Despite its remoteness and seclusion, the Cirque de Mafate is populated. In the valleys, plateaus and spurs that slice up the jaw-dropping terrain are scattered discreet little Creole settlements that retain a rough-diamond rural edge. Not much happens in these villages but it's hard not to fall under the spell of their phenomenal setting.

The southern part of the Cirque is called Haut Mafate (Higher Mafate) and receives the bulk of visitors. It comprises peaceful Marla, the highest hamlet of the Cirque at an altitude of 1621m; La Nouvelle, dubbed the 'capital of Mafate' and one of the main gateways to the Cirque, perched on a plateau at an altitude of 1421m; and Roche-Plate, at the foot of the grandiose Maïdo.

The northern part of the Cirque is called Bas Mafate (Lower Mafate) and is considered even more secretive than Haut Mafate. It comprises Îlet à Bourse, Îlet à Malheur, Aurère, Grand Place, Cayenne, Les Lataniers and Îlet des Orangers. The two tiny communities of Grand Place and Cayenne lie above the rushing Rivière des Galets near the Cirque's main outlet.