Exploring the Three Cirques of Reunion Island

  • 18 December 2018 | By Natalie Roos

Reunion’s three cirques are all completely different and utterly unique, with their own micro-climates and attractions, each worth a visit! 

Cirque de Cilaos 

The word Cilaos is derived from a Malagasy word meaning “country you don’t leave” and after visiting, you’ll surely understand why. Larger and more populated than its neighbours Salazie and Mafate, Cilaos is encircled by the sheer walls of the Piton de Neiges and protected by its National Park status. The road to Cilaos is famous for its 420 hair-raising hairpin bends, leading up to the village of thermal baths, fruity wines and locally grown lentils. 

What to do in Cilaos

Canyoning at Fleurs jaunes integralé, one of the best canyoning sites on the island 
Hike to the summit of Piton de Neiges 
Sample some of the local lentil dishes Le Tapacola, a restaurant run by local couple Mickaël and Raymonda Gonthier
Visit the Maison la broderie to see the typical embroidery work Cilaos is famous for 
Taste the locally grown wine at the Vin de Cilaos winery

Cirque de Salazie 

This UNESCO World Heritage site is easy to reach via a single road, and offers exceptional views of the “The Bride’s Veil” (Voile de la Mariée) waterfall, known as the most beautiful falls on the island. In fact, with the highest annual rainfall anywhere on the island, the road to Salazie is the perfect opportunity to see many of the island’s stunning falls as they cascade down the surrounding mountains. The cirque’s capital, Hell-Bourg, is known as the most beautiful village in overseas France, and is a perfect example of traditional architecture. 

What to do in Salazie 

Explore the village of Hell-Bourg and marvel at the pretty architecture and lush gardens 
Enjoy a typically Reunionaise dish of chou-chou gratin at P’Ti Koin Kreol
Park your car at Col des Boeufs to start your hike to Mafate 

Cirque de Mafate 

This unique and special collection of villages, set inside the heart of a collapsed volcano, is accessible only by foot. With no roads leading in or out, Mafate has maintained much of its authentic charm and is home to only 180 inhabitants. Dotted with colourful Creole homes and pristine hiking routes, this cirque is well worth exploring by foot. If hiking is not on the cards for you, it is possible to visit by helicopter. Over 120 kilometres of extremely well-kept hiking trails lead in and out of the cirque, leading hikers to small villages made up of gîtes (mountain accommodation) and little else. 

What to do in Mafate 

Hike around the villages to see the unique way of life the locals, who are passionate about nature preservation, lead every day
Enjoy a relaxed pace at your gîte. Some even offer hot tubs! 

Remember to book your activities and accommodation ahead, and make sure you have snacks and water for your road trips. Then enjoy all the three cirques of Reunion Island have to offer. 

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