South African quick guide to Reunion Island (Photo: Frog 974 Photographies, Reunion Island Tourism)
When you visit Reunion, the thing that gets you the most is its alluring and diverse landscapes.
It’s home to one of the most active volcanoes in the world. If that doesn’t get the adrenalin pumping, read on.
This simmering volcano has certainly shaped the appeal of the French beauty spot found in the tropical Indian Ocean. It’s become an exciting option for those looking for an adventure island escape, especially if you’ve already been to its cousin, Mauritius and just need a racier pace for your next tropical 2019 escape.
Reunion is it.
READ: Quick Guide to Reunion: Visa-free travel for South Africans
Located 200kms off the coast of Mauritius, it is accessible via a four-hour flight from Johannesburg. Remarkably, visa-free for South Africans. No Schengen needed here. And there is only a two-hour time zone difference to SA.
However, the culture you’ll encounter has smatterings of French finesse and hearty helpings of Creole too – most notably in the island’s cuisine delights.
Accommodation options vary and is not as luxury-resort heavy as Mauritius. But it does allow you to tap into more local, authentic stay options. These include self-catering units available on the West Coast, all a few steps from the beach with corner locals and shops close by too. You’ll be saying, “La Reunion Le La” in no time.
In addition to hanging out with interesting locals, Reunion has some pretty unique activities like canyoning and exploring underground lava tunnels.TRAVEL PLANNING: 3 Reasons to try a self-drive Reunion island holiday
Forget spending your time lying around on the beach with a cocktail in hand. Sure, you’ll have time to do that – Coco-Beach in Saint-Gilles being spectacular, as is stand-up paddle boarding along the beaches of La Saline les Bains. But only after you’ve checked out the surrounding, mars-like landscapes of 350-thousand-year-old Piton de la Fournaise, with a stop in at the look-out point over the protective rim of the volcano on the eastern side of Reunion. The ride up there is bumpy, but worth it.
Renting a car is highly recommended – allowing you to take in all the different activities. For instance, some villages are only accessible on foot. Cirque de Mafate, crannied in the collapsed volcano shield of the Piton des Neiges is a moderate 5km hike away from some of the best locally prepared lunch on the island. First settled in the 19th century by the island's maroon slaves, its 50 or so existing residents will treat you to an afternoon of note.
More adventure awaits though. Get tossed over waterfalls and jump off 11m high cliffs across what can best be described as lesser-explored tracts seen only in the likes of Galapagos I’m sure.
But nothing quite prepares you for the experience of finding your energy flow in a dormant lava tube. It is easily the most unpredictable experience on the island and if you don’t like confined spaces – it’s not for you.
Heading into the unknown of these tubes, formed in a 2004 eruption, is surreal and equally scary at the same time. But one thing is for sure - you come out energised with a renewed sense of appreciation - with the air seemingly a little sweeter and the sky just a touch bluer.
But what else can you expect, after absorbing the very space that used to house hot, fiery lava.
What you need to know:
Visa: 90-day, visa on arrival for leisure tourists
Medical requirement: None
Currency / Exchange Rate: Euro (It’s part of France and a region of Europe)
National Carriers: Air Austral
Main airports: Roland Garros Airport
Time Zone: 2 hours ahead of SA
Plugs: European style, two-round pins
Public transport: There's a bus system, but the best way to get around is to hire a car.
Best time to visit: High season is November to April. January is very busy coinciding with the school holidays. The shoulder season during April through to September sees less tourists, yet weather and temperatures are still good.
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