille, Mauritius, Moroni, Nosy Be, Paris and Toulouse. Air France, Air Madagascar, Air Mauritius and Corsairfly have scheduled services to the island as well.
From Mauritius you can also fly to Pierrefonds airport near St. Pierre in the south of Reunion.
The Marion Dufresne travels to the islans of Kerguelen, Crozet, Saint Paul and Amsterdam 4 times a year from Reunion. A limited amount of travellers is able to go on this trip which lasts about a month.
It's also possible to travel from Mauritius to Reunion by the ferry 'Mauritius Pride'. The overnight journey takes around 12 hours.
There are regular boat services from Mauritius and Reunion to Toamasina in Madagascar on the east coast. It departs approximately once every two weeks.
Other than that, you need to be lucky enough to get a ride on a cargo ship or yacht to surrounding countries and islands.
There are no passenger services, but a plane ride over the island and see the island from above is well worth the money.
There are no trains on Reunion.
Renting a car is a great way to explore Reunion at your own pace and roads are mostly paved and in a good condition. You can rent cars at the airport or in the capital Saint Denis from many international and local companies. Rates are very competitive and cars are usually of the French kind of course. Traffic drives on the right and a national driver's licence is sufficient. Traffic can be heavy in and around Saint Denis and some stretches along the coast.
Buses can take you almost anywhere on the island, but services are less frequent during the evenings and to more remote smaller towns. Otherwise, frequent, fast and comfortable buses (Car Jaune, meaning Yellow Bus) drive around the island and there are about a dozen lines to choose from. Most buses leave hourly from 6am to 6pm. The main lines include St-Denis to St-Pierre, St-Denis to St-Bênoit, St-Pierre to St-Bênoit, St-André to Salazie and St-Pierre to the Cirque de Cilaos going inland.
Your boat trips will mostly be of the organised type to go out snorkelling, diving or fishing.
Although Reunion is an integral part of France, it is not part of the Schengen area, so it has its own immigration and visa rules. Citizens of Mauritius, for example, do not need a visa for short visits to Reunion but do need a visa to visit mainland France.
See also Money Matters
As an overseas department of France, Reunion has adopted the Euro (ISO code: EUR, symbol: €) as its official currency. One Euro is divided into 100 cents, which is sometimes referred to as eurocents, especially when distinguishing them with the US cents.
Euro banknotes come in denominations of €5, €10, €20, €50, €100, €200, €500. The highest three denominations are rarely used in everyday transactions. All Euro banknotes have a common design for each denomination on both sides throughout the Eurozone.
The Euro coins are 1 cent, 2 cents, 5 cents, 10 cents, 20 cents, 50 cents, €1 and €2. Some countries in the Eurozone have law which requires cash transactions to be rounded to the nearest 5 cents. All Euro coins have a common design on the denomination (value) side, while the opposite side may have a different image from one country to another. Although the image side may be different, all Euro coins remain legal tender throughout the Eurozone.
For European people coming from an EU country, working in Reunion is allowed without a visa or work permit. If you're from outside the EU, you will probably need a work permit. Check with the French Embassy in your country. Do not forget, though, that the unemployment rate is high. If you work in the health sector (doctor, nurse), it will be much easier.
French is the official language of Reunion, although Creole is widely spoken. Everyone understands French, but few people understand English.
French spoken with the local Reunion accent, intermingled with Creole, can be difficult to understand for native French speakers. Metropolitan French are locally nicknamed z'oreilles ("ears") for their tendency not to understand and ask people to repeat.
Thanks to its history, Reunionese cuisine is a mix between different cultures: French, Indian, Chinese & African. Typical dishes are cari and rougail which are a meat or a fish cooked in a sauce and eaten with rice.
Depending on the season, many tropical fruits are available, like litchees (December), mangos, pineapples (the Victoria types in Reunion are said to be the tastiest), bananas, papaya etc.
There are many possible accommodation types in reunion: Ordinary hotels; privately run Gîtes d'Étape; Gîtes de Montagne are mountain cabins or lodges located in the central areas appropriate and operated by Reunion Island Tourism Board; youth hostels are operated by Auberge de jeunesse de la Réunion. There are five youth hostels at Réunion Island ; Hell Bourg, Bernica, Entre Deux, Saint Denis and Cilaos.
The main local drink is rum. The lowest quality rum is made from fermented cane sugar molasses and is not aged (thus its color is clear). It is often drunk as rhum arrangé - rum flavored by fruit and spices. Rhum arrangé, being fruity and sugary, is easy to drink but beware of the high alcohol content! Higher quality rum is rhum agricole, made from fermented cane sugar juice. It is either clear, or aged in oak barrels, giving it a brown colour.
See also Travel Health
There are no vaccinations legally required to travel to Réunion. There is one exception though. You need a yellow fever vaccination if you have travelled to a country (7 days or less before entering Réunion) where that disease is widely prevalent.
Still, it's a good thing to get your vaccinations in order before travelling to Réunion. The general vaccination against Diphtheria, Tetanus and Polio (DTP) is recommended. Also both hepatitis A as well as typhoid would be recommended. If you are staying longer than 3 months or you might consider hepatitis B and typhoid vaccinations.
Finally, other possible health issues include diarrhea and other general travellers' diseases like motion sickness. Watch what you eat and drink and in case you get it, drink plenty of fluids (to prevent dehydration) and bring ORS.
See also Travel Safety
Reunion is fairly safe. Don't walk around alone at night in big cities. Most crimes are family-related and linked with alcoholic behaviors.
The major attraction of Reunion is the stunning scenery, with impressive walks on cliffs and, obviously, the volcano. Be aware that in some high altitude areas, especially the volcano, mid-day fog may really hamper orientation; also, temperatures may drop significantly. In foggy weather, do not stray from well-marked paths. Carry layered clothing. Even on this tropical island, in high altitude locations, in humid weather, you can really catch a bad cold.
See also International Telephone Calls
Reunion's country code is 262.
Few foreign mobile phone companies offer international roaming to Reunion so double-check before leaving. Your company should provide specific roaming to Reunion since it has different mobile phone companies from mainland France.
Alternatively, you should be able to get a Pay-as-you-go SIM card from various locations. There are two companies offering wireless services: SRR and Orange Réunion.
Post offices are found in all cities. Letter boxes are colored in yellow.In most Post Offices you will find an automatic machine (yellow) with a scale and a screen. Just put your mail on the scale, tell the machine (French or English) the destination, pay the indicated amount and the machine will deliver a printed stamp. Chronopost, UPS and DHL offer parcel services.
Ask el.moe a question about Reunion
been there a couple of times..
Ask champacs a question about Reunion
A native English speaker (and fluent French speaker) I have lived on Reunion for over 17 years and know the island very well. I can help non-French speaking travellers with questions they may have about the island as it can be difficult to find information about Reunion which is not in French.
Ask emmiller a question about Reunion
I spent eight months living and working in Reunion and am happy to answer questions about the island!
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