I Climbed Some Mountains on Reunion Island

Maybe this is an overstatement. Theoretically I was hiking, not mountain-climbing. But the pictures speak for themselves.

08-Dee-on-MountainThis is Dee, balancing herself at the top of one of many mountains that we climbed up and then down again.

When I first received the invitation to participate in the #GoToReunion campaign, I wasn’t sure I could go. I had just booked my trip to the U.S. (where I am now), and it overlapped with the Reunion trip by several days.

Then I reread the Reunion invitation and saw that the itinerary included a multi-day hiking trek through the island’s cirques (calderas/extinct volcanoes), walking to villages accessible only on foot and sleeping in traditional gîtes (guesthouses).

This wasn’t an opportunity to pass up. I changed my U.S. plane ticket.

After four days of helicoptering, paragliding (post to come), sunbathing, and other relatively un-exhausting activities on Reunion, we embarked on our hiking journey. We had a long drive from the beach town of Saint Gilles up to the hike starting point in Salazie, and enjoyed some amazing sights along the way.

00 Cascade Blanche
The Cascade Blanche, an 800-meter (2624-foot) waterfall. 

00 SalazieA beautiful church in Salazie.

Quick note about the mountain roads in Reunion: This island has the windiest roads I’ve ever experienced. If you are prone to motion sickness, bring meds.

Finally, we reached the base of the hiking trail. I was so excited to start walking.

01-Pre-hike-shot
Team #GoToReunion.

Hike-startWe had to carry everything (except food and bedding) on our own backs.

Everything we experienced on this hike can be divided into the four main components: 1) We walked up a lot. 2) We walked down a lot. 3) It was tiring. 4) It was beautiful.

02-Hiking-path
Typical downhill.

12-Hike-steps
Typical uphill. God, how I came to dread the sight of these steep wooden steps. (Sorry it’s blurry. I was trembling with exhaustion, or “fuckzaution” — a new term coined by one of my fellow hikers.) 

Mountain-and-flowersSights like this were worth the fuckzaustion.

Starting at Salazie, we hiked down into the cirque of Mafate. Mafate, as I mentioned previously, has no roads. There are a few tiny villages scattered through Mafate, accessible only by foot (and by helicopter, which I’ll get to later). We spent the first night in Mafate’s biggest village, La Nouvelle, and the second night in a hamlet called Marla. On the last day we hiked out of Mafate to the town of Cilaos, where our trek ended.

04-La-Nouvelle-from-above
The village of La Nouvelle, where we slept the first night.

 I can’t overstate how beautiful it was in Mafate. The light, the mist, the trees, the mountains — it was all spectacular every minute of the day, from morning until night.

Mafate-sceneryTypical scenery in Mafate.

10-MarlaThe view from Marla.

14-Marla-from-topLooking down on Marla after cresting our final peak.

03-ChappelleOne of many small “chapelles”, or religious shrines, that we saw along the way. I found them delightful.

I also can’t overstate how tired we were.

09-Day-2-hike-endMy companions at the end of day two. Carlinn‘s pose is no exaggeration.

The villages where we stayed were adorable.

05-Nouvelle-GiteThe gîte where we stayed in La Nouvelle. Most of the buildings in Mafate are decorated in this colorful gingerbread style.

06-La-Nouvelle-breakfastThe breakfast room at our La Nouvelle gîte.

11-Marla-roomThe inside of our gîte in Marla. The rooms in the gîtes all seem to be designed for children.

07-La-Nouvelle-kid
This is Anne-Katrine, a cute kid we met outside the boulangerie (bakery) in La Nouvelle. Mafate’s villages are populated by Creole people who have lived in these mountains for generations.

Mafate’s villages are full of hikers and everyone stays in the gîtes, which are basically like dormitories for adults. We slept in the dormitories — often sharing rooms with strangers of the opposite sex and sleeping in tiny bunk beds — and everyone shares one big bathroom with individual shower toilet stalls. The meals are served family style and while the dinners are hearty and delicious, and breakfasts usually consist only of baguettes.

I personally found this tourism model kind of strange. I realize that I’m imposing my own cultural norms on a place that is nothing like anywhere I’ve ever been. But after hiking for six hours through the wilderness, I would have loved a slightly more comfortable room and bathroom, with a slightly more hearty breakfast — perhaps an egg or two — before setting out again the next morning.

I was also troubled by all the helicopters. I think it’s awesome that the villages in Mafate don’t have roads; the inaccessibility has helped to preserve the natural beauty of the region and it’s a big draw for tourists. But the lack of roads also means that virtually all of Mafate’s food the supplies are delivered by helicopter. The helicopters seemed to come and go from La Nouvelle several times a day — even more than once an hour, in some cases.

All that said, Mafate is so freaking beautiful that none of this really matters. I would do it all again in a second.

13-Heather-at-top
A fuckzausted but happy me at the top of the last mountain. (Photo: Andy Carrie)

Quick tips on hiking the cirques of Reunion:

  • Do some training before you go. The hikes are doable for a normal person but they are fuskzausting and steep.
  • Bring sturdy hiking shoes and a good backpack with strong shoulder and waist support.
  • The trails are well marked and you can technically hike without a guide. Hiring a local guide is better though.
  • Bring earplugs, warm clothing (it gets very cold after sunset), and protein-rich snacks.
  • Stop often and enjoy the views.

More Reunion posts to come.

My trip to Reunion Island was courtesy of Reunion Island Tourism, Air Austral, and Destinate. Opinions expressed are my own.

Previous Post Next Post

17 Comments

  • Reply David October 30, 2015 at 4:35 pm

    Really great to read this. Would appreciate more information on the visa situation. As an American were you required to get a Schengen visa? I am South African but married to a foreigner and the info I have received is all very confusing.

    Thanks for all the fantastic stories.

    D

    • Reply 2summers October 30, 2015 at 4:39 pm

      Hey there, no – Americans don’t need a visa and neither do South Africans! It’s super easy. Glad you liked the post.

  • Reply Eugenia A Parrish October 30, 2015 at 6:35 pm

    You do seem to go to places in the world that I have never heard of! Thanks for sharing.

    • Reply 2summers October 30, 2015 at 7:20 pm

      I’d never heard of it either until last year. Interesting place!

  • Reply UnderAnAfricanSun October 31, 2015 at 9:20 am

    We have been talking about going to Reunion for so long, it just moved way up on the list thanks to your amazing photos!

    • Reply 2summers November 4, 2015 at 4:44 pm

      Yay! I guess the campaign worked 🙂

  • Reply Lani October 31, 2015 at 12:06 pm

    Hey I like the look of your blog! Nice! Also, I haven’t seen you in my reader. Hmmm. I might have to clean mine up, maybe it’s gotten cluttered??? In any case, great update. Miss hiking!

    • Reply 2summers November 4, 2015 at 4:44 pm

      Thanks Lani! Hmm, I think the blog might have disappeared from WordPress reader temporarily while the developer was messing with my Jetpack widget. It should be working again though. Are you seeing me again? Maybe I need to look into this.

      • Reply Lani November 5, 2015 at 11:01 am

        I did see this post after I commented. I’ll keep an eye out and let you know if something continues to be amiss 🙂

  • Reply autumnashbough November 5, 2015 at 1:28 am

    The earplugs are for the helicopter noise? How annoying in an otherwise gorgeous setting.

    Yeah, you need some protein with breakfast. Especially on those trails!

    • Reply 2summers November 5, 2015 at 1:47 am

      No, the earplugs are for the snoring old men in the dormitory. I should have clarified that 🙂

  • Reply Emily Cannell- Hey From Japan November 7, 2015 at 5:34 pm

    That would kill me. Fuckzaustion would be the least of my problems. Which is why I like “Going along ” with you. As usual, the pics you take of people are my favorite.

    • Reply 2summers November 12, 2015 at 11:40 am

      Hahaha, thanks Emily. Hope you’re doing well.

  • Reply Jenna November 11, 2015 at 8:07 am

    Love the post. I’ve been trying to find information about hiking in reunion but it’s a bit on the sparse side. Heading over in March next year. Can’t wait! Any recommendations on where to find a local guide – or would it be ok for a single female to go it alone??

    • Reply 2summers November 12, 2015 at 11:50 am

      Hi Jenna, I definitely think it’s better to have a guide although you can also go alone. I would recommend the guide we had — her name is Veronique and her company is Adrenal’ile. http://www.adrenalile.com

  • Reply Hiking La Reunion’s Cirque de Mafate | The Good Holiday November 13, 2015 at 3:30 am

    […] My friend Heather Mason shared a room with someone that snores. She (not a non-hiker like me) reckons you should bring earplugs.  […]

  • Leave a Reply

    %d bloggers like this: