Réunion Island looks like a tiny speck in the Indian Ocean on Google Maps but zoom in and you’ll find a spectacular island with towering mountains, breathtaking canyons, aquamarine lagoons, colourful towns and villages and stunning waterfalls. An overseas French department, Reunion is a gorgeous mix of French, Asian and African influences. Situated in the Indian Ocean east of Madagascar and the African mainland and southwest of Mauritius, it truly is an enchanting island; a mecca for adventurers and hikers or for those seeking an active holiday infused with lovely beaches, awe-inspiring scenery and fascinating cultures. If you’re visiting for the first time, here are ten things to do in Reunion Island which I can highly recommend. I tried each and every one of them and the experiences I gained were unforgettable!
Things to do in Réunion Island
1. Gawk at the most incredible scenery
One of the best things to do in Reunion is to simply admire the scenery, which is absolutely spectacular. I suggest hiring a car and driving around the island. It’s a large island so you may want to pace yourself. Drive the Route du Volcan, the road to Le Maïdo or into the Cirque de Cilaos for some of the most astounding scenery. The coastal stretches offer charming views of colourful villages, lava cliffs, lagoons and beaches whilst the interior is characterised by impressive mountains, canyons, forests (from pine forests to thick shrubs and sub-tropical tree ferns!) and grassy highlands.
Search for rental cars in Reunion Island (Rentalcars.com).
Check out my guide to the best places to visit in Reunion Island (includes a 10-day self-drive itinerary and suggestions for where to stay and eat).
2. Visit ‘Mars’ and Piton de la Fournaise
A visit to Piton de la Fournaise, one of the world’s most active volcanoes, is a must in my book. It’s arguably the most popular day trip in Reunion Island. The scenery along the way is jaw-droppingly beautiful and on the approach to the volcano, the road takes you through the Plaine des Sables, an area that looks very much like Mars! You can also join a guided hike around the Piton de la Fournaise.
If you’re really into volcanoes, I can recommend the hike inside an old lava flow of the Piton de la Fournaise. The lava tubing tour is a wondrous journey that will take you past intriguing formations and tunnel systems. I don’t recommend it if you’re prone to claustrophobia.
3. Hike in the cirques
Reunion is famous for its three cirques (Mafate, Cilaos and Salazie), three large calderas formed by the collapse of a shield volcano. Of the three, Mafate is inaccessible by roads, making it ideal for hikers wanting to enjoy the impressive nature in total solitude. There are several villages inside the Cirque de Mafate which are accessible only by trails (and helicopters). Reunion Mer et Montage organises guided hikes (including the one I did: a hike into the Cirque de Mafate and a helicopter flight back to the coast) and other adventure activities like mountain biking around the island. Another famous hiking trail can be found in Cirque de Salazie, through the enchanting Bélouve Forest. Whichever route you choose, you’ll be guaranteed mind-blowing vistas, gushing rivers and waterfalls and lush forests.
You can also drive (or take the bus) into the Cirque de Cilaos. The village of Cilaos is a great base from which you can go on numerous hikes, including the climb to the highest peak: Piton de Neiges (3,071m). Check out this half-day hike in Cirque de Cilaos.
4. See Reunion from above
If you enjoy microlight or helicopter flights, I highly recommend seeing Reunion Island from above. Only then will you be able to truly appreciate its impressive and varied topography. From the volcano to the amazing cirques, verdant forests and elegant waterfalls, this is one experience you won’t easily forget! Join a microlight flight across the island.
Alternatively, if you love paragliding, I can recommend the spectacular paragliding experience from Maido.
5. Stroll around the towns and their markets
St. Denis is the capital and largest town. It’s great to stroll around this lovely town to check out its beautiful architecture and visit its markets.
Another market town to visit is St. Pierre on the south coast, with its lively Saturday market. It’s a great place to taste local specialties like Bon Bon Piment and a variety of rhum, buy top quality vanilla (Reunion produces some of the best quality vanilla in the world) and pick up some souvenirs. St. Pierre also has a gorgeous beach right at its doorstep, with a lovely boulevard! One other town I really liked was St. Gilles les Baines, with its colourful shops and sandy beaches.
6. Relax at a waterfall
Reunion has countless waterfalls and cascades. Locals often head to one of the waterfalls for a picnic or BBQ in the weekends. Arguably the most beautiful waterfall is Cascade de Grand Galet near Langevin. Another stunning waterfall can be found in the Takamaka Valley.
7. Go canyoning
This was one of my favourite experiences in Reunion. Run Adventures organises this amazing canyoning experience down the Riviere de Roche from Bassin la Mer to the Bassin la Paix on the northeast coast near the town of St. Benoit. An old lava flow had been carved into a canyon by the river, with astonishing walls on each side, tranquil pools, followed by rapids and waterfalls. It was an incredible experience, jumping off the walls (some up to 12 meters high) into the pool below, tobogganing from one pool to the next or floating down the river.
Other great canyoning experiences can be had in Cirque de Cilaos. Join this half-day canyoning excursion through the Canyon of Fleur Jaune, the ‘pearl’ of Réunion canyons!
8. Indulge yourself in food and dance
Reunion presents a fascinating mix of French, African and Asian cultures, resulting in a wide array of delicious food and performing arts. Go on a ‘food tour’ at one of the markets (such as my favourite, the Saturday market in St. Pierre) and indulge yourself in Creole cuisine.
If you can, ask around for places to witness stunning performances by a méringue troupe (méringue is a local martial arts dance somewhat similar to capoeira that can be found in Brazil) and the lovely Mahoya dancers. And don’t forget to taste some of the island’s famous rhum!
Read my Reunion Island Travel Guide for more info and a suggested itinerary
9. Spot street art
You’ll find many vibrant examples of street art throughout Reunion. In fact, Jace, one of the most famous street artists, hails from Reunion. It’s fun to try and spot his works around the island – his faceless characters, called Gouzou, are easy to recognise. Read more about street art in Reunion Island.
10. Go whale/dolphin watching
Reunion is a great place to to experience marine life up close. There are various dolphin- and whale-watching tours, some even offer snorkelling or free-diving with dolphins and whales! Join this dolphin/whale watching boat excursion with snorkelling, or a marine safari from Saint-Gilles-les-Bains.
There you have it! My recommendations for things to do in Reunion. It really is an amazing island which I can’t stop gushing about. Check out the fabulous video below and see for yourself!
Reunion Island of Adventure from StoryTravelers on Vimeo.
Getting to Réunion Island and car rental
You can fly direct to Réunion Island from Paris or Johannesburg with Air Austral – an excellent airline to fly with I must add! Their Premium Economy and Business Class seats were very comfortable and the service and food were simply top-notch.
Self-drive in Réunion
Alternatively, you can hire a car and drive around the island at your own leisure. The roads are good and well-posted, and driving is on the right hand side of the road. I used Rentalcars.com to compare prices and book a car. The rental car offices and pick-up/drop-off location are directly outside the main terminal of Roland Garros La Réunion Airport. If you’re not accustomed to winding roads or manual transmissions, I recommend booking an automatic transmission. A small car (like a Toyota Yaris) is sufficient to navigate most of the mountain roads. Read about the Best Places to Visit in Reunion Island on a self-drive itinerary.
Note: the #GoToReunion campaign is a collaboration between iambassador, Réunion Tourism Board and Air Austral. As always, opinions expressed are mine, and mine only.
Thank you for your comment! I’m really happy you enjoyed my blog. I didn’t climb Piton de Neiges but I’ve heard that it’s steep and slippery in places and most climbers break the climb in two days, staying overnight in a mountain hut. Based on this, I won’t advise doing the climb with your 11-year-old (though perhaps you could check with the local guides when you’re there). What I can advise is doing other hikes, for instance into Cirque de Mafate (which I really enjoyed) or doing other shorter and scenic hikes around Cilaos. I can also recommend going on a canyoning experience with your son. I’m sure he’ll enjoy that! I hope this helps.
Superb blog about Reunion!
I have a question about hiking Piton des neiges.
I’d like to do it with my 11y old son, who is very sporty, but do you think that’s safe and doable for a minor? I won’t take my 8y old son, but i’m doubting about doing the trip with my oldest. It would be a memorable thing to do for him! (and me too!)
[…] Read about things to do in Reunion Island. […]
[…] street art is one of many great things to do in Reunion Island, that’s if you can spare a moment to tear your gaze away from the breathtaking scenery! […]
[…] Read about things to do in Reunion Island. […]
[…] about things to do in Reunion Island or my ultimate Reunion island […]
Thanks for your lovely comment! June is indeed a good month to visit Reunion Island. I was there last June and loved it!
Great article – thank you.
Born near England’s beautiful South Downs, growing up in dramatic New Zealand and resident in the South of Western Australia for many years, Reunion Island’s beauty and charm completely floored me! Take your time, and let curiosity lead you from one breath taking memory to another. The food, ah the food!! PS we went in June, and the weather was mild, clear and perfect to enjoy everything from the beach to the cirques.
Hi, you can fly direct from Seychelles to Réunion island with Air Austral.
i will like to visit Re union am a nigeria but i do hear of the place i base in and live in seychelles. how do i come over let my plan my trip this xmas
[…] Read about my flight over Reunion Island or things to do in Reunion Island. […]
[…] Read about things to do in Reunion Island […]
[…] Read about things to do in Reunion Island. […]
[…] While you’re in this part of the world, consider hopping over to neighbouring Réunion Island, which is a completely different destination. Geared towards adventure travellers, Réunion is an island of active volcanoes, huge mountains and gushing rivers. If canyoning through old lava flows or hiking through ancient craters is more your thing, check out Reunion Island. Here are my suggestions for things to do in Reunion Island. […]
Totally agree. And there’s such cool street art there too! I got to meet a few of the artists. Really cool!
Such a beautiful island, it’s a shame not a lot of people know about it (or if they do it’s because of bad press).
[…] this has led me to incredible pieces in places such as Valparaiso (Chile), George Town (Malaysia), Reunion Island and Rio de Janeiro (Brazil). One country, though, that continues to impress me with its amazing […]
It depends how much time you have on Reunion. You can hire a car (driving is on the right side of the road as in France) and drive into the mountains along the Route du Volcan to Piton de la Fournaise. The scenery is amazing! It’s about 100km from St. Denis (see map: https://goo.gl/maps/HSHhFKFELEG2 ), about a two-hour drive. I hope you get to see a bit more of Reunion aside from St. Denis.
We will be at St. Denis for one days on a cruise. How do you recommend to do? How is to driving there, does it worth to rent a car? The driving is like in France or on the other side? Thanks!
Check out Cirque de Cilaos where you can base yourself (there’s even a spa in the village), go on short hikes and enjoy the jaw-dropping scenery. This cirque is accessible by car – it’s a very winding road (400-odd bends) but the scenery along the way is spectacular! If you’re staying along the coast and plan to swim in the ocean/lagoons, please check with the locals about which areas are safe. I hope this helps. Have a great trip – I’m sure you’ll find Reunion absolutely amazing!
Loved reading this – so informative!
I am planning a trip to Reunion for a week with my family (husband, parents and toddler!) Could you recommend any shorter hikes to make it easier for us carrying the toddler (and for the OAPs!) and particular areas we should base ourselves? We will have a car and keen to explore as much as we can.
Thanks so much,
This is the best idea ever to come and visit the island in January.
Lot of possibility about accomodations, just need to know what do you prefer in order to propose the best solution.
Let me know how we can work together, i will give you the right contact to plan your trip.
William from Reunion Island Tourism Board
I definitely recommend a drive around the island which you can do in 2-3 days. Include the Route du Volcan which goes up to the Piton de la Fournaise (see: https://velvetescape.com/route-du-volcan-reunion/ ). I’m not too familiar with hotels on the island as I only stayed in one place but I can ask around.
Have a great tour! I’m sure it’ll be spectacular!
The tour will be in january 18.
We shall proceed to Reunion Island by january 17.
Please give us an idea, which place will be good to stay.
It is a 3 night stay and one day.
The group will of 16 persons, mainly senior citizens.
Also about places to visit and some clean budget hotels.
Two days is not a lot of time so I suggest driving the Route du Volcan (hire a car or join a tour) to Piton de la Fournaise. This can be done as a day trip. If you have more time, you could go for a hike in Cirque de Mafate (you can hike there, have lunch and take a helicopter back; see info in my blog post) or a micro-light flight over the island (if you’re feeling adventurous).
Enjoy Reunion Island! I’m pretty sure you’ll be in awe of its stunning natural beauty!
Me & my wife will be stopping over at Reunion Island for 2 Days. We will be staying in St. Denis.
Could you please suggest which activities would suit our 2 day Itinerary.
Awesome! It’s such an extraordinary island isn’t it? Really happy that my blog helped and that you hired a car to explore the island – that surely is the best way as the roads are good. I also spent only a week there and it definitely wasn’t enough!
Spent a week in Reunion. So need to go back. A week wasn’t enough. And its only a 5.5 hour direct flight from Chennai. Thanks to your blog. Did a lot. But I do belive hiring a car was the best thing we did.
Yes, there are Indian restaurants in Reunion Island. I’m not sure if they’re all over the island but I remember seeing a few in the capital, St. Denis. Simply Google ‘Indian food Reunion Island’ to find out.
what is indian food availability in Reunion Island
There are various car rental agencies on Reunion Island including the bigger names like Europcar and Alamo. I suggest doing a Google search and comparing the offers from the different companies. Have a great trip!
Hi Keith. I’m heading there in Jan. Which company did you hire a car from and what was the cost? Thanks
The weather in June should be fine; just outside the rainy season. This is also a quiet month in terms of tourism so that’s an added bonus. I would definitely recommend staying in different parts of the island for different experiences. Perhaps a few days on the west coast for the beaches (around St. Gilles) and some days in the mountains (perhaps Cilaos). You’ll discover that Reunion is a hiker’s paradise and I definitely recommend a flight over the island! It’s absolutely awe-inspiring!
Have a great trip!
Wanna take my hubby to reunion for his 50th in June 2017…is it good weather in June? A friend of mines’dad go there al the time and said we must stay in different places there? We’d like to hike..shop the market! And snorkeling…and fly over the island !!
Oh my god! That lagoon looks just like my kind of place! I’d love to spe an afternoon with there with a drink and a good book.
Thanks for sharing this..looks like there is something here for everyone..food sounds interesting!
There’s indeed lots to see and do in Réunion Island. Not many people (except the French) know about it so it’s still pretty much off-the-beaten path and what a gem it is! Happy to know I brought it to your attention. 🙂
So much to see here … how many people do you suppose have heard of this place before? I hadn’t until you started covering this place several months ago!
Amazing beauty…loved it…
Wow, such beautiful places! and amazing photos!!! Congratulations!
Thanks for sharing 🙂
I’m sure you’ll LOVE the Lodge Roche Tamarin! I did! 🙂
Excellent! 🙂 Hope you get to go there one day – I’m sure you’ll love it!
Ok, we’re convinced :-). Reunion Island looks like it has lots to offer. The canyoning sounds like loads of fun.
Oh my God, that’s so beautiful! and i want to stay in Lodge Roche Tamarin.!!
Hard to believe I haven’t really heard of this place until just lately … thanks for demystifying this island nation!