Caught on a plateau between Reunion’s south coast and the primordial highlands of the Piton des Neiges, Le Tampon is a rural community with palm plantations and pineapple farms. The local scenery is pretty gentle, but Le Tampon is hemmed in by colossal landforms waiting to be explored on treks and drives and horseback rides.
Things get very dramatic to the east where the Piton de la Fournaise, one of the world’s most active volcanoes rumbles away. The Route du Volcan road winds towards this beast through a strange, alien scenery scarred by many thousands of years of eruptions, the most recent in January 2017.
Lets explore the best things to do in Le Tampon:
1. Cité du Volcan
On the Plaine des Cafres between the Piton de la Fournaise and the Piton des Neiges range, this museum is a fun and informative journey into the world of volcanoes.
The Piton de la Fournaise, Reunion’s own active shield volcano, takes centre stage at a modern, interactive attraction that reopened in 2014 following an update.
There are now high-tech multimedia presentations that transport you to the most hostile locations on the planet.
The 4D cinema takes you even further to explore the extraterrestrial volcanoes in the Solar System.
Adults and teenagers interested in the minutiae of volcanoes aren’t neglected either as there’s exhaustive scientific information about the geology and physics of these natural wonders.
2. Piton de la Fournaise
Le Tampon could hardly be better situated for visiting Reunion’s active volcano, and it’s an awesome scene that you won’t soon forget.
The only way to see the caldera of this monster is by getting up before dawn, as the clouds roll in after morning and obscure the majestic scenery.
Head east by road to the Pas de Belecombe where you’ll park up and begin the hike.
You’ll need a torch and waterproofs, and of course a camera to capture images that you’ve probably only seen before on the big screen: There’s a gigantic crater, fresh lava fields with bizarre patterns, vents with puffs of steam and a barren, desolate landscape that could be from another planet.
3. Route du Volcan
Beginning just east of Le Tampon is one of the most memorable drives you’ll ever experience.
As you’ll know, the dramatic terrain in Reunion isn’t conducive to roads, and this route took more than 30 years to build.
The Route du Volcan was finally completed in the 90s, and is devised to present a string of volcanic wonders that will have you rubbing your eyes.
It begins in upland meadows, but soon arrives at an otherworldly plateau.
This is the Plaine des Sables, a flat lunar wasteland, with almost no sign of plant or human life.
4. Parc des Palmiers
An ongoing botanical project, the Parc des Palmiers opened in 2010, but was first planted back in 1998. It’s a lush, 20-hectare palm plantation that will eventually have 1,000 of the 2,800 palm species existing in the world.
The park is high on the plateau, so as you amble along these palm-fringed paths you’ll be surprised by distant views down to Saint-Pierre and Saint-Louis.
The calls of indigenous birds are a constant soundtrack and you can stop to catch sight of Reunion harriers, a rare bird of prey, swooping overhead.
5. Belvédère de Bois Court
Just beyond the northwestern outskirts of Tampon, is an incredible lookout over the village of Grand Bassin.
At an elevation of 1,400 metres this platform projects over the ledge and offers a sensational view of a titanic bowl of sheer rock faces plummeting hundreds of metres into the deep valley below.
On the valley floor you can make out the white specks of village buildings, and as you scan the slopes above you’ll see the Voile de la Mariée (Veil of the Bride), a waterfall pouring into a vivid blue pool.
6. Walk to Grand Bassin
The Belvédère de Bois Court is also the trailhead for a path cutting into the rock and descending to Grand Bassin.
The loop is only 10 kilometres long, but on this path you’ll descend 700 kilometres to the valley floor and then climb it again, so you’ll need to allow half a day.
The descent is gentle at first, but soon becomes vertiginous, but those 1,000-metre-high walls of volcanic rock looming above the village will inspire you as you go.
Once you’re in the valley take time to appreciate the banana groves and get in close to see the waterfall and its pool.
7. Maison de l’Ananas
The pineapple has been thriving on Reunion since 1668, and the Queen Victoria variety is the most common with 16,000 tons grown every year.
If you love this healthy fruit or are intrigued by its botany there’s a plantation open to the public in Le Tampon.
The Maison de l’Ananas covers four hectares and started inviting visitors in 2013. You’ll be given a guided tour of the farm, and will be shown when a Victoria pineapple is ready for harvest and how to pick it.
There’s a film screening about the fruit, and at the end you’ll have a glass of cool pineapple juice squeezed on the premises.
8. Col de Bellevue
This is the name of a peak, 1606 metres high to the north of Le Tampon.
This landmark is one for people unwilling to embark on day-long hikes, as the serpentine N3 road runs right next to it.
You can stop at the hill where there’s a rest area with picnic tables.
There are also kiosks tucked into the vegetation offering exhilarating panoramas.
You can also head off into the mossy forest which has ferns, arums and other species that only grow at high altitude on Reunion.
Eventually you’ll come to an orientation table where on clear mornings you can gaze across to the Piton des Neiges.
9. Sentier Botanique Notre-Dame-de-la-Paix
On Le Tampon’s tourism site you can download material for this hour-long loop that will guide you past some amazing lookouts.
The trail wends its way through woodland that has been cleared of invasive species and so gives you a glimpse of Reunion before western settlement.
Every so often you’ll be greeted by a heart-lifting view, over the Grand Sud coastal plain or the epic Rivière des Remparts canyon.
The trail is only two kilometres long but the 300-metre difference in elevation needs you to allow at least an hour.
10. Horseback Rides
Another way to soak up Reunion’s mighty landscapes is on four legs.
Trotting along forest paths you’ll have time to look up and appreciate the immense slabs of volcanic rock, profound valleys, rich endemic birdlife and colourful vegetation.
You’ll also get to know how the first European settlers traversed this challenging landscape from the 16th century on.
Horseriding such a big activity that there’s a big directory of stables around Le Tampon: Eight in all, and most catering to younger riders who can take the reins on a pony.
Serious adventurers can saddle up for day-long treks or even itinerant holidays, putting down camp in a new spot each night.
Reunion’s raw basalt landscape is etched by rivers that drop hundreds of metres over the course of just a few kilometres, down cascades and waterfalls and through deep ravines.
Many of the most spectacular locations are off-limits unless you literally jump in and see the rivers for yourself.
There are canyoning companies (like Alpanes, Aquavertige and Alazard Romain) in Saint-Pierre with qualified guides who will take you on a once-in-a-lifetime expedition.
You’ll be geared up with neoprene, a harness and helmet and will be ready to abseil down cliffs, jump into clear blue pools and slide down waterfalls.
12. Domaine du Café Grillé
There’s another abundant botanical attraction a few minutes down the road in Saint-Pierre.
The Domaine du Café Grillé is an old plantation that will tell you all about the saga of coffee-growing, but also offers a perfect summary of the botanical history of the island.
You’ll see, smell and even taste many of the crops introduced since the 17th century, like sugar cane, vanilla, vetiver, geranium and lemongrass.
These plants mingle with botanical curiosities like orchids, ornamental shrubs and a Zen-like bamboo plantation.
Finish up by tasting the home-grown coffee at the cafe, which has fruit juices, jams, sorbets and all kinds of sweets made on site.
Reunion’s second city a short drive south and has the ambience, restaurants and leisure facilities (marina, casino, nightclubs) of a major tourist destination.
So you can come for a bit of life, pottering around the busy market and strolling along the waterfront.
There’s lovely colonial architecture, and you’ll realise just how cosmopolitan Reunion is as you pass a church, Buddhist temple, Hindu temple and mosque in the space of a few streets.
Saint-Pierre is also one of only a few places on Reunion where you can swim in the ocean as an offshore reef breaks the currents.
14. Saga du Rhum
At bars, restaurants and Reunion’s market stalls you’ll know that Reunion has a thing for rum.
There are three main distilleries on the island, and you can visit one at the Établissements Isautier estate in Saint-Pierre.
You can see the facility under your own steam or on a guided tour, getting snippets about the story of rum-making on Reunion and intriguing insights about the process.
At the end you can pull up a seat at the distillery’s bar where you can taste white rum, aged rum or spiced rum for free.
15. Reunionnais Delicacies
Reunion’s cuisine is full of surprises as it borrows from a host of different cultures.
In a rural region like Le Tampon you can taste this exchange for yourself, visiting farms making Creole pâté, made from curried pork, and cheese from the Plaine des Cafres, which is infused with garlic and ginger.
At Creole restaurants you’ll see how French, Indian, East African and Chinese traditions combine for curries (Rougail and Civet) with a tomato base, flavoured with ginger and a medley of spices.
And throughout your stay you’ll indulge in succulent tropical fruit like mangoes, pineapples and guavas, which go into cakes, desserts and sorbets.