Reunion is one of the youngest islands in the world. It first broke the surface of the Indian Ocean less than three million years ago, and still has a highly mountainous relief with continued volcanic activity today.
Cirque of Salazie 2 500 km²: The concentrated effects of nature With the combined forces of the ocean, the air and the movements of the earth’s crust, an island of astonishing scenery has risen from the sea. We are left with the three enormous ‘cirques’ (natural amphitheatres) of Cilaos, Salazie and Mafate, the deep valleys hewn into the volcanic slopes by the island’s main rivers, and the upper plains dotted with peaks….
Due to its relatively reduced surface area (2500km²), these abrupt mountains give Reunion a truly unique geographical identity. The flight across the island, either by helicopter or by microlite, is simply breath-taking.
The island’s highest point is the Piton des Neiges at 3 070 m. Its last volcanic eruptions were 16000 years ago. You can reach it either from Cilaos, Salazie or from La Plaine des Cafres, and people generally climb it in two stages, staying one night at the Piton des Neiges ‘gîte’ (hostel) before watching the sun rise over Reunion from the summit the next morning.
A volcano with easy access
Its younger counterpart, the Piton de la Fournaise (2632 m), appeared 300 000 years ago, and is one of the most active volcanoes in the world. Because it is what they call an "effusive" volcano, its eruptions remain relatively safe. Around twice a year, the people of Reunion are treated to a magical display of light, with fountains of lava gushing skywards and burning rivers flowing down the hillsides. Even while respecting distances of security, you can actually get quite close up without being at risk.
Sometimes, these lava flows reach the sea, creating enormous clouds of steam and even redefining the island’s coastline. Lava from la Fournaise rarely comes close to any residential areas, and highly sensitive captors at the Volcano Observatory warn of any imminent eruptions in good time.
The viewpoint overlooking the volcano and its surrounding area is at Pas de Bellecombe, which is accessible by car via La Plaine des Cafres. Staying overnight at the Gîte du Volcan ensures you’ll be there at dawn. There are many other accommodation possibilities in the area, offering board and lodging. For more information, visit the Maison du Volcan.
In the south, there is a stretch of main road running through the lava flow area, with fumes still rising in some parts following the eruption which reached the sea in 2007.
The combination of humid tropical temperatures and an area of mountainous relief has favoured the multiplication of various micro-climates, thus contributing to the development of endemic fauna and flora.
From the dry savanna in the west to the humid forests at altitude, from the waterfall-covered windward slopes to the moonlike plateaux of the volcano, Reunion offers as many different natural environments as you may find on an entire continent. The coastal towns have developed while the island’s mountainous interior remains lush and untamed.