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La Reunion (France) – Hiking

May 2022

I traveled from the neighboring island of Mauritius to the French island of La Reunion. The island is not known for great beaches and shark attacks happen. However, it is great for hiking. Several hiking routes traverse the island. Simple mountain huts offer accommodation on the routes. However, as I experienced the hard way, the valleys are deep and the hikes are ups and downs, every day with more than a thousand meters of altitude difference. A typical hiking day meant about 8 hours of walking. Thus, you have to be fit to hike on La Reunion.

A colleague spent several months on La Reunion before and gave me the advice not to undertake the whole hiking trip at once but to be based in the main town Saint-Denis and start the hiking from there and return back to recover for a few days and wash the clothes before going on another hike. That was a very good idea!

The mountain huts offered simple shared rooms but because of Covid-19-regulations, I was obliged to book the whole room for myself in order not to mingle with other groups. Thus, the capacity of the huts decreased a lot and it was necessary to book well ahead. It also was more expensive as I had to pay for all beds in the room although I only used one.

Some huts were already occupied on certain days, which made it difficult to find a start date so that all huts were available on the scheduled date. Six weeks before my arrival, I was finally able to reserve the huts out of Thailand in the right order together with the tourist information of La Réunion.

I spent the first few days in the main town Saint-Denis and organized some last tasks like buying a SIM-card (Orange has the best coverage), understanding the bus system (the ‘Car Jaune’ app is very helpful) and ensuring that all reservations were in place.


Jardin de l’État

This botanical garden was opened in 1776 and contains over 2,000 different plant species.

Of course, there are a few good restaurants in Saint-Denis. The island belongs to France, after all.

Restaurant Le Bar à Huîtres

I visited this restaurant every time I was in Saint-Denis and always ordered the seafood plate with oysters, shrimp and sea snails. So fresh!

Restaurant L’Atelier de Ben

This was another great restaurant.

It was difficult to find a restaurant on Sunday evening and Monday as most restaurants were closed at those times. ‘Le Palmier was’ open everyday and prepared decent meals. You need to make a reservation beforehand at these days. ‘Inde o Chine’ was also open but was more simple and not as centrally located. The large pasta portions were perfect to fill the carbohydrate reserves before a hike.

Lava tunnel at Sainte Rose

My colleague recommended visiting a lava tunnel at the east coast of the island. They were formed by flowing hot lava from an eruption of the volcano Piton de la Fournaise that was already cooling at the edges, while the hot inner part of the lava was able to flow away, leaving a tunnel.

The lava formations and the tunnel were really impressive!

Hike 1: Hell-Bourg – Belouve – Gîte de la Caverne Dufour – Cilaos

I reached Hell-Bourg by bus from Saint-Denis.

Hike from Hell-Bourg to Belouve

Looking back to Hell-Bourg

The hut (called Gîte in La Reunion) at Belouve was quite modern and one of the most comfortable of all the gîtes.

Hike from Belouve to Gîte de la Caverne Dufour

Another view to Hell-Bourg from higher up

The Gîte de la Caverne Dufour (also called Gîte Piton des Neiges) is located at 2’478 meters. It has no showers and it got very cold during the night. I slept alone in a 6-bed room (and paid for 6 people) because of Covid 19 restrictions. This made it the most expensive stay on my La Reunion trip. Most La Reunion hikers spend a night in this hut because it is close to the highest point of the island, the volcano Piton des Neiges at 3’071 meters which is also the highest point of the Indian Ocean area.

Sunrise at Piton des Neiges (3’070 m) – Top of the Indian Ocean

Most tourists get up early to experience the sunrise from top of the island. It took me 1.5 hours to reach the summit. It was cold before the sun rose.

Pictures from the the top with views to the village of Cilaos, my next destination.

View towards the volcano crater

and on the way back to the Gîte de la Caverne Dufour

Hike from Gîte de la Caverne Dufour to Cilaos

I passed the gîte and after a while saw the village of Cilaos that sits on a plateau in one of the valleys that originates at the volcano Piton des Neiges. It was still a long and steep way to go until I reached my accommodation in Cilaos where I stayed a couple of days.

I undertook a few day hikes from Cilaos.

Hike from Cilaos to La Chapelle

The next day, I hiked to a place called La Chapelle with great views to this rugged landscape.

One needs to pass a river several times (yes, you take off your shoes and wade through the cold water) and to climb over big rocks until  you finally reach La Chapelle: A pristine pond and a rock wall with an opening.

Hike from Cilaos to Cascade de Bras Rouge

The next day I hiked to the Bras Rouge waterfall.

Impressive landscapes

The valley just above the waterfall

The waterfall

and on the way back!

A great day!

I then took the bus back from Cilaos to Saint-Denis.

Hike 2: Saint-Denis – Gîte de la Roche Ecrite – Dos d’Ane – Ilet à Malheur – Roche Plate – Marla – Cilaos

Hike from Saint-Denis to Gîte de la Roche Ecrite

The hike started in Saint-Denis at the Office National des Forêts (ONF). Contrary to the information from the tourist information, the closest bus station is called Cité Papaya. The first part close to the city is not that interesting. People who want to skip this part could have taken the bus up to a bus stop called Le Brûlé. It would have saved them 3 hours. This is an information that neither the tourist office nor other websites mentioned.

View to Saint-Denis at the coast.

The weather usually turned rainy and sometimes foggy in the afternoon. Thus, it was important to start hiking early. I usually got up at 7 a.m. and started walking at 8. Here I made it in time to the hut Gîte de la Roche Ecrite but other hikers got very wet.

Gîte de la Roche Ecrite: The weather was again perfect the next day. This gîte even has showers in the room but they were cold and there was hardly any water.

Hike to Roche Ecrite (2’276 meters)

I walked 4 km to the summit of Roche Ecrite which offers a great view to the valley of ‘Cirque de Salazie’

On the descent from Roche Ecrite

Hike from Gîte de la Roche Ecrite to Dos d’Ane

The path of this hike was muddy in the beginning. It later offered great views.

View to the village of Dos d’Ane

More great views shortly before the steep descent to Dos d’Ane

Hike from Dos D’Ane to Gîte Ilet à Malheur

I met a Frenchman hiking alone at the accommodation in Dos D’Ane. For safety and entertainment, we hiked together for the next few days until Cilaos.

This was an exceptional challenging day as the distance was 21.3 km with 1’070 meters up and down.

The hike started with five river crossings where shoes had to be taken off each time.

The views were incredible.

Hike from Gîte Ilet à Malheur to Roche Plate

This was another strenuous hike with 1’250 meters ascent and 1’400 meters descent that took eight hours.

Hike from Roche Plate to Marla

This was supposed to be a shorter hike but still had its challenges with two river crossings and a long ascent to Marla where we arrived just before the rain started.

Hike from Marla to Cilaos

This day started with an ascent from 1’629 meters to a pass, the Col du Taïbit with 2’081 meters.

Then the long descent started. I decided to take the bus at the bus stop after 2 hours hiking from the Col du Taïbit. This saved me another 2 hours walking to Cilaos with the path mostly following the road. My legs were grateful for that.

I returned to Saint-Denis after a night at the village Cilaos that I already knew from my previous hike.

Hike 3: Bourg-Murat – Grand Bassin – Gîte du Volcan – Piton de la Fournaise – Bourg-Murat

I reached Bourg-Murat by bus from Saint-Denis and stayed the first night there. It has a museum dedicated to the Piton de la Fournaise volcano that illustrates volcanism and the history of the island.

It was not my plan to visit Grand Bassin which is in the opposite direction of my ultimate destination, the volcano Piton de la Fournaise. I already had a reservation at the Roche Plate hut. But two weeks before my arrival at La Reunion the tourist office informed me that the Roche Plate hut closed as there was no more power. The tourist information then suggested to visit Grand Bassin. It was a nice place but this valley is very remote and caused me to walk very long to reach my next hut Gîte du Volcan as described below.

Hike from Bourg-Murat to Grand-Bassin

The first half of the hike was along roads with occasional truck traffic. However, the descent to Grand Bassin through a wild forest was very beautiful.

I came across this shrew, a rodent introduced to La Reunion from India that spread all over the island. I later learned that the locals hunted and ate these animals in the past.

After arriving at the Gîte at Grand Bassin, I walked further to the famous waterfall of Grand-Bassin.

Cascade Grand-Bassin

Hike Grand-Bassin to Bois Court

It was impossible to reach my next destination, the Gîte du Volcan on foot as the distance was more than 25 km with a ascent of 1’700 meters. The tourist office advised me to hitch hike but did not give me further information. Thus, I asked where I could find the next road. I was surprised to hear that there was no road into this valley and I first had to walk up overcoming an altitude difference of 700 meters to a village called Bois Court to get to the nearest road.

Thanks to the bus app ‘Car Jaune’, I was able to locate bus lines that brought me first to the center of Bois Court and after a transfer to the final bus stop called ‘Terminus Pierre Cardin’ that was closer to my ultimate destination, the Gîte du Volcan. The bus stop was in the middle of nowhere and I was the last passenger in the bus. The driver wondered where I was heading and worried about me.

Hike Terminus Pierre Cardin to Gîte du Volcan

I soon found the official hiking path of the GR2 hike (GR for grande randonnée) and followed it. It was cold, foggy and rainy, not the ideal hiking weather but I had to continue because I had to reach my accommodation.

Nevertheless, it was an extraordinary landscape. Although the hut was at 1’700 meters, the path ascended up to 2’325 meters to a place called ‘Devil’s claw’ (Griffe du diable).

I reached the hut 4 hours after I left the bus and was surprised to see that I may have been the only one coming here on foot as there was a road right to the hut. It was a big hut with many guests. There were even warm showers, a luxury in the gîtes.

Hike from Gîte du Volcan to Piton de la Fournaise and back

The hike to the Piton de la Fournaise volcano was certainly one of the highlights of my La Reunion trip. This 2’632 meters high volcano is one of the most active on earth. The last eruption was 2007 when part of the crater collapsed and the floor of the crater sank by 300 meters.

As fog comes up during the morning, it is advisable to start the hike to the top early. It was raining when I started the hike but it cleared up soon.

On my way to the crater in the background

I was very lucky to see rainbows due to the occasional rain drops.

The fog was beginning to appear.

It took me 2.5 hours from the gîte to the crater rim. It was foggy but it occasionally cleared up for a short time allowing to see the crater floor.

View into the crater

On my way back I was able to take another great picture with the main crater in the background, a minor crater and a rainbow. Wow!

It was 2 p.m. when I returned to the Gîte du Volcan. My next accommodation in Bourg-Murat was 20 km away. So it was too far to hike there at this time. Moreover, I already completed a five-hour hike. According to the tourist information, I should hitchhike to Bourg-Murat. Thus, I went to the parking lot and inquired about a ride. After several unsuccessful attempts, a friendly French couple took me along. Merci!

The next morning I travelled by bus back to Saint-Denis where I stayed another two days before I flew to France for a gourmet trip, visiting some Michelin star restaurants.