Cilaos is a majestic cirque located in La Réunion, whose summit is the Piton des Neiges, the highest point in the Indian Ocean. Cilaos is accessible via a winding road and is an ideal tourist spot for mountain lovers. This region offers an authentic glimpse of La Réunion.
The Challenges of Accessing the Cirque of Cilaos: a Winding Road, Towering Ramparts, and Breath-Taking Landscapes.
How to reach the Cirque de Cilaos
Although driving is a possible means of access, reaching the Cirque de Cilaos is a real challenge, as it requires facing the famous Cilaos road and its 400 turns. The journey is magnificent, winding through dizzying walls and deep ravines.
In the past, people traveled to Cilaos on foot or by sedan chair, but today it is possible to cross the ramparts through different access points to reach the majestic cirque.
The spectacular beauty of the Cirque de Cilaos
The Cirque de Cilaos is located in the heart of the La Reunion National Park, which is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The cirque is surrounded by steep and dizzying ramparts reaching almost 1000 meters in height, with deep canyons and ravines such as Fleur Jaunes, Bras Rouge, and Gobert, as well as peaks such as Piton de Sucre, Bonnet de Prêtre, and Morne de Gueule Rouge, creating a spectacular landscape inside the cirque.
The history of the settlement of Cilaos
Although less known than the Cirque de Mafate, the settlement of the Cirque de Cilaos followed the same history, as runaway slaves first took refuge in the cirque to escape their conditions. The “petits blancs” or yabs also exiled themselves in the heights, notably in Cilaos. Today, Cilaos is mainly a place of resort and tourism.
The name Cilaos comes from the Malagasy word “Tsilaosa”, which means “a place one does not leave.” It is true that leaving this magical place always leaves a sense of nostalgia.
Discover Cilaos, a cirque in Reunion Island close to Piton des Neiges !
The city is situated in the center of the cirque at an altitude of around 1700 meters and has just over 5500 inhabitants. Tourism is the main activity of the town, but it is also known for the production of lentils, wine, embroidery, and sparkling water.
Cilaos is the most “industrialized” of the cirques and has almost all amenities, including a hospital, but life there flows peacefully outside of modern times, reminiscent of another era, that of “réunion lontan.” It is pleasant to stroll through the streets of the city to admire the superb Creole houses or to visit the Mare à Jonc to enjoy the view offered by the ramparts and high peaks. Cilaos offers a wide range of accommodations and restaurants for visitors.
Since its inception, Cilaos has been a popular resort for Reunionese people, particularly thanks to its renowned thermal baths. At the beginning of the 19th century, water sources such as Véronique and Irénée were discovered and exploited, and the Thermes de Cilaos still welcome spa guests today.
The Cilaos cirque is also an ideal playground for outdoor sports such as fitness trails, hiking, mountain running, trekking, mountain biking, climbing, canyoning, rafting… in breathtaking scenery.
Cilaos: the kingdom of mountain sports
Precautions to take
Cilaos is an ideal place for mountain sports enthusiasts, but it is important to take precautions, especially during the rainy season. Landslides, rockfalls, and rapid changes in river and ravine levels are dangers to consider. Sports enthusiasts should therefore check the weather conditions before setting out.
Cilaos offers many hiking trails of different levels, accessible to all, with magnificent panoramas. Sports enthusiasts can tackle the ascent of Piton des Neiges, the highest summit in the Indian Ocean, or reach the different “îlets” of the circus by taking the mythical paths.
Cilaos has more than 40 mountain bike trails for all levels, with the possibility of renting bikes on-site and going on guided tours. Rides in the circus are also very popular with cycling enthusiasts.
Cilaos has become a high place of canyoning, with courses for all levels, offering sublime landscapes, waterfalls, slides, and turquoise water basins.
Climbing and Via Ferrata
The cliffs, canyons, and ramparts of Cilaos offer climbing and Via Ferrata sites for all levels. Sports enthusiasts can tackle ascents on mythical sites such as Fleurs Jaunes or les Mohicans, or even do slacklining on the famous teeth of 3 Salazes.
Cilaos also offers other sports and leisure activities, such as the Cilaosa Parc Aventure treetop park, which offers different courses accessible to the whole family. Several approved organizations and clubs offer sports activities in complete safety.
Discover the different hamlets of the Cilaos cirque.
The different hamlets of Cilaos are numerous and varied, offering different levels of comfort and amenities. Here are some examples:
- Palmiste Rouge: this village is the second most populated in the cirque, with around 1,000 inhabitants. It offers a wide variety of services, such as sports facilities, a community hall, a library, schools, a post office, shops, and a church. Economic activities in the region are mainly focused on market gardening, fruit farming, and traditional embroidery.
- Mare Sèche: this hamlet is located on the N5, just after the Gueule Rouge tunnel, and has around 560 inhabitants. It has a school, an administrative center, a sports field, a church, and some shops.
- Peter Both: located along the N5 on the road to Cilaos, Peter Both is a small hamlet with just over 100 inhabitants. It has a church, a community hall, and a snack bar.
- Ilet à Cordes: situated to the west of the cirque, at the foot of the Petit Bénare and Les Makes rampart, Ilet à Cordes is separated from Cilaos by the Bras Rouge river. It has around 400 inhabitants, and the main economic activity is agriculture and the cultivation of the famous lentils of Cilaos.
- Ilet Chicot: accessible from the road to Ilet à Cordes via a discreet path, this small traditional hamlet is an ideal place to discover the art of tisane-making.
- Bras Sec: located at the foot of the Bonnet de Prêtre and accessible from Cilaos via the D241, the village of Bras Sec has around 500 inhabitants. There is a forest of cryptomeria at the entrance of the village, as well as many popular picnic shelters. It is possible to quickly reach Cilaos by using the trail that crosses the Bras de Benjoin.
Discover the Must-See Sights and Activities in Cilaos, from Thermal Baths to Vineyards and Panoramic Views.
The circus offers a wide range of tourism, sports, and cultural sites and activities, so the list of must-sees in Cilaos is far from exhaustive.
One of these must-see places is the Cilaos Thermal Baths, which date back to 1840 when they consisted of only six natural baths carved into the ravine.
Today, the modern Irénée Accot facility is the only one on the island and offers traditional cures as well as a full range of complementary treatments such as hydrotherapy, sauna, seaweed, jacuzzi, massages, and fitness programs.
Another highlight is the arts and crafts of Cilaos, including embroidery, wine, and lentils. The Cilaos embroidery, created by Angèle Mac Auliffe in 1900, is a complex technique that has won several awards, including the Best Craftsperson in France (gold, silver).
The Lentils of Cilaos are also famous for their characteristic taste and are often featured on the menus of top local restaurants.
The Cilaos vineyard is the only one on Reunion Island, and its red, rosé, dry white, and primeur wines have been designated as “Vin de Pays” since 2004, making it the first European vineyard in the southern hemisphere.
Finally, the Roche Merveilleuse is a must-visit site located on the D241 road towards Bras Sec, where visitors can enjoy a stunning panoramic view of Cilaos, the circus, and its ramparts.
Cilaos is also a great destination for sports enthusiasts, with options including the canyon of Fleur Jaunes, hiking the Piton des Neiges, and exploring the numerous trails of varying difficulty levels throughout the circus.