What You Need To Know
Réunion Island, a French department in the Indian Ocean, is known for its volcanic, rainforested interior, offshore reefs, beaches and Creole culture. The active Piton de la Fournaise volcano, its most iconic landmark, rewards climbers with sweeping views from its rim. Piton des Neiges, a massive extinct volcano, and Réunion’s 3 cirques (calderas), natural amphitheaters formed by collapsed volcanoes, are also climbing destinations.
The island benefits from infrastructure identical to that of Northern Europe: road networks, health care, industries, shops, hotels and services … and all this in an exceptional living environment, that of an island in the Indian Ocean, surrounded by sea, mountains, volcanic landscapes and tropical forests.
The diversity of population, culture and tradition – often cited as an example – simply adds to its charm. As a foreigner it is very easy to blend in with the locals because of this magnificent cultural mix.
Area: 970 mi²
Population: 843,617 (2015)
- Réunion is an overseas département of France and therefore, since 2002, the unit of currency is the Euro, divided into 100 cents. There are plenty of banks and ATMs on the island, and most shops and hotels accept major credit cards (though most require a minimum amount for payments). Banks are generally open on weekdays from 8am to 4pm. Most businesses are required to display their prices in their windows and restaurants and hotels should have their rates visible from the exterior.
It’s not easy to change money on Reunion so try and get Euros before you travel, or just get them out of an ATM when you arrive.
There are plenty of ATMs on Reunion (in towns)
- Denominations of Euro coins are €2, €1, 50c, 20c, 10c, 5c, 2c, and 1c.
- Euro banknotes are issued in €500, €200, €100, €50, €20, €10, €5 notes.
The climate is tropical and humid. The seasons are the opposite to the UK but the sea temperature rarely drops below 23°C! The summer from December to March with an average temperature of 26°C on the coast. Winter is from April to November with an average temperature of 20°C on the coast. However, as one moves inland, and up, the temperature drops progressively – so, do not forget some warm clothing if you intend to trek the cirques. It actually snowed in the ‘heights’ in October 2006 and for once the “Piton des Neiges” at 3072 metres lived up to its name.
The cyclone season is usually between December and February and on the rare occassion that a cyclone comes close enough to be a threat one is always alerted well in advance.
Being an island situated in the Indian Ocean, Réunion has very much a maritime climate. The prevailing winds blow from the east and south-east – the west coast being known as the leeward coast. On days when one needs a break from the beach, a trip up into the ‘Hauts” with a refreshing breeze is ideal.
The east coast has, generally, more rain than the west but for a small island nothing is ever quite that simple. The are many ‘micro-climates’ throughout the island and one can be sure to find one that is suitable.
French is the official language of La Réunion, though it is by no means the only language spoken on the island: Réunionais Creole is spoken by all natives, and there are also some Asian languages (Tamil and Mandarin) spoken by minorities
Health and security
- In rural areas, modern medicine is complemented by traditional local practices based on a mixture of different beliefs (Hindus, Christian, and Malagasy).
Many people consult devineurs who can predict the future and give advice about their problems.
- Most visits to Réunion are trouble-free. Crime levels are low, but you should take sensible precautions.
- As when travelling to any foreign destination, visitors should be vigilant of their personal belongings, not overtly display signs of wealth (e.g. mobile phones, money, expensive jewellery), or walk around alone in an unknown area at night. Réunion is, however, relatively safe. Swimmers should be aware of currents and riptides; take note of signs on the beaches and, if unsure, ask the locals. Shark attacks are a concern off the island. The cyclone season is from December to April. The Piton de la Fournaise volcano is considered likely to erupt at some point in the near future.
- Be warned however that you will not find many places to buy just SIM cards or hire a phone for short-term use. This is precisely because most visitors come from mainland France and so do not need to do anything or much for their mobile phone to work in Reunion.
- Travellers from non-EU countries over 17 years of age entering Réunion can bring in the following items duty-free: either 200 cigarettes, 50 cigars or 250g tobacco, as well as 2 litres of either spirits or wine, 50g perfume or 250ml eau de toilette, gold jewellery not exceeding 500g, 500g coffee, 100g tea and other goods to the value of €175 per adult, or €90 for children under 15 years.
- You need to be able to speak some a little bit of French if you go there. Few people in Reunion speak English. Apart from the local patois creole, people speak only French.
- The best way to see the country is to a hire a car. This is quite easy in theory. You only need to have had a driving license for a year or two. Besides, the major car rental companies, there are many other local companies which have competitive prices.