Mafate is a walker's paradise and offers some of the most inspirational hiking trails in Réunion, so pack your sturdy shoes and delve into the Cirque. There's an excellent network of paths connecting the villages. If you'd prefer to take it easy and see all this fantasyland from the air, book a helicopter or an ultralight aircraft tour.
Feature: A Glimpse into the Cirque de Mafate
If you have a day to spare, do not miss the opportunity to hike into the Cirque de Mafate. From the car park just below Col des Bœufs, it takes only two hours to descend to La Nouvelle via the atmospheric Plaine des Tamarins. La Nouvelle, which is dubbed 'the capital of Mafate', makes a great half-day hike, and you can have lunch there before climbing back to Col des Bœufs and the car park.
Not enough for you? If you're super fit and start at dawn, you can descend to La Nouvelle, spend an hour there before pressing on to Marla (allow another two hours). After having explored Marla for an hour or two, climb back to Col des Bœufs following the GR R3 (three hours from Marla, including a challenging 50-minute climb just after having crossed the Rivière des Galets) – a long but memorable day.
Feature: Sentier Scout and Sentier Augustave
Taking the Sentier Scout trail down to Aurère in Bas Mafate and climbing back the next day by following the super scenic (but fairly dangerous in some sections) Sentier Augustave is undoubtedly one of the most exhilarating loops you can do in the Cirque de Mafate. In theory, you could tackle it in a single day, but we suggest spending the night in Aurère.
To get to the start of the Sentier Scout, take the route forestière (from Le Bélier) that leads to the car park below Col des Bœufs. Look for the small parking area (a few spaces) and the small sign 'Sentier Scout', about 2.3km before the car park, on your right. The trail begins dropping slowly in a thick forest. Further down, you'll walk on a spectacular, narrow ridge with panoramic vistas of the Cirque before descending to La Plaque and Îlet à Malheur, reached after about three hours. The final stretch between Îlet à Malheur and Aurère is very steep but short (about 30 minutes). Most of the run is shady and you'll be rewarded with sensational vistas of Piton Cabris, the tooth-shaped peak that lords over Aurère.
The next day, walk back to the route forestière by following the Sentier Augustave (in Aurère, look for the sign 'Bord Martin par Augustave') – allow four hours, with an elevation gain of about 600m. Be warned: this trail may be treacherous and is not suitable for people who suffer from vertigo – a young hiker fell to her death near Passerelle Marianne in January 2019 – and it shouldn't be tackled if it's wet. The first (and longest) part is a mild ascent along the cliffside – the trail is actually carved into the cliff face above the Bras Bémale canyon. Some sections are equipped with boardwalks, stairs, ladders and handrails tacked onto the sides of the cliff. You'll enjoy awesome vistas of the Bras Bémale gorge along the way. The second part consists of multiple crossings of Ravine Savon river, which may involve a bit of boulder-hopping (and getting your feet wet). The last section is a tedious uphill slog to the Bord Martin parking area on the route forestière. If you've left your car at the Sentier Scout trailhead, you'll need to walk another 800m up along the road to the Sentier Scout parking area.