Tips for South Africans visiting Reunion Island

  • 05 June 2014

Firstly, here are some reasons why South Africans should visit Reunion Island:

  • It’s only a four-hour flight from Johannesburg
  • You don’t need a visa with a South African passport
  • The island offers an amazing mix of opportunities for relaxation, adventure, cultural education, and trying many interesting foods
  • The weather is excellent throughout the year – even in winter the air temperature is around 26°C, and you can swim in the Indian Ocean all day without a wetsuit
  • There are endless photographic opportunities, whether you’re in the towns, villages or mountains
roland garros airport

Roland Garros International Airport on Reunion Island. Photo courtesy of Patrick Donovan

Once you’ve decided to book your trip, here are some tips to consider:

1.Compare flight options

Air Austral is the only airline that offers direct flights between Johannesburg and Saint-Denis on Reunion Island, with return flights starting at around R5 500 per person. Flights on this route with Air Austral are offered every Thursday and Sunday.

Air Austral also flies between Mauritius and Reunion, meaning you can also consider South African Airways and Air Mauritius

2. Learn some French before you go

Currently, probably less than 1% of visitors to Reunion Island speak English as a first language, and as a result communication on the island is in French. But don’t let this deter you; simply plan as if you were going to visit France itself, and open your mind to the challenge.

Many people on the island can speak English, but are simply very self-conscious about this. The best way around this is to initiate conversations in French, as bad as yours may be. You will earn respect for making the effort, and you’ll also make the other person more comfortable about speaking English.

Start with a simple greeting: “Bonjour” (“hello”) and then ask politely, “Parlez-vous Anglais?” (“Do you speak English?”). The answer may be “Non” (“No”), in which case you need to patiently revert to sign language. Often, people who can't speak English will point out a friend or a colleague who can.

Often the answer to the golden question will be, “Just a little” – which means it’s possible to have a conversation with the person. Speak slowly, and throw in as many French words for nouns as possible.

3. Budget in euros

The euro is the only currency used on Reunion Island. With the current exchange rate, €1 is around R15. You can draw money from ATMs and use your credit card at most stores and restaurants. Note that there are only two foreign exchange change outlets on the island – one is at the airport, the second is 3 rue de Nice in the town centre of Saint-Denis.

4. Plan to use your phone sparingly

Check with your network provider as to whether roaming services will be available and what the costs will be, if so. Reunion SIM cards are around €30 (R450), and that’s before you’ve made a call.

Most restaurants, bars and hotels offer free wifi, so you can get online easily in urban areas.

5. Get an adaptor

There are no three-pin plugs on Reunion Island, so make sure you have a two-pin adaptor for any three-pin plugs you are planning to take.

6. Buy your toiletries before leaving

Necessary toiletries such as toothpaste and sunscreen are around three times more expensive on Reunion Island, so if you’re on a budget, rather purchase these before leaving to allow more funds for food and experiences.

7. Be mindful of shopping hours

score supermarket reunion

Supermarkets in the bigger towns of Reunion Island are open until around 9pm most week nights. However, supermarkets close by 2pm on Sunday and many stores don’t open at all on Mondays.

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