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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. ★
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I hope you enjoyed my guide to Cirque De Mafate! Hopefully you found it useful. Here are a few more wanderlust-inducing articles that I recommend you read next:
What is your favorite hike? Have you ever heard of Reunion Island? Share with us in the comments below!