You are currently viewing 4 must-see places on La Réunion Island (and 17 other recommendations from a local)

In the heart of the Indian Ocean, east of Madagascar, lies the island of La Réunion, a small tropical paradise where the sun shines almost all year round. Located very close to the African continent, this French overseas department is still officially part of the European Union. 

Even though I’ve expatriated to Canada, I’m lucky enough to be able to call La Réunion my native island and to return there regularly. The locals will tell you: those who have “jumped the sea” (a Réunionese expression meaning “to leave the island to live elsewhere”) often end up coming back.

Here’s a brief overview of La Réunion Island and 21 places you must visit.


Overview of La Réunion Island

If its sister, Mauritius, enjoys international popularity as a dream destination for honeymoons, La Réunion, on the other hand, is much less known to North Americans.

Yet, its beauty is just as remarkable. There’s a reason locals affectionately nickname it “The Intense Island.”

La Réunion Island (photo credit: Xav Alexandre)


Indeed, you can find a wide variety of landscapes there, from white sandy beaches to lush green forests, volcanoes, and picturesque waterfalls. 

Hiking enthusiasts will appreciate its mountain cirques, pitons (volcanic mountains), and ramparts, classified as a UNESCO World Heritage site since 2010. 

The mountains of La Réunion Island (photo credit: Sebastian Sammer)


In La Réunion, the language of Molière is widely spoken, but there are others. Réunionese Creole is a happy linguistic blend of African and Indian languages, Malagasy, and French, reflecting the complex history and cultural richness of the area. Indeed, Réunion’s people are highly diverse and mixed due to their colonial history and immigration.

This mix of cultures is reflected in various aspects of daily life, including the spicy local cuisine, séga and maloya music, and traditional celebrations such as Fèt Kaf, celebrated every December 20th to commemorate the abolition of slavery. 

The island’s natural beauty, along with the harmonious coexistence of different religious and ethnic communities, makes La Réunion a unique place to visit at least once in a lifetime.

La Réunion Island has nearly 900,000 inhabitants (about the same as the greater metropolitan area of Québec City).

The island measures 2,511 km² (about half the size of Prince Edward Island) and is part of the Mascarene Islands, an archipelago located far from France.

Location of La Réunion Island (image credit: Google Maps)


But La Réunion is an administrative region just like the others on the European continent. In other words, the island is fully part of France. It’s also one of the most faraway places to be part of the EU and the Eurozone (the zone where the euro is the currency used).

Flight deals to get there from Canada are pretty rare, but they do happen! 


4 must-see places on La Réunion Island

Here are the places not to be missed during your stay on the “Intense Island”. 


Saint-Denis: the capital (North)

Saint-Denis (photo credit: Rajavanya Subramaniyan)


Saint-Denis is the capital (chef-lieu: main city of a French department) of La Réunion. While you won’t find any of the paradise beaches found elsewhere on the island, you can still find a variety of exciting attractions to enjoy during your visit. 

While you’re there, enjoy a delicious curry or rougail sausages in one of the many Creole restaurants in the city center, and stroll through the narrow streets to admire the colonial architecture that’s still there, and the superb historic buildings such as Saint-Denis Cathedral and the Léon-Dierx Museum

During the day, be sure to visit the Grand Marché and Marché Forain in Saint-Denis, where you can taste local delicacies and see local crafts. 

Don’t miss the Jardin de l’État, a large park ideal for a picnic in the heart of the city, and Le Barachois for a sunset stroll along the waterfront. 


My recommendations for Saint-Denis

Where to eat:

Where to sleep: 

Where to go out


Saint-Gilles-les-Bains: the beaches (West)

Saint-Gilles-les-Bains (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)


The West of the island is the most popular area, where you can find the most beautiful beaches. 

Between Roches Noires beach, Boucan Canot, La Saline, L’Hermitage, Les Brisants, and Trou d’Eau, you have plenty of choices.

You can also enjoy a wide range of water sports and vibrant nightlife. For shopping, head to Saint-Paul, especially on Saturdays and Sundays for the Marché Forain

If you’re not afraid of heights, you can take a helicopter tour to see the volcano and the Trou de Fer canyon from the air or go paragliding down to Saint-Leu. Both young and old will love the Kélonia Marine Turtle Care Center.


My recommendations for Saint-Gilles-les-Bains

Where to eat: 

Where to sleep: 

Where to go out: 

Warning: La Réunion Island is particularly exposed to the risk of shark attacks. Check the swimming conditions.


Saint-Pierre: the wilderness (South)

Saint-Pierre (photo credit: ʎɔ.)


It’s hard not to love the “capital of the south” and its breathtaking surroundings. Here, too, you’ll find many shops, magnificent beaches (such as Saint-Pierre and Grand Anse beaches), and the Grand Galet waterfalls on the Rivière Langevin, among the most beautiful on the island. 

Nearby, don’t miss the Manapany basin in Saint-Joseph, and the impressive cliffs of Cap Méchant in Saint-Philippe.


My recommendations for Saint-Pierre 

Where to eat

Where to sleep: 

Where to go out: 


Cilaos, Salazie and Mafate: the natural cirques

Cirque de Mafate (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)


You can’t visit La Réunion Island without exploring at least one of its cirques! 

The Cilaos Cirque, accessible by car from Saint-Louis, is famous for its tourist village and thermal springs.

The Salazie Cirque is the largest. In fact, its Creole village of Hell-Bourg is listed among the “Most Beautiful Villages of France”. 

The Voile de la Mariée waterfall and the Bélouve forest are also must-sees. Finally, Mafate is the most isolated of the 3 and can only be reached on foot or by helicopter. The absence of roads gives Mafate a preserved and wild atmosphere, perfect for hikers.


17 other recommended places on La Réunion Island

In addition to the main towns and the cirques, here are some other iconic spots on La Réunion Island.


Piton de la Fournaise

Piton de la Fournaise is one of the most active volcanoes in the world, the pride of the Réunionese people, and one of La Réunion’s most iconic natural attractions. The lunar landscape of the Plaine des Sables on the Volcano Route will take your breath away.

Piton de la Fournaise (photo credit: Oscar Brouchot)


Piton des Neiges

Piton des Neiges is the highest peak in the Indian Ocean. This volcano has been dormant for a very long time.

Piton des Neiges (photo credit: Sebastien)


L’Anse des Cascades (Sainte-Rose)

The Anse des Cascades is a magnificent bay with a fishing port and numerous small waterfalls. It’s an ideal spot for a picnic. 

Anse des Cascades (photo credit: Arnaud STECKLE)


Church of Notre Dame des Laves (Sainte-Rose)

The church of Notre Dame des Laves was surrounded by lava flows during the eruption of Piton de la Fournaise in 1977, without any damage. Some locals referred to the event as a miracle.

Church of Notre Dame des Laves (photo credit: Miwok)


Niagara Falls (Sainte-Suzanne)

The Niagara Falls is a pretty waterfall accessible by car for those who don’t like walking. 

Niagara Falls (photo credit: Thomas McGowan)


Bassin Boeuf (Sainte-Suzanne)

The Bassin Boeuf is a popular water spot for a short hike and a refreshing swim.

Bassin Boeuf (photo credit: Simon Bonaventure)


Sable Noir beach (Étang-Salé)

The Sable Noir is a sublime beach with volcanic sand. My favorite on the whole island!

Sable Noir beach (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)


Church of Sainte-Anne (Saint-Benoît)

The church of Sainte-Anne is a memorable architecture inspired by European cathedrals.

Church of Sainte-Anne (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)


Bébour forest (Saint-Benoît)

The Bébour is a primary forest for nature lovers.

Bébour forest (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)


Bassin Bleu (Saint-Benoît)

The Bassin Bleu is a natural freshwater pool at the mouth of a river.

Bassin Bleu (photo credit: Olivier Gonthier)


Grand Étang (Saint-Benoît)

The Grand Étang is La Réunion’s only high-altitude volcanogenic lake.

Grand Étang (photo credit: Thomas CUELHO)


Piton Maïdo (Saint-Paul)

The Piton Maïdo is perfect for a panoramic view of the Cirque de Mafate and the west coast.

Piton Maïdo (photo credit: Yoann Boyer)


Cap la Houssaye (Saint-Paul)

The Cap la Houssaye is perfect for a drive along the beach road. It’s a wonderful place to stop and watch the ocean and the yellow savannah.

Cap la Houssaye (photo credit: Swadric A)


Pointe au Sel (Saint-Leu)

The Pointe au Sel is a protected natural site named after the artisanal salt mined here. Admission to the salt museum is free.

Pointe au Sel (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)


Souffleur (Saint-Leu)

The Souffleur is a powerful spray jet that rises high into the air. It’s impressive to see.

Souffleur (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)


Colossus temple (Saint-André)

The Colossus temple is a large Hindu temple dedicated to the goddess Pandialé. Very colorful, it can only be admired from the outside.

Colossus temple (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)


Garden of perfumes and spices (Saint-Phillipe)

Visit the garden of perfumes and spices to discover over 1,500 species of tropical plants.

Garden of perfumes and spices (photo credit: sutterwi)


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Featured image: La Réunion (photo credit: Laurence Fusco)

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