Réunion National Park (French: Parc national de La Réunion) is a French national park on the overseas department of Réunion. The "inner zone" of the national park has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2010. This park takes up 40% of the area of Réunion and one of three French national parks outside metropolitan France; the other two are in Guadeloupe and French Guiana.
The main town that serves the national park is La Plaine-des-Palmistes, which has a population of 6,626 (2016) right in the centre of the park with plenty of facilities. It is a base for visiting the many pitons and cirques.
The national park takes up most of the interior of the island. With an area of 1750 km², the park takes up about a good 70% of Réunion.
A distinction is made between two zones in the national park:
- The inner zone with an area of 1,070 km2 (410 sq mi), 60% of the national park and 40% of the area of the island, includes the area of the two volcanoes Piton des Neiges and Piton de la Fournaise, the peaks of the highest mountains, the basin of the Cirque de Mafate, the Grand Bassin and the primary forests of the plateau. The region is only very sparsely populated with only around 800-900 inhabitants and since 2010, the "Inner Zone" has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Development goals in the Inner Region are primarily the protection of nature, the transfer of knowledge to interested groups of people with the creation of the necessary infrastructures and the sustainable development of the water supply, electricity supply and the road network.
- The outer zone of the national park has an area of approximately 680 km² and takes up around 40% of the park with a total of around 75,000 inhabitants, including the more densely populated rural heights, the Cirque de Cilaos and Cirque de Salazie basins and the plateaus. The focus of development here is the promotion of sustainable development of the cultural and natural area, taking into account the needs of people.
The first plans to create this park date back to the beginning of 1992, and the Réunion Nature Park was officially founded on 5 March 2007 as the 8th national park in France. The park's volcanic landscape, including the Piton de la Fournaise, an active volcano, was designated a World Heritage Site in 2010, under the name "Pitons, cirques and remparts of Reunion Island" for its imposing rugged terrain and exceptional biodiversity. With all this, it's become a particularly popular destination in Réunion for hiking and mountaineering.
Flora and fauna
The number of indigenous (native) plant species is estimated at around 900, of which 30% of the populations are still considered intact.
Half of the flora on the island is considered endemic (only occurring here), the second half was carried to the island by wind and water from the neighbouring countries of Madagascar and Africa.
About 230 endemic flower plants, including 120 orchid varieties, are counted. The main blooming season for orchids is November to April, some bloom later until June/July.
Most of the plants and flowers in the national park are protected, so picking is prohibited.
For a general idea on the island's climate, see the article on Réunion.
The best season for a hike to the volcano is winter on Réunion, these are the months from May to October with more moderate temperatures and less rainfall. The morning usually starts out sunny, but by noon at the latest it will be clouding over from the east coast. The mountainous regions in the interior of the island are often foggy in the afternoon and it rains until the evening. It usually clears up again at night.
The ascent to the volcano is from the west side, which is clearly better weather-wise: the path lies in the lee of the mountain for the trade winds of the Indian Ocean that hit the island from the east. The average daily precipitation in the west of the mountain is 200 millimetres per day, but daily extremes of 500 mm to 1 meter per day are possible. On the east side of the mountain, the precipitation is even higher, with annual precipitation reaching around 12 meters.
With regard to the danger from suddenly possible fog, see the explanations in the hikes section. If you want to hike in the region during the wet season, you should definitely pay attention to the weather reports and severe weather warnings / cyclones.
The last snowfall at the summit was recorded over two days in August 2003.
- 1 Office de Tourisme de la Plaine des Palmistes, 258 Rue de la République, La Plaine-des-Palmistes, ☏ . 08:30–12:30, 13:30–17:00 (closed Thursdays). A relatively new visitor centre only having opened in 2014. Staff are generally able to speak French, English and a French creole. It offers its visitors a permanent exhibition, Reunion, island of nature, heart of men as well as its pleasant gardens made up of endemic species, devoted to Reunionese culture.
Other park house branches can be found on reunion-parcnational.fr.
Fees and permits
There are no fees or permits to access the national park.
The only proper way to get around the major points of interest in Réunion National Park is by your own car. However, it should be noted that the roads in the park are not particularly wide, and they are very winding, particularly the roads that ascend from almost sea level to about 2000-2500 metres in such a short distance. The speed limits are not particularly high given the geography, and the maximum speed limit you'll be able to do is a somewhat slow 80 km/h (50 mph) with many parts of the park having even lower limits.
- Forêt de Bélouve. A forest west of the Cirque de Salazie with numerous tamarinds, giant tree ferns and many other plants of the rainforest such as tree lichens, shrubs, orchids and other flowers. A log path as a circular route that starts near the Gîte de Bélouve hut makes the otherwise impenetrable undergrowth accessible and leads to the most important places and sights of nature, including a viewing platform with a view of the "Trou de Fer" waterfalls.
- 1 Trou de Fer. These waterfalls inside a canyon are among the most spectacular on the island, with numerous individual cascades plunge into an almost circular basin that is only open on the north side, around 200 metres in diameter and several hundred metres deep. The boiler is not accessible for "normal tourists" but there is a lookout point at the top of the Kessel and with access from the hiking trail in Forêt de Bélouve that shows part of the waterfalls. During the helicopter tours, the narrow basin is flown through spectacularly from bottom to top as a spiral. A robust stomach is required, the helicopter pilots show all their skills.
- 2 Piton de la Fournaise. With an elevation 2,631 metres above sea level, it is the only active volcano on Réunion Island, and one of the most active volcanoes in the world.
- 3 Plaine des Sables. This entirely mineral plateau has a singular lunar aspect. The road first overlooks the plateau before winding down and crossing it; it is therefore a good idea to stop on the descent to enjoy the view. Once down, the road turns into a very dusty track full of potholes. You can stop again to take a few steps. The plateau is not very large but it is very easy to get lost in the event of fog, do not go far from the road without suitable equipment (torch, warm clothes…). Not to be confused with the "Plaine aux Sables", located in Mafate and is much more greener.
- 4 Cirque de Mafate. A very remote cirque enclosed by mountains, tall cliffs and rugged wilderness.
- 5 Piton des Neiges. A mountain higher than 3000 metres and a popular spot for hikers wanting a challenge. It contains the highest peak of Réunion.
- 6 Grand Galet Falls (Langevin Falls), Route de Grand Galet. Its natural pool is a popular swimming and picnic place on weekends and holidays.
- 7 Cirque de Cilaos.
- See also: Hiking in Réunion
There are more than 900 kilometres of marked trails, crossing such different landscapes including rainforests, sugarcane plantations and volcanic fields. The hiking trails include three long-distance trails approved by the French Hiking Federation, with mountain lodges along the trail and more than 400,000 people each year visit the Piton de la Fournaise volcano, for which a discovery trail has been established. See the itinerary on Hiking the Piton de la Fournaise for details regarding the hike up the volcano.
- 1 Relais Des Plaines, 299-303 Rue de la République, ☏ . M Th–Sa 11:15–15:00, 18:30–00:00; Su Tu 11:15–15:00; closed Wednesdays. Serves French cuisine with a slight adjustment to fit local Réunion specialties.
- 2 DM Croustillant, 232 Rue de la République, ☏ .
- 3 Chez Jimmy, 10-16 Rue Ovide Boye. M Tu Th 11:00–14:30, 18:00–21:30; F Sa 11:00–14:30, 18:00–00:00; Su 11:00–15:00.
- 4 Boulangerie Pâtisserie Le Sucre Glace, 558 Rue de la République, La Plaine-des-Palmistes, ☏ . 07:00–18:00. A typical French bakery with many local tropical Réunionese specialties.
- 1 Gîte de Bélouve, Route Forestière de Bélouve, 97431 Plaine des Palmistes (La), ☏ . Includes sanitary facilities (showers, toilets) with running water available, as well as an open space for camping. There is also a small natural history museum and the hut is located directly on the upper edge of the eastern edge of the crater Cirque de Salazie, and in a clearing of the primary forest Forêt de Bélouve, see the sights above. The Gîte de Bélouve is the only place to stay in the immediate vicinity of the protected primary forest and the starting point for hikes.
- Maison de la Montagne, 5 rue Rontaunay, 97400 St Denis, ☏ . Reservation office for the mountain huts