On the northwest coast of Reunion, Le Port is the island’s main harbour. As ports go it’s unique in France as the only one to include an industrial port, naval base (the third largest in France), passenger port, fishing port and marina.
For tourists the marina is the source of most of the excitement as you can embark on unforgettable nature-spotting voyages or set sail for reefs and underwater caves with dive companies. For days out you can journey down Reunion’s west coast where there are white sandy beaches, wildlife attractions, fruit plantations and scenes of mind-blowing splendour all in reach.
Lets explore the best things to do in Le Port:
Some 23 whale and dolphin species visit the waters off the west coast of Reunion.
From June to October you can witness the exhilarating spectacle of humpbacks breaching, after they’ve made an epic swim to these climes from Antarctica.
Other species that congregate around the island are sperm and fin whales, as well as many types of dolphin (Fraser’s, spinner, Indian humpback, pantropical spotted), which are here all year round.
If you’re worried about interfering with these creatures’ habitats you’ll be happy to know that operators on Reunion all adhere to the O²CR conservation label, imposing strict rules.
There’s a clutch of dive centres based in Le Port, and these companies will lead you out to more than a dozen unbelievable sites off the west coast.
Seasoned divers will get more from this underwater environment, investigating shipwrecks and plunging into volcanic caves and canyons or exploring sheer drop-offs.
The wildlife down here is even more magnificent than the seabed, with sea turtles, kaleidoscopic tropical fish, barracudas, moray eels and crustaceans on coral reefs.
If you’re fortunate you’ll also catch a glimpse of predators like hammerhead sharks, from a distance!
3. Bazaar sous Pied Bois
Le Port’s weekly market trades on Wednesdays at the Port des Cheminots, and is the quickest way to embrace the island lifestyle.
The name “sous Piedboi” comes from the location, as the shaded by dense foliage of mahogany trees.
You’ll be intoxicated by the perfumes of coffee, vetiver, vanilla and turmeric, all fresh from plantations on Reunion.
Meanwhile Saint-Paul’s market, on Fridays and Saturdays, may be the best on Reunion and will entice you with its stacks of tropical fruit and “truck-bars” cooking Indian-style samosas and bouchons, which are Chinese dumplings.
4. Le Musée de Villèle
You’ll get to know Reunion’s complex origins at this museum a few kilometres down the coast in Saint-Paul.
The building is a colonial property on a 10-hectare plantation once owned by the Desbassyns family, which built its wealth sugarcane.
Naturally this isn’t an altogether happy place, as slavery played a big part in the family’s success, as well as the island’s development.
The museum doesn’t shy away from this and other aspects of life on Reunion in the 1700s and 1800s.
There’s antique furniture, decoration and historical document, all in an authentic colonial environment.
5. Cimetière Marin
On the opposite bank of the Galets Estuary is a graveyard that can transport you to the earliest days of Reunion’s colonisation.
There are graves for 19th-century shipwreck victims, pirates, plantation owners and some of Reunion’s most prominent political and cultural personalities.
The most illustrious burial is Leconte de Lisle, the 19th-century Parnassian poet who was born right in Saint-Paul and transported back to the island after he died on mainland France in 1894. The oceanfront setting, behind a black sandy beach, and tropical vegetation evokes an age of conquest and ocean adventure.
6. Plage de Boucan-Canot
Reunion isn’t known so well for its beaches.
This has a lot to do with ocean swells and danger of shark attacks, but the west coast bucks that trend.
At Boucan Canot the shark problem has been countered with a new net (the first on the island), so you can bathe in safety.
On choppier days there are excellent breaks for surfers and body-boarders.
You might prefer to stay onshore where there’s an comforting swathe of fine white sand to relax on.
There are basalt cliffs bookending the beach, which is traced by palm groves and bars bringing rum punch and other drinks to your sun lounger.
7. Bassin des Aigrettes
Reunion excels in sublime tropical scenes like waterfalls, clear pools and ravines blanketed by rich vegetation.
But often you need to an expedition to reach them.
The Bassin des Aigrettes though is little more than 10 minutes down the road and lies just off the N7. There’s a heavenly waterfall only 15 minutes along a track, pouring into a pool that glows deep blue in the sun.
This is probably the most beautiful of a series of pools along the Ravine Saint-Gilles, coursing for 25 kilometres from the centre of the island to the west coast.
8. Plage de l’Hermitage
Another piece of coastal paradise, the Plage de l’Hermitage contrasts with Boucan-Canot as it is shielded from the open ocean by a coral reef.
So for around 500 metres there’s a clear and warm lagoon with depths of no more than two metres.
On the shore the white sand gets finer the further back you go and is bordered by Australian pines and bayhops, which have bright purple flowers in season.
And provided you follow the local guidelines you can also go snorkelling in the shallows.
There’s no risk from dangerous marine species but you can watch green turtles, moorish idols, eagle rays and lagoon triggerfish on the reef.
The grassy slopes on the west of Reunion have the ideal terrain and wind currents for paragliding.
You can show up on the day to take part in this sport as you’ll be flying in tandem with an expert.
Most flights are launched from a spur at Saint-Leu, a short drive down the west coast.
And what makes it such an invigorating experience is the savage majesty of Reunion’s mountainscapes.
As you circle you’ll get privileged views of the impassable walls of rock in the Piton des Neiges range, including the namesake shield volcano at more than 3,000 metres.
On the site of an old lime kiln in Saint-Leu is a centre for the research and conservation of sea turtles.
Kélonia is also a modern visitor attraction, with a spacious 500,000 tank reconstructing the habitats of six turtle species.
Then there are exhibitions explaining the effect humans have had on turtles, and what the future holds for these species, as human encroachment increases but technology and scientific conservation also improve.
Maybe best of all, you can see Kélonia’s conservation efforts firsthand, at the rehabilitation centre where hundreds of rescued turtles have been treated before being released into the ocean.
11. Maison du Coco
Reunion is an island that abounds with plantations for tropical crops like sugarcane, spices, vanilla, coffee and a palms.
And a little way down the west coast there’s a fabulous coconut grove covering seven hectares and combined with a workshop.
You’ll uncover the story how coconuts came to be grown on Reunion, find out a bit more about the coconut’s weird biology, and the hundreds of products and uses this fruit has.
You’ll head out into the grove, pick your own coconut and learn how to open it and extract its flesh.
There’s also a tasting session, with coconut sugar made from the flowers, coconut oil, candied coconut, coconut water and a coconut sorbet!
12. Le Maïdo
If there’s a drawback to Reunion’s vast volcanic mountainscapes it’s that they’re not very accessible by car.
Hardcore adventurers stride into spectacular regions likes the Piton des Neiges on gruelling hikes or canyoning expeditions.
But Le Maïdo is special, because it’s a scene of jaw-dropping grandeur that you can get to on the road from the west coast.
You’ll drive up through tamarind forest and geranium fields to an elevation just under 2,200 metres for a lookout that encompasses the Cirque de Mafate, a gargantuan bowl of sheer rock.
If you’re feeling fit you can scale one of the neighbouring peaks or head down a trail to discover an isolated village.
As ever, come in the morning because clouds roll in later in the day.
The N1 hugs the coast and after half an hour you’ll arrive at Saint-Denis, Reunion’s capital.
The city started out as a colonial trading post as you’ll know from its architecture.
Take the Rue de Paris, the street with all of the government offices, housed in fine painted mansions with verandas.
As well as museums, galleries and places of worship of the city’s many faiths, Saint-Denis also has Reunion’s northernmost point.
This is Le Barachois, an oceanfront park still guarded by canons.
You can stand at this point and know that there’s nothing but ocean and remote islands until you reach the Arabian Peninsula thousands of miles to the north.
14. Creole Rum
With its 18th-century sugarcane plantation, Reunion’s relationship with rum goes back to colonial times.
Rhum Agricole is made with fermented sugarcane juice and is the rum that goes into the beloved ti’ Punch, mixed with lime and cane syrup.
Rhum industriel is the white rum mostly sold in Europe and made of distilled molasses.
Real aficionados can hunt down the finest mature rums made with this process.
These are aged in the cask for years (usually, the longer the better) and can be very pricey.
In markets you can pick up a bottle of rhum arrangé to take home as a souvenir or gift.
This is rum in which a range of local spices have also been macerated, including vanilla, cinnamon, ginger and even orchid flowers.
15. Island Cuisine
At markets, in town centres and by the beaches, street food is at the heart of Reunion’s cuisine.
And these samosas, croquettes, deep fried squid balls and dumplings perfectly sum up the melting pot that is the island’s cuisine.
The food is a delicious muddle of French, Chinese, Indian and African styles.
There’s even spiced pork pâté and cheese from the Plaine des Caufres, flavoured with garlic and ginger.
Most dishes are infused with tropical fruit and spices, and rice accompanies almost everything.
Some of the many dishes to try are green papaya salad, smoked fish, avocado salad, chop suey, as well as rougail and civet, fragrant curries with a tomato and onion base.