Since 1 March 2013 South Africans no longer require a visa to visit Reunion Island for visits under 90 days. Reunion Island is a malaria-free tropical Indian Ocean island that is less than 3000km away from Johannesburg. It only takes 4.5 hours to fly from Johannesburg to Reunion Island on Air Austral which has 2 direct flights a week (Thursday and Sunday). A return flight costs in the region of only R5000.
Reunion is administratively an overseas department of France. It lies to the east of Madagascar and about 200km away from Mauritius. They use the Euro as their currency but fear not, when you convert to South African Rands prices are comparable in many cases.
Islanders primarily speak Creole and French but you should be able to get by with English. Language should not a concern for South African travellers. The population includes locals of French, Indian, Pakistani, Chinese and East African descent.
When you pay for a stay in Reunion Island, you are not just paying for an accommodation. You buy the destination. Reunion Island is a UNESCO World Natural Heritage site where 42% of the area of the island is designated as a protected area. The diversity of vegetation on the island is greater than what can be found in the Amazon. Every 15 to 20km on the island you get to see new scenery that is constantly changing over time. The island has one of the world’s most active and surveyed volcanoes. Some places on the island are only discoverable by foot, and others only by helicopter flight.
Reunion Island is a land of ultimate adventure. It has more than 1000km of hiking trails (option for all ages are available throughout the island), river rafting and kayaking on the east coast, paragliding on the west coast, horse-riding in the south, canyoning inland, and multiple options for surfing, skydiving, deep sea fishing and sailing amongst even more sports.
For those looking for a cultural trip Reunion Island has a number of museums, temples, churches and mosques. There is also a large break-dancing / BBoy culture on the island that I’ve heard about from local South African dancers who have previously competed there.
There are lots of B&B’s and self-catering accommodation options available on Reunion Island. They do not want to have any large resorts as they want to keep it an eco-friendly destination but there are still luxurious options available.
The best way to get around is by hiring a car and spending the day driving around the island. The locals are very friendly and it is said that if you need help with directions a local may sit with you and direct you to your destination and then hitchhike his/her way back.
There is a great sense of community with strong heart and soul amongst locals. Cuisine-wise I have been told to expect a good variety of food from an assortment of French pastries to spicy Creole dishes and a variety of fresh organic produce.
Reunion Island is at the top of my bucket list of places to visit in 2014. I haven’t visited it yet, but as I research more choices of itineraries and adventures, and when I finally get to visit the island I will be writing more articles on this amazing destination that has me intrigued. I see it as the perfect destination for a high-value foreign backpacking and trekking adventure!
Update: I did finally visit Reunion Island in December 2015. Some expectations were met, but the trip was not without its challenges. Here’s my article on it: Reunion Island as a summer destination?