These excursions will help you get the best out of a short trip to Reunion: one is in the north, one in the west, and a third explores one of the island’s cirques. The aim is to introduce you to the diversity of local landscapes and start exploring the melting pot that is Reunion. Let us be your guide for a whistle-stop tour of our island paradise!
The West, from grandiose Le Maïdo to the sun-drenched beaches of Saint-Gilles-les Bains
This tour takes you from sea to sky and back again, giving you a glimpse of the astonishing diversity of Reunion’s scenery. To make the most of one of the island’s best viewpoints, start early and drive up to Le Maïdo, aiming to get there before the mountain peaks are covered in cloud. At an altitude of 2190 m Le Maïdo affords spectacular views over three of the island’s five highest peaks: Piton des Neiges, Gros Morne and Grand Bénare (in decreasing order of height). From the viewpoint you can also look down onto the secluded cirque of Mafate and its isolated hamlets. As you follow the winding road back to sea level be sure to enjoy the spectacular view over the west coast and lagoon.
If you pass by Saint-Paul and it’s a Saturday take the opportunity to stop at the weekly market and sample some local culture. A little further on lie two history-laden sites: the Grotte des Premiers Français where Reunion’s first inhabitants landed, and the Cimetière Marin, last resting place of sailors and locals during the 18th and 19th centuries.
At Saint-Gilles-les-Bains – depending on whether you prefer to relax or do water sports – you can choose from several beaches, each of which has a different vibe. Coming from the north, Boucan Canot is the first you’ll see. Weather permitting you can swim in a cordoned-off area and/or in the natural swimming pool surrounded by volcanic stone. In Saint-Gilles town centre, stop by Chez Loulou, famous for its samosas and other local delicacies. Savour them at nearby Roches Noires before strolling around the adjacent marina. Heading slightly further south you’re spoilt for choice with several lagoon-side beaches: l’Hermitage, shaded by casuarina trees, la Saline with its beach restaurants, or Trou d’Eau if you’d like to snorkel in the lagoon. Round off the day with a stop at Cap La Houssaye, where the unique savannah landscape is any photographer’s dream during ‘golden hour’.
Discover the highlands of Reunion in the cirque of Salazie
Salazie is one of the island’s three cirques, the natural amphitheatres surrounded by sheer-walled cliffs that are a distinctive part of Reunion. Salazie is the most easily accessible cirque, and during a brief visit is the best suited to exploring Reunion’s interior. All of Salazie is inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list. You’ll find yourself immersed in lush green surroundings, with a profusion of spectacular waterfalls and colourful Creole houses.
Along the way you’ll marvel at Cascade Blanche, which at 640m is one of the three highest waterfalls in France, and further on you can admire Voile de la Mariée, probably Salazie’s most iconic waterfall. Another interesting site is Mare à Poule d’Eau, a peaceful pond where locals come to picnic or fish.
The cirque of Salazie is also famous for its colourful Creole houses, with the greatest number being found in Hell-Bourg, the only village in overseas France to be classed among the country’s most beautiful. From Hell-Bourg you also have a good view of flat-topped Piton d’Anchaing.
Lastly, stop off in Salazie town to admire Notre-Dame de l’Assomption church. If the nearby snack bar is open, try the christophine bouchons, a Salazie variation of the steamed mini-dumplings that are found all over the island.
Finding True North
With this tour of Reunion’s north you’ll learn about the island and its inhabitants through its architecture, gastronomy, and history. Let your first stop be Saint-Denis, the island’s capital. Explore local landmarks such as Le Barachois, where a statue of WWI Reunionese aviator Roland Garros looks out to sea. Then walk up Rue de Paris, lined with elegant Creole mansions such as Maison Carrère and the Villa du Département. The Léon Dierx fine art museum exhibits nineteenth-century paintings by erstwhile local artists such as Louis Antoine Roussin or Adolphe Le Roy.
Then walk down Rue Maréchal Leclerc, the fully-pedestrianised main shopping street of Saint Denis. A perfect illustration of how religions in Reunion coexist peacefully side-by-side can be found in this part of town. One of the oldest mosques in France is located a stone’s throw from a Hindu temple and two Chinese temples. End your saunter around Saint-Denis with a visit to the Petit Marché to taste local specialities or buy souvenirs.
Next, head to Sainte-Suzanne for a refreshing stop at Cascade Niagara, one of the island’s most impressive and accessible waterfalls. Fancy a swim? You could also seek out one of the natural pools found along the Sainte-Suzanne River such as Bassin Nicole or Bassin Boeuf. And why not make the most of being in Sainte-Suzanne to find out more about the production of Reunion’s world-famous vanilla at the Vanilleraie du Grand Hazier?
Looking to make the most of your time on the island during a brief visit? Let our teams guide you. Our sightseeing tours can cover all of the must-sees in record time! https://elitetourreunion.com/sightseeing-tours-reunion-island/