Hikes in lush tropical forests, spectacular views over an active volcano, secret baths under waterfalls, cultural diversity… Réunion island has it all and more.

A tiny French-speaking island in the Indian Ocean, tucked between Mauritius and Madagascar, La Réunion is only 2500 km2. But don’t be mistaken by its size: home to over 200 micro-climates, it is a treasure for landscape variety. This volcanic island also hosts more than 800 endemic species; no wonder its national park has been added to Unesco's list of World Heritage sites. Its population is also extremely diverse; as history brought people of European, Asian, African ancestry and more together, they have learnt to coexist and create exchanges between cultures. First time traveling to La Réunion? Here are some of the best things to do. You are in for a colorful adventure!

Editor's note: during COVID-19, there are restrictions on travel. Always check the latest news before booking any trip, and be sure to follow local health guidance.

Piton de la Fournaise

view of hot lava in a volcano surrounded by cold black lava
Piton de la Fournaise volcano continues to erupt today ©Sebastien Conejero/500px

La Réunion was born about three million years ago from volcanic activity. Although the ancient volcano that created the island is now asleep, its younger brother, the Piton de la Fournaise, continues to erupt today. It is one of the most active hot spots on the planet and also a spectacular sight.

To enjoy the most complete view over the craters, drive by car up to the Pas de Bellecombe viewpoint. You will go through the lunar Plaine des Sables, a red-earth plain giving out an otherworldly impression. It is recommended to reach the viewpoint in early morning as a sea of clouds usually glides in around 9am.

Plage du Tremblet

Regular volcanic eruptions shape the island, leaving fascinating sites to visit, especially in the south-east. Ever wondered what becomes of lava once it’s reached the ocean? Head down to Plage du Tremblet. This black sand beach is overlooked by a hardened lava flow born from a historic eruption in 2007.

Feel more of the volcanic energy by taking an excursion into lava tunnels. A few experienced tour guides will take you below the earth and into the womb of La Réunion for a real insider’s experience. Make sure you book with a certified guide by choosing the ones recommended by the Tourism Office or checking their background.


The highest summit today, the now inactive Piton des Neiges once gave birth to La Réunion. It now forms three calderas (a depression caused by the collapse of a volcano after erupting) called cirques. Peaks, ridges and valleys make them magnificent hiking sites with mountain paths attracting adventurers from all over the world. Mafate, the most famous crique, was once the refuge for people escaping from slavery who chose the inner mountains as protection from slave hunters. It remains accessible only by foot.

the sharp mountain peak of Mafate
Cirque de Mafate was once a refuge for people escaping from slavery ©GGerland/Getty Images

A common hike into Mafate starts from Col des Boeufs down to La Nouvelle village. Around there, walk through Plaine des Tamarins, a centuries-old tamarind tree forest, and spend a night in one of the the ilets, extremely remote villages at the heart of the cirques.


Salazie is another caldera, this one accessible by car. It is highly recommended for visiting Creole villages, one of them lovely Hell-Bourg. Guided tours, which you can book at the town’s own tourism office, can help you understand the lifestyle of tenants back in the day. Take a couple of hours to admire the renowned Case Folio with its traditional architecture and pretty fountain at the front of a lush tropical garden.

Walking through the bamboo tunnel
Walking through the bamboo tunnel Hell-Bourg ©Thomas Janisch/Getty Images


A small western coastal town, Saint-Leu has much to offer. Outdoor sports aficionados will enjoy paragliding, taking off from overlooking hills for an epic flight. After that, take a walk along Pointe au Sel, searching for secret coastal basins where you can refresh with locals in pristine waters. Finally, if you want to understand more of the Reunionese flora, head to the Conservatory of Mascarin, a vast botanical garden gathering all species growing on the island.

Sud Sauvage (Wild South)

While the north and west coasts are more urbanized, the south has remained wilder and more traditional. Primitive forests and vast sugarcane fields run downhill towards rocky beaches battered by turquoise seas. Don’t miss the small, often busy beach of Manapany-les-Bains, the white sand cove at Grand Anse and the volcanic rock cape at Cap Méchant. If you still have time, head back into the lands and drive along the Langevin river, until you reach the beautiful Grand Galet waterfall.

a white sandy beach with palm trees on a bright sunny day
Grand Anse Beach in Réunion's 'Wild South' © Fabienne Fong Yan/Lonely Planet

Cultural festivals

La Réunion has been populated by people of various ethnicities over time. Today, it is a melting-pot of African, Malagasian, Indian, Chinese and European origins. Communities, traditions, beliefs and ways of life have blended to form a unique culture on the island, commonly called Creole (to be understood as local). Get to know the island’s multicultural background through museums, but also by visiting religious venues, such as the Hindu temple Le Colosse in Saint-André, or the Chinese Guan Di temple in Saint-Pierre, the largest venue of its kind in the Indian Ocean as of today.

Look at the calendar to find out if you can witness some of these highlights: a Walk on Fire performed by the Tamul community (December-January) to honor Goddess Pandialé; the Chinese Guan Di festival (generally in July or August); or else the Hindu celebration of Light, Dipavali (November). Strangers are welcome to attend all of these celebrations. Some of them are even designed to share the community’s culture with outsiders. 

Local canteens and markets

When traveling to Réunion, food is a must. Only through local cuisine will you completely understand the perfect multicultural blend and the list of local specialties is very long. You will find typical meals in La Réunion are shaped by Chinese, Indian, African, French influences and many others.

A woman buys a pineapple from a trader at an outdoor market
Fresh fruit is particularly tasty on La Réunion © byvalet/Shutterstock

Eat your heart out at beach snack-bars with bouchons (steamed meat dumplings), samoussas (fried triangular snacks often stuffed with spicy meat), bonbons piment (spicy chickpea snacks). Don’t hesitate to enter canteens offering caris, the local dish with almost infinite variants (meat or fish cooked in a more or less spicy sauce). The most typical will be cari poulet (chicken), rougail saucisse (pork sausage) and cabri massalé (Indian masala goat). If you want to go a little fancier, choose civet zourite (octopus). 

Last but not least, select the best tropical fruits at the markets, especially in December-January: mangoes, lychees, pineapples, anons, longans… delight awaits!

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