Cirque De Mafate: Crazy Cats & Flower Rum In The Mountains

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Cayenne Village Reunion

Cayenne Mountain Village

Reunion Island, France

Steep green cliffs rose high on both sides of the trail. Thick white clouds moved in as we trudged into the wilderness of Reunion Island.

Cirque de Mafate is a volcanic caldera, formed long ago when part of volcano Piton des Neiges collapsed. It’s one of 3 cirques on Reunion Island, a remote French territory located in the Indian Ocean.

Today we were hiking to the center of the island. But first six of us climbed on the back of a 4×4 pickup truck, plus a few more inside, for an off-road drive through the River des Galets in a makeshift taxi.

From there it’s a 2-3 hour hike into the mountains to reach the remote villages of Mafate, originally built when the interior of the island was colonized by escaped slaves during the 19th century.

Taxi Reunion Island

Off Road Taxi Ride

River Reunion Island

Riviere des Galets

Cirque De Mafate

There are no roads in Mafate, yet 800 people live in a handful of communities built inside the caldera. The only way to reach the area is on hiking trails or by helicopter.

Our guide Ludo led the way, and immediately we were forced to wade across the river several times hiking into the valley. The path became steeper with switchbacks and a few high bridges spanning long drops to the rocks below.

A small mangy dog joined the group and hiked with us for a while. Low-flying helicopters buzzed overhead every 30 minutes or so, shuttling food & supplies to the villagers.

Hiking on Reunion Island

Hiking Cirque de Mafate

Cayenne Houses Reunion

Houses in Cayenne Village

More Cats Than People

Our destination was Cayenne village, where a local family was hosting us for lunch. Cayenne is completely cut off from the grid. They use solar panels and a few diesel generators for power.

If residents want to visit the supermarket, they must hike out of the mountains for 2 hours, then jump in a 4×4 taxi. The local school teacher makes this journey every Monday, staying overnight during the week before heading back to her home on the weekends.

It takes a special kind of person to live so far out in the wilderness!

We arrived to find the village completely overrun by cats. Big cats, little cats, dirty cats, funny cats. It was my kind of place.

Homes here are small, colorful, and simple. They even have a little church.

Cayenne Village Reunion

Mountain Cats of Mafate

Cayenne Village Reunion

Dirty Little Kitten

Local Creol Lunch

Our hosts Jeff & Cathy were already preparing a traditional Creole meal cooked over an open fire. We wandered around the town taking photos or playing soccer with kids on a grass covered helipad.

When lunch was ready we sat down to a peaceful and relaxing meal surrounded by the tall green cliffs, banana trees, and colorful flowers. Shoveling delicious steamed rice and Rougail Saucisse (sausages with tomatoes, green mango, and ginger) into our faces while simultaneously fending off an onslaught of hungry cats.

Washing it all down with local Dodo beer, shots of Orchid flower infused Charrette Rum, and strong coffee.

Cayenne Village Reunion

Cooking Lunch on an Open Fire

Cayenne Village Reunion

Spicy Creol Sausages

Cayenne Village Reunion

Crazy Kitty Invasion

Flying Out Of The Mountains

Instead of hiking back the way we arrived, we were treated to a scenic flight out of the village and over the island with Helilagon Helicopters.

Because there are no roads up here, helicopters are an important form of transportation. The chopper flew in from the valley below, touching down on the edge of a cliff. Suddenly a 2nd helicopter showed up attempting to drop off supplies — creating a sky traffic jam!

We quickly walked under the spinning blades and climbed in to take off so the other one could land.

Our expert pilot weaved through Mafate’s narrow canyons in the rain to the coast in about 15 minutes. Passing over waterfalls and other villages on the flight. This was actually my very first helicopter ride, and I loved it.

Cayenne Village Reunion

Helicopter Mountain Taxi

Cayenne Village Reunion

Goodbye Cayenne

Hiking Reunion Island

You could spend days hiking the network of beautiful trails covering Reunion island — experiencing rainforests, volcanoes, and waterfalls while camping out or staying with local villagers in mountain gites (small cabins).

But there are plenty of short day hikes for families too. The island is a hiker’s paradise.

Reunion is also host to the annual Grand Raid, an extreme ultramarathon in the mountains that attracts hundreds of runners from all over the world.

They run 100 miles over rough mountain trails non-stop for 1 or 2 days. ★

More Information

Location: Reunion Island, France
Accommodation: Cases Couleurs
Company: Tours Reunion & Ludo Marconnot
Useful Tips: While ours was a day hike, you could spend a few days hiking trails around Mafate. They are well marked, and you don’t necessarily need a guide if you’re experienced & prepared.

What is your favorite hike? Have you ever heard of Reunion Island? Share with us in the comments below!

#GoToReunion is made possible in partnership with iAmbassador and Reunion Island Tourism. As always, the content & opinions expressed here are entirely my own.

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  1. First of all, I want to thank you for the experiences told to everybody about my country.
    Your blog is wonderful and this post made me laugh ! OK the Réunion Island is a french island but it is more than 9 000 km far from France in Europe… I hope you will visit France in Europe very quickly to complete your blog.
    I am a french woman and actually, as I start a travel blog focused on France.
    I invite you to visit it before coming in France.

  2. Glad I found your blog. Being a travel blogger myself, I have a passion for travelling I love reading travel stories. I never heard of Cirque De Mafate until now. It seems nature roams free here. I too had an experience with cats in a french town called Thonon-les-Bains. Keep on inspiring us with such beautiful stories.

  3. Thank you for this post.
    I had no idea that this place exists until now.

    I have a dalmatian and a ginger cat.. All of us would be quite happy if we could visit to this place. :-)

    Great pictures.


  4. Hi Matthew,
    This island looks awesome and amazing cats are just beautiful . Being seen in the images cats have been part of the visitors. i liked the place very much

  5. Orchid flower shots? Yes, please, tell me more!

    Sounds like a hiker’s paradise! How would you go about securing some sort of accommodation? Are the locals willing to host random tourists, or do you need to let them know of your arrival somehow?

      1. Dear Matthew,

        Will you be able to share more on the vendor you contacted with regards to the 4×4? Also, how did you get Helilagon Helicopters to pick you up after your hike? I can’t find that option in their website. Look forward to your insights!


  6. Those cats are so cute!!

    And this island looks so beautiful. There’s something a little romantic about communities being cut off like that. I used to do volunteer work in some of the hilltribe villages in northern Thailand, and there were a few that were completely cut off from any roads, etc. The self-sufficiency and the community spirit of the villages was really admirable.

    Obviously there are negatives to this level of isolation; if there was a medical emergency, for example. And it might be hard to find schoolteachers with that level of dedication, should the current one quit. So I guess there are as many cons as there are pros. I’m presuming the people living there aren’t complaining about their situation (they look perfectly happy in your photos!)

    The other positive is that by there being so little infrastructure, the natural environment remains preserved! Those mountains look amazing.

    1. Very true Karyn. The isolation up there is kinda nice, and the local people like it that way. Most of them make a living working for the National Park or in tourism.

      Even if they have to pool resources to go pick up groceries in a helicopter, they seem to prefer this type of lifestyle.