Réunion in located in the South-West Indian Ocean and covers an area of 2,517 square kilometres. Other islands nearby include Mauritius, Rodrigues and Madagascar.
Réunion is an overseas department and an administrative region of France. Réunion is divided into 4 districts (Saint Benedict, Saint-Denis, Saint-Paul, Saint-Pierre), 49 townships and 24 municipalities, which are further organised into five urban communities.
As Réunion is an overseas department of France, it forms part of the European Union, but is not part of the Schengen Area, and therefore has its own immigration policy.
European Union, European Economic Area, Andorra, Monaco and Switzerland citizens do not require a visa and may enter with a valid passport or national ID card. They are entitled to stay indefinitely, without the need of a work permit. Mauritian and South African citizens also do not need visas for visits of up to 90 days.
Chinese and Indian citizens do not require visas for stays of up to 15 days, as long as they are part of an organised tour. They will also need to fill in a waiver to be presented at customs.
Citizens of all other countries require a visa, which can be applied for at a French embassy or consulate. You must apply for a Réunion visa specifically as French and Schengen visas are not valid for travel to Réunion.
Réunion enjoys a tropical climate with the influence of trade winds that blow from east to west. The high mountains on the central plateau create numerous microclimates, with great differences in the levels of rainfall between the East and the West Coasts, as well as the temperatures by the sea and at altitude.
Despite the tropical location, the oceanic influence moderates summer temperatures that rarely exceed 35 ° C. On the coasts, average summer temperatures vary between 21 ° C to 26.5 ° C. The average minimum temperature for the coldest month in Saint-Denis is 17 ° C. The highest areas both natural and populated may experience some winter frosts.
Réunion can be affected by cyclones during the summer season that generally runs from October to May. Cyclones can bring torrential rain and winds exceeding 200 km/h.
As Réunion is part of the Eurozone, they use the euro (symbol: €) as currency. Most shops will accept international credit cards like Visa and Mastercard but many require a minimum spend amount for credit card payments (usually €15).
There are also ATM machines (called "gabier") available which do not charge fees, but check with your local bank for their international charges.
It is a legal requirement for most businesses to post prices in windows, and hotels and restaurants should display their rates so they are visible from the outside.
There are numerous accommodation types available in Réunion from hotels, privately run ‘Gîtes d'Étape’, mountain cabins or lodges located in the central, mountainous areas, and youth hostels.
The official language of Réunion is French, but unofficially Réunion Creole is the native language of the majority of the population and is spoken alongside French. Often native French speakers can find it difficult to understand French spoken with the local Réunion accent, when mixed with Creole.
Other locally spoken languages include Tamil, Gujarati, Urdu, Comorian, Malagasy, Mandarin, Hakka and Cantonese.
The Réunion Island culture is best be described as a blend of French, African, Indian, and Chinese. The 800,000 plus inhabitants of the island speak mostly French or Creole, and approximately three-quarters of the residents are Roman Catholic, with both Buddhist and Muslim religions represented as well. The people respect each other's diverse cultures and peacefully coexist, and there has been no political or social unrest for the past two centuries.
With this wonderful blend of cultures, when walking down the streets of the cities you can hear traditional ecclesiastic choral music coming from one of the grand churches and also listen to the chants emanating from the mosque on the opposite corner. Visitors can also enjoy lively folk music, which can often be heard during street fairs or when performed in cafes or bistros.
Official public holidays include:
Jan 1 - New Year
March/April - Easter Monday
May 1 - Labour Day
May 8 - WWII Victory Day
May 25 - Ascension Day
June - Whit Monday
July 15 - Bastille Day
Aug 15 - Assumption of Mary
Nov 1- All Saints' Eve
Nov 11 - Armistice Day
Dec 20 - Abolition of Slavery
Dec 25 - Christmas Day
Réunion is relatively safe, but as always visitors should take usual precautions and take care not to walk around alone at night in unknown or large cities and to avoid open displays of goods or money which can attract thieves.
While one of the major attractions of Réunion is the stunning scenery, with impressive cliff and volcano walks, hikers should be aware that mid-day fog can be an issue in some high altitude areas, and can hamper orientation and visibility, making it possible to get lost, so do not stray from the marked paths. Temperatures may also drop significantly so ensure you wear layered clothing as combined with the humidity of a tropical island, it is possible to become ill from the effects of the cold temperatures.
Health and Safety
Réunion has had troubles with shark attacks from bull and tiger sharks resulting in restricted access to marine activities, including swimming outside of lagoons and protected, netted areas. Previously popular surfing spots are very dangerous and usually forbidden now and can result in a fine if frequented.
Travellers to Réunion should take precautions against mosquito bites by using anti-mosquito repellents. In 2006 an epidemic of Chikungunya virus spread to nearly 30% of the population. The illness presents with an acute febrile phase lasting for two to five days, followed by a prolonged arthralgic disease that can affect the joints of the extremities for weeks, months or even years.
Medical facilities in Réunion are of good quality and French residents would have most of their health care costs covered by the compulsory health insurance plan. EU residents should carry their EHIC (European Health Insurance Card) obtained in their home country, with them. Non-residents would be advised to obtain travel insurance.
The main hospital is in Saint-Denis, with various other healthcare facilities in other cities and doctors in almost every village.
Emergency phone numbers:
Emergency services: 112 - can be dialed by any mobile phone, even if not connected to a GSM network
Fire brigade: 18
Police station: 17
Specialized emergency medical service (called SAMU): 15.
From November to April, the cyclonic season, check for cyclone warnings in newspapers or broadcast by the radio or TV. There are three levels of warning:
- Vigilance cyclonique (cyclone watch): means there is a risk of a cyclone in more than 24 hours, you should prepare by buying enough food and water as well as batteries and candles.
- Alerte orange (orange alert): means there is a cyclone risk within the next 24 hours, schools will be closed, and travel is best avoided;
- Alerte rouge (red alert): means there is a cyclone risk in the next few hours, stay in your current location, avoid using the phone, and stay calm.
Services and Utilities
The international dialling code for Réunion is +262.
When you are dialing internally within Réunion: all numbers have 10 digits. Landlines begin with 0262 and mobile phones 0692 and 0693.
Not many foreign mobile phone companies offer international roaming services to Réunion so verify this before leaving. Alternatively you can buy a Pay-as-you-go SIM card in Réunion from one of the two companies offering wireless services: SRR and Orange Réunion.
If someone is calling you from abroad when you are in Réunion, they should dial the international prefix: + 262, then the phone number without the first 0.
Post offices are found in all cities.
In Réunion the voltage is 230V/50Hz and they use the French style plugs.
Most supermarkets open Monday to Saturday from 9:00AM to 8:00PM, some are open on Sunday mornings but most other shops are closed on Sundays.
Traditional objects can be found in some shops the easier and cheaper option is to go to a market (marché). The Saint-Paul market is famous and also sells fruits and vegetables, it opens all day Friday and on Saturday mornings. It is a good place to find traditional African objects and other souvenirs.