Réunion is different to The Seychelles and Mauritius in that the main attraction here isn’t the beaches. It’s the mountainous landscape of the interior that really makes this island unique. Featuring volcanic peaks soaring to 3 000 metres high, including active basaltic volcano, Piton-de-la-Fournaise – one of the most dramatic attractions on the island – the island is a mecca for hikers, nature-lovers and adventure seekers. The rugged hills come with endless forever views and the hiking trails are packed with cascading waterfalls and crystal rock pools.
Your Classic Réunion Island itinerary includes some of the most incredible mountain and coastal scenery in the southern hemisphere. It combines perfectly with its sister Indian Ocean islands for a trip of adventure and beachside rest and relaxation.
You'll arrive at Roland Garros Airport in Réunion and collect your rental car to start your self-drive trip around the island. We'll provide you with detailed directions all the way. Your first journey will be the scenic drive from the airport to your charming accommodation near Piton de la Fournaise.
Piton de la Fournaise means 'peak of the furnace’ in French. It is one of the world's most active volcanoes, erupting on average 2-3 times a year, and one of the most spectacular attractions on the island. It is also one of the most accessible volcanoes in the world with plenty of hiking trails, horse-riding routes and 4x4 tracks. You can choose to drive your car up to a viewing point or make a day of it and hike/walk the trails, taking in the dramatic scenery and stopping off for many memorable photos.
After exploring the volcanic landscapes on the East Coast, you'll head south west to the port town of Saint-Pierre. This lively town is packed with cafes and restaurants that line the waterfront and hosts a colourful Saturday market, Marché Forain, that sells everything from locally grown fruits, vegetables, spices and flowers to an array of goods perfect for gifts, such as pareos, handwoven baskets, vanilla and jewellery.
Not all Réunion beaches are suitable for swimming due to rip tides. Plage de Saint-Pierre, however, has the best swimming on the island as reefs create calm lagoons which protect the sandy beach from the currents. Another top attraction is the Saga du Rhum museum, which chronicles the history of local rum production.
Take an early morning drive to Fenêtre des Makes, a 'window' above the charming village of Les Makes that opens onto panoramic views of Cirque de Cilaos and the Piton des Neiges volcano. Nearby you'll find the fishing village of Terre Sainte, a neighbourhood of small alleys with colourful weatherboard houses and outdoor benches, where locals can be found most afternoons playing boisterous games of cards and dominoes.
After the friendly bustle of Saint-Pierre, you'll head to the mountain resort town of Cilaos via a breathtaking mountain road with around 400 bends. This road takes you all the way up to the heart of the island, the Cirque De Cilaos.
While Piton de la Fournaise steals thunder as the most visited attraction on Reunion, the three Cirques - calderas (naturally formed craters caused by collapsed volcanoes) that make up Piton des Neiges - are spectacular in their own right.
Of the Cirques, Cilaos is the most populated and is home to two natural hot springs, Salazie boasts one of the island's most beautiful waterfalls and Mafate is only accessible on foot, providing a more remote experience. It's from Cilaos that you'll be able to start your ascent of Piton des Neiges, a 3000m extinct volcano that is considered the birthplace of Reunion Island.
The options here are many: book a thrilling canyoning excursion, hike along one of the hundreds of miles of trails that traverse the cirques or opt for a relaxed trek that explores the enticing mountain villages.
After all the sightseeing and trekking, you should be ready for some serious R&R on the beach. You'll leave the rugged mountains behind and head to the west coast and Réunion's mini-Riviera! Saint-Leu is a fishing port on the edge of a warm-water lagoon, created by the reefs protecting the beach. It's popular with families and nature lovers, while the adjacent bays and inlets attract surfers and paragliders.
Just off the coast, the Natural Marine Reserve of Réunion features a coral reef sheltering thousands of species, including turtles, starfish, crustaceans and tropical fish. Visit the Kélonia Sea Turtle Observatory, a public sanctuary that takes care of sick and injured turtles, and take a siesta beneath the filaos (type of tree) as you listen to the music driftly lazily out of nearby kiosks.
Say goodbye to this magical island as you head to the airport for your return flight...perhaps already making plans to return again one day.