Lindsay Polega is a travel blogger and adventure enthusiast currently based out of Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean. Her past travels have taken her through Europe, across Canada and the U.S., and into many oceans. If you would like to follow her adventures, or take a peek into her past ones, visit her blog at www.lindsay-polega.squarespace.com, follow her on Twitter at @GrOwWithLindsay, and on Instagram at @lindsaypolega.
So You’ve Never Heard of Reunion Island?
If you’ve never heard of Reunion Island, don’t be ashamed, not many English speakers have. In fact, you’ve probably only heard of this island if you speak French, in which case you know it as Île de la Réunion or La Réunion. Reunion Island is situated approximately 600 miles east of Madagascar, near the island of Mauritius. Although it is officially an overseas department of France, it is one of the most culturally blended places in the world. It is also home to one of the Earth’s most active volcanoes, Piton de la Fournaise, which has already erupted three times this year! Located alongside the volcano are three cirques – Salazie, Cilaos, and Mafate. They were formed inside of Piton des Neiges, and further shaped by centuries of erosion.
French is the “official” language of the island, and most islanders are able to converse in it, but Réunionese Creole is more widely spoken. Like the people themselves, the language stems from French, but has been influenced by Malagasy, Portuguese, Tamil, Hindi, and Gujarati. To understand how this language came to be, it is best to take a quick look at the island’s history. Until the late 17th century, the island was uninhabited by humans. Its first true settlers came from France and Madagascar, and were quickly joined by African slaves, Chinese laborers, and Indian workers.
The island’s food and architecture are just as diverse as its settlers. If one were to venture through the city center of Saint Paul, they’d come across Thai restaurants, French bakeries (probably run by a Chinese man), street-side Creole chicken grillers, and American snack bars. The architecture carries an obvious beach vibe, and is typically built in a manner that naturally ventilates against hot Southern Hemisphere summers. Due to the heat, it is best to visit the island between March and September.
Overall, staying on the island is relatively affordable, but flying to it can be a bit pricey due to the very limited number of airlines servicing to it. Your best bet is to book with a travel agent, as they oftentimes can tack on first-class seating, or a short-stopover (AKA a second trip!) at little to no extra cost. If you’re going to adventure all the way to Reunion Island, why not visit Paris, London or Johannesburg along the way!
Of course you’re wondering, what is there to do on this island, especially as an English speaker? In short, everything an adventure enthusiast has ever dreamed of! With over 400 microclimates, there is truly an option for everyone here. The mountains and cirques offer up some of the best hiking trails known to mankind. Ranging from beginner level to absolute professional, every one of these hikes offers views that will not disappoint. Better yet, the island is overflowing with natural swimming basins fed by waterfalls. That’s right, waterfalls, and lots of them! It is also a popular destination for cannoning (an extreme waterfall rappelling experience), helicopter tours, parasailing, scuba diving, snorkeling (make sure to swim in an approved shark free lagoon, such as L’Ermitage in Saint Gilles les Bains), and mountain biking! But you don’t have to be an adventure enthusiast to enjoy your time here. Why not relax on a white sandy beach (or a black volcanic sand coastline!), tour a geranium distillery, or take a whale watching tour?
After all of this, you’re probably wondering why you’ve never heard of Reunion Island. It’s absolutely exploding with culture, history, adventure, and relaxation! When I was offered a teaching position here, I asked the same question. I’ve spent only a few months living in paradise, but I’m not sure that I’ll ever be able to leave! This island holds potential to fulfill every vacationers expectations. In a place half the size of Rhode Island one can dive from waterfalls, swim with dolphins, hike through both jungle and desert-like landscapes, watch a volcanic eruption, and start every morning with yoga on the beach. If you think that this is all there could possibly be to it, guess again! I haven’t even started on the music, the wildlife, or the festivals!
So, now that you’ve heard of Reunion Island, what are you waiting for? There’s more to be discovered! Let’s go, allons-y!