La Reunion is part French Riviera, part former African colony. It has fancy boulangeries and casinos with high stakes poker tournaments as well as mountain hamlets with no road access that once served as a refugee for escaped African slaves. Oh ya, there’s also world class surf, more fatal shark attacks per capita than anywhere else in the world, and an active volcano (which happened to be erupting while we were there!). Basically it has a little but of everything you would want in an Indian Ocean island.
There are two main marinas in Reunion, Le Port up north and St. Pierre in the south. St. Pierre is known to have a much more difficult entrance, narrow with breakers on each side, so not as many visiting yachts come here, but it’s also in a much cooler area. We decided we would sail in to St. Pierre and Miramis, the Swedish boat captained by Conny, and Alexandra, an American boat captained by our friend Sean decided to join us there. We were pretty much the only visiting yachts in the marina but it was right in the heart of a really cool coastal town with lots of restaurants and nightlife.
Cirque de Mafate
The most famous mountains in Reunion are made up three calderas (or cirques), Mafate, Cilaos, and Salazie. Mafate is the largest and is only accessible by foot and helicopter. There isn’t a ton of information in English out there, so I’m going to provide a lot of details on the trip that we did.
We left from St Pierre and took the Littoral bus to St Loius. At the bus terminal there we switched to the 60 bus which we took up to Cilaos. The road up through the mountains is insane. Super steep with sharp turns and tunnels that only have a couple inches of clearance on each side. These are some of the most skilled bus drivers I’ve ever seen. Once we got up to Cilaos we took the 62 bus to a stop at the trail head called Marla. From there it’s about a 3.5-4 hour hike up a big mountain to Marla, the first hamlet when entering from the south. Light was running out on us so we camped the first night at a camp sight about 2-3 kilometers up the mountain. It was beautiful and even had fresh running water and a primitive shower and toilet.
We woke up and hiked about 2.5 hours to Marla, a super beautiful hike through the forest with a great view at the pass down on Cilaos.
In Marla we took a break and had some lunch at a little cafe that serves sandwiches and coffee. After eating we continued on to Roche Plate which was another 4-4.5 hours with a couple of moderate climbs and descents. We had booked a gite here and arrived just before dark. This is one of the more remote hamlets, as it requires a minimum of a 3 night stay in the Mafate to access, and was definitely the quietest and most primitive one that we visited. The lady who runs the gite made us a delicious dinner of pork curry, rice, beans, and salad. She also served a rum punch made with oranges she grew and banana bread for desert. She didn’t speak a word of English but luckily there were a couple of French tourists staying there as well who spoke pretty good English and were able to help us out.
After breakfast at the gite we hiked about 4 hours to La Nouvelle. This hike involves transversing a large canyon and begins with a steep descent, then a chance to swim in the river, followed by an extremely strenuous ascent. We did it in about 4 hours but others took up to 6.
La Nouvelle is definitely the most developed of the hamlets that we visited and there were multiple places to eat. After lunch we relaxed for a while before checking in to the gite. When we booked online this gite only had one bed available but the owner, Oreo, was very nice and said it was fine if I camp out on the property (it took a lot of miming to communicate this). For dinner he served creole sausages and stewed chicken with rice, fresh bread, beans, and salad, the perfect meal after a long day hiking.
This was another long day as we wanted to make it all the way back to Cilaos. We first hiked back to Marla, about 2.5 hours, then all the way back to the bus stop that we started at, which was another 3.5 hours.
Once back to Cilaos we pigged out at a cafe and then crashed at another little gite run by a really sweet old lady. We had planned to climb Piton de Neiges, the tallest mountain on the island (3069 meters), the following day but we were both way too sore so took the bus back to St Pierre instead. It was an amazing trek and super nice to get some time up in real mountains.
Mafate is one of the coolest places I’ve ever been and I highly recommend anyone that goes to Reunion to make a trip here. The mountains are amazing but the gites are what really make it unique. They’re pretty much like family-run hostels up in the mountains. They average about 16 euro/night and a really good home made dinner and breakfast can be added for 24 euro/person. Most of the gites provide linens and warm showers but not towels. The people who run them are super nice but in our experience speak zero English, so if you can speak French that’s a huge advantage. Otherwise have some useful phrases and good miming skills prepared. You need to book these gites in advance online which you can do here: http://resa.reunion.fr/en/accomodation/mountain-huts.html
After our hike was over we hung out back in St Pierre for a few days before starting out voyage to Madagascar.