A striking volcanic island deep in the southern Indian Ocean that’s made for adventures
Dramatic volcanic peaks and lush tropical wilderness, with a French identity and a rich melting pot of cultures, beautiful La Réunion – a relative geological youngster – is quite unlike its neighbours. In fact it’s more like a glorious scaled down Hawaii or an epic real-life Jurassic Park backdrop. There’s still the chance to relax in coastal hotels, but with scenery so wonderfully diverse, you’ll want to get out and explore.
Since we added it to our collection of featured destinations, this tiny Indian Ocean outpost of France has quickly become a firm favourite. Perhaps this is because of those jaw-dropping natural wonders that were seemingly created for adventure, or maybe it’s due to the fact that, for the UK at least, it retains that off-the-beaten-track vibe that travellers crave. Either way, we think you’ll be as blown away by the island as we are.
Whatever entices you to this exotic island, talk to us and we’ll help you plan your tailor-made La Réunion holiday.
- The perfect pre-stay to a beach holiday in Mauritius, combining rugged and adventurous landscapes with beautiful beaches
- Helicopter flights are the best way to see the island and to make the most of the stunning Jurassic-like landscape
- From epic mountain peaks to volcanoes, canyons and cascading waterfalls, the scenery is simply stunning
- Get active with hiking, walking and biking or take a 4x4 trip.
Best time to visit La Reunion
• Like Mauritius, La Réunion is hottest in summer (January to March) and coolest in winter (July to August)
• Some rain is to be expected throughout the year, particularly in summer
• The east coast is typically wetter than the west, and sometimes rain can be falling in one part of the island but not another
• The busiest times are from late June to early September
• If you want to see whales, whale watching season runs from June to October
• We recommend booking early year-round.
La Reunion holiday highlights
Where is La Réunion?
This small island, which is actually a region of France, is located in the southern Indian Ocean, 435 miles to the east of Madagascar and 124 miles to the south west of Mauritius.
La Réunion is far more than a beach holiday destination, but the beaches here are still pleasant. The hotels that we’ve hand-picked are mostly focused in one area on the west coast, around the charming villages of St-Leu and St-Gilles-les-Bains. St-Leu has a volcanic black-sand beach typical of the island, while at popular St-Gilles-les-Bains the sand is unusually golden. In this area, natural lagoons formed by coral reefs provide safe places to swim, away from the sharks that inhabit the deeper waters created by the volcanic landscape. It’s not permitted to swim outside of these areas. Each of our hotels is well placed for exploring the rest of the island. On the east coast, the towns give way to sugar cane fields and vanilla plantations.
Volcanoes & cirques
40% of La Réunion is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, created to protect the island’s rugged volcanic interior. At 3,070 metres high, the dormant volcano of Piton des Neiges is the island’s most dominant feature, shrouded in lush subtropical forest. It covers most of the north-west of the island and offers a variety of sightseeing and outdoor activities. The active Piton de la Fournaise (2,630 metres) is the world’s second most active volcano. Situated in the south-east corner of the island, it’s La Reunion’s most popular attraction. Follow the forest paths, stop at various viewpoints to see the canyons and lunar landscape, see the crater lake and walk on lava flows from previous eruptions. ‘Furnace Peak’, as the volcano’s name translates, erupted as recently as 2004 – and the island continues to grow with the lava spread.
Where the volcanoes have collapsed, ancient jungle-clad natural amphitheatres have been created, known here as ‘cirques’. Salazie, Cilaos and Mafate make up the three cirques. The Cirque de Salazie, around 30 miles from the capital St-Denis, is the largest cirque, surrounded by verdant forests and dotted with more than 100 waterfalls. It hosts one of the island’s prettiest villages, Hell-Bourg, on the edge of the cirque, with its Creole houses and beautiful gardens. Reached by a memorable winding road, the colourful Cirque de Cilaos has a thermal spa and is known for its hiking and biking trails and vineyards. The third cirque, the rugged, isolated Cirque de Mafate, can only be reached on foot or discovered by helicopter. Despite this, a population of Creole farmers can be found living in villages on top of the plateaus.
La Réunion’s main city, St Denis, is also the island’s northernmost, often overlooked in favour of the natural attractions. But for a spot of culture and architecture appreciation, it’s a great stop-off, with Creole houses – some open to the public – and two museums: the Musee Leon Dierx with an impressive collection of modern art and the Museum d'Histoire Naturelle. The restaurants here are also some of the best on the island.
4x4 trips are an excellent way to explore and discover the island’s interior and offer the advantage of a knowledgeable driver/guide en route. This is useful when, for instance, your driver alerts you to lava tunnels at the side of the road that you can actually climb inside. By hiring a car you can enjoy the comfort and flexibility of exploring the island at your own pace and visiting the main sights that you want to see. And as the island is a French territory you’ll find that the roads are in very good condition throughout the island – it’ll be similar to driving in Europe. You can either hire a vehicle for just a day or for the whole duration of your stay on the island.