Into the cirques of Reunion Island

For being such a small landmass, Reunion Island towers impressively far above the Indian Ocean. At its widest point, the island measures only 40 miles, but it boasts an elevation of over 10,000 feet. The result is an interior web of mountain ecosystems that rival the beauty of the island’s tropical shore.

The most iconic of Reunion’s geographic features are its three cirques that flank the island’s highest peak, Piton de Neige. A cirque is an amphitheater bowl-shaped depression formed by millions of years of erosion.

Reunion’s three cirques — Mafate, Cilaos, and Salazie — are all unique in their own right. Mafate is the most remote, with no roads that enter. The only way in is by the steep foot trails. Surprisingly, some people live in these remote parts of the island. In order to preserve these mountain villages, the French government provides helicopter service to deliver supplies and remove trash, making it much more economically feasible and sustainable to live in Mafate.

For my first excursion into the mountains, I entered the cirque of Cilaos and climbed the valley ridge to drop down into the cirque of Mafate.

The first thing you notice when climbing up into the mountains of Reunion is the fresh air. The stifling humidity and ubiquitous heat of the austral summer can get a bit uncomfortable down on the coast, but up in the mountains fresh air and cool temperatures provide relief.

The views and geography are stunning, looking like a scene out of Jurassic Park. Water tumbles over ledges everywhere you look and lush vegetation clings to the sides of the impossibly steep lava cliffs.

Dropping into a cirque on Reunion Island is like entering a different world — the geography, the climate, and the people who call this area home are all so unique.

This was my first venture into the island’s interior, but it certainly won’t be my last.

The hiking crew taking off from Cilaos cirque.
Climbing over a ridge and descending into the town of Marla in Mafate cirque.
Marla sits at about 5,000 feet of elevation.
The soccer field at Marla’s elementary school. Once you graduate elementary school you have to leave Marla and head to civilization for middle and high school.
Sunrise in Mafate cirque.
We stayed at this little lodge. Rooms were simple with bunk beds and a bathroom. The local family that runs the place cooked us dinner and breakfast.
In the summertime, the days almost always start off with sunshine. But the island creates its own weather and clouds form by late morning, sometimes dropping precipitation in the afternoon.
Better views on day 2 of Mafate before the clouds formed.
The church of Marla.
Hiking break.
Capturing some wildlife.

One thought on “Into the cirques of Reunion Island

  1. Beautiful article about the stunning landscape and unique culture of Reunion Island. The photos truly showcase the breathtaking views and wildlife that one can experience while hiking through the cirques.


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