Looking for an adventure that takes you to a volcanic island, allows you to hike through beautiful rain forests, drive along gorgeous coastlines, swim in a turquoise lagoon among sea turtles, catch a wave in warm ocean waters, climb an active volcano, and eat delicious meals with a French flair and Creole culture? Then Reunion Island is for you. This small island is a French overseas department, and is located east of Madagascar and next to Mauritius. Not your typical island destination, it is mostly known for its volcanic craters rather than its sandy beaches, meaning that it’s not saturated and overpopulated with resorts and hotels.
Hike to the tallest mountain in the Indian Ocean, or take a walk through the national park to discover endemic plants and trees. The active volcano, Piton de la Fournaise, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Channel the thrill-seeker in you and climb up to the crater rim for a closer look, or crawl in lava tunnels that have been formed from centuries of volcanic eruptions and lava formation. Spend a day snorkeling, and swim with sea turtles in the warm ocean waters, or canoe down waterfalls and rivers for an adrenaline-filled adventure. During the whale migration period, you might be lucky enough to spot some humpback whales near the shore, so have your binoculars ready. In the north, the capital St Denis offers an array of beautiful architecture, gardens, restaurants, and art galleries and museums, whereas the rugged east coast will take you through sugar cane fields and lush vegetation. With a tropical climate and high mountain peaks, temperatures and precipitation levels tend to vary within the island, although in general it is relatively warm all year round.
Rent a car and drive along the rugged coastline on the east side of the island, offering scenic views of the wild ocean. Although not ideal for swimming or for watersports, you will be delighted by the sugar cane fields, vanilla plantations, interesting architecture, beautiful green vegetation, and waterfalls. For a relaxing day on the beach, head to the west coast with its sparkling turquoise lagoon and beaches, such as L’Ermitage and Saint-Gilles-les-Bains. Surfers, you have a few options – la Plage des Brisants, Roches-Noires Beach, or Boucan Canot, the most popular one among surfers. Alternatively, visit the southern part of the island for the black sand beach, Etang-Salé-les-Bains.
Piton de la Fournaise is a popular attraction of Reunion Island. It is an active volcano located within the UNESCO World Heritage Site which covers 40% of the island, with the Salazies Mountains to the left and the Grand Brule Mountain to the east. Within this interior part of the island, you can also hike up to the highest mountain in the Indian Ocean, Piton des Neiges, standing at 3,069 meters tall. Within this Heritage Site, you will also discover the National Park and green forests like Bebour-Belouve, waterfalls, and many endemic birds.
Another highlight of Reunion Island aside from its volcanoes, beaches and rugged coastlines is the capital city of St Denis in the north, often overlooked. St Denis has a lot to offer, and in order to truly capture the essence of Reunion, a tour of the capital is a must. This is where you will feel the remnants of the French days embedded in the Creole culture, with bistros, bakeries, and brasseries abound. Walk through the street art and public installations, to the exotic souvenirs at the Grand Marché, to the war memorials and monuments. Inhale the delicious smell of French pastries at a patisserie (bakery) as you enjoy a croissant and a cup of coffee.
Reunion Island being a melting pot of cultures including French, Malagasy, Indian, and Chinese, you can expect its cuisine to be as delightfully diverse. The most iconic dish is the “cari”, or curry, a creole-style dish made with Indian spices, meat, poultry or seafood, and a delectable mixture of tomatoes, garlic, turmeric, cloves, and saffron, and served over rice. Another popular main dish is the rougaille (a type of French ragout) prepared by mixing chopped tomatoes, onions, and other herbs and spices together, usually with meat, poultry, seafood, or more commonly, sausages (hence the name Rougaille Saucisse).
Snacks and street foods are popular treats with a lot of variety, including samoussas (crunchy Indian thin triangular pastries stuffed with vegetables, potatoes, or meat), bonbon piment (fried dough balls made from broad beans), taro fritters, and bouchon (steamed Chinese-style dumplings with hot sauce or soy sauce for dipping). Sweet street food snacks include galette de manioc (cassava pancake), and gâteau patate douce (shortcrust pastry stuffed with sweet potato). French pastries such as croissants and pain au chocolat are also abundant, and find their way into breakfast and afternoon tea-time menus. The French baguette is the go-to bread on the island.
Do not hesitate to indulge in the island’s tropical fruits like litchis, pineapples, longani, papaya, goyavier (strawberry guava), tamarind, soursop, and 50 different types of mangoes. Most of these are seasonal and are only available during certain months of the year, but if you’re fortunate enough to have access to them during your visit, try as many as possible. They are often incorporated into pastries, cakes, or as a spicy snack with chilli powder sprinkled on them, especially pineapples and unripe mangoes. Visit the fruit and vegetable markets to have your pick.
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