Seamlessly combining exotic island luxury with adrenaline-fuelled activity lays a hidden island that has long been known as the Indian Ocean’s best kept secret. In search of another adventure, I went to discover it.
Ile de la Reunion is a tiny volcanic island situated closely to the larger and much more visited island of Mauritius. Whilst masses of honeymooners and luxury travellers flock to Mauritius for the inevitable three S’s, it is only the savviest of these travellers that hop on a further 30 minute flight to explore La Reunion. I was one of them.
Being a French colony and run under French government, it’s no surprise that the French make up 80% of the Island’s tourist population (but don’t let that put you off!). The island is a rich melting pot of cultures, combining a strong French heritage with Indian and Portuguese influences. Home to a mind-blowing diversity of landscapes, mountains, beautiful beaches, crystal clear lagoons and one of the most active volcanoes in the world, the island of la Reunion is a thrill seekers paradise.
The best way to begin your adventure on La Reunion is on foot. The Jurassic landscapes and varied microclimates set the perfect scene for trekking. On day one we followed our guide and drink in the majestic mountain peaks from below as we delved further inland, towards the rural mountain villages of Mafat. Mafat consists of 800 habitants living in 10 different villages across the mountains, who originally hailed from near by Madagascar.
After a few deceivingly stable stepping-stones, sharp inclines and breathtaking valleys, we reached the first village of Cayenne. With a miniscule population of just 20, it is the smallest village within Mafat, and takes the phrase ‘back to basics’ to a whole new level. It was a really humbling experience to see how self sufficiently the villagers lived. These tiny mountain villages financially rely on passing trekkers, welcoming them in for short lunch stops or overnight stays in a gite guesthouse. We refuelled with a traditional, hearty creole curry and a shot of Island rum before beginning the next leg of our journey (warning: that stuff burns!) Trekking routes in La Reunion can range from 3 hours to 12 days. If I had more time I would loved to have stopped over night in a guest house for the full trekking experience.
After seeing the sights from the ground, it only seemed right to see them from the sky too. No visit to La Reunion is complete without an exhilarating helicopter ride to its highest peaks, so we did just that! We swooped over the mountains, hovered down waterfalls and skimmed the volcano. With such a diverse landscape, La Reunion must be one of the best places to experience a helpicopter flight on the planet. We ended our flight by flying over the coastline, admiring the dappled contrast between the dark coral reefs and the turquoise waters.
La Reunion is proud to offer travellers a plethora of unique activities, all of which are based around exploring the island. Horse riding, paragliding and mountain biking are just a few examples, but the activities don’t just stop on land. With a strong coral barrier surrounding the island, the waves can be spectacularly huge, making La Reunion one of the best surfing destinations in the world. Unfortunately, a recent series of surfer shark attacks on the coral barrier have put many cautious beginners off trying. Of course, the die-hard surfers can still be found out there catching the morning waves, but don’t say I didn’t warn you! Whale and dolphin watching boat trips provide a great alternative, and even guarantee to return you to to land with all limbs intact. One incredible moment of the trip spotting a whale watching boat out in the ocean and hanging around long enough to spot a huge whale come out of the water next to the boat!
La Reunion is an unchartered treasure like no other place on earth. For a truly exotic experience with an action packed twist, pack a suitcase and see it for yourself. Quick, before the secret is out.