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Travel Guide to Reunion

Nicknamed 'l'Île Intense', Réunion is a dramatic, mountainous paradise created and shaped by volcanoes. The scent of vanilla, stretches of black sand beaches, forest-covered peaks, rugged valleys, rushing waterfalls and an incredibly diverse and friendly population make this overseas départementof France an idyllic destination. Réunion is first and foremost an alluring tropical island getaway, but its interesting mix of cultures and peoples add another interesting element to the holiday.

Réunion was hard hit by the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, as it lost significance as a stopover on the East Indies trade route, and today it relies heavily on mainland France for financial support. Its main industries are sugarcane, rum, vanilla, geranium oil for perfumes and, not surprisingly, tourism. An interesting facet of the island's economy is the enormous gap between rich and poor, its high unemployment rate contrasting with an affluent elite. One's immediate impression of the place, however, is that everybody seems to live relatively equably side-by-side, with plenty of racial and religious mixing. 

Réunion is home to one of the world's most active volcanoes, le Piton de la Fournaise, and has three major cirques (amphitheatre-like valleys): Cilaos, Mafate and Salazie. These valleys and volcanoes provide breathtaking scenery and world-class trekking and canyoning, with plenty of footpaths and daredevil drops to choose from. The island's beaches are not given the credit they deserve: the black volcanic sands at Etang-Salé are a treat (though the sand can be scorching in summer), the warm Indian Ocean is the colour of absinthe and the abundance of underwater creatures makes snorkeling a must. The popular St Gilles-les-Bains offers classic palm-fringed shores on a wide lagoon and Saint Leu has incredible surfing. For those who venture inland, small mountain villages, lush forests, rich birdlife and flora can be found.

Delicious local cuisine, local fusion music and dance, and quintessentially French sophistication are served up side-by-side in Réunion. Outdoor activities and plenty of relaxation are combined with a welcoming people and a magnificent backdrop, making Réunion indeed a gorgeously 'intense' destination.


Reunion is a fascinating geological destination, with its dramatic valleys and volcanic landscapes: the Plaine des Sables is a stark ash and lava rock plain at the foot of Reunion's volcano, which feels like a moon landscape; the Piton de la Fournaise Volcano is the only active volcano on the island, and indeed is one of the most active in the world; the Riviere des Remparts Canyon is a steep and ruggedly beautiful river valley; and the three cirques, deep circular canyons, lure visitors with scenic overlooks.

Of course, Reunion is also a celebrated beach getaway, with its tropical climate and lovely coastline. Visitors should note that the beaches on the western coast of the island, between St Gilles-les-Bains and Hermitage-les-Bains (where many hotels can be found) are sandy and comparatively safe, making this the best stretch of coastline for families and those seeking calmer waters. Much of Reunion's coast, though beautiful, is rocky, with rough surf. Those snorkeling and swimming should also bear in mind that shark attacks do occasionally occur off the island; it is worth researching where the attacks most commonly take place and consulting locals when in doubt. Those fond of marine life should visit the Kelonia Marine Turtle Observatory, dedicated to the study and conservation of Reunion's resident turtles.


Réunion's small but spirited capital is Saint-Denis, a picturesque town flanked by three mountains and situated at the mouth of the Saint-Denis River. Saint-Denis is a mixture of sophisticated French-style restaurants, bars and nightclubs (with Parisian prices), and more traditional sights and sounds. Sadly, it is often sidestepped on trips to the island, used merely as a starting point due to its close proximity to the airport. However, it is well worth taking some time to explore its charms before moving on.

The chic, upmarket seafront area with its promenade is known as La Barachois, and remnants of the small port that once existed can be found, including an old warehouse of the East India Company that now houses the French Administration Offices. The Grande Marche (market) is a treasure trove of Malagasy arts and crafts, fragrant spices and textiles, while smaller markets offer mouth-watering fresh tropical fruits and vegetables. A distinctly French flavour mixes with African, Chinese, and Indian, creating a mélange that is evident even in the cuisine. Try a delicious cari(a meat or fish stew cooked in a sauce and eaten with rice) and rougail(a spicy tomato salsa), sample some excellent Chinese food from a tiny take-away or indulge in juicy mangoes or litchis off the stalk.

Saint-Denis boasts a fascinating mix of religious architecture from mosques and Tamil and Buddhist temples, to its cathedral, illustrating the cultural diversity of the island. There are several quaint old buildings, an interesting Natural History Museum, a modern art museum named after the poet Léon Dierx, and the facades of old East India Company buildings. It is also well worth getting out of town and climbing one of the three surrounding peaks for a gorgeous view. Perhaps the most breathtaking is from Route de la Montagne (the Mountain Road), a steep track that winds up to the top of a lava cliff that drops dramatically into the sea. Once the delights of Saint-Denis have been explored, the rest of the island paradise of Réunion awaits.

Getting Around

There is a good local bus service that operates within Saint-Denis, while another bus service links the island. The roads are well maintained and car hire agencies are available. Renting a car is a good option for those who want the freedom to explore independently. Taxis can also be found at taxi stands or ordered by phone within the city. The historic core and seafront area of Saint-Denis can easily be explored on foot.


A holiday in Saint-Denis, with its brasseries and bistros, cafes and Creole character, is a great jumping-off point for exploring this paradise island while absorbing the town's architectural beauty, lively ambience, shopping for souvenirs (especially spices) and sampling its many good restaurants. Anyone who is seeking a tropical island experience, with the added spice of French flair, will enjoy a holiday in Saint-Denis. The city is usually just a pit stop on a Reunion itinerary, as the island's main attractions are not in Saint-Denis, but the city is rather charming and worth a day or two of exploring.

Tourist attractions in Saint-Denis include the Parc du Colorado, a park and playground which is ideal for a picnic or a barbeque and boasts beautiful views; the Jardin de l'Etat, a pretty little garden in the heart of the city; the Musee Leon Dierx, with its impressive modern art collection; and the Natural History Museum, where visitors can learn about the animals, plants and geology of Reunion. Of course, there are many glorious excursions possible from Saint-Denis, which is best used as a travel hub for explorations of the natural wonders of the island.


Réunion's climate is tropical, with temperatures affected by elevation. Humidity is generally high. There is not a big temperature range between the seasons, but the year can be divided into summer and winter: November to April is hot and rainy, while May to November is usually dry and cool, and is the popular time for travel to Réunion. In Saint-Denis the summer temperatures average between 73°F (23°C) and 84°F (29°C), and in winter temperatures average between 64°F (18°C) and 75°F (24°C). Rain patterns vary hugely according to region, with the east of the island much wetter than the west. The cyclone season runs from mid-November to mid-April and the island is occasionally affected.


Passports must be valid for length of intended stay. Travellers must have proof of return or onward tickets, sufficient funds or lodging certificate and all travel documents needed for onward journey. Schengen visa is also valid if endorsed "also valid for Reunion". It is highly recommended that passports have at least six months validity remaining after your intended date of departure from your travel destination. Immigration officials often apply different rules to those stated by travel agents and official sources.

Useful Information


A yellow fever vaccination certificate is required from travellers coming from countries with risk of yellow fever transmission. Visitors to Réunion should take precautions against mosquito bites due to illnesses such as dengue fever and the chikungunya virus. Réunion's medical and sanitary facilities are very good. Most towns have doctors and clinics, while the principal hospital is in Saint-Denis. Tap water is usually safe for drinking. Public water sources are unsafe if labelled 'Eau non potable'. There is a reciprocal health agreement with the UK and most EU countries, whose citizens are entitled to low-cost emergency medical treatment on presentation of a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC).


Electrical current is 220 volts, 50Hz. A round pin plug with male grounding pin is used.


French, as well as Reunion Creole and some English is spoken.


Réunion is an overseas départementof France and therefore, since 2002, the unit of currency is the Euro, divided into 100 cents. There are plenty of banks and ATMs on the island, and most shops and hotels accept major credit cards (though most require a minimum amount for payments). Banks are generally open on weekdays from 8am to 4pm. Most businesses are required to display their prices in their windows and restaurants and hotels should have their rates visible from the exterior.


Emergencies: 17 (Police); 15/112 (Ambulance)

Duty Free

Travellers from non-EU countries over 17 years of age entering Réunion can bring in the following items duty-free: either 200 cigarettes, 50 cigars or 250g tobacco, as well as 2 litres of either spirits or wine, 50g perfume or 250ml eau de toilette, gold jewellery not exceeding 500g, 500g coffee, 100g tea and other goods to the value of €175 per adult, or €90 for children under 15 years.


The international access code for Réunion is +262. The outgoing code is 00, followed by the relevant country code (e.g. 0027 for South Africa). City/area codes are not necessary. Three mobile phone companies provide service, although there are not many international roaming agreements. Internet cafes are available.

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