The Island was originally claimed by French Colonists (who were known as Bourbon) in the 1640s. The population here is around 700,000 and is comprised of residents of French, Creole, Indian and Chinese descent; resulting in a wonderfully diverse and exciting culture. The official language is French, however Creole is the language used for day-to-day life, which is a mixture of Malagasy, French and Tamil. The peaceful islanders are respectful of one another’s beliefs and heritage, and there has been no political or social unrest here for hundreds of years.
The island’s capital city, St.Denis, occupies the northernmost part of the island and has a distinctly European feel with many fascinating colonial and religious buildings. Towns such as St-Gilles-les-Bains and l’Hermitage-les-Bains are magnets for tourists because of the idyllic beaches, reefs and fantastic water-sports available, but if you fancy visiting some of the quieter Reunion villages then a trip up into the mountains will be very rewarding. Hellbourg is ideal for cultural visits; it is an enchanting mountain town steeped in history. The streets are lined with old Creole mansions, and majestic mountain walls encase the scenic former spa-town. One of the best locations on the Island for scuba diving and surfing is St-Leu on the central west coast.
The most striking features of Reunion are the volcanoes and dramatic cirques (which literally translates to ‘volcano that has fallen in on itself’) which dominate the island’s landscape. The inactive volcano Piton des Neiges (which translates to snow peak), soars to 3070 metres and is great for challenging treks and there is a biological reserve on its lower slopes where over 200 species of plant life and many species of animals reside. At over 530,000 years old, Piton de la Fournaise – or ‘Peak of the Furnace’ - rises 2630 metres and is one of the world’s most active volcanoes, with 3 eruptions occurring over the last 6 years, and is located on the eastern side of the Island.
There are three Cirques; La Salazie, de Cilaos and de Mafak; these gnarled, twisted peaks topped with thick areas of forest contrast with deep ravines to create a truly magical sight. The cirques are fantastic for hikers, offering challenging and rewarding routes past waterfalls, valleys and hills. The cirques are also fantastic taken in by air; take a helicopter to admire an aerial view which allows you to take in the dramatic landscape to its full effect.
Depending on which cirque you visit, there are various activities available such as abseiling and canyoning.