Altitude of the Piton des Neiges

Located in the heart of the Indian Ocean, Reunion Island is a real treasure in terms of landscapes, culture or hiking. In order to better discover the island and in particular the Cirque de Mafate, we decided with Arthur, to follow the GR-R2 which crosses the island from side to side.

With a length of 140km and with about 8000m of elevation gain, the route starts from Saint Denis, in the North West and joins Saint Philippe, in the South-East passing by Cirques of Mafate and Cilaos but also the Piton des Neiges and that of the Furnace. The landscapes that it crosses its magnificent and the immersion in the atmosphere of the island is total.

Cirque or Circus are roughly circular depression closed by high clifs due to local volcanism. There 3 in La Réunion : Mafate, Cilaos and Salazie.

Few words about La Réunion

Download file: GR-R2.gpx

With its 2500km² and 150km in diameter, the island of Reunion is a small piece of land lost in the Indian Ocean located a few hundred kilometers east of Madagascar.

Its location, not far from the Tropic of Capricorn, makes it enjoy a tropical climate neither too hot nor too cold. One of the particular points of the island is the diversity of landscapes: humid tropical, dry / arid, even temperate … and the transition from one climate to another is sometimes very fast. This is due to the fact that Reunion is bathed by the Alizés winds, which bring the rain to the east on the “windward coast” and which are stopped by the central relief of the island and which thus dries up the “coast under the wind “in the West.

Reunion Island is a recent volcanic island following geological times, indeed it was born just 3 million years ago. It culminates today at 3070m with the Piton des Neiges, the original volcano of the island. Volcanism is today concentrated in Piton de la Fournaise (2632m). It is also one of the most active volcanoes on Earth, it is characterized by an effusive hot spot activity.

The age of the island and its isolation have fostered a strong endemism of animal and plant species.

Its “modern” and human history began in the 16th century with the first explorations by the Portuguese. The island is then totally uninhabited. The French landed in 1642 and invested in the name of the King by baptizing Bourbon Island in honor of the Royal family. It was not until the French Revolution (1793) that it was renamed Reunion Island, on the one hand to erase its “royal” past and on the other hand to pay tribute to the Meeting of the National Guards and Paris Fédérés de Marseille during the “attack” of the Palais des Tuileries in 1792.

Reunion is today a mixed land where live together populations of Malagasy, African, Asian or European origin. One can cross in the same street a Church, a Taoist temple or a Mosque. This crossbreeding has given its beautiful culture to the island, miscegenation that is also found in the local cuisine that mixes all these influences.

Day 1 : Arrival and first kilometers

The appointment was given on May 23 at Orly, I joined Arthur with whom we will therefore go to Reunion during these almost three weeks. The flight to Saint Denis lasts 10 hours, it is done by night it is perfect to arrive not too tired in the morning.

We were expected at the airport by the family of my friend Julien. After a jump at their home to drop some stuff that we will take back, they take us to a local restaurant to begin to discover the local culture / gastronomy. We discover in particular the Goyavier, a small red fruit that we will often enjoy during the trek. After this good meal, the last good meal for a few days, the family of Julien drops us at the beginning of the path to Providence. Their welcome was very nice and I thank them again.

Here we are at two, at the beginning of the road with 140km in front of us and a few meters of altitude, all regularly punctuated by the famous red and white mark of GR.

The path starts with a regular climb in the forest. Even if one is not very far from the “civilization” one finds oneself quickly immersed especially that the vegetation is dense. The path is easy but the fatigue of the trip, the warm-up and also the meal with its glass of rum slow us down a bit but we are in no hurry.

We continue to walk slowly. After 1h we are joined by a dog more or less wandering that will accompany us a good part of the remaining path.

The GR then arrives at Brûlé a nice little village but we do not stop. It is already quite late and we want to go a little further.

We will therefore put the camp a little further. Not finding a nice place, we will settle down along a forest path in a corner without charm. For the meal we try to make polenta but we have no salt and we did not cook it enough. Result : a meal really not good. A loosy bivouac to begin but it doesn’t matter, tomorrow is another day…

Day 2 : Climb to the Roche Ecrite

The first “bad” end of the day was well confirmed by a wet and cold night … So we quickly take the road towards the Roche Ecrite (2276m) for the viewpoint on Mafate and Piton des Neiges. We do not expect a very long walk.

We continue to progress in the forest until the Gîte de la Plaine des Chicots. Like yesterday, we do not meet many people.

Once at the cottage, we leave the GR to fork to the Roche Ecrite. The vegetation is a little sparse, because of the altitude I think (about 1850m). There is a nice place a little further to the bivouac tonight with a beautiful grassy space and a picnic table that will be very convenient for the evening.

As we still have a bit of a climb to do and we are going back here, we find a place to hide the bags and continue with just a bottle of water. We move in a slightly less humid environment with shrubs and no longer trees. It’s nice and it’s great weather and there is still not many people we cross.

The problem is that some time after our departure, I start to have a big fat blow of fatigue, Arthur a little too but less. We continue the climb but I am worse and worse. I think the tiredness of the trip and especially the fact that we ate very little yesterday (polenta not good), nor this morning (stupid mistake) are at the origin of all that. We will go quietly it should pass.

The end of the climb is a horror, I’m totally exhausted … The path and the climb are easy but I really have no more energy.

We still arrive at the top finally. The arrival at la Roche Ecrite suddenly reveals a superb view of Mafate and in the distance the Piton des Neiges. Unfortunately, as we arrived a little late in the day (afternoon) the circus is completely covered with clouds. This often happens, so prefer to go in the morning.

The view is when very beautiful with this sea of cloud and the Piton slightly protruding. We rest to admire. There are a few people.

Still tired and having no food with us (stupid mistake of beginner), I will ask a hiker a cake to put a little sugar in my blood.

In any case the detour to La Roche Ecrite is really worth it even if there are clouds.

The descent is easier and we quickly find our bags and our camp for the night. We settle down and take advantage of the end of the afternoon reading, resting. As we are at altitude (about 1900m), the temperature drops quickly and in addition we have the right to a few passages of cloud on us, so it is also wet.

We end the day with a big meal, we will not make the mistake of the day before twice.

Day 3 : from the Roche Écrite to Deux Bras

So we may be under the Tropic of Capricorn but what was cold this night! I had not anticipated very well the coolness at altitude thinking that the local climate will warm the air but around 2000m it is not hot especially when it is wet like yesterday.

In any case the sun is back and the breakfast (hearty) is nice.

We are back on the road to Dos d’Âne.

We quickly joined the GR. The trail will then go along the huge cliff overlooking Dos d’Âne which offers absolutely superb views, one of the most beautiful of the trip in my opinion.

The trail is slightly downhill and so nice especially that it is quite shady and therefore cool.

We then begin the descent to Dos d’Âne along a pretty ridge. We are just starting to meet some hikers who are climbing to the Roche Ecrite.

Once at Dos d’Âne, we go in search of a pharmacy because Arthur has a shortage of lens product. We will find it quickly but no product in stock … it will be a pain for him especially especially that the next city is in four days. We then look for a bar to take something fresh but everything is closed, even the grocery … By cons we need water for the long descent that will take us to Deux Bras. A nice ma will give us some water and will also put us back on the right road.

The descent of 900m to Deux Bras is impressive because the path really follows the cliff and offers a beautiful view but there is no difficulty except the knees will begin to groan to about 3/4 of elevation.

At the bottom of the descent we cross our first Îlet, the Îlet Albert.

An Îlet is a local plateau isolated by ravines and which serves to form many names of small villages in Reunion as Îlet to Malheur for example.

We will continue until the Rivière des Galets to find a nice spot for the bivouac. After setting up the camp, we’ll go bathing in the river. What a pleasure !

We will end the day by sharing the time between reading, rest and a good meal in the evening. This day was really nice, I can not wait to really get to Mafate.

Day 4 : from Deux Bras to Aurère

We start up again after a bad night crowned by a nice bleeding nose …

The path follows the riverbed for a while. There are some river crossing to go but the guide and indications of the GR misleads us making cross the river twice while it is useless. So try to rest on the right bank (in the direction of the current).

We then start the long climb of 700m which will lead us to Aurère. At the top of this hill is the real beginning of Mafate.

We climb nicely and it goes well especially that we find at the top a lot of Goyavier well red and super good! It will make vitamins …

We then quickly join Aurère and the cottage where we spend the evening after these four wild days. We start with a good shower well deserved!

Then we go down to the village. We do not cross many people but it’s nice. Here no tar, no asphalt, the “streets” are grass, everything is very well maintained and flowery. It reigns a serene and relaxed atmosphere.

After this tour of the village, we go back to the refreshment bar and the grocery store to refuel a little and especially to have a good cold beer! It is then that we discover the “Dodo Lemon” a lemon-flavored alcohol-free beer that is a real pleasure after a day of walking and that will accompany us during the rest of the GR.

We then return to the cottage to spend an afternoon rest: nap and reading are on the program.

In the evening, we discover the famous Rougaille Sausage to which we will do honor by serving many times since it is our first “real” meal for a lot of day and especially that it is excellent! Obviously the meal ends with a delicious “special rum” and discussing with the owners of life in the Mafate circus.

To complete this rest day: a night in a real bed! Perfect !

Day 5 : from Aurère to the Orangers

Finally a good night! We take off around 8:30 direction Grand Place at first.

The road is nice and passes by small Îlet as Îlet to Malheur. The Îlets are all super cute with always a lot of flowers.

We then go on a series of ascent / descent including parts in full sun and it already warm. The landscapes are superb, the path pleasant. We feel isolated from the world.

We will arrive at Grand Place 3 hours after our departure instead of the 4 hours announced. We do not really meet many people except some locals.

There are a lot of helicopters doing rotations to supply the villages. As Mafate is not accessible by road, only the helicopter or walking are used to supply.

We take our meal break towards Cayenne, a little lower. As we have walked well this morning and it is barely noon we decide to go on. After checking maps and travel times we decided to do three stages in two days. We will continue to l’Îlet des Orangers.

We take the GR with a good descent followed by a big climb in the sun. It is very very hot and it’s hard! We sweat like never before. On the other hand the view is superb so we take the opportunity during breaks to drink a shot.

We will have suffered from the heat in this climb especially that there is no water (even if a water pipe passes right next … torture of Tantalus). We arrive at the top in a rather enclosed but cool gorge.

The road to Les Orangers will not be very long behind.

Arrived on the spot one directly targets the grocer to have a Dodo Lemon. It also offers a piece of flat land for the night for a few euros, we take it so we will have a water point and toilets …

We sit there for the evening, to dry things, to eat, to enjoy. A good day anyway. The GR-R2 really helps to “live” Mafate rather than just going for a quick ride to the day.

Day 6 : from the Orangers to Marla

In Reunion, the roosters did not understand their purpose : they spent the whole night singing! And as the duos are better all the dogs in the valley and those next door also spend the night screaming! Result: not a lot of sleep …

But hey it’s nice, we’re in Reunion, … everything is fine! We get up at 6 am and attack quickly afterwards.

We go first to Roche Plate. From there we continue on the GR-R2, we hesitated a moment to continue on the R3 and recover the original path to Marla.

After a relatively boring descent under the Bronchard, we attack a good climb of 571m. Nothing bad in itself but the heat and the sun make exercise more difficult than expected.

We come out at the top with a beautiful view of Mafate and its ramparts.

Small difficulty not planned before arriving at La Nouvelle: a bull cuts us off the road and does not want to move … Fortunately it is. We will be able to stagger him by stitching his buttocks with our poles and by quickly going …

La Nouvelle is the “capital” of Mafate, there are some tourists, finally a little more than in Mafate itself.

We will do our lunch break in a local restaurant that serves big sandwiches, Arthur takes Bouchons, another local specialty, kind of meat ravioli (very good). A grandma who is also there to eat suggests we try the rum which is very good according to her. Not being able to refuse  we will each take a glass (more than generously served) including a geranium rum that is excellent.

We take the road towards Marla after this good break. The weather is cloudy … Between the overall moisture, the sandwich that weighs (too) heavy and the rum that I’m struggling this afternoon. I’m a little tired of this portion and I can not wait to get to my destination.

We arrive there after some suffering for my part. It is not far from the school because the area offers a good bivouac with water point. We will have another rum to congratulate ourselves. In the evening we will share the camp with local young people who speak only creole. Communication is not easy but we manage.

Tomorrow we are leaving Mafate … Three great days at the heart of this beautiful circus.

Day 7 & 8 : Cilaos

After six days in the wild, we decided to give ourselves some rest. Direction Cilaos but before that we have the pass Taibit (2142m) to pass.

We leave early, in the freshness and 500m, climb is good. This offers, moreover, a beautiful sight on Marla and the circus of Mafate. Last look and already want to return one day in this circus.

The rest of the descent is a succession of zigzags to the road 1000m lower (the knees have warmed).

Once arrived at the road the call of the city makes us choose to finish the road until Cilaos in transport. There is a bus stop not very far but we missed its passage shortly. So we try to hitchhike and it works in 30s!

Still, we arrive quickly to Cilaos and our friendly hitchhikers drop us next to the Post Office. We join our cottage, the Ti Case Lontant for the next two nights.

We will enjoy the rest of the day quietly to rest. There is a lot of Bibe, the spider “emblematic” that we cross everywhere in Réunion. Although quite impressive, it is harmless and especially limits the number of mosquitoes!

The late evening offers us a beautiful show with beautiful effects of lights on the surrounding mountains. A good night’s sleep in a real bed awaits us, plus we are lucky we are only two in a large dormitory.

The next day will not be very productive. Mainly dedicated to eating and refuel, we will also take advantage of this day to visit the city but nothing very exciting.

In the evening we will test a good restaurant in the area (Chez Noé I think) to end the day.

Tomorrow we tackle the climb for the Piton des Neiges in two stages (we took our time during this trek …)

Day 9 : from Cilaos to the Refuge du Piton des Neiges (2460m)

Early start, the goal of the day is not very ambitious because we are just aiming for the climb to Refuge du Piton des Neiges (2470m). It still makes us a small climb of 1200m …

The beginning of the path is not very nice. We go through the forest of Grand Maturum, we could have taken the bus but we preferred to do everything on foot. Finally this portion adds useless height because it is not very beautiful.

The real climb starts at the parking lot. Unlike the previous days there are some hikers who attack the climb also but everything is very acceptable in terms of attendance.

So we climb gently but surely the drop towards the Refuge admiring the superb view of the circus Cilaos offered to us. Finally we arrive at the Pass at 2500m, the climb will not have been so terrible despite the heat, I think our week of walking has warmed us well. We take the opportunity to make some pictures.

The refuge is not far behind. Here, at altitude, the vegetation is quite dry, more sparse, a little like the one we had at la Roche Ecrite.

The refuge location is superb. It offers a view of all the East Island to Piton de la Fournaise. As we are at altitude, we dominate the clouds of the plain of Cafres, it is beautiful at home, we take advantage of this beautiful day to bask in the sun with a good Dodo Lemon!

As we arrived early, we could have attacked the climb to the summit and admire the sunset but we chose not to. Similarly we could have slept at the top, there is some place to pitch the tent but as my sleeping bag is very light, we prefer to stay lower.

So we have a good hearty meal at the shelter with other hikers who “climb” tomorrow morning. The evening will end on a frenzied card game but we do not go to bed late because tomorrow we will get up at night.

Day 10 : from Piton des Neiges to Bourg Murat

As we want to make the sunrise at the top, we leave early: about 5h. By cons a group did not understand the principle and got up at 3:30 making a crazy noise so short night …

The beginning of the climb is done with the headlamp, everyone attacks the climb so it’s not great fun, it’s an highway … We will quickly exceed the bulk of the troops because we are without our big backpacks, we’re pretty quick with Arthur this morning! The path is easy to follow because it is marked with white dots painted on the rocks (not to be confused in the dark with lychen as it happened to a group).

The beginning of the path is in good weather conditions: neither too cold nor too humid. On the other hand the sky is covered, it announces nothing good for the continuation …

We arrive quickly on the “last straight line” for the summit. The wind has risen very strong and it is more and more covered.

The summit is reached 1:15 after the departure of the refuge, not bad. That’s it we are at the top of the Reunion and the Indian Ocean at 3070m!

On the other hand time has turned: there is a lot of wind and it rains horizontally. Arrived at the summit we have time to see 2min the sunrise before it is covered with clouds … The atmosphere is nice though. We try a few photos but as you will see the result is poor …

We do not stay long at the top because already the weather does not give us envy and then we have a long day waiting for us behind. We go back downhill to the refuge, crossing a lot of people who are still in the climb phase.

At the shelter, we take the time to have breakfast. We close the bags and we attack at 8:40 towards the Plaine des Cafres and Bourg Murat.

The view from the refuge is absolutely beautiful.

The path although beautiful ishard: it is only slippery rocks and muddy paths for hours! We slip, we slip, we stumble! A real joy. In addition because of the nature of the terrain and may be days gone Arthur begins to have a knee ache. I hope it’s only fleeting …

The vegetation changes slowly. Because of the loss of altitude already but also because we are now on the Windward Coast, ie half of Reunion which receives the rain.

We really notice this change once in the plain of Cafres. Indeed, the GR passes in meadows with cows that give a funny air of Normandy to the island, if not the few exotic flowers … In any case the plain of Cafres keeps its promises and we are welcomed by the rain.

We had planned a bivouac in the area but we are tired by this long road and the ascent of the Piton and soaked with rain. As we have the choice we decide to take a small cottage in Bourg Murat.

We are greeted by a nice Grandpa who rents rooms. It’s not too late, so we’ll have a very big nap in the afternoon. In the evening the Grandpa takes us to a restaurant he knows well and we test the Boucanier, another delicious specialty of Reunion. We will not go to bed late, exhausted that we are having to spend the day trying not to slip into the mud. Tomorrow Piton de la Fournaise.

Day 12 : from Bourg Murat to Piton de la Fournaise

We are right after this good night! Arthur still has a little knee pain but it’s better now …

We meet a young couple, at breakfast at the cottage, who also went to Piton but by car. Given the tiredness of the last 10 days, Arthur’s knee and the prospect of gaining some time on the rest of the trip behind, we decide to ride with them by car. We gain a few hours of walking. In hindsight it would have been nice to do the walk because the landscapes are wonderful …

So take off not too late, direction the volcano.

The Volcano Road is beautiful, it starts with a good climb that leads to the top of the ramparts, then down into the vast Plain of Sable, all made of basalt, totally desolate. Everything is very scenic. This is the first time I find myself in this kind of volcanic environment is beautiful and impressive.

We arrive then at the car park which gives access to the Piton as such. Before attacking “the climb” on the crater, we will drop our things at the Volcano Lodge where we will spend the night. The cottage offers incredible views of the slopes of the volcano to the Indian Ocean, 2200m below.

All light, without our big bags, we start for the crater Dolomieu.

The path to the crater is well marked but be careful not to deviate too much because the rocks may be unstable elsewhere. Accidents happen every year, not to mention the hikers who get lost in the Enclos Fouqué. Also do not forget to take water with you (in sufficient quantity) because the volcano is totally arid.

The beginning of the hike begins with the descent of the Remparts de Bellecombe, impressive wall of 100-150m high. Once down, we quickly arrive at Formica Leo, a small volcanic cone secondary to the beautiful glowing color.

We then evolve in the Enclos Fouqué through ancient petrified lava flows. The diversity of shapes and rock structures is impressive.

After this vast flat area, we really start the climb. As the northern part of the circus unfolds. The clouds coming from the Indian Ocean stopped on the northern ramparts, all around us the color has disappeared, everything is black gray, it’s beautiful. There are not many people.

We finally arrive at the summit at 2632m. The path leads to the edge of the crater. This last 1km wide and 350m deep, gently smokes in the background, the only witness of its activity.

There are a few people, all enjoy the view, the atmosphere.

We start the descent after this little break at the top. We take the same path in the opposite direction. It’s very hot, luckily we took some water.

Back to the Bellecombe Rempart we start a run up and the 150m will be done in not even 15min.

We then settle in our pretty rooms of the Gîte du Volcan. The end of the day will be spent having a shower, resting and reading in the dining room of the cottage which offers a superb view of the ocean.

End of the trip

This is where the trek will stop for us. Indeed, the prospect of the descent from the Piton de la Fournaise to the sea level, that is to say a little over 2000m of D- did not delight us, our knees either. We also wanted to join “quickly” the west of Reunion to land a few days at the beach. We decided to join Saint Paul to continue the holidays in quiet mode but finally we will drive again this time make a four-day road trip around the island …

So we have to find someone who wants to take us hitchhiking and leave the GR …


What a fantastic trek! Each portion, each kilometer offers a landscape, an atmosphere, a different climate. The Piton des Neiges and the Refuge offer a breathtaking view, the Piton de la Fournaise is impressive in more ways than one but the most beautiful discovery of this “ride” will remain Mafate, its landscapes and its population. This small circus isolated from the world is a paradise that must be protected and kept intact.

Like all the GR, the GR-R2 is perfectly well marked which offers an appreciable comfort. We focus on the view and not only on the route. In addition it makes us go through the key places, so this is the ideal way to discover the island of Reunion.

To conclude: go to Reunion, go there the GR, eat rougaille sausages, drink Dodo lemon and enjoy the spectacle that landscapes offer!

Concerning Reunion, this little piece of France lost in the Indian Ocean is absolutely to discover. Its richness is exceptional whether in terms of landscape, culture or gastronomy. Regarding the locals, it’s very cliché to say, but the Reunionese are really hospitable and friendly. Everything is there to spend unforgettable holidays!