Travel Guide Africa Reunion





© MAXwell377

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.



Brief History

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.

  • Arrondissement of Saint-Denis
  • Arrondissement of Saint-Pierre
  • Arrondissement of Saint-Benoît
  • Arrondissement of Saint-Paul




  • Saint-Denis - the capital of Reunion
  • Saint-Gilles - situated on the west coast, where all the white sand beaches are.
  • Saint-Leu - a well-established city of surf.
  • Saint-Pierre - second most important town of Reunion
  • Etang-Salé - a small town on the west coast with one of the black (volcanic) sand beach
  • Saint-Benoit - where you can find the vanilla cooperative factory



Sights and Activities

Les Cirques

The Cirques (mountain basins) of Reunion are a fine example 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 places 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.

The Plains

Located in the east of the islands are the plains, with heigh mountains 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 2,631 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.

Other sights and activities

  • Domain du Grand Hazier - monumental gardens.
  • Le Maïdo - another great viewpoint at 2,200 metres asl.



Events and Festivals

Leu Tempo Festival

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.

Guava Festival

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.

Adventure Film 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.

Safiko Musik Festival

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.

Bastille Day

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.

Le Grand Raid

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 gruelling 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.

Divali Festival

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 winter months. 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 mountainous 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.



Getting there


There are two international airports serving the island of Reunion:

  • Sainte-Denis (RUN)
  • Saint-Pierre (ZSE)

Air Austral is the main airline of Reunion, based at Roland Garros Airport (RUN) near the capital Saint-Denis. International flights include Antananarivo, Bangkok, Dzaoudzi, Johannesburg, Madras, Mahé, Marseille, Moroni, Nosy Be, Paris, Plaine Corail, Plaisance, Toamasina, Tolagnaro. Other airlines serving RUN airport are Air France, Air Madagascar, Air Mauritius, Corsair, French Blue and XL Airways France.

From Mauritius you can also fly to Pierrefonds airport near St. Pierre in the south of Reunion (Saint-Pierre ZSE).

By Boat

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.



Getting Around

By Plane

There are no passenger services, but a plane ride over the island and see the island from above is well worth the money.

By Train

There are no trains on Reunion.

By Car

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.

There is one main road around the island (74km of it is four-lane) and another road from Saint-Pierre to Saint-Benoit (route des plaines) through the interior of the island. Due to the high number of cars, traffic jams often occur so you should avoid travelling during peak times. Because of the volcano, the road is sometimes closed along the east side of the island.

The four-lane highway between La Possession and Saint-Denis, known as the route du littoral, runs between an unstable cliff and the sea. Because of the rain (mostly between December and March), this highway may be "basculée", that is switched to a two-lane road. Expect traffic jams in such circumstances. It is being replaced by a remarkable €1.7-billion, 5.4-km viaduct a few hundred metres off shore that is planned to open in 2020.

A new €1.1 billion expressway - the Route des Tamarins - was completed in 2009 linking Saint-Paul and Étang-Salé and offering spectacular views of the coast. With its completion, a 4-lane divided highway now runs around three-fourths of the island.

Do not underestimate driving times, even if the island seems small. The main roads, especially on the west coast, tend to jam; so do the streets of Saint Denis. The roads in the interior are mountain roads, some with many turns and steep slopes.

By Bus

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.

By Boat

Your boat trips will mostly be of the organised type to go out snorkelling, diving or fishing.



Red Tape

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.

There is no money changer at the airport and it is very difficult to find one in Saint Denis so be prepared!




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), mangoes, pineapples (the Victoria types in Reunion are said to be the best in the world by the locals), bananas, papaya. At lunchtime, you can have many kinds of sandwiches and samoussas in snack-bars (cheap but not very balanced, except for the spicy "achards sandwich"), and find restaurants easily (average of 10-15 USD). Reunionese cuisine is quite safe, but ask for some dishes to ensure that they're not too spicy. The spice level is below that of much Indian cuisine.




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.

There is no malaria on the island, but dengue sometimes occurs, especially in more urban areas. Buy repellent (preferably with 50% DEET), and sleep under a net, there is no vaccination for dengue.

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.

In 2006, Reunion experienced an epidemic of Chikungunya virus. By April, 230,000 people had been infected, which amounted to almost 30% of the population. The epidemic eventually ebbed, and by the summer new cases had dropped to near zero. Travelers should still take precautions against mosquito bites.

Caution should be taken when spending time in the sun. High altitude areas may be scorchingly hot when the sun is high, and cold when it is foggy. Prepare layered clothing.

Sanitary and medical facilities in Reunion are very good. Tap water is usually safe for consumption. Public sources of water are unsafe if labeled with "Eau non potable" (Water not drinkable). The major hospital is in Saint-Denis but there are various others in important cities. There are doctors in almost every village.




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.

During the cyclonic season (November to April), you should check cyclone warnings shown in newspapers or broadcast by the radio or TV. There is three state of warning:

  • Vigilance cyclonique (cyclone watch): cyclonic risk in more than 24hrs, you should buy in advance enough food and water as well as batteries and candles;
  • Alerte orange (orange alert): cyclonic risk in the next 24hrs, schools are closed, try to avoid getting around;
  • Alerte rouge (red alert): cyclonic risk in the next hours, don't move from your home and avoid using the phone, stay calm.



Keep Connected


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.


Quick Facts

Reunion flag

Map of Reunion


Overseas Department of France
Christianity (Catholic), Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism
French, Creole
Calling Code
Local name
Ile de la Reunion


as well as Peter (7%), hasbeen (3%), ToddP (2%), dr.pepper (<1%)

Reunion Travel Helpers


    been there a couple of times..

    Ask a question about Reunion
  • champacs

    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 champacs a question about Reunion
  • emmiller

    I spent eight months living and working in Reunion and am happy to answer questions about the island!

    Ask emmiller a question about Reunion

Accommodation in Reunion

Explore your accommodation options in Reunion

This is version 41. Last edited at 14:10 on May 14, 19 by Utrecht. 29 articles link to this page.

Creative Commons License
Except where otherwise noted, content of this article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License