Mafate is a legendary cirque that can only be reached on foot, as there are no roads or cars. This isolated and lost paradise in the heart of the island requires effort to access, but rewards its visitors with breathtaking landscapes and a life far away from modern civilization.
History and Origins of Cirque de Mafate: Between Maroon Slaves and Values of Freedom
Although the origin of the word “Mafate” is uncertain, its settlement is not, as it was indeed the Maroon slaves who first found refuge in this isolated and inaccessible space nestled in the heart of the island.
Mafate could come from the Malagasy word “Mahafaty”, which means “deadly, dangerous” in reference to the inhospitable nature of the place, or perhaps from a Maroon slave who was named Mafate.
Today, the Cirque de Mafate remains imbued with its past and bears the traces of the history of its first inhabitants. Some current residents are direct descendants of these Maroon slaves, while others, like the “petits blancs des hauts” (yabs), settled later.
Although the natural isolation and difficulty of access have their drawbacks, the Cirque de Mafate is a preserved space from modern civilization, which still intrinsically carries the values of freedom and struggle against oppression.
Discover the Cirque de Mafate, a natural gem only accessible by foot or helicopter.
The Cirque de Mafate remains only accessible by foot or helicopter, with no roads or cars, although a road project was studied but ultimately abandoned.
The relief of the Cirque de Mafate is spectacular, with deep ravines, dizzying peaks, sharp peaks, and impressive ramparts resulting from the geological construction and intense erosion of the island. Mafate’s climate is rather dry and experiences the phenomenon of diurnal convection on its ramparts, but is generally quite clear in its center.
Mafate is administratively attached to the municipalities of Saint-Paul and La Possession and is entirely classified on the UNESCO World Heritage List, as well as being part of the heart of the National Park of Reunion Island.
The highest point of the cirque is Gros Morne, at 3019 meters above sea level, the second highest peak on the island after Piton des Neiges. The Cirque de Mafate is crossed by several rivers and ravines, such as the Galets River, the Merles Arm, the Sainte-Suzanne Arm, the Detour Arm, and others.
Cirque de Mafate: An Isolated Cirque with Technical Trails and Hidden Treasures.
Mafate is an isolated place that is a true paradise for hikers, mountain runners, and nature lovers. The cirque offers over 150 km of trails that allow access to the cirque and connect the different hamlets of Mafate, as well as discover hidden treasures in the heart of the cirque.
However, access to the cirque is only on foot, as there are no other means of transportation. Hikes can be difficult due to significant elevation changes and the technicality of the trails.
There are five access points to enter the cirque, each with its own characteristics :
The different access points to the Mafate Cirque are:
- From Rivière des Galets or Dos d’Ane, passing through Deux-Bras to reach Aurère
- From Sans Soucis via the Canalisation des Orangers to reach the îlet des Orangers
- From Maïdo (Ti Col) by taking the trail to the Brèche to arrive at Roche Plate
- From Cilaos via the Col du Taïbit on the road to Ilet à Cordes to reach Marla
- From Salazie via the Col des Boeufs or the Col de Fourche to reach La Nouvelle
All accesses are only on foot, and the hikes are known to be difficult due to the significant elevation gain and technicality of the trails.
- The access from Sans-Soucis via the Canalisation des Orangers is considered the easiest but also the longest.
- The descent to Roche Plate from Maïdo is fast but difficult and technical.
- The access from the Col des Boeufs to La Nouvelle is balanced in terms of distance and difficulty, but it is also the most frequented.
- The Sentier Scout is quite long but considered one of the most beautiful on the island.
The best way to discover Mafate is to plan a two to three day circuit, staying in the gîtes of the hamlets. It is important to reserve in advance, prepare well in terms of equipment, and take into account the weather conditions and trail difficulties. To learn more about hiking in Mafate, it is recommended to consult dedicated articles on blogs or specialized websites.
Life in the hamlets of Mafate: conditions, constraints and local economy
Mafate is an isolated mountain cirque in La Réunion, which houses nine main hamlets. Each hamlet has lodges, shops, snack bars or bakeries, as well as often a school, church, or chapel. Here is a list of the hamlets:
- Ilet de La Nouvelle (1400 meters): the largest and most developed of all the hamlets, with all necessary facilities. Easily accessible from the Col des Boeufs.
- Marla (1600 meters): the highest in Mafate, located at the foot of Taïbit and Grand Bénare. It has all the amenities and is accessible from Cilaos via the Col du Taïbit.
- Aurère (900 meters): an important hamlet located in the northeast of the cirque, accessible by the Sentier Scout or the Canalisation Augustave.
- Ilet à Malheur (800 meters): a small hamlet separated from Aurère by the Bémale ravine, accessible from the latter or from Ilet à Bourse. It has lodges.
- Ilet à Bourse: a small hamlet located between Grand Place and Ilet à Malheur, accessible in particular by the Sentier Scout from La Plaque.
- Grand Place: a hamlet in the center of the cirque, extending between Grand Place les Hauts, Grand Place les Bas, and Cayenne. There is a school, lodges, and shops.
- Ilet des Orangers (1000 meters) and Ilet des Lataniers (600 meters): two small nearby hamlets located in the northwest of the cirque, accessible from Maïdo or the Canalisation des Orangers.
- Roche Plate (1100 meters): an important hamlet located at the foot of Maïdo, accessible from Maïdo, from Rivière des Galets, or from Grand Place.
There are other hamlets in Mafate, some very discreet and difficult to access, others forgotten or disappeared.
The hamlets of Mafate offer a spectacular environment and a timeless way of life, but life for the inhabitants, the Mafatais, is still difficult. The hamlets are isolated and difficult to access, with residents often having to travel long distances on foot to go to school or work. Food and materials are supplied on foot or by helicopter, and residents use solar energy and photovoltaic panels to provide the minimum amount of electricity necessary. Tourism and lodges are the main economic activity of the cirque, although some local products are also offered for sale.
Accommodations in the Mafate : spend the night in the heart of Reunion Island!
Accommodations in the form of lodges are available in all the hamlets of Mafate, with a varied selection in certain hamlets such as La Nouvelle or Marla. Reservations can be made directly with the lodges, through IRT (Reunion Island Tourism) or in the dedicated section on this website.
In some places, it is also possible to spend a night camping. Our website provides a list of different places to pitch a tent for a night.