Réunion Travel Itinerary

Ile de la Réunion (or La Réunion or Reunion Island or just Réunion) is a French oversee department, i.e., officially part of the European Union. The island is located in the Indian Ocean next to Madagascar and Mauritius. While Mauritius is sometimes called “paradise island”, Réunion is called the “intense island”. And rightfully so! Its nature is raw, diverse, and absolutely amazing. It offers mountain ranges, forests, vulcanos, beaches, waterfalls, rivers, lagoons, and different climates in close proximity. For this reason, visiting Réunion has been our favorite holiday trip so far! This Réunion travel itinerary covers it all.

If you just want a simple beach vacation or a city trip, the long flight to La Réunion may not be worth it and you can find better options that are not that far (even though La Réunion also has nice beaches and cities). But if you, like us, enjoy nature, hiking, and being outdoors, you will absolutely love La Réunion!

Without further ado, here is our 2-4 week travel itinerary for discovering Réunion, starting at the airport in the north and driving around the entire island + trips to the mountains in the center of the island. Less than 2 weeks is not enough for Réunion, but you can easily extend the trip to 1-2 months depending on your time, budget, and interests.

Preparation

When to Visit

Note that seasons are reversed in Réunion compared to the northern himesphere. Summer is during November until April and can be very rainy. It is better to visit Réunion during May to October. Spring (September/October) or fall (May/June) are ideal for most activities as they are a bit warmer than winter (July/August) yet not as hot and rainy as summer. We went in September and October, which was great. It is also the whale season and we were lucky enough to see some.

A whale. Whales can be seen around Réunion in September/October.

Regarding the weather, I highly recommend regularly checking the forecast on Meteo France and flexibly adjusting the daytrips accordingly. We found Meteo to have more accurate predictions than other weather services and wasted a day in bad weather because we didn’t check the forecast up front. Often, weather is better in the morning and more cloudy towards the afternoon – it makes sense to get up early.

How to Get Around

Simple: By car – there’s no other good choice for exploring the entire island.

Note that most rental companies require a credit card (not debit!). We explicitly checked the rental terms of Sixt etc. up front, which claimed to only require debit cards in France (which Réunion is a part of), but it turns out they still had different rules for Réunion that did not show online and that did require a credit card in the end.

A good option for car rental without credit card are the local rental companies. We rented our car at Tropicar, which went smooth even in short notice and was even cheaper than the large, international companies. With Tropicar, you just have to be aware that you have to clean the car yourself before you return it (or pay an extra fee).

Either way, it is best to a) have a credit card with you and b) reserve a car up front since you will need it for this itinerary.

Where to Stay

We drove around the island and stayed at different locations around the island, each for a couple of days. While there are regular hotels, we had a great experience staying at local hosts, who rented their apartments via Booking or AirBnB. The specific places are listed further below inside the itinerary.

In two of the rented apartments, we could not lock the doors from the inside. We originally found it strange and were worried about theft, but the owners were very relaxed about it and nothing happend. By the end of the trip we had such a nice impression from the people at Réunion that we were also relaxed about it.

What to Bring

  • Warm clothes for the nights and the mountains where temperatures can be below 10°C.
  • Hiking gear, in particular hiking boots, rain jackets, and water shoes (for easier access of waterfalls, natural pools or for crossing small rivers during hikes). A power bank.
  • A map, book and/or app for navigation + hiking. The Randoptions app has most routes on Réunion and allows search by region and rating. You can export the routes’ GPS data and import/use another app for navigation (we used Komoot). Try to check the recent comments for each route to learn about possible obstacles. Note that the app is only available in French – in general, it is very valuable to know at least a bit of French in Réunion (we barely did and wished we had learned some before).
    We can also recommend the hiking guid by Rother, which has some very nice routes prepared.
  • Swim wear, cloths for warm weather, sun screen, hat + snorkles. Note that the sea is dangerous due to strong waves and sharks. But you can swim in peace and safety in the lagoon and some protected beaches. And there are many nice waterfalls and natural pools, where you can swim!
  • Mosquito repellent: There is no Malaria in Réunion but some other deseases that can be transmitted via mosquitos.
  • A camera and/or GoPro (e.g., for snorkeling).
  • A credit card for rental cars.
  • Binoculars for whale/turtle/bird watching.

If you forget anything, you can still buy most stuff in Réunion. Prices are in Euro and a bit higher than in Europe.


Itinerary Overview

Now for the Réunion travel itinerary; here is the short overview (details later): We arrived in the north at the Roland Garros Airport (RUN) in Saint-Denis and drove around the island clockwise, starting with the northeast (Cirque de Salazie). Salazie is known for green, lush vegetation – and lots of rain. We enjoyed it a lot, but if you are in a rush and want to avoid rain, you can skip it. From there, we took a few daytrips (e.g., to the active vulcano in the middle) and then drove south, where we stayed some more days. The south is warmer and has many nice waterfalls. Next, we drove to the mountains in the middle of Réunion (Cirque de Cilaos), which is great for alpine hiking. Lastly, we stayed some days in the northwest, which is the warmest part of Réunion and has nice protected beaches and a large lagoon.

Map of our Réunion travel itinerary

We mostly skipped the third Cirque, Circque de Mafate, which is in the middle/north of Réunion: It is only acessible by foot on long or multi-day hikes. There are not streets, no cars, and no cities. Just a few small villages and huts, which obtain their daily food through helicopter transport. We did not have the time and hiking experience yet to visit it at the time, but we definitely want to come back and explore Mafate as well!


The Northeast / Salazie

Salazie is green and rainy. There are nice waterfalls and pools, some short hikes, and the beautiful village of Hell-Bourg. You can also use it as base for excursions to the vulcano or to Mafate.

Where to Stay

Where to stay: Le Domaine de Jade, close to Saint André, is a beautiful green garden with a tiny yet modern house/hut, surrounded by wilderness. The host is friendly, there’s a private hot tub in the garden, and it is well located.

Garden of Le Domaine de Jade, where we recommend to stay in our Réunion travel itinerary.

How long: 1-4 days. If you are short on time and want to avoid rain (but also miss some truly nice nature), you can also completely skip Salazie. If you have plenty of time, there is enough for more days. In particular, if you plan to hike in Mafate, there is a good entry point from Hell-Bourg in Salazie.

What to Do

Waterfalls

Cascade Blanche waterfall in Réunion.
Cascade Blanche waterfall – one of the tallest in the world (640 m)!
  • Hike to the waterfall Cascade Blanche: Short and easy (around 2h) yet beautiful. It is very close from the apartment (few minutes drive). The initial entry point is not super easy to find. It’s best to park at the restaurant called “La Cascade Blanche” and follow the signs from there. We first hiked to Cascade Blanche and visited Hell-Bourg afterwards as they are in a similar direction.
  • Anse des Cascades: A small, nice park/area with waterfalls and palm trees right by the sea. Easy to reach, large parking space, free access, restaurant and toilets available.
  • Bassin Bleu: Picnic ground with a natural pool.
  • Bassin Boeuf and other waterfalls: Not super easy to find. If it rains a lot, watch out for rising water levels. We were not super impressed, but maybe we did not find the right viewpoint.
  • Cascade Niagara: On the route from the airport to Saint André. Good short stop with parking spot right next to it. Nice but not spectacular.

Excursions

Pretty houses and green mountains in Hell-Bourg.
Pretty houses and green mountains in Hell-Bourg.
  • Visit the small, beautiful town Hell-Bourg with its many, wooden houses. The town is small enough to explore it by foot. There is a small market square, some shops and restaurants. Once you cross the village, walk down the path to the ancient baths of Hell-Bourg. On the way to/from Hell-Bourg, you can also stop by the waterfall Cascade due Voile de la Mariée.
  • Daytrip to the active vulcano (Piton de la Fournaise): The vulcano is a highlight in Réunion. It is situated in the center/south of the island and you can reach it either from the northeast/Salazie or later from the south. The drive is around 1.5h, so you should check the weather up front and start your drive early. On the drive to the vulcano, you pass the impressive, moon-like landscape Plaine des Sables. Here, the last kilometers are on a very bumpy dirt road, so you need to drive slowly. From the parking area (there are toilets and a small café), you can hike to the vulcano (roughly 10km).
  • 30min drive from the apartment is the Takamaka viewpoint, which offers nice views and sunrises, if you get there early enough and weather is good. Due to bad weather, we skipped this viewpoint.
  • Temple du Front de Mer: Small, colorful temple at the wild coast. Usually empty. Nice to sit and watch the waves. Nice but not spectacular.

The South

After enjoying the green nature in Salazie, the next base is in the south of Réunion. You can drive there either via the center through Plaine des Cafres or along the coast. If you drive via the center, you can combine it with a visit to the vulcano, which is almost on the way. Alternatively, if you visit the vulcano on a separate daytrip, you can drive south along the coast. This allows you to visit some other nice sights on the way: Bassin Bleu (picnic ground with natural pool), Anse des Cascades (park with waterfalls and palm trees), and, most impressive, the Grand Brule (the lava fields from former eruptions of the vulcano).

The “wild south” has a coast made of lava stones that meets the oceans stong waves. The weather is a bit warmer and sunnier than in the northeast/Salazie. Again, there are amazing waterfalls, hikes, and the option for helicopter flights over the island or for daytrips to the vulcano.

Where to Stay

Where to stay: Maison Tonga, a nice apartment close to Saint Pierre with a touch of Madagascar. Very friendly host, small swimming pool outside.
If you can affort a night at the 5 star Palm Hotel, it is very much worth it! They have great pools, breakfast, views, etc. if you are looking for a day to relax and recover.

How long: 2-5 days

Maison Tonga apartment, recommended in our Réunion travel itinerary.

What to Do

Excursions

  • Daytrip to the active vulcano (Piton de la Fournaise): If you did not yet make the trip to the vulcano, you can (and should) still do it. From the apartment in the south, it is also about 1.5h drive. If you want to stay closer, look for apartments in La Plaine de Cafres or stay at the cottage directly at the vulcano.
  • Helicopter flight over the island: Maybe our number one highlight in Réunion! There are many operators that offer helicopter flights over Réunion island from the St. Pierre Airport in the south. We booked ours with Mafate Helicopters for roughly 300€ per Person and it was absolutely worth it. Note that we had to reschedule multiple times due to cloudy/bad weather. So it makes sense to originally schedule the flight as early as possible, so you still have some days left in the south if it gets rescheduled.
  • The lavafields Grand Brule and viewpoint Souffleur d’Arbonne: At the lava fields, you see the cold lava from previous erruptions and first plants starting to grow again. The viewpoint at the ocean is also beautiful and on the way. You can stop by both on the way from the northeast to the south.

Waterfalls

  • Watefalls Cascade de Grand Galet/Cascade Langevin and Cascade du Trou Noir: Two impressive waterfalls that are definitely worth a visit. Cascade Langevin (also called Grand Galet) is the larger one and easy to find with extra parking space nearby. Cascade du Trou Noir is smaller and a bit harder to find (park at the side of the road and follow a small path through the woods). Especially the smaller one is also great for a refreshing bath. Note that the road to the waterfalls is quite narrow but safe if you drive slowly with lights on – if there is a steep curve, it is common to shortly honk before so people know that you are coming.
  • Marina Langevin & Cascade Jacqueline: Close to the waterfalls Langevin is the Marina Langevin, which is a beautiful picnic spot at the ocean with sunset view. Closeby is the waterfall Cascade Jacqueline and natural pools where you can go for a refreshing swim.
  • Day trip to the viewpoint Belvédère de Bois Court and hike to the Grand Bassin waterfall: From the viewpoint, you can see the steep green mountains that are characteristic for Réunion. There is also a nice picnic spot and small market that is very popular on weekends (picnicing is very popular in Réunion in general). The hike from the viewpoint down to the waterfall is steep and very exhausting (roughly 10km and 1.5km elevation both ways) but definitely worth it. Start early enough and bring plenty of water. At the waterfall/basin, you can swim and relax for a bit before heading back. You need to cross a small river to get to the waterfall – only safe if there is no rainfall.
Photo of the hike to Grand Bassin.

Other

  • Visit the city of Saint Pierre: One of the most vibrant cities in Réunion. There is a market that is open every Saturday morning that you should visit if it fits your schedule.
  • Visit the Saga du Rhum distillery: You can taste local rum and the typical “arrangé” (rum with fruits). You should taste the Banana Flambé Rum Arrangé if you have a chance.
  • Pointe du Diable: Nice area for recreation and picnics by the ocean and with sunset views.

The Center / Cilaos

The Cirque de Cilaos is in the center of Réunion and is characteristic for its alpine mountains and its small mountain town, also called Cilaos. The number one activity in Cilaos is hiking – there are tons of amazing hikes to mountain peaks (including the tallest one on the island), waterfalls, rivers, etc.
To reach Cilaos you need to drive along a windy mountain road. It is easy to drive but takes a while. Makes sense to stay in Cilaos for a couple of days rather than just visiting for a daytrip.

Where to Stay

Where to stay: Villa Kazuera, a house with multiple nice apartments in the center of Cilaos. You can start many hikes directly from there. From our apartment, we had a nice view onto the surrounding mountain ranges, including the famous Piton de Neges.

How long: 2-5 days

View from the balcony at Villa Kazuera in Cilaos, one of the recommended apartments from our Réunion travel itinerary.

What to Do

Hiking

Photo of La Chapelle, a beautiful hike in Cilaos, part of the Réunion travel itinerary.
  • If you are sporty/an exprienced hiker, you can climb the Piton de Neiges, the tallest mountain peak on the island and former vulcano. Note that this is a two-day hike and you need to reserve a bed & meal at the mountain hut in advance. Usually, you ascend to the hut on day 1. Then get up very early and hike to the top to view the sunrise on day 2. Only attempt with good weather. We did not do it this time but will definitly do if we ever come back to Réunion.
  • Hike to La Chapelle: La Chapelle is a mountain/rock formation that looks a bit like a chapel. There is small river flowing out of the chapel-shaped cave. If you are brave enough, you can swim in the cold water and even see the small waterfall inside the cave. Bring swim wear and watershoes to this hike. You can hike directly from the apartment (plan the full day).

There are so many nice hikes in Cilaos, I cannot list all of them here: Hike to the Bras Rouge waterfall or to the Makes Window or … Best to check a hiking book/app yourself to find hikes of suitable length and intensity.

Swimming / Relaxing

Bassin Fouquet with Piton de Neiges in the background. A wonderful place to relax. See our Réunion travel itinerary for more.
  • The waterfall at Bassin Fouquet: To us, one of the most beautiful places in Cilaos! The waterfall is quite easy to reach in around 1h from the road. There, you have an amazing view of the blue water of the waterfall and the bassin with the Piton de Neiges in the background. You can swim in the cold water and people even jump from the side down into the bassin. Choose a sunny day and go around noon, when the water is most blue.
  • Visit a spa: Cilaos is also known for its spas. We did not go but rather enjoyed the good weather and beautiful nature outside.

Other

Mafate

As mentioned before, Mafate is in the northern center of the island. This part of the island is inhabitated by few people who reach their houses by foot and get their food by helicopter (or cable car). There are no cars and no streets. It is a paradise for hikers.

To visit, you need to, at least, plan a long, full day hike or, better, multi-day hikes with stopovers at different huts and villages in Mafate. Unfortunately, we did not feel experienced enough to hike through Mafate (and did not have enough time). If we come back, we will definitely plan a multi-day hike in Mafate, too.

View into Mafate from a hike around Maido.

Even without hiking in Mafate, there are options to get a sense of Mafate’s beautiful nature by visiting and hiking on a mountain top or ridge with view into the Cirque de Mafate. For example, the Maïdo viewpoint is easily accessible by car and offers amazing views into Mafate. It is also the starting point of many great hikes. Ideally, come by night to watch the sunrise (one of our highlights in Réunion)!
Cap Noir seems to offer similar views (but no sunrise) a bit more to the north. Unfortunatley, we did not have time to visit that viewpoint.

The Northwest

Finally, the northwest of Réunion is known for its good weather, its beaches and lagoons. Of course, there are also nice waterfalls and nature.

Where to Stay

Where to stay: Leu Bleu Austral, maybe our favorite place to stay in Réunion: Nice apartments, calm, friendly hosts, good breakfast, a pool with views. If you stay there, try the Thai street food that is nearby.
Alternatively, Villa Romeo, a villa with multiple nice apartments and a garden with pool and palm trees. Nice hosts and breakfast. But a bit more south, i.e., longer drives to the beaches of the northwest.

How long: 2-5 days

Pool and view at Leu Bleu Austral, recommended in our Réunion travel itinerary.

What to Do

Beaches

  • Relax at the beaches of the northwest around St. Gilles. Plage de l’Herimitage is most popular but the other beaches (du Luxe, de la Saline, …) are also beautiful.
    They all have fine, white sand and blue water. The lagoon is protected by a coral reef so it is safe to swim. Still, stay close to the beach due to strong currents. Definitely bring (or rent) snorkling gear: There are some exotic fish and corals to see!
    If snorkling is not your thing, you can also try the transparent kayak tour, where you can spot fish and corals directly from your kayak.
  • If you are visiting during September/October and you are lucky, you may see whales jumping in the sea! It is impressive and visible by eye from the beach/shore, but even better with binocolars. Good spots are Cap de la Houssaye and Plage de Saint-Leu.

Hiking

  • Sunrise and hike at Maïdo: Get up early and arrive at the Maïdo parking spot before sunrise. Then watch the sun rise at the viewpoint (just a few hundret meters from the parking) over Mafate. It is beautiful!
    You can also hike from there along the mountain ridge with great views into the Cirque de Mafate. Highly recommended!

Optional Extras

  • Visit waterfalls, e.g., Bassin Cormoran: We did not have time to visit, but they are supposed to be very nice.
  • Visit the city of St. Gilles. We can recommend the restaurant Le Biyou – try the Banana Flambé!

There is much more to do and experience in Réunion than the ideas that I listed here. They just reflect what we did in the 2.5 weeks we had in Réunion. I hope it was useful and you enjoy and love your stay in Réunion as much as we did!

Feel free to check out our other hiking and travel itineraries, too 🙂


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