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The highest point on the island, the Piton-des-Neiges commands so much appeal among certain enthusiasts that it brings them back time and time again. It can be reached from a few different places, Plaine-des-Cafres, Hell-Bourg, gite de Bélouve, with the ascent from Cilaos probably the most popular option. It’s still not an easy venture, though – it takes a good 8-hour day from Cilaos for even competent hikers to complete a full round trip.
La Roche Merveilleuse
Is a rocky headland in the heart of the forest, where you will be greeted by a stunning panoramic view across the cirque and its villages. it can be reached by car in 15 minutes on tarmacked roads. get here by taking the route du bras-sec and follow signs for the forêt de cryptomérias japonica 'japanese sugi cedar' cypress forest. these are very large evergreen trees, approaching the size of giant sequoia.
La Cascade de Bras-Rouge
Found in the bras-rouge gorge, on the old path towards mafate, the waterfall has carved out several pools which are ideal settings for picnics. the water coloured by iron oxide is one of the principal attractions. an easy family walk, with numerous viewing spots throughout the gorges. for a round-trip, set aside two and a half hours. to get there from the thermal pools, follow the well-indicated path named chemin des porteurs flanked with flowers and greenery.
The following two fairly ambitious hiking trails Grande Randonnée: offer breathtaking views of the island.
The GR R2. This route crosses the island from Saint-Denis in the north down to Saint-Joseph in the south. Set aside about a week to cover the route's 130km trail.
The GR R1 is slightly shorter at around four days, and covers the Cilaos, Mafate and Salazie craters.
An alternative is to walk in Mafate, without marked-out footpaths. Visit the villages locally known as îlets to get a feel of car-free settlements in beautiful surroundings.
By the sentier des calumets. the sentier des calumets is one of the most interesting ways to discover palmiste-rouge but if strapped for time, it is possible to reach by car from the cilaos road in st-louis. it is just a short walk from the end of the village of bras-sec. the route crosses forests, winds its way around the foot of bonnet-de-prêtre, and comes down towards the small "village at the bottom of the valley". nothing difficult here, apart from that it is sometimes slippery, especially in the morning. after around two and a half hours of walking, you will come across a typical mountain hamlet with nice restaurants. get back by car or hitchhiking or wait for the bus back up to cilaos. it is of course also possible to go back on foot. expect a journey of 5 and a half hours all told.
Before the road, the journey towards ilet-à-cordes could only be made by a path going down steeply into the bras-rouge river before climbing back up to the plateau. on the riverbed, enormous slabs of basalt form a curious and impressive feature nicknamed "la chapelle". it’s a journey of two hours in each direction. a great hike for good walkers. just before entering into cilaos, take the route just opposite the cirque bakery which sells reasonably-priced sandwiches. then, follow the signs away from the main road. sturdy shoes and plenty of water are a must. also, consider bringing a second pair of shoes for crossing the waterfall itself, and don’t be scared to take a dip underneath the waterfall!
Cilaos boasts an important coverage of both primitive forestry behind the church and land reforested with japanese cedars mare-à-joseph canton, route de bras-sec. there are many well-maintained and well-signposted tracks here, leading to waterfalls, pools and picnic spots. information can be obtained from the tourist information centre in the town centre.
Notre-Dame-des-Neiges and the Père Boiteau
Among the island’s sacred architecture, notre-dame-des-neiges is one of the jewels in the crown. the nave and chancel are noteworthy, and the woodwork is all the work of craftsmen from rivière-saint-louis. the most illustrious figure at the church was the father paul boiteau, who arrived there in 1927, and died in 1947. a mystical ascetic, he was very close to the poor. he is buried in front of the church, and is remembered for the good deeds he granted unto his followers. the church can be seen from afar, so finding your way there should not be a problem.
This can be accessed from Saint-Louis by the road of 420 bends route aux 420 virages. Whilst in this welcoming village seated at the foot of the Piton des Neiges cliff, be sure not to miss the embroidery museum musée de la broderie.
Cilaos is a paradise for hikers of all abilities. With the circuit of the volcano, the most famous hike is most definitely the ascent of the Piton des Neiges. To make the most of the hike, be sure to be well-equipped: solid hiking footwear, water, cereal bars, dried fruits, an IGN map of the St-Pierre region, and a second pair of lighter sandals for severe weather or downpours. The tracks are very well marked-out and maintained, making it fairly difficult to get lost. The remaining hiking time for the experienced walker is also marked on each signpost. To get warmed up first, start out with an easy walk such as the Bras-Rouge waterfall before tackling a visit to Mafate Marla by the Taïbit pass or the Piton des Neiges. Cilaos is also a passing point of the GR1 and GR2 hiking trails. La Roche Merveilleuse is a rocky headland in the heart of the forest, where you will be greeted by a stunning panoramic view across the cirque and its villages. It can be reached by car in 15 minutes on tarmacked roads. Get here by taking the route du Bras-Sec and follow signs for the forêt de cryptomérias japonica 'Japanese Sugi cedar' cypress forest. These are very large evergreen trees, approaching the size of Giant Sequoia. Ilet-à-Cordes. Nestled in a clearing at the foot of the Grand-Bénare, Ilet-à-Cordes was one a popular sanctuary for indigenous "Noirs marrons". Nowadays it is dedicated to agriculture lentils, citrus fruits and wine-growing. It is a well-earned place to rest up after a journey along the mountainside, where locals extend a warm welcome to visitors and gladly engage in conversation about their daily lives. Another place to stop by is the old thermal baths at the Bras-Rouge waterfall. The journey leaves a little further up from la Chapelle, approximately 5 hours.
The cirque de Salazie’s entrance opens up on the eastern side, allowing easterly winds from the ocean to bring spray, and thus rendering this region one of the island’s most lush. The name of the caldera is potentially derived from the Malagasy word salazy, meaning ‘good encampment’. The various villages an easily be reached from the Saint-André.
The main villages are Salazie the administrative centre, Hell-Bourg a pretty, flowery village and Grand-Ilet.
This is one of the island’s most spectacular sights. The eastern side of the caldera is carpeted in lush greenery through which slice a multitude of waterfalls. The area can be reached by crossing the river on a suspended footbridge, and by continuing alongside fields of watercress and chayotes a green, pear-shaped fruit. A nice route would be to work one’s way through the vegetation and to go right up to the base of the waterfall – a perfect spot for a picnic.
Starting off from Hell-Bourg, a few lengthy routes can take you to the "trou de Fer" literally ‘the iron hole’, or the "Piton des Neiges". Alternatively, you could opt for a shorter hike to "Les Trois Cascades" ‘the three waterfalls’, taking just two-three hours for an easy round-trip – still, you’ll need to be equipped with decent footwear though.
To really make the most of it, however, it is well-advised to plan a night-stop at the Gîte de la Caverne-Dufour 3km from the summit. The hosts are nice people and, after a traditional rum-based fruit punch, a simple meal will take your mind off your exhaustion from the climb.
At the crack of dawn at around 3:00am, grab your shoes again, marvel at the night sky which seems a million miles away from today’s polluted metropolises, then climb further. Walk by torchlight along marked-out paths leading to the summit, where the sunrise will leave an indelible mark upon your memory. Words cannot begin to explain the magnificence of this experience.The descent back to the gîte is no more surprising for most visitors than the initial ascent – it would be the first time to see by daylight the track you followed in pitch black earlier. The natural surroundings make it clear that you are on an extinct volcano.
Route from Cilaos
Take the Route de Bras-Sec where the paths leave off from. The view is completely unobstructed, and the wilderness is staggeringly beautiful. A good place to take a halfway pitstop would be at the "Grand matarum" cabin.For very good climbers only! The gîte takes bookings several weeks in advance: Maison de la Montagne Tel.: 02.62.90.78.78, or at the Cilaos tourist information centre 02.62.31.71.71, then book in for a meal and breakfast with the hosts at the gîte 02.62.51.15.26, 24 hours ahead.The journey back to Cilaos can be made in a single push descending 1800 metres in altitude – try to take it easy on those knees!
The other route up is from the Bélouve gîte: set aside between 4 and 6 hours of hiking to get to the refuge hut at the Dufour cave – it is a longer and more circuitous route than approaching from Cilaos.
The path around Bélouve gets very muddy from time to time. The final route is to approach from Hell-Bourg passing through the cap Anglais: allow 6 or 7 hours for this route, which covers 1500 metres of altitude.
The first surprise is on the "Nez de bœuf" pass 2136m, where, after walking through lush greenery, a panoramic view of the "plaine des sables" plain of sands surprises you. This plain of black sand from volcanic activity gives us a hint of what is to come. A path or more precisely, a dusty track, riddled with potholes, takes us to the "Pas de Bellecombe" 2311m. A short walk of just a few metres from the car park takes you up to a lovely view over the "Fournaise".It’s a breathtaking sight as you see this lunar landscape presented before your eyes. A path which is the only way of getting to the Fournaise goes down about 150 metres in altitude in about 580 steps we counted them!. Fortunately, there is a rail along the whole route, because the “steps” are far from being like those on normal staircases – they are from 10cm to 40cm in height and scramble over rock, earth, tree roots, concrete and pebbles. Nevertheless, the descent along the wall of the caldera leads you through tamarind trees and is not an all unpleasant.
Once you’re at the bottom, the first stop is to the "Formica Léo", a small volcano which has been inactive since 1753. From it’s reddish tip emerges about 20 metres of ash spewed out from successive eruptions of the volcano during its active years.The entire journey is well marked out with white markers.NB: These white markers, about every 2 metres apart, are essential in case of a sudden spell of mist – they will guide you back to the starting point. Be careful not to stray too far from them, if you get lost there is very little chance of being rescued before the next morning, and nights up there are pretty cold!
After the Formica Léo, the signposts take you towards the peak, on hard and smooth earth, made of old lava. A small sign marks out that it is made of “Lave Cordée” basaltic, smooth, fluid lava, also known as “Pāhoehoe” lava. From then on, the track goes on through a more lunar-like landscape, and the long ascent begins, crossing more recently produced lava.
Getting your bearings is no problem, all you have to do is follow the throngs of fellow visitors. Nevertheless, be warned: drink lots and do not be deceived by the cool air at this altitude of 2200m. The sun, even through mist, is very strong, so protect your head and use sunscreen copiously on all of you that is exposed to the sun. Otherwise, be prepared for a few difficult days of sunburn. After the 2 hours of walking from the car park, you will finally arrive about a third of the way along the route at the summit of the Bory crater, at 2631 metres above sea level. This small crater, only 350 metres in diameter, has been inactive since 1971. It’s an ideal place to take a few photos or videos to immortalise the moment.Still following the white markers, the walk continues towards the Dolomieu crater 1km in diameter, which is still active, as the fumes will verify.
This itinerary covers the crater, and the route traverses recent lava flows. You’ll certainly feel the heat on your legs and the crunching underfoot as if you’re walking on pieces of glass. A few signposts remind you of the danger of climbing down the rock face to get closer to the crater. The positioning of seismic probes around the crater’s edge record current seismic volcanic activity.Once you have completed your trek to the summit, it’s just another 2 and a half hours of walking to return to your vehicle – not to mention that you have to climb back up those 580 steps again!
Nestled in a clearing at the foot of the grand-bénare, ilet-à-cordes was one a popular sanctuary for indigenous "noirs marrons". nowadays it is dedicated to agriculture lentils, citrus fruits and wine-growing. it is a well-earned place to rest up after a journey along the mountainside, where locals extend a warm welcome to visitors and gladly engage in conversation about their daily lives. another place to stop by is the old thermal baths at the bras-rouge waterfall. the journey leaves a little further up from la chapelle, approximately 5 hours.
La Cascade de Bras-Rouge. Found in the Bras-Rouge gorge, on the old path towards Mafate, the waterfall has carved out several pools which are ideal settings for picnics. The water coloured by iron oxide is one of the principal attractions. An easy family walk, with numerous viewing spots throughout the gorges. For a round-trip, set aside two and a half hours. To get there from the thermal pools, follow the well-indicated path named chemin des porteurs flanked with flowers and greenery. Palmiste-Rouge by the Sentier des Calumets. The Sentier des Calumets is one of the most interesting ways to discover Palmiste-Rouge but if strapped for time, it is possible to reach by car from the Cilaos road in St-Louis. It is just a short walk from the end of the village of Bras-Sec. The route crosses forests, winds its way around the foot of Bonnet-de-Prêtre, and comes down towards the small "village at the bottom of the valley". Nothing difficult here, apart from that it is sometimes slippery, especially in the morning. After around two and a half hours of walking, you will come across a typical mountain hamlet with nice restaurants. Get back by car or hitchhiking or wait for the bus back up to Cilaos. It is of course also possible to go back on foot. Expect a journey of 5 and a half hours all told. La Chapelle. Before the road, the journey towards Ilet-à-Cordes could only be made by a path going down steeply into the Bras-Rouge river before climbing back up to the plateau. On the riverbed, enormous slabs of basalt form a curious and impressive feature nicknamed "La Chapelle". It’s a journey of two hours in each direction. A great hike for good walkers. Just before entering into Cilaos, take the route just opposite the cirque bakery which sells reasonably-priced sandwiches. Then, follow the signs away from the main road. Sturdy shoes and plenty of water are a must. Also, consider bringing a second pair of shoes for crossing the waterfall itself, and don’t be scared to take a dip underneath the waterfall! Le Sentier des Sources. This is an easy-going little walk, taking about an hour and a half starting from the village of Bras-Sec. Be sure to bring water. Forest walks. Cilaos boasts an important coverage of both primitive forestry behind the church and land reforested with Japanese cedars Mare-à-Joseph canton, route de Bras-Sec. There are many well-maintained and well-signposted tracks here, leading to waterfalls, pools and picnic spots. Information can be obtained from the Tourist Information Centre in the town centre. Notre-Dame-des-Neiges and the Père Boiteau. Among the island’s sacred architecture, Notre-Dame-des-Neiges is one of the jewels in the crown. The nave and chancel are noteworthy, and the woodwork is all the work of craftsmen from Rivière-Saint-Louis. The most illustrious figure at the church was the father Paul Boiteau, who arrived there in 1927, and died in 1947. A mystical ascetic, he was very close to the poor. He is buried in front of the church, and is remembered for the good deeds he granted unto his followers. The church can be seen from afar, so finding your way there should not be a problem.
From Cilaos, come along the Taïbit Pass it takes about 5 hours from Cilaos to Marla, 4 hours from the îlet at Cordes. The cirque is also accessible from the cirque de Salazie along the Col des Bœufs, and there is even a manned car park unfortunately slightly expensive: around 10€/day. By this pass, you can join up with La Nouvelle in two and a half hours of walking through tamarind forest, or Marla in 3 hours. Set aside a few days to enjoy this place to its potential.
It is also possible to reach here by the GR2 route from the north canalisation des Orangers, or from Maïdo by taking the narrow path heading down the "La Brèche" pass, with a 750-metre change of altitude. It’s a fairly strenuous trip, 2 hours down, and 3 hours up minimum, with dizzying drops. About halfway along, be sure to stop and appreciate the views, above a sheer drop of 1500 metres.
The cirque de Mafate is home to many villages, or “îlets”. Aside from La Nouvelle 1470m, there is Marla 1600m, Trois Roches 1220m, Roche Plate 1110m, Grand-Place 530m, Îlet des Orangers 1000m, Îlet des lataniers 650m, Îlet à Bourse 850, Îlet Malheur 828m, Aurère 930m and Cayenne 530m. Although seemingly near from a bird’s-eye view, the journey from village to village requires a good few hours even for competent walkers.It is possible to get here by helicopter from St-Denis or St-Giles as well. Try HELILAGON, Altiport de l'Eperon-97460 Saint-Paul, tel.02.62.55.55.