Reunion

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Introduction to Reunion

Few people outside mainland France know of Réunion and even fewer know of its spectacular natural wonders. The island's dearth of world-class beaches has a lot to do with its lack of mass tourism, but what Réunion lacks at sea level it more than makes up for in its wildly dramatic mountain country.

The forbidding mountains and gorges offer a ton of trekking possibilities. If you love Nepal or New Zealand, you'll also love Réunion, which has similar high-quality hiking and trekking - but with a tropical twist. Unfortunately the island is madly expensive, so come loaded.

Few people outside la métropole (mainland France, that is) know of Réunion and even fewer know of its spectacular natural and scenic wonders. The island's dearth of world-class beaches probably has a lot to do with its lack of mass tourism , but whatever Réunion lacks at sea level, it more than makes up for in its wildly dramatic mountain country. The forbidding mountains and gorges offer a ton of trekking possibilities. If you love Nepal or New Zealand, you'll also love Réunion, which has similar high-quality hiking and trekking - but with a tropical twist.

You can also live in style, as the Réunionnais enjoy most of the luxuries of metropolitan France. Unfortunately, this means prices as high as the peaks. It would be financial suicide to travel in Réunion on a shoestring, and you may risk being repatriated as un misérable!

Full country name: Department of Réunion

Area: 2,510 sq km

Population: 720,934

Capital City: St-Denis (pop 145,000)

People: French, African, Malagasy, Chinese, Pakistani, Indian

Language: French,

Religion: Roman Catholic (70%), Hindu, Islam, Buddhist

Government: overseas départment of France

GDP: US$3.4 billion

GDP per capita: US$4,800

Annual Growth: 3.8%

Major Industries: Sugar, rum, cigarettes, handicraft items, flower oil.

Major Trading Partners: France, Japan, Comoros, Bahrain, Italy.

Member of EU: Yes

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Traveler Facts

Visas: Visa requirements for Réunion are the same as for France. Citizens of the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the European Union and a handful of other countries may enter Réunion for up to 3 months without a visa.

Time Zone: GMT/UTC +4

Dialling Code: 262

Electricity: 220V ,50Hz

Weights & measures: Metric



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Events

Major festivals in Réunion involve exhibitions with competitions, sports events, music, dancing and various other activities. The Indian community is principally made up of Tamil Hindus and they hold some amazing rites, including cavadees and fire-walking ceremonies. The Hindu temple in St-André is the most popular location for these events. Towns and villages across the island take turns at celebrating over a week or weekend; the excuse is to honour their primary product, which can be anything from chou chou to sugar cane. Examples include the Fête de la Vanille in Bras-Panon, celebrating vanilla for 10 days in mid-May; the Fête du Safran in St-Joseph, celebrating saffron for 10 days in August; the Fête des Letchis in St-Denis, celebrating lychees for one week in mid-December.

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Best time to Visit

Climate should be your first consideration if you want to experience Réunion at its best. The only time to seriously consider trekking through Réunion's spectacular mountain country is during the dry season from April to September. The downside of climate-related trip planning is that everyone else has the same idea. You're strongly advised to book well in advance, especially during the peak tourist times. April, May and the French school holidays from late July to early September are the busiest times, and in August you risk being left high and dry without accommodation unless you book in advance. This is also high trekking season. The quietest times are during cyclone-prone February and March. The seasons normally change in April and that isn't too bad for a time for a visit; but, for maximum spatial and climatic enjoyment, May and June are probably the best months of all.



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Currency / Costs / Approx. Spending

Currency: euro

Meals

Budget: US$7-15

Mid-range: US$15-20

High: US$20-25

Deluxe: US$25+

Lodging

Budget: US$20-30

Mid-range: US$30-45

High: US$45-70

Deluxe: US$70+

If you don't want to live in budget accommodation, and intend to indulge in lots of water activities, come with a decent budget. If you intend on staying at the more upmarket hotels, it may be best to take advantage of package rates by booking from overseas. Réunion is an expensive place to visit primarily due to the lack of inexpensive accommodation, though you can head into the hills and camp or stay in mountain huts. If you stay in budget accommodation, you should be able to keep the costs down to about US$30 a day. Otherwise, a moderate budget will require closer to US$50-60 a day; an upscale one can reach the highest heights.

The main banks in Réunion are French. There's technically no problem changing major foreign currencies in Reunion - all banks offer exchange facilities - but low official exchange rates and punitive commissions on changing foreign currency travellers cheques make it sensible to carry euros, or at least travellers cheques in euros, for your stay in Réunion. Most major credit cards are widely accepted.

Many restaurants include service charges in their prices and don't encourage additional tipping, but those which advertise service non compris on their menus do expect something. Taxi drivers also seem not to expect tips. Few shops in Réunion are open to bargaining.

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Attractions

Saint-Denis

Saint-Denis, Réunion's capital, is a pleasant and lively town unjustly overlooked by travellers; most use it only as a jumping-off point. Yet the city's architectural wealth, its Government Park and its many good restaurants provide an excellent introduction to Réunion's distinctive qualities.

St-Denis is small, but there's plenty to do - revelling in the architectural splendour of the Creole mansions, strolling in the seafront park, exploring the hill districts with their splendid views. There's also a couple of fine museums and a jumping market.

St-Gilles-les-Bains

The beach scene may not be what Réunion is all about, but at times you have to wonder. On weekends and during holiday periods, St-Gilles-les-Bains becomes ridiculously overcrowded, with packed restaurants, cramped beaches and all-day traffic snarls.

The excitement centres on the 20km (12mi) stretch of lagoon and white coral sand beach stretching from Boucan Canot to La Souris Chaude (literally, the Hot Mouse). The sand is of the black volcanic variety either side of this area. Inland, a parking area encompasses some great waterfalls and pools.

St-Paul

Attractive and worth a few hours of exploration, St-Paul is often bypassed by those scurrying towards the surf and white sand further south. As the original capital of Réunion, it bears a tropical and colonial air, with historical buildings and streets lined with cannons and shaded by coconut trees.

The only site that could be considered an attraction is the bright, well-kept Cimetière Martin near the southern end of town. It's a place to wander and recall the island's tumultuous, renegade and mercantile past. It contains the plots and remains of Réunion's writers, rogues and gentry.

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Disclaimer: We've tried to make the information on this web site as accurate as possible, but it is provided 'as is' and we accept no responsibility for any loss, injury or inconvenience sustained by anyone resulting from this information. You should verify critical information like (visas, health and safety, customs, and transportation) with the relevant authorities before you travel.

Sources: CIA FactBook, World FactBooks and numerous Travel and Destinations Guides.

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