One of the main attractions of the French Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean is to get up close to one of the most active volcanoes in the world, the Piton de La Fournaise or Furnace Peak. If seismic events are in progress when you visit, you may be lucky to witness a rare event of the forces of nature, with magma spitted up in the air. If not, this will give you the opportunity to hike its caldera and craters in a surreal and unique landscape.
Reunion Island got formed by the volcanic activity of the Piton des Neiges (the highest peak of the island culminating at 3,071 meters and now dormant) that is responsible for about two-thirds of the island and of the Alizé volcano on top of which the current Piton de la Fournaise (2,621 meters) stands, the active volcano that is responsible for forming the south-eastern third of the island. If the island started emerging from the ocean about 3 million years ago, it is still expanding today when the lava flows slowly downhill to meet the waters of the Indian Ocean and cool down is a smokey show.
When seismic events are in progress
If you are on the island while the Piton de la Fournaise is about to erupt actively follow the reports on its current activity. The Global Geophysics Institute of Paris monitors it closely and updates are available on its website and on Twitter (mostly in French). If you are in doubt, ask the locals. An eruption is a big event on the islands, and islanders rush to go to the best possible viewing point after work. Be ready for a few traffic jams… But it is definitely worth it!
In many cases, the volcano erupts in the Enclos Fouqué and the best way to witness it is to drive through La Plaine des Sables to the Pas de Bellecombe where you dominate the caldera.
Sometimes, the 1200°C lava flows towards the ocean and then the Route des Laves is a great vantage point. While driving this road, notice the signs marking previous lava flows crossing the road. Notice that the vegetation grows back quickly after a lava flow. White moss is the first to grow giving a light color to the slopes. Then ferns and shrubs take advantage of this fertile land, before the forest takes over.
Either way, follow the safety instructions and road & trail closures to the letter. This shield volcano is a gentle one that is closely monitored, and is not responsible for many casualties. Most accidents are due to not following the safety instructions.
When no eruption is forecasted
Along the road going across the Reunion Island is the turn off to the caldera, Enclos Fouqué. This beautiful forestry road takes you through a green landscape with cattle before dominating the Plaine des Sables and its lunar landscape.
The road turns into a track and continues to the Pas de Bellecombe where one can enjoy the majestic view of Piton de la Fournaise. Past the gate, hike down into the caldera. Make sure you stick to the hiking trail marked by white paint on the lava rocks: clouds can come up quickly and it is easy to get lost in this desolated landscape.
If a bit of vegetation hangs on to the steep ramparts, hardly any vegetation grows at the bottom of the caldera. The burning sun reflects on the black abrasive rocks. In this unique and surreal landscape, observe the lava formations, notice its high iron-content, and explore some of the many craters.
Marcella & Claire
- We recommend you to stay at the Villa Delisle, a very comfortable 4-star hotel in Saint Pierre that is perfect to explore the South of Réunion and Sainte Rose.
- Interested in more hiking? Make sure to not miss our article about an epic 7-day trek on the Reunion Island.
- Check out this interactive map (quick tutorial) for the specific details to help you plan your trip and more articles and photos (zoom out) about the area! Zoom in on the area of interest, and check out the black pins: each of them corresponds to an article.
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