Responsible travel in Reunion Island, the French overseas natural paradise
2512 square kilometres of breathtaking landscapes, an incredibly rich ecosystem, a cultural melting pot, unlimited adventures, colourful fishes, smiling inhabitants, constantly changing weather, various tropical flavours of rhum arrangé to enjoy in good company and a thousand emotions.
Our immersive discovery of this incredible island was the exact confirmation of the benefits of responsible tourism. It’s incredible how nature and cultural exchange can be powerful on our souls and Réunion Island gifted us with nature, adrenaline and strong emotions.
Check the vlog about Responsible Travel in Réunion island !
Réunion Island is a French oversea territory located in the Indian Ocean, not far from Madagascar. The island was discovered back in the Middle Ages, but it was only populated starting from the XVI century after the arrival of a Portuguese sailor. Réunion became an important step for the the French West India Company and a French colony from 1710 under the name of Bourbon Island. This plantation economy was based on a slavery past and became a French oversea department in 1946. Its history strongly contributed to the creation of a real melting pot of cultures, traditions, religions and flavours!
There are unspoiled places in the world capable of enlightening your soul without asking anything in return, only to be protected.
Réunion Island has such a unique biodiversity that 40% of its territory is listed as UNESCO heritage. The area mainly corresponds to the Réunion National Parks and the three cirques: Salazie, Mafate and Cilaos. Mafate is definitely my favourite. The fact that it’s the only one to be accessible exclusively on foot makes it so special. A magic sunrise from Maido, the breathtaking view from Gran Bénare, the colourful village of La Nouvelle where time seems to have stopped, the many ‘Bonjour’ all along the trek that are still in my mind. Images that my eyes will never forget. ONF Organisation Nationale des Forets is fundamental to protect this unique environment by checking the preservation of the hiking pathways, listing the various species of plants birds, but also by giving information to the visitors. Check this app to find all the necessary information about hiking in Réunion Island: Visiorando ! The entrance to the national parks is totally free and the pathways are incredibly well equipped and preserved.
A 40km Protected Marine Reserve was created in 2007 to preserve the incredible marine ecosystem surrounding the island, you can have a taste of it simply by bringing your mask and a tuba along the West Coast! We loved visiting Kelonya, a center for the protection of marine turtles with an important educational focus on the importance of preserving our oceans and the problem of plastic.
Canyoning in Bras Rouge was another incredible experience that allowed us to be in real contact with nature. Our expert guide, Axelle, made sure to give us all the details about the area surrounding the canyon in terms of weather, rock characteristics, water components ect. What a great dose of adrenaline!
A keyword to describe Réunion island is volcano. The island, in fact, has volcanic origins thanks to the action of two main volcanoes about 3 millions years ago: Piton des Neiges, the most ancient one, and Piton de la Fournaise.
Our exploration at Piton de la Fournaise was the hardest day of the entire staying: strong wind, low visibility, persistent rain... But we didn’t want to give up. After crossing the lunar landscape of Plaine des Sables accompanied by the first lights of the day, we arrived at Formica Leo and then continued to reach Dolomieu crater that collapsed in 2007, creating a hole of about 300m. The view was covered by fog, but the satisfaction of arriving at the summit despite the weather conditions paid it off.
The following day, another special activity was waiting for us: the visit of a lava tunnel in Tampon area with Kokapat. Tunnel Bleu was discovered 6 years ago by a local farmer that had a tractor accident. Since then, the property is private and visits are limited to respect the natural eco-system and to avoid damaging this 23 000-year-old natural treasure. The special equipment for speleology, incredible shapes created by solid lava, the unique story of this place, the rhythm of maloya, the familiarisation with darkness and the consciousness of living a memorable experience accompanied by a professional and passionate guide, Rudy.
Never in my life had I ever thought I would walk in a lava tunnel created 23 000 years ago!
We also visited the Cité du volcan in Plaine des Cafres, a real museum dedicated to volcanoes with interesting and interactive contents not only about Réunion, but also from other parts of the world as Hawaii, Chile and Iceland.
Time is the most precious thing that we have and sometimes, even when travelling, we tent to bring with us the daily rush and frenzy. Only adopting the rhythms of the destination without imposing ours allows us to live a deeper experience and this is also responsible travel, isn’t it?
Weather changes so quickly at Réunion island, so we started living at the rhythms of the sun to enjoy the earlier hours of the day. The sudden storms are a real gift for nature that make it so prosperous and rich on the island.
Here a few shots of Cirque de Salazie: a gorgeous waterfall called Voile de la Mariée (Bridal Veil) and the trail to Foret de Bélouve and Trou de fer.
This last waterfall was totally covered by fog when we arrived at the end of a 4h-trail. So we decided to eat our sandwiches under a tree that protected us from the storm. Everyone else was gone already, a bit sad about the view. And then, all of a sudden, the waterfall started opening up in front of our eyes. A few seconds of pure amazement, our hearts beating fast, a show that nature was preserving for us.
Nature teaches us how to be patient.
SLEEPING BY LOCALS
Sleeping by locals means being open to a cultural exchange, being ready for a real immersion into another human story, it means wanting to live a deeper experience.
One of the best staying was at Kati & Oliver’s place in Calimaçon, Saint Leu. They own a biological farm of bananas that they sell in different parts of the island. With the unsold fruits, Kati makes homemade delicious jams that we bought as souvenirs at the end of our staying. Her friendly smile, a glass of Rhum arrangé and this amazing terrace were waiting for us when we arrived at their place.
Kati & Oliver decided to host guests since their two daughters moved to Bordeaux (France) to study. It allows them to pay a part of their studies and to know other people from all over the world. And that’s how our stories crossed. Human beings connected through travel experiences.
I have a passion for local markets. To me, they preciously hide the real heart of a place. Saint-Paul market. Local markets are the cradle of traditions and savoir-faire, they are a special meeting point for their inhabitants and the place where the most authentic ingredients of what’s in our table comes from.
I like to stop for a moment to listen to all the vibrant sounds, to appreciate the mixed smells, to observe the local people in their daily life, to catch the typical gestures. There’s a feeling of simplicity and authenticity that can’t be explained, you have to live it.
Some local food that can be considered as real landmarks of Réunion are: Rougail Saucisse (rice and lentils with a smoked sausage), Macatia (sweet or salty bread), Cari (a kind of spicy tomato sauce that goes with tuna, chicken and lamb for example), somoussa, rhum arrangé (rhum with tropical flavours as passion fruit or litchi), Vanille Bourbon (one of the most prestigious variety of vanilla), le Domaine du café grillé that has the record of the most expensive coffee in the world and Bourbon Beer (also called Dodo).
THE CREOLE STYLE
The Creole style that characterises the island is linked to its colonialism past. This is the reason why there are influences from France, Madagascar, Africa and India that can be perceived in various aspects of the local lifestyle. For example, there are many religions such as Christianism, Induism, Islam and Buddism. For what concerns Maloya, the typical music from Réunion, it is composed of about 36 instruments which are the result of various cultural influences.
This fascinating creole style is also visible in the architecture in HellBourg, the only ''Les plus beaux villages de France'' outside metropolitan France, and Saint Denis, the capital of the island.
Réunion was one of the best trips ever, especially because I was really missing this contact with nature and this journey made me aware of the benefits of travelling in a more conscious way while respecting the environment, being in contact with nature, learning from locals, trying the typical food and feeling blessed to have the chance to explore such an incredible paradise on hearth.