Travel info for Piton de la Fournaise on Reunion Island

The cauldron of Réunion Island


Route Nationale 3, PK 27, 97418 Bourg-Murat, La Réunion

GPS: -21.242050940702, 55.709294426239

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Piton de la Fournaise is a shield volcano located on the eastern part of Reunion Island. This small French overseas archipelago is scattered off the coast of Africa and Madagascar, in the south-west of Mauritius. Formed over 500,000 years ago, the geological site of Piton de la Fournaise is experiencing significant seismic activity due to the movement of tectonic plates. These are at the origin of the formation of the chain of volcanic islands (including Reunion around 3 million years ago) and underwater plateaus scattered in the Indian Ocean.

Piton de la Fournaise is one of the most active volcanoes in the world like the Kilauea in Hawaii. In constant activity from the top of its 2,632 meters in height, this smoking massif has erupted more than once a year on average in recent years. Perforating the earth’s crust from a plateau 4,000 meters deep below sea level, this hot spot of Réunion includes two distinct craters at its summit: the inactive crater Bory (the highest point of the volcano) and the Dolomieu crater, the largest. The latter collapsed by 350 meters following an effusive eruption dating from 2007 while it was still filled with lava. As this bubbling avalanche came into contact with Indian Ocean water, it formed a natural cape, known as Pointe du Tremblet. Even today, the spectacular lava flows of Piton de la Fournaise continue to shape the archipelago of Réunion Island (the temperature of the molten lava reaches 1,200 °C). These still visible remains give way to a splendid postcard decor: volcanic cliff, green vegetation, tropical water and black sand beach.

Attached to Réunion National Park, a large biodiversity zone covering more than 40% of the total surface of the island, Piton de la Fournaise is one of the most popular natural sites in the archipelago. The landscapes to be discovered around the volcano are as beautiful as different from each other: tropical forests, sugar cane plantations, basalt highlands, bubbling massifs, lava fields and lunar calderas. And despite its degree of volcanic activity, the site of Piton de la Fournaise remains one of the most easily accessible and observable volcanoes in the world. From its summit, you may have the chance to see the Indian Ocean in the distance.

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  • Go to the website of the Piton de la Fournaise Volcano Observatory (located Plaine des Cafres) to know the alert level of the volcano and the practicability of the paths.
  • It takes at least 5 hours of walking to reach the Dolomieu crater from the town of Le Tampon and back. By leaving early in the morning, at sunrise, you will enjoy a magnificent panorama from the mountain pass Le Pas de Bellecombe.
  • For your safety, stay on the marked paths. Since the death of a hiker in 2003, it is forbidden to observe eruptions too closely. Access for the public is therefore limited to the top of the caldera to watch the impressive spectacle of lava emission.
  • The long hiking trail called sentier de grande randonnée 2 (GR2) links the massifs of Piton des Neiges to Piton de la Fournaise. Reserved for experienced hikers, it covers a large part of the archipelago through grandiose landscapes.
  • The plateaus of the Plaine des Sables (a mineral desert devoid of vegetation), the Plaine des Cafres (an altitude plateau which separates Piton des Neiges from Piton de la Fournaise) and the Plaine des Remparts (surrounded by cliffs); the valley of the Rivière des Remparts (superb viewpoint from the Notre Dame de la Paix lookout) ; the Bory (350 metres long and 200 metres wide) and Dolomieu (1 kilometre long, 800 metres wide and 300 metres deep) summit craters; the Commerson and Rivals craters; the Enclos Fouqué caldera (where most of the eruptions take place) and the Formica Leo volcanic cone (slag cone)
  • The observation of the frequent lava flows from Piton de la Fournaise (a resurgence of volcanic activity has been observed since the end of 2014); the spectacle of smoky lava flows visible on the east coast of the island (site of the Grand-Brûlé); the very fluid nature of the lava on slopes of up to 20 degrees of inclination
  • The green, mineral, lunar and then reddish landscape giving way to volcanic rock formations (site of the Chapelle de Rosemont); the bottom of the caldera in direct contact with ocean water
  • Walking and hiking trails leading to the caldera of the volcano (about twenty trails suitable for all sport levels); itineraries by car via the route forestière du Volcan (route forestière 5) and the route des Laves (route nationale 2)
  • Exploration in the presence of a certified guide of the caves, tunnels and lava tubes (this activity is not recommended for claustrophobic people as this underground network extends over several kilometres and contains several floors)
  • The view on Piton de la Fournaise from the Pas de Bellecombe (starting point of the paths to reach the highest point of the volcano)
  • The modern museum of the Cité du Volcan (or Maison du Volcan) and its 6,000 m² of exhibition space to be discovered (site of the Plaine des Cafres in Bourg-Murat to the west); the church of Notre-Dame-des-Laves in Piton Sainte-Rose having narrowly escaped a terrible lava flow in 1977 and the Anse des Cascades (series of waterfalls and picnic area) to the north; the Pointe du Tremblet and its black sand beach to the east in the commune of Saint-Philippe (beach of volcanic origin); the beautiful white sand beach of Grande Anse to the south
  • The aerial views by helicopter, plane, ultralight aviation or paraglider; the ascent of the island’s other volcanoes: Maïdo (2,205 metres), Grand Bénare (2,898 metres) and Piton des Neiges (3,070 metres); the admirable natural heritage of rempart du Maïdo and the Salazie, Mafate and Cilaos cirques surrounding Piton des Neiges
  • The rich biodiversity of Réunion National Park; the island’s musical culture (including the Maloya and Séga musical genres); the vegetation that is constantly renewed thanks to the constant rainfall and the fertile nature of the basalt soil; the great diversity of local gastronomy (with Creole, French, Malagasy, Indian, African and Chinese influences); the many open-air concerts and festivals (including the Sakifo Musik Festival in June in Saint-Pierre); La Diagonale des Fous (the mythical Grand Raid of Reunion Island over a distance of 164 kilometres)
  • From a volcanological point of view, Piton de la Fournaise is actually made up of a main massif and several hundred small craters on its flanks which were formed during the various eruptions. This little brother of the Piton des Neiges is considered to be a Hawaiian-type volcano because of the very fluid aspect of its lava and its propensity to generate lava flows (it is the most active volcano in France).
  • As is the case in Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park (United States), lava flows that end up in the sea cause the expansion of the surface area of Reunion Island.
  • The three cirques of the archipelago (Mafate, Salazie and Cilaos) served as a refuge for slaves who were forced to work on the plantations. Those who were lucky enough to flee or escape colonial oppression were able to take refuge in these steep places that were difficult to access. Over time, these fugitives called “les marrons” (“the browns”) managed to tame this inhospitable environment to create autonomous and free villages.
  • According to local beliefs, the Piton de la Fournaise volcano is the home of a Creole witch known as Grand-Mère Kalle (“Grandmother Kalle”). This former slave is said to haunt the area in the company of her husband Grand Diable (“Great Devil”).
  • The collapse of the caldera (13 kilometres long and 9 kilometres wide) of the volcano occurred 4,700 years ago. Since then, this depression has gradually filled in at the rate of successive lava flows which take several years to cool down.
  • About 300 eruptions have been recorded at Piton de la Fournaise since the mid 17th century. One of them, which occurred in April 1977, devastated the village of Piton Sainte-Rose (all the inhabitants had been evacuated in time). The church of Notre-Dame-des-Laves was one of the few monuments to be spared by the devastating lava flow that bypassed the building (almost all the surrounding houses were destroyed). The religious monument remains surrounded by a massive layer of solidified lava. Most of the people interpret this happy ending as a miracle from heaven (the church has been home to a statue called the “Virgin with an umbrella” for a hundred years, which is in charge of protecting the population from the undesirable effects of the volcano). This event nevertheless led the French government to create the Piton de la Fournaise Volcano Observatory to monitor its activity. The major eruption of 2007 lasted one month. The lava flow stretched over 1.5 kilometre wide and reached a thickness of 60 metres in places.
  • After five eruptions recorded in 2019, Piton de la Fournaise woke up twice in 2020 (in February and April) and then returned to activity for almost 45 consecutive days in April 2021 (one of the longest eruptions in its history). Following a series of earthquakes, these eruptions occurred inside the Enclos Fouqué, the central caldera of the volcano. The eruptive activity in 2020 led to the formation of a new crater called Piton Voulvoul (it was named after the large amount of Pele’s hair that spread over the archipelago). The first recorded eruption in 2021 of Piton de la Fournaise generated more than 10 million m3 of lava. The new cone resulting from this eruption has been named Piton Guy Valcourt PICARD (after a former guide of the volcano).
  • Piton de la Fournaise is closely studied by scientists and volcanologists, and is also subject to increased surveillance by the local authorities. Gas and lava samples, a temperature reading and samples of stones gushing out of the magma are taken two to three times a week. Thanks to this precise and regular monitoring, all the eruptions of Piton de la Fournaise have so far been predicted.
  • The other major volcano of the archipelago and the highest point of Reunion Island, Piton des Neiges, is now extinct (it has not been active for about 12,000 years). It is the highest peak in the Indian Ocean and the most difficult mountain to climb in the archipelago. The submerged part of this volcano represents only 5% of its total surface area, most of which is under ocean waters.
  • The Reunion archipelago has a total of 160 different microclimates (the weather can be extremely changeable in different parts of the island at the same time).

Where to eat

  • Crêperie le Tinto
    (copious and convivial)
  • La Case Volcan
    (suitable for families)
  • Le Relais des Plaines
    (well worked dishes)

Where to go

  • Gorges de Takamaka
    (deep and lush valley)
  • Sentier du littoral
    (coastal and wilderness trail)
  • Cascade de Grand Galet
    (dazzling waterfall)

Where to stay

  • L'Arum des Prairies
    (friendly guesthouse)
  • Cana Suc
    (green change of scenery)
  • Auberge Desprairies
    (total well-being)