We visited la Réunion for 3 extensive weeks and enjoyed diving, hiking and paragliding on this island. Here is a little kickstart for you:
How to get there
The cheapest options from Switzerland we found through swoodoo. It turned out to be a TGV from Zurich to Paris, enjoying the city a bit and then flying from Paris to St.Denis.
Rent a car (alamo)
The island with its 800'000 inhabitants is pretty large and the streets are built as serpentines. So definitely rent a car to stay flexible. Hint: Here they want the cars back clean so at least get all that sand and dirt our before you return the car.
Bring money (EUR & credit card)
Yes, food and hotels on La Réunion are very expensive.
Bring a tent
French culture definitely arrived: There are numerous beautiful camping locations up the hills (bring enough water and survive without a day of electricity) and a good paid camping place. The island is well known for hiking, so plan for some days in Cirque de Mafate.
Bring mosquito spray
There was a recent dengue outbreak transmitted by mosquitos that live below ~ 500m above sealevel. I got stung around 30 times and no Dengue but better be safe than sorry.
Buy a SIM card from “free” in St. Denis.
Wow, 20 EUR for limitless high speed ubiquitous mobile data and they print your sim card on site. Thank me later! Do NOT use your EU/CH roaming. Réunion does not count as zone1/France! It counts as extremely expensive overseas pack on your swisscom/sunrise/salt whatever normal supplier.
Where to stay
We found that living in chalets >600m above sea level is not recommended. If you are like us and fancy a paragliding flight or diving you always have to take 1h+ of cardrive along countless serpentines to get down to where the action is. However it might be something for lazy travellers because the climate is nice, there are no mosquitos (altitude) and the view is great.
People & safety: There was some poorer are in La Possession and around St. Paul but generally one felt secure. The locals we met were mostly very friendly.
Food: The typical wonderful creole cuisine can best be found in one of the many laid back family owned small open restaurants. If you want it luxurous, visit Le Marmite and Le Manta in St. Gilles. Both are absolutely memorable experiences.
Climate: We were there in June which is winter. It is nice all day around the sealevel but can get down to 4° above 2000m during night. So bring some warm cloths, too. But we would do it again because it's also whale season between June & September. We saw one jumping out of the water so it was already worth it. You'll get used to the sun rising at 7am and setting at 6pm and will sprint to get the most out of the sun hours.
Meteo: The systems are pretty stable, get your daily infos from husseren and windy.com. There are a few webcams but as always, consult the locals for infos. Unfortunately the good times for paragliding and for diving overlap. When the waves start kicking around mid day, only the brave & reckless remain in the air or under water.
Sea: There are great beaches for sunbathing but most are forbidden to go swim because of fear of shark attacks and strong currents. Go to St. Gilles les Bains and Hermitage-les-Bains for wonderful swimming and snorkeling because of a reef-protected natural basin. We saw squids, nudies and a great variety of fish. Night-snorkelling also works phantastically.
The most action is in St. Gilles les Bain where there are 5-6 diving centers right next to each other. Another center is at St.Leu but they usually stop going out with the boat long before the centers from St. Gilles because they are more exposed to the waves and so they cancel their dives regularly. Price wise we found all-inc offers for PADI OWAD&DM levels around 40-50EUR/dive usually with package deals if one does multiple dives. The instructor skill level varies between low to medium. We were mostly left alone under water but for us it was fine. One time we had to guide another buddy because the center overbooked. So we generally had an relatively unfavorable impression of the local dive instructors. Our favorite center was Blue Marin.
There are lots of absolutly not shy turtles, lots of nudies, shrimp, crabs, large fishes, skorpion fish, leaf fish, morenas and eels.
There is usually a lot of surf so making photos is challenging while being pushed and pulled 10m in each direction every 5 seconds. But it's fun once gotten used to. Visibility is ok/fair, but depends greatly on the general weather. Our visibility range was between 8 and 20m. We only went for like 7 dives so we stayed on west coast dive spots.
We found that La Réunion is not for tourist divers. It's for locals and people from mainland France (called metropole) to do their Open Water or discovery dives. We didn't feel overly welcome or extatic and always had to switch around from center to center to get the best out of each day but we're definitely used to better quality both in terms of centers and sites from other locations.
We had the extraordinary luck of meeting Will and his wife, Anne from the BorD'Aile team. They helped us so incredibly to find and enjoy all those beautiful flying spots that usually are hard to visit. We are ever thankful to you, two!
The bulk of the pilots are concentrated on the St.Leu (Colimaçon) landing place on the beach and the 800m higher starting point. It's a very easy & forgiving start and landing site but getting thermals can be challenging at times. There is a sweet spot between 11 and 12:00. Toplanding is not a given but possible. Check the shuttle (navette) timetables at the landing site and the bus schedule (bus N°42).
The local solo pilots stop flying when the whitecaps are visible but if it's laminar - which usually is the case - it gives a wonderful long beach soaring opportunity for advanced pilots. Be sure to have your speedbar hooked, though! Our favourite spot was Dos d'Ane. It can be reached by bus from Possession leaving 08:37 and 09:37. There is also a landing area in the basin of the Riviére des Galets. The starting field is otherworldly. It concaves widely westwards/seawards on top of a ridge and a thermal hotspot in front while the wind enters from the front. I have seen many starting fields but this one tops them all. It's a pilots wet dream. And sure enough, the thermal entry is almost always a given. If you get brought to Rivière des Remparts just remember one thing:
You have to catch a thermal, otherwise you'll end up in the stoney long valley and walk at least 1h under the burning sun. Bellemène is another nice start but it's not as easy to reach as Dos d'Ane. The crown takes Maido, with it's height > 2000m. A starting spot to the east, allowing for thermal soaring and overreaching the volcanic crater ridge to fly down a spectacular glide to the beach of St. Paul. The east and south part of the island is generally more wet and unsuited for flying, unfortunately. We were not able to find a reliable weather-fronted soaring opportunity which is surprising, compared to any other island we've been visiting in the past.
As we travel as 2 people, when abroad we usually aim for toplandings so we can get the car back down. This is not easy on this island because of the usually limited time windows, tricky thermals and near ground rotors. So better place the car on the beach and take shuttle, bus or friendly cardrivers up. We did a few dozens of kilometers XC-wise but it's work and especially once the dynamic sets in mid day, it's getting pretty unrewarding.
Full pack list recommendation
- always have plenty of bottled water, the tap water is very chlorid
- hiking boots
- mosquito spray (w/ deet)
- sunglasses, sunscreen
- mask&snorkel, swim stuff
- gas heater, plates & cuttlery (there is a great Decathlon in St. Pierre)
- headlamps & phone battery
- tent & airmatress & warm sleeping bags or a duvet (20EUR locally)
- No need for passport if you're from EU/CH, just bring your ID
- enough cloths for 1 week
- locally: buy SIM card from “free”