Before I went to Reunion, I thought it was a smaller, more expensive version of Mauritius. I was wrong. I am rarely wrong, and admit it even less often (ask my hubby if you don’t believe me – this is a massive statement coming from me).
There are certainly similarities between the two neighbouring islands, like lovely beaches, tropical climate and a lot of rum drinking. But I found Reunion to be a little more on many accounts. This is also not something I say lightly, because I really, really like Mauritius (you can read some of my blogs here).
Here are a few things I definitely didn’t know about Reunion:
It is France
Not as in they speak a French-based Creole and very poor English (although that is true too), but as in this IS France. You need a Schengen visa (unless you are South African, as they are exempt), they drive on the right side of the road and (here’s my favourite) everything works! People follow the rules of the road, public transport is well-organised and on time, and there is a functioning social system (meaning that you don’t really encounter poverty in the way you do on other Indian Ocean islands).
It is not (necessarily) that expensive
Pretty much every person I spoke to before going to Reunion commented that it is so expensive there. I think this perception is based on the fact that their currency is the Euro (it is France, remember) and that most things are imported. Sure, at the upmarket hotels it is not cheap, but then again tell me one destination where it is. But shopping in the supermarket won’t break the bank (in fact, many things are the same price or cheaper than in mainland France due to a VAT rebate), and if you seek out smaller restaurants where the locals go you can have a nice meal for less than 10 Euro. There are also lots of small b&b’s across the island, and the even cheaper gites (a kind of hostel with a selection of private and bunk-bed options) where you can self-cater.
It’s got nature and adventure galore
I’d been told that the interior of the island was covered with spectacular mountains and gorges, but I wasn’t quite prepared for the awesomness I encountered. It is like being transported to a fairytale landscape where you can hike for days, go rafting or canyoning (which I did – it was the most awesome thing I’ve ever done!) and even do some serious climbing and abseiling (apparently some of the best teams in the world come here to practice). Obviously, there are also a lot of water sports. I didn’t have time to go diving, but I’m told that it is great and that during whale season (July to October) you can dive with the whales!
It has (one of) the world’s most active volcanoes
Seriously, the last time Piton de la Fournaise erupted was in February this year! But fear not, it is a shield (or Hawaiian style) volcano which means that it erupts with a slow lava flow, rather than the exploding versions (like Vesuvius). This means that it is safe to hike quite close to the main crater, and you can also fly over it. The south-east part of the island has been covered by lava a few times, and the solidified lava rivers create an eerie landscape that is well-worth a visit.
Vanilla is the second most expensive spice in the world
The vanilla flower is open for only one day, and during that day it must be hand-pollinated (in its native Mexico, a particular wasp does this but it is not present in any other part of the world). It is also hand harvested, and the process of drying it (or more correctly aging it -just like a fine wine) can take up to 2 years with weekly rotations and airing. The biggest vanilla pods are considered so valuable that they are given the plantation owner’s brand by piercing tiny little holes into a certain patter while the pod is still growing.