Referred to as a “mini-Hawaii”,
Reunion is an overseas department and administrative region of France.
It is a little known island in the Indian Ocean, mostly overshadowed by
its more popular and nearest neighbour, Mauritius. Though Reunion is the
largest of the Mascarene island group of which Mauritius is also part
of, it is dwarfed by its other, more distant neighbour, Madagascar. Only
the most seasoned and adventurous travellers have been to this little
island. Like Hawaii, Reunion is also volcanic in origin and largely
mountainous with plenty of opportunity for water sports on its western
coastline. The Piton de la Fournaise (French for “furnace peak”) is an
active volcano which dominates the southeastern corner of the island.
It is the island’s most popular attraction, primarily because it spews
yellow and orange lava 24 hours a day (a natural display unrivalled by
any man-made fireworks) and some brave visitors even opt to camp near
the rim of the volcano. Nevertheless, there is real danger here as
volcanologists constantly monitor this volcano ready to evacuate the
areas residents should the need arise. But a visit to the island would
not be complete without a close-up look of this natural wonder.
But unlike Hawaii, Reunion was uninhabited when Portuguese navigator
Pedro de Mascarenhas first step foot on the island in the early 16th
century. Its first inhabitants were African slaves brought into the
island to work on the sugar plantations. When slavery was abolished in
1848, indentured servants from Southeast Asia and India were brought on
the island. This explains the island’s multicultural mixture of Africans,
Asians (Indians and Chinese), and Europeans (French).
Upon first arriving on Reunion you will be greeted with a cheerful “Bonjour!”.
Breakfast would be a steaming cup of chocolat chaud and croissants. You
would probably think to yourself, “Did the plane land in France instead
of Reunion?” And indeed, at first glance, Reunion does seem like France
in the tropics. But if you venture beyond the Gallic panache you will
appreciate that the culture on the island is a melting pot of Indian,
Chinese, and French influences though French or Creole are the official
and spoken language.
The Reunion Island enjoys the same privileges as though it were located
on European soil. In fact, the island was the first region in the world
to integrate the euro as its official currency.
St. Gilles les Baines is Reunion’s
prime destination for sunbathing. It has 20 kilometers of lagoon and
golden sandy beaches (an unusual thing on an island where the sand is
normally black because of its volcanic origins). It is so popular in
fact that it can get pretty crowded. But it is well worth fighting tooth
and nail to get in for a taste of Reunion’s tropical side.
The interior of Reunion is dominated by the island’s three cirques.
These are volcanoes that have collapsed upon themselves to form natural
“ampitheatres”. These cirques are located within the Piton des Neiges,
the island’s highest peak and the source of the island’s existence.
Salazie, Cilaos, and Mafate (as the cirques are called) offer visitors
such outdoor activities as canyoning, hiking, biking, and trekking.
The people of the island are known for
their friendliness and respect for each other’s belief and culture.
Unlike other parts of the world, Reunion has enjoys a peaceful political
and social climate for over two centuries.
Sega, the island’s national music is
reminiscent of those found in the Caribbean, probably because almost the
same cultures have influenced its development.
Reunion cuisine offers French, Creole, Indian, Chinese, and other
internationally renowned foods…but with an island twist. This means the
use of seafood and local fruits, vegetables, and spices, all of which
the island has in abundance.
Direct flights to Reunion from Paris
are available. Connecting flights are necessary if you come from another
destination. Since the climate is tropical, be sure to pack summer
clothes and a light jacket (just in case). Walking or hiking shoes are
recommended as the terrain on the island is quite rugged.
A visit to Reunion brings a unique experience to travellers. Though it
is small, it has everything you’ll ever need for a relaxing, tropical
vacation. And because it is not as popular as Mauritius or Hawaii, it is
less crowded and less cosmopolitan (though most establishments do accept
credit cards). If you’re looking for a nice and out-of-the-usual place
to visit, try Reunion today!