Reunion’s interior is dominated by three craters, relics of long dormant volcanoes that have collapsed to form natural amphitheatres in which the island’s natural beauty takes centre stage. The verdant forests and stark ravines are where keen hikers can explore winding trails that ascend to the tops of mountains and peer down into the lush craters from up high; those who choose to visit the Cirques on holiday will need a decent level of fitness to explore this region to the full - hiking is the popular choice for exploring them.
The largest of the three craters is Cirque de Cilaos, which can be likened to the French Alps in the summertime. Here you will discover many walking, hiking and driving routes through the mountain forests and steep ravines, with a mix of gentle walks and harder treks to suit all levels of fitness. Adventurous activities include mountain biking (you can hire bikes nearby) and canyoning down some of the tall waterfalls. A well-equipped spa with thermal baths offers the ideal place to relax after your exertions. Self-drive holidays to the Cirques offer the freedom to explore at your own pace, using the mountain roads to explore quiet hamlets and hairpin bends which wind upwards to the rim of the crater. It’s worthwhile staying within the crater itself to make the most of your time here, and the attractive village of Cilaos is peaceful and home to several excellent restaurants and wine producers.
The widest canyon is Cirque de Mafate, its rugged beauty easy on the eye but not on the tyres, as there’s no access by vehicle and only footpaths lead into the cirque. Inside the crater you’ll find a scattering of hamlets, home to a hardy bunch of around 600 people who enjoy the remote splendour and living off the land. Here you’ll find more than 100 kilometres of hiking trails and stunning view points – you can look out over the cirque from an excellent vantage point above Maido, or for the best perspective take a helicopter flight from St Gilles on the coast.
Of the three natural amphitheatres, Cirque de Salazie is the most verdant, packed with beautiful gorges, bubbling hot springs and hundreds of waterfalls. You can drive within the cirque, taking you up to a viewpoint close to a babbling cascade, or explore on your own steam and try canyoning, mountain biking and climbing. Salazie is the ideal starting point for a tour as it’s just two hours’ drive from the airport, making it the most accessible of the three cirques.
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