You have just booked a trip to Mauritius and you have noticed that nearby, just 45 minutes away by flight, there is another small tropical island waiting to be discovered. You are rightly thinking to add an additional stop there. Ok, don’t worry, that’s exactly what we thought too and anyone else who visit the Mascarene Islands. No sooner said than done, we ventured to Réunion thinking we would find an island very similar to Mauritius…but it wasn’t like that! We immediately had the impression that we had landed in Europe again! But even more shocking was to discover that Réunion is not an island where you go for a beach holiday…in Réunion you mainly go for trekking and enjoy the naturalistic landscapes of volcanic territories, belonging to the UNESCO World Heritage. To avoid good or bad surprises, we want to provide you with as much information as possible to decide whether it is worth giving up a few days of vacation in Mauritius to leave for Reunion.
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When to go, how long to stay
Réunion is located in the southern hemisphere so its seasons are reversed compared to Europe; the best time to visit it is the dry season which coincides with Europe summer. How many days to stay depend on how deeply you want to explore the island. If you limit yourself to a general visit of the sites of greatest interest, a week will be enough (also considering any bad weather days). If, on the other hand, you would like to add some trekking (we leave you the link to this very useful website for organizing do-it-by-yourself excursions or just to get an idea), we suggest at least ten days.
Where to stay in the island
Réunion is a fairly large island when compared to Mauritius, it is about one and a half times its extension, so the distances between the various points of interest will be greater. It is accentuated by the orography of the territory: nearby points as the crow flies require long trips by car to be reached because especially on the Hauts (the steep slopes of the central area of the island) there are gorges and rocky walls that bar the passage. Therefore you will need to go down to the valley, return to the coastal road and then go up again from another point. So, if your stay isn’t too short, it makes sense to arrange an itinerant trip, sleeping in several parts of the island. If, on the other hand, you have just a few days, or in general you prefer to have a single accomodation for the whole vacation, we suggest the locations on the west coast (near Saint Paul): it is a strategic point from which the roads for the main attractions unfold.
How to move
There are several bus companies to transport passengers from one location to another, divided for areas of the island. The circulating vehicles we saw seemed to us modern and in good condition, therefore, for more information on routes and timetables, we leave you the link to the websites of the companies:
- Car Jaune, is the main one and serves the coastal cities (info, in French only);
- Cinor, serves the northern part of the island (info, in French only);
- Kar’Ouest, serves the western part of the island (info);
- AlterNéo, serves the southwestern part of the island (info, in French only);
- CarSud, serves the southern part of the island (info, in French only);
- Cirest, serves the eastern part of the island (info, in French only).
However, if you plan to travel frequently or have a few days, it is preferable to have a rented car. In this way you will have the freedom to customize the itineraries, you will not have to worry about the time spent in a given location and you will not risk wasting time in unnecessary waiting. So, if you have the chance, this is a destination where we recommend the rental car. The islanders are disciplined behind the wheel, the roads are in good condition, so you shouldn’t notice big differences from driving in Europe. At the airport you will find all the major international car rental companies.
Main itineraries of the island
The attractions to see on the island can be divided into a few macro groups to be combined together to create a tailor-made itinerary according to your needs:
- the circuses of Mafate, Salazie and Cilaos;
- the Piton de la Fournaise volcano;
- the beaches of the west coast;
- Saint-Denis and the coastal towns (Saint Paul, Saint Pierre,…);
- the circuit of the Villages Créoles (Creole Villages);
- the falls.
We will delve into and dedicate separate articles to each point on the list, don’t miss them! But now we tell you about general information and curiosities regarding the Réunion Island.
General info, tips and curiosities
Did you know that…
- Réunion is a French colony and there is a direct flight Paris-Saint Denis lasting 11 hours;
- the official currency is euro (EUR), the language is French;
- if you are an EU citizen you can use mobile phone traffic and data, as if you were in Europe;
- most of the products in supermarkets are imported from France, so they have prices that have almost doubled their European value;
- the cost of gasoline is imposed and is the same in any station on the island (to know the trend over the months and find out the current price click here);
- the motorways are free and the maximum speed limit on the island is 110 km/h;
- the European summer (in particular in the months of July and August) coincides with the winter of Réunion, so tourists who decide to travel by car will have to deal with the intense traffic of the peak times of entry/exit from the offices and from the schools (always increase your travel times to reach a given location);
- if you take a car, the pure rental cost will be negligible, while the deductible will be very high (for example, for a Volkswagen Up we paid € 900 compared to a rental cost of € 140). The companies are very meticulous in checking every scratch, if you are not sure of your driving or you just want to relax, take out insurance that covers or completely eliminates the deductible;
- unlike Mauritius, driving is on the right, as in Europe;
- being the main attractions of the island concentrated at high altitudes (which you will have to reach from sea level), we suggest renting a car with a good weight/power ratio, so as to face the steep and winding mountain roads in a more casual way;
- pay particular attention to mountain roads, they often have very deep bumps on their side for the drainage of rainwater, try to drive keeping the center of the lane;
- the safest beaches for swimming are those facing the coral reef, otherwise you will have to follow the safety signs provided by the coast guard and by the staff due to the presence of sharks; do not swim in uncontrolled beaches;
- the coral reef of Réunion is part of the protected marine nature reserve, so in some places it will not be possible to swim to preserve its beauty and integrity; follow the indicative signs;
- the most beautiful beaches of the island are concentrated on the west coast, but they are not as good as the beaches of neighboring Mauritius (our advice: if you want to come to Réunion just to go swimming…stay in Mauritius!);
- cemeteries are places to see because each tomb is a small flower garden and the overall effect is surprising;
- if you want to get in touch with the true soul of Réunion you will have to reach the inland and mountain villages of the Hauts, where the traditions have been preserved better than elsewhere, not having suffered the western influence that has instead pervaded the coastal towns;
- being a tropical climate, even during the dry season it could rain, especially in the mountain localities. Sometimes it happens that the clouds rise from the mountains and get trapped between the peaks of the Hauts. You could find bad weather and poor visibility even if it is apparently a beautiful sunny day along the coast;
- be ready to face sun and rain in the same day, have flexibility in your plans and in your clothing.
Réunion is also known as “île intense”, because it hardly leaves its visitors indifferent. The contrasts here are so strong that even the most skeptical traveler will be impressed. After this brief overview, do not miss the other articles in which we will tell you about our experience, we will show you images of the places we have visited and we will give you other useful tips and information.
See you soon.