• Réunion | Tips and Infomation

    I'm back from my trip to Réunion and it was absolutely wonderful. I went back and forth with the idea of doing a "Travel diary" of our stay on the island but I'm not sure if there will be must interest in it. I captured each day on my Instragram feed and it serves as a diary of what we did each day. So the focus of this post is more some tips and information should you choose to visit Réunion.
    Réunion
    Piton de la Fournaise 
    Some quick information:
    Réunion is accessible from Cape Town (South African Airways via Johannesburg) or directly from Johannesburg through Air Austral. The island is a region of France and therefore the currency is Euros and French is spoken across the island. You drive on the right hand side of the road but it is easy to get around via car. You don't need a visa if you are a South African resident and from our experience, they are delighted to have South African visitors.

    Getting there
    When we booked our tickets there was a huge difference in price when departing from Cape Town than from Johannesburg. We saved thousands of rands by flying to Johannesburg through another airline and then to Réunion via Air Austral. It's a good idea to do a cost comparison and see which works out better for you. There are 3 flights a week to the island. If you have some spare budget, I would recommend the Comfort - Premium Economy tickets. You get first class treatment, loads of space and on-board entertainment. It makes the trip so much more comfortable and enjoyable. We traveled to Réunion in Comfort - Premium Economy and it was wonderful. Coming back we were in Economy but fortunately we didn't have a third person in our row.
    Air Austral
    Photo captured when leaving the island
    Rent a car
    There is a bus system around the island but it doesn't run very often and many of the stops are quite a distance from the natural attractions. Traveling around the island takes a while because the roads are very narrow and you have to get used to driving on the right hand side of the road. In total we spent 55 Euros on fuel (cost is 1.02 Euros per liter) and we did a lot of driving. There are petrol attendants to assist you.

    Download the Google Maps Réunion offline map and ditch the GPS
    When we hired our car, we paid over R1000 for the use of a GPS. It was so difficult to use and we decided to try out Google maps. Before leaving South Africa, JP downloaded an offline Réunion map and it worked perfectly! What is also great is that Google Maps plots out attractions, places of interest, Fuel stations, hotels, shops, etc....basically everything you need. We found it to be very accurate with its routes and discovered some great places with the help of it.

    Download Google Translate French pack
    It is very difficult to know what signs and menus say because everything is in French (especially in the smaller villages). It was only in the bigger cities that things had English alongside the French. We found it very useful to not only translate things but when needed we would type out what we wanted and it assisted us when trying to communicate with someone who didn't know any English at all.
    Réunion
    Bassin la Paix
    Always be prepared for a hike, swim and picnic
    Réunion is an outdoors person's dream! There is so much to see and almost always requires you to do at least a short walk. On our second full day of the island we found that the island is scattered with places to swim and they make great picnic spots. So each day we packed swimsuits, towels, hiking shoes, a change of clothing and picnic.
    Réunion
    Bassin la Mer
    Shop when you find a good store and make your own meals
    We found that in the initial part of the island where we stayed (La Plaine-des-Palmistes), there weren't too many stores to buy food and often the stores are closed - so when you find a good store, stock up on items for your picnic basket. Hotel breakfasts are quite pricey for what you get - most offer continental breakfasts breads, cereal, cold meats and yoghurt which usually costs about 12 - 14 Euros per person. Although we did have breakfast as each place we stayed, we didn't do it every single day and rather preferred to cater for ourselves from the stores. You get a lot more for your money. In the last hotel we stayed in, we had a full kitchenette which was great. We could cook proper meals which saved us quite a bit in the end.

    Build in extra time into your travel
    Traffic on the island is very unpredictable and also very congested around the main cities. We found that even in the middle of the morning or afternoon there was traffic on the weekdays. this means a short trip can take very long, added to this is that the roads are narrow and quite higgledy piggledy so you have to drive quite slowly, especially when you enter sugar cane areas - you more often than not get caught behind a tractor with a full load on board. When you leave for the airport, build in way more time than you need when traveling in the morning or late afternoon. Traffic past each of the cities is really bad all the way through Saint Denis.
    Réunion
    Anse des Cascades
    Plan your activities for the day in a specific area
    Because it takes a while to travel from one side of the island to another, it is best to plan on an area you would like to explore and look at what there is to do. If you don't plot out activities this way, you end up spending hours in your car driving from place to place rather than on enjoying what the island has to offer.
    Réunion
    Piton de la Fournaise - photo taken while on the helicopter tour
    Don't under-estimate the hike to volcano summit
    We were not well prepared for this hike at all. It is about 9km each way (from the parking lot to the summit and back) and the path is very uneven. It is not a comfortable walk because the trail is made up of uneven lava flow, loose rocks and also sharp angled rocks. The weather is unpredictable in this part of the island. We experienced cold temperatures (below 10 degrees), strong winds, rain and blistering heat all in one day. So have layers to keep warm and dry, decent hiking boots (you need the grip and protection from the rocks), lots of water and snacks. There aren't picnic spots and because there isn't any vegetation, there aren't any shady spots either.....also no rest rooms. It's really not a "walk in the park". You have to be a bit fit - I am not the fittest person but I do work out 3 times a week for 30 minutes at a time, do some park runs and I still found it tough. The uphills are seemingly never ending and the terrain is very uneven. But I made it in one piece without falling (I struggled with pain in my weak knee but this is something I kind of knew would be a problem). It was a tough and rough climb but I am so glad I did it.
    Réunion
    Tunnels de Lave - Operator used: Envergure Réunion
    You can book activities via email
    We didn't get a sim card for our stay and relied on the wifi at the hotels to make contact with people back home. For certain activities that we wanted to do, we booked via email or website. We did the lava tunnel tours and also a helicopter flight - both which we booked online and communicated via email.

    Some extra things to be aware of:
    1. The operating hours of stores aren't as predictable as in South Africa and it is difficult to find a store open on a public holiday. This proved difficult because I was sick and needed to get medication from a pharmacy. At the time we were on the East of the island where there aren't big cities.
    2. There are a lot of homeless animals. Each place we visited and stopped at had stray dogs and cats looking for food. It was really heartbreaking and I struggled to hold back tears a number of times.
    3. Réunion is not an architectural hotspot - the majority of the buildings and houses appeared to lack maintenance work or even looked partially built. It doesn't have a picturesque cityscape but after the inital "shock" it grows on you 
    4. Tips are included in the cost of your meal or service following the French culture. However, we did tip people where we felt we were received great service and it was very much appreciated.

    Areas we stayed:
    1. Saint Denis (overnight) - we didn't spend much time exploring this area but traffic was quite bad, especially in the morning when we headed to the airport.
    2. La Plaine-des-Palmistes (3 nights) - great area, close to many activities on the East and South.
    3. Saint Pierre (2 nights) - location was good for access to the South of the island but traffic was bad and it was very windy most of the time.
    4. Saint-Gilles-les-Bains (4 nights) - great location and close to the only proper beaches on the island.
    Réunion
    Cascade de Grand Galet
    If there is anything you would like specific information on, please leave a comment down below or you can contact me (Twitter, email or Instagram). I'm more than happy to help where I can.
    Helilagon Réunion
    Helicopter Tour - Operator used: Helilagon
    This trip was really wonderful and filled with so many special moments that I won't easily forget. In fact, I would easily return to do a few things we didn't get around to doing.

    Big Hugs,
    Charlene XXX

    2 comments:

    1. Thanks for this post! Really keen to visit there. Two questions, how long is the flight? And how many days do you think is needed to fully enjoy everything the island has to offer?

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      Replies
      1. So glad you found this useful. The flight is around 4hours from Joburg. We stayed for 9 days and didn’t really complete all we wanted to - still wanted to do Cilios area and hike to the Grand Bassin. I wasn’t well so two of the days we lost out on and filled them with other stuff. But I think 10 days is enough. If you plan out your itinerary properly you can maximize on your time. If you have any other questions let me know :)

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