Last updated on September 1st, 2017 at 01:20 pm
One of the main reasons to visit the Reunion Island is trekking. Climbing the steep peaks of this island will take you to some hidden gems of our marvellous mother nature. I was lucky enough to spend 1 week in the island, climbing some of the most spectacular mountains on earth, including the Piton Des Neiges (Snow Peak), at 3,069 metres the highest peak in the Indian Ocean
If you are after a trekking adventure or just a trekking holiday, the Reunion Island is the place to be. You can spend one week of even 3 months and never get bored.
There are numerous trekking companies around, a great way to start a long stay in the island, meeting new people and absorbing lots of tips on the area.
If you are still unsure where is the Reunion Island on the world map have a look to the Reunion island in pictures, a collection of the most beautiful photos with maps, photography tips and references to the area and to the world, including distances to US, Australia and Europe.
There are different ways to explore the island. You can hike along a trail to cover a loop and sleep in some mountain huts (gite) on the way, more on this later, or you can be based in a mountain village, Cilaos is probably the most famous one.
This small town has some good infrastructures as hotels, restaurants, bars, supermarkets, information centre and even thermal springs to rest your body after a day of climbing. Don’t think of anything big or overbuilt, just what you need in the mountain.
If you decide to stay in Cilaos it is suggested to book well in advance. There is a limited number of beds in town and they tend to fill up quite quickly, especially in the weekend. In Reunion walking holidays are a great pass time for both tourists and locals.
From Cilaos you have a vast choice of trekking trails of which the most famous is probably the one to the Piton Des Neiges (Snow Peak) at 3,069 metres, the highest peak in the Indian Ocean.
Here below some of the trails I personally did and I would suggest without hesitation. Two of these climbs are quite long. You have two possible choice:
I went for for both options. The only suggestion I can give here is to assume that your way back will take more time (you may feel tired) and calculate the timing once you climb. Do not overdo just to reach the destination. You do not want to walk in the dark and be lost. Temperature will drop as well. Be on the safe side.
I decided to walk on my own, without a guide, however I was born in the mountain and I feel quite confident with trekking, hiking and climbing. You may want to consider using an organised trekking holiday maker or local trekking companies.
All of the paths are very well signed and it’s hard to get lost, although I am sure it has happened LOL.
Last tip, download the app Maps.me (more info in the Best travel photography apps). It works off line and it has all of the hikes described here in this post and so many more. The one I did to Les Trois Salazes was not that well signed in the mountain however it was well documented on Maps.Me, a real life saver, great work to the app writers 😉
This is probably the hardest and longest climb around Cilaos, a real trekking adventure. It is suggested to stay overnight at the Gîte du piton des neiges. It’s a mountain hut with a great view to the south-east coast of the Reunion Island and in the clear days you can see the Indian Ocean
The starting point of the hike is 3 km outside Cilaos, direction Mare à St Joseph (see map point “A”, Piton des Neiges – Start of the Climb). There is a small parking area if you have a car. Alternatively you can catch a bus in Cilaos. If you are really hardcore you can even walk there 😀
The hike is quite steep in few points and, when wet, it can be quite slippery. Luckily it was not in my case. Plan it as early as possible in the day, the afternoon tends to get cloudy and there is always possible rain forecast.
Timing wise budget a 7 hours up and 5 hours down with few breaks between. All in all, a 14 hours day if you want to do it in one go. Very tiring day indeed with a climb of 1700m.
How did I trek the Piton des Neiges?
I decided to stay overnight at the Gîte du piton des neiges. It is a 4 hours hike to the Gîte, I left around 1pm and I was up there at 5pm. Take warm clothes with you because the night can be quite chilly. The morning after I had an early start, reached the peak and back in Cilaos by the afternoon, ready for the thermal springs.
The Gîte du piton des neiges is a typical mountain hut, quite austere. Food is great, however after such a climb I think everything would taste fantastic LOL. Common toilette/showers and bunk beds in small huts. Trekkers tend to spend a single night here, as a base for the Piton des Neiges hike
I said that the Piton des Neiges is the hardest trek in the Cilaos area. That is because beside being hard it is also a very long one.
Ler Trois Salazes is much shorter and it can be done easily in one day however it is much steeper and demanding in the final 500-1000m to the peak. It is a real climb and in few sections you will need to use the tree branches and roots to help going up and down.
I was lucky and I had a fantastic blue sky day and a very dry night before. I would never do this hike with the rain and, I think, not even in case of wet conditions. It is already slippery on a good day.
You will not find the last km of trekking on the google map. You will find it however on the app Maps.Me (I have no affiliation with this app, just a great experience).
The starting point is around 7km from Cilaos, direction Ilet a Cordes. There are just a few parking spots and, if you come by car, try to make it as early as possible. Another option is to come by bus. Hitch hiking is also another possibility. The ultimate choice for the real trekkers is to walk from Cilaos, this is the Chuck Norris option obviously LOL
The trek is all well marked till the last km. Without the GPS app (Maps.Me) I would have probably not be able to find my way. If you do not feel that confident in following a GPS you may consider joining a hiking tour (ask at the information centre)
Why doing Les Trois Salazes?
Because the peak is just amazing. It was my most spectacular climb I have done in the island. There is a narrow path that runs on top and a huge drop on both sides. This is not a good place to come if you suffer of vertigo.
This is a great place if you love challenging climbs and a bit of adrenalin. The view is spectacular
The trek from the marked starting point takes around 6 hours return. If you want to walk from Cilaos contact Chuck Norris for more information
This is another great hike, starting from the same point as Les Trois Salazes. It is not as challenging however it is much longer
You have two options:
This hiking trip is possibly the most popular one from Cilaos and there are good reasons for that. The view is amazing, it is not a hard climb, it is very well signed, it’s part of the GR1-GR2 Cirque de Mafate loop with an 830m altitude gain.
If you decide to do Marla and back in one day it becomes challenging as well.
Marla has a reasonable amount of beds. Book in advance your accommodation through the Tourism Office of Reunion. You can also call directly the Gite however if you don’t speak French, well, good luck.
How did I climb Col du Taibit and Marla?
I decided to do it in one day, all the way to Marla and back. I left from the starting point around 8am and I had a couple of 10 minutes break along the route. Another 20-30minutes in Marla for a sandwich and I was back at the car around 4:30pm. I am usually a quick climber though.
There are few loops signed very well in the Cirque de Mafate. It all comes down to how much challenging you would like your day to be. Also the length in days will make you life harder or easier. Expect minimum 4 days.
I have decided not to do the the cirque de Mafate loop. I did not have enough days. However I found very interesting this post on TripAdvisor. Piotr has described very well this great 4 days hike and it is in my bucket list next time I am in Reunion.
Piton de la Fournaise is one of the most active volcano on earth. If you are lucky, as I was, it may be active when you are there.
There are few easy walks starting from a couple of locations. With half a day you should be able to explore the area. Count another 3-4 hours return for the drive up to the top
You can drive on top and trek into the crater. The path is well signed and in this case it is really impossible to get lost I believe. The area inside the crater is like the moon, almost flat and black and white.
When I was there the gate was closed (because the volcano was active 😀 ) and I could only see the area from the top
Around 4km from the end of the road you will cross a huge parking area with police, fire brigade, ambulance service and lots of people walking to the view points.
This must be one of the most popular destination for both the tourists and the locals when the volcano is active. It is really crowded.
The best time to see the eruption is after sunset, with the dark. Take some warm clothes with you because the temperature will drop as soon as the sun will leave. I was not prepared at all. I still remember the freezing conditions!!
The hike is very easy and you can see plenty of kids that walk with the parents
Le Maido in on the north side of the Cirque de Malfate. You can include it if you walk through one of the loops or you can drive there.
From le Maido you can enter to the Cirque. One thing I did not expect was the temperature increase inside the cirque, at least 5 degrees warmer!
Take lots of water with you because there are no fountains on the root.
You have many hikes close to Le Maido, select the length based on your available time. I did the one to the Gite Bar Mahafaty-Be.
The view to the Crete des Orangers is just outstanding, a mountain so vertical that should be called wall (on both sides!). Fantastic climb to do.
I found Le Maido walk quite challenging, however I believe it was just a combination of hot weather and tiredness from the past days of climbing
Looking for a place to sleep was not that easy. The main reason was that the volcano was active; this is one of the biggest attractions of the island. I was lucky I booked something in advance which helped me to organised myself.
I wanted to visit the volcano for sunset so I booked the first night at Sud Hôtel in Tampon (around 1 hour and half from the volcano peak). Great hotel and best service I experienced in the island. They all could speak perfect English (which is not that common). They organised my dinner even if the kitchen was closed. The room was just big and it was nice to have a swimming pool for an early morning swim. Breakfast was not spectacular but overall a great choice
In Cilaos I stayed in a small family run place called Casa Célina. The couple owning the bed and breakfast could hardly speak any English and my French is close to nothing. In saying that we did not have any trouble in our communication using a new language, Frenglish. They have only few rooms which tend to be booked out during the weekend by the locals coming here for some trekking. Very spacious bedroom, great view with a sun room, perfect place to spend the late hours of the afternoon. The breakfast was the highlight with some gorgeous handmade croissants and crepes, the perfect meal for a hiking day
Finally I stayed in St Gilles Les Bains for few days of beach, night-life and access to trekking in Le Maïdo (1 hour by car). I loved the little town. It was nice to have few nice bars and restaurants around with a touch of drinking fun. The beach is beautiful as well however I suggest to swim within the net. It is quite typical in Australia too where the cage, or net, protects from sharks and jelly fish.
I booked in the very cosy Hotel de la Plage. Perfect location, unbeatable, few meters from everything. The place is really colourful and you definitely feel like being at the beach. The guy running the hotel makes also a big difference, he makes you feeling like at home. If you have any doubt on where to go ask him and he will tell you everything he knows….and it’s a lot. My room was spotless clean!
Do not underestimate the mountains. The weather can change in minutes, if not in seconds. The jumper that you have left in your hotel can save your life 😉 It’s better to have more than less. This applies to the water as well.
Go for an organised trekking holiday, joining a local trekking company or DIY? It’s totally up to you and how confident you feel in the mountains. The hikes are well signed. I never had a problem or got lost.
Wear some good trekking shoes. No jogging or running shoes otherwise your feet will feel it, beside you will increase the possibility of injuries
What maps? You can buy a paper version at the Information Centre in Cilaos, alternatively you can use the Maps.Me
It’s advised to go out in the mountain with other trekkers. There is no mobile network coverage
If you wonder why everything is so expensive in the Gite, remember that there are no roads and all is transported by helicopter, or by the people!
Finally, see the Photography Guide to Reunion Island, including the full Photo Gallery, for more inspirations for your trip
Stef Ferro is the founder and editor of MEL365, a travel & photography website made to enhance the travelling experience and improve the photography work.
Stef is a professional travel photographer with past experience in the cycling and film industry.
Stef runs travel photography workshops in Melbourne and around the world.