The mountainous interior of Les Hauts de la Réunion offers visitors spectacular vistas and an exceptional natural environment, protected by its national park status. This is the only French national park with its core and four adjacent sites inscribed by Unesco on its prestigious list of natural World Heritage sites. The varied scenery, made up of the Pitons, cirques and remparts, as well as the rich fauna and flora, make the island a truly unique destination.
The fact that it is an island, along with the high relief and specific climatology, have given rise to some very diverse natural environments and numerous endemic species.
What is also special about the park is that it includes a number inhabited areas where people live in very close contact with nature (islets of the Cirque de Mafate and the islets of Trois Salazes in the Cirque de Cilaos).
The island's relief comprises two adjoining massifs. The first is Piton des Neiges, famous for its three cirques, which were formed by major landslides and erosion. They are set out in the shape of the "ace of clubs" around the Piton des Neiges volcano, demarcated by towering remparts. The Piton de la Fournaise massif includes one of the most active and most closely monitored volcanoes in the world. It last erupted in June 2014.
In the towns in the Les Hauts area, the link between the earth and nature can be seen everywhere in the crop plantations, gardens and colourful creole houses that await visitors.
The difficulty in accessing these unspoilt areas "in the middle of nowhere", when combined with the meeting of different cultures, offers an alternative to the hustle and bustle of urban life experienced on the coast.
Other areas of the Pitons, cirques and remparts heritage site
- The Mare-Longue forest at Saint-Philippe, which includes some of the best conserved remains of tropical rain forest at low altitude (also known as the Forêt de bois de couleur des Bas).
- The Pain de Sucre and La Chapelle, in the Cirque de Cilaos, are located in a narrow gorge cut out by a torrent known as the Bras Rouge. Here, visitors can enter a former magma chamber which stopped feeding eruptions 100,000 years ago.
- Piton d'Anchaing, in the Cirque de Salazie, is a 1,356-metre high block that dominates the seat of the cirque.
- Grande Chaloupe, between Saint-Denis and La Possession, harbours one of the last remaining areas of semi-evergreen forest, which previously covered the west coast of the island. Starting with the few hundred hectares that remain, a vast regeneration and restoration programme has been launched.
Reunion national park - key figures
- The core of the park covers a surface area of 105,400 hectares, accounting for 42% of the territory, including almost 100,000 hectares of natural spaces (natural core). It also includes several farmed and breeding areas (cultivated core) and a number of inhabited islets at Mafate and Les Salazes (inhabited core).
- At the edge of the core area, there is a buffer zone of 88,000 hectares.
- 23 communities are included in the core and 24 in the buffer zone.
- The national park also shelters a large share of the 43 vertebrate and 2,000 invertebrate species, with a high level of endemism (40% for some groups), and most of the 1,600 recorded native plant species (30% endemism).
Safeguarding natural and cultural heritage in the core of the park by making sure regulations are applied.
- Promoting this heritage through information and communication work and carrying out eco-tourism projects based on the concept of heritage interpretation.
- Leading work to safeguard and protect species and habitats.
- Informing and raising the awareness of visitors with regard to the richness and vulnerability of the natural and cultural heritage found in the park.
- Enriching and sharing knowledge through studies and inventories, made available publically.
- Supporting local development by advising economic stakeholders, especially those involved in tourism, and encouraging them to implement sustainable, integrated projects.
- Ensuring management of the natural heritage included on the World Heritage list (Unesco).
- Introducing a charter, drafted in partnership with the 24 communities and the island's social and economic stakeholders: a joint territorial project focusing on balanced planning and development.
On 21 August 2014, François Hollande, the French president, inaugurated the Maison du Parc National de La Réunion at Plaine des Palmistes.