Réunion is a small, volcanic island in the Indian Ocean, around 500 miles east of Madagascar. The island is an overseas department of France and has belonged to the French since its occupation in the 17th century. French migrants, Africans, Malays, Tamil Indians and Chinese have given it a very mixed population. Réunion’s mountainous terrain includes one highly active volcano (the Piton de la Fournaise, which has erupted more than 170 times since the mid-17th century), as well as one extinct one and a number of collapsed calderas.
When visiting Réunion, you will need to make sure that your passport is valid for at least 3 months after the end of your stay.
The official language of Réunion is French, but the most widely spoken language is Réunion Creole, which is derived from French with elements of neighbouring languages such as Hindi, Chinese and Malagasy. Only a few people speak English.
Bonzour - helloMèrsi - thank youSi - yesNon - noOukilé...? - where is...? TV and radio programmes are broadcast by French company RFO.
Currency on Réunion is the Euro. At the time of writing (September 2006):US$1 : €0.79 UK£1 : €1.48
Most shops accept international credit cards such as Visa and Mastercard, though they will probably require a minimum payment (usually €15) for using these. There are plenty of ATMs (gabier) which should not charge for use. Banks are usually open 8am – 4pm, Monday – Friday.
The climate on Réunion is tropical, though at higher elevations the temperature is lower. There are two seasons. Winter (May to November) is cool and dry; temperatures can fall to 10ºC. Summer is hot and rainy. The east of the island receives the most rain and is richest in vegetation as a result.
Summer is also marked by periodic cyclones. From November to April, regularly check the warnings given in newspapers or on TV/radio broadcasts. There are three states of cyclone alert:Vigilance cyclonique - (cyclone watch) means there is a risk, but not for at least 24 hours. Take the opportunity to stock up on food, water and batteries.Alerte orange - (orange alert) means there is a risk within the next 24 hours. Avoid travelling long distances. Schools will be closed.Alerte rouge - (red alert) means there is an imminent risk: do not leave your house and try to avoid using the telephone.
The tropical cyclone centre at the capital, Saint Denis, is the monitoring station for the whole of the Indian Ocean.
Réunion has many attractions. Piton de la Fournaise, one of the world’s most active volcanoes, is on the southeast side of the island and is one of Réunion’s foremost tourist destinations. Lava flows are usually confined to the 5-mile-wide caldera at the top, although the nearby road is usually destroyed at least once a year. Check that the area will be passable before driving there.
At 10,000 ft high, the peak of the inactive Piton des Neiges in the northwest offers stunning views. There are around 600 miles of paths to explore around the island. Cirque de Mafate, inside the collapsed caldera of Piton des Neiges, contains a number of basic settlements that are totally inaccessible by road but are a favourite destination for hikers.
Réunion’s best beaches are on the south and west coasts. You can relax, swim, surf and fish. Scuba diving companies hire out equipment if you want to explore the coral reefs and see their marine life. Make sure you obey any shark warnings and stay out of the water in forbidden areas – some surfers have been attacked in the past.
There are a number of museums on Réunion, many of which specialise in natural history and plant life.
Réunion’s main exports are alcohol, essential oils, seafood, perfumes and vanilla. Le Marché du St Denis is particularly good, with masses of clothes, food and local souvenirs on offer.
Nightlife is generally clustered around the more touristy settlements of Saint Paul and Saint Pierre. Music, like the food, is a mixture of African, Indian, Chinese and European influences. In the summer, clubs are usually popular only later in the evening due to the high temperatures. Local newspapers publish details of theme nights.
The roads on Réunion are well maintained. There is one road running around the perimeter of the island (around 120 miles), of which around 45 miles is four-lane. Another road takes you from Saint-Pierre on the southwest coast, through the middle of the island to Saint-Benoit on the northeast. At times, the volcano on the southeast will force roads to close.
Drive on the right. You will need a French or International licence. There are many cars on Réunion and traffic jams occur frequently: avoid driving at peak times if you can avoid it. The island adheres to French law and the drink-drive limit is 50mg per 100ml blood.
Food and Drink
Thanks to its history, Réunionese cuisine is a mix between many different cultures including French, Indian and Chinese. Typical dishes are cari and rougail, meat or fish cooked in a sauce and eaten with rice.
Tap water is usually safe for consumption; avoid any with the sign Eau non potable. French mineral water is also widely available.