Hiking is super popular on the island and thousands of people fly over from France every year to tackle the tough, yet rewarding trails. We hiked for three days, starting at Salazie, into the remote cirque of Mafate, where 700 people live. The villages in Mafate are accessible only by foot, which makes hiking there so special. It’s a truly unique experience and even though there were times I thought I would not survive during the hike, I did and I lived to tell of its beauty.
1. Don't stress too much about budget
Hiking is free and you don’t need a permit. It’s a good idea to study your hiking map thoroughly and to either learn a few French phrases or keep a phrase book with you (or most likely an app on your phone). The trails are clearly marked out though, so you should be fine.
2. Book accommodation ahead
Along the way you stay in what the locals call “gites”; little mountain lodges. Accommodation ranges from hostel rooms (17 Euro per night) to private rooms and needs to be booked well in advance. Dinner is served long-table style in the early evening and consists of traditional food like choux choux gratin (a potato bake-like dish) and sausage stew served with rice and lentils. And of course, rum.
3. Make sure to pack lunch
Breakfast is most often coffee and bread and each village has a little bakery where you can buy sandwiches for lunch. So if you don’t like bread, make sure you pack loads of other food.
4. Book a guide if you can
Guides are wonderful, but pricey. If you’ve got the budget, definitely go for it, but if you’re strapped for cash, it’s not the end of the world. Guides cost around 250 Euro per day, so if you can get a group together and split the cost, that would be best. The great thing about having a guide is that you have someone to translate. They also take out special insurance in case of emergency on the mountain – which means you’re covered if a helicopter needs to fly you out. But as always, make sure you have your own travel insurance as an added safety.
5. You don't need to be super-fit
But a moderate level of fitness is advisable. The mountains are steep and it can take up to 5 hours to hike only a few kilometers. Make sure you're in good health, or you could have some difficulty.