By Jessie Beck
Adrift in the Indian Ocean, mountainous little Reunion island (La Réunion in French) has a vastly different personality from the rest of Africa’s islands. Unlike neighboring Mauritius and Seychelles, which are best known for their white, sandy beaches and tropical palm trees, Reunion island is rough, rugged and full of adventurous ways to explore every corner of it. From hikes on an active volcano to scuba diving in coral reefs, travelers have no shortage of reasons to fall head over heels in love with it. To get you started on your wanderlust, here are some of our favorite things to do in Reunion island.
You can hike an active volcano
In the south-western corner of Reunion island sits Le Piton de la Fournaise, a world heritage site and one of the world’s only active volcanoes (the most recent eruption was in June 2014). Even so, it’s still accessible for visitors to hike up its rocky, and somewhat challenging paths and catch a glimpse inside the caldera on a clear day. Visitors can easily access the trailhead by car, and are advised to bring a rain jacket, layers, and be prepared for sudden shifts in temperature. Afterwards, warm up in front of the fire and refuel on hearty Senegalese-creole cuisine at nearby Le QG.
There are miles of hiking trails to hop on
However, not all the trails on Reunion island are so arduous. In the center of the island, where mountains, not oceans, dominate the landscape, there’s an an extensive network of hiking trails of varying difficulty and length weaving through them. These trails are well maintained and hikers don’t need a guide (unlike most other treks in Africa), making this activity not just adventurous but budget friendly as well.
You can go canyoning in Reunion island’s waterfalls
While undeniably spectacular from afar, the waterfalls that jut out of the mountains surrounding the town of Cialos, in the center of the island, are a playground for adventurous water sports — such as canyoning. The most impressive of these waterfalls are several hundred meters tall, broken up at intervals by blue-green natural pools, and ideal for newbies and experienced canyoners alike to rappel through. For those in need of a guide and/or gear, Cilaos based Run Evasion can set you up with both for a day of canyoning.
You can set a route and go rock climbing
On an island better known for its mountains than its beaches, Reunion island easily makes up for this with numerous mountain sports — including over 6,000 cumulative meters of basalt climbing walls and some of the best climbing in Africa. Most of these routes are already bolted for sports climbing, but if you’re a real pro and have your heart set on trad, you may be interested in this new 7-pitch climb, called Zembrocal. Again, less experienced climbers can set out with a guide and gear through tour operators like Run Evasion.
There’s great surfing — but beware of sharks
Looking for adventure and danger? Try surfing in Reunion island. Although the island is surrounded by big waves to surf, those waves are home to a healthy shark population as well. The sharks have been known to attack surfers, the most notable of which was a fatal attack in 2013 which sparked a surfing ban in Reunion island and an attempt by the French government to lower Reunion’s shark population. Several months later, the ban was lifted in October 2013. However, sharks or no sharks, Reunion continues to have an active local surf community who continue to defend Reunion as having “some of the best surfing in Africa.”
You can bike your way around the island
Whether you prefer to roll your mountain bike downhill or throw a couple of panniers on your road bike and go touring, Reunion island has opportunities for mountain and road bikers to get pedaling and explore. For bikers interested in road biking and touring, RouteYou has mapped out dozens of routes, including a full circuit tour around the island (205 km). For mountain bikers, there are tracks of all levels. More details can be found on AllonsLaReunion’s guide to mountain biking in Reunion.
You can explore by helicopter
For a truly unique view of Reunion island, several helicopter tour operators (such as Corail and Helilagon) will let you glimpse some of the island’s most inaccessible and incredible features as you fly over Le Piton de la Fournaise, lush, green, mountains, and crystal clear oceans. With these helicopter tours, travelers have the option of several different routes above the island, and can even pair their aerial adventure with a hiking excursion, 4×4 drive, or (interestingly enough) a bit of golf.
You can paraglide above Reunion island
On Reunion island, paragliding won’t just give travelers a birds-eye-view of the island’s crystal clear waters and coral reef. It will also leave you feeling like a bird as you gently glide along the coast. Unfortunately, it’s a pricey 75 euros for 15-20 minutes of smooth sailing, but if you’ve got your heart set on it, both Black Air Parapente and Parapente Reunion will set you up to soar.
There’s great scuba diving
What would an adventure travel getaway to a remote island be without the chance to scuba dive? Fear not, because though its sharky reputation may have made you a bit wary, diving in Reunion island will reward divers with some of the bluest waters they’ve ever seen and the chance to spot 150 different species of coral and 500 species of fish. Keep in mind though that even with numerous dive spots around the island, only certain areas are diveable year-round. For the best (and easiest) diving, head to the west coast off Saint Paul or Saint Pierre. Strong winds make the east coast more challenging, but, when possible are worth exploring as they house some incredible underwater lava flows.
You can go sea kayaking
The glistening Indian ocean surrounding Reunion may tempt any traveler to run straight towards the water and dive in, but as an adventure traveler, you’re not content to just splash around. Sea kayaking in Reunion island, however, offers the best of both worlds. Not only will kayakers be able to paddle through lagoons and open ocean that’s virtually inaccessible to swimmers, but they’ll be doing so in one of the sunniest, most jaw-droppingly beautiful landscapes out there.