Etang Salé

With its black sand and sea beds covered in coral, the Bassin Pirogue is an unusual spot in Réunion Island. Near this reef, partly protected by a coral barrier, snorkelers can observe a large number of species, including stingrays, which are unknown practically everywhere else on the island. Be careful not to stray too far away from the recommended areas, since the entrance to the basin is extremely dangerous (strong currents, waves, sharks).
How to get there?

The Bassin Pirogue is at the southern tip of the Etang Salé-les-Bains beach. The Pointe des Sables, commonly known as "La Pointe", divides the beach from the Bassin Pirogue. From Saint-Pierre or Saint-Denis, follow the Route des Tamarins (RN1) and turn off at the Etang Salé exit. Continue towards Etang Salé for a few minutes. Park in the large car park with its flame trees and bar vans, which you will see soon after arriving in the town. Buses from the Car’Jaune and Alternéo networks go to the beach.

Water entrance

We recommend getting into the water in the boat anchoring area, near the small landing stage. Be careful, because there are a lot of sea urchins in the area, and the sea bed is stony. You should remember that once you reach the channel, the currents tend to carry you towards the open sea (that is, from the left to the right as you are facing the ocean).

Aerial view


The area to explore covers the inner part of the basin, between the shore and the coral reef (although it is not possible to explore the reef itself as the water is too shallow). In the central part, the reef is divided by a relatively deep channel, big enough for boats to go through.

The first few meters from the beach area are rocky (↕2-4ft/0.5-1m), but this is where you have the best chance of coming across stingrays, particularly near the landing stage. Criss-cross the area early in the morning to increase your chances.

Snorkeling Report Etang Sale La Reunion
Turkey moray at l'Etang Salé lagoon

You need to go a little further to reach the coral areas (↕2-4ft/0.5-1m). Black sand, purple sponges, mainly yellow, porous coral beds and long-spined sea urchins – if you have visited other spots on Réunion island, you will see that here the sea bed has its own features. The area is rich in fish: butterflyfish (including the yellow teardrop butterflyfish, with its bright yellow colour), bannerfish, wrasses and triggerfish, among others, inhabit the waters. Giant clams, with their bright colours (green, blue, etc.) are one of the major attractions of the area. To find them, explore the upper part of the coral beds in particular, which are more exposed to the light.

Once you arrive at the channel (about 20 to 25 feet wide, 6-7m), the depth increases abruptly (↕12-15ft/4-5m). A number of species (angelfish, etc.) that usually stay on the outer slopes of the reefs enter the basin through the channel. See if you can spot the moray eels that live in the reef drop-off.

Cross the channel (watching out for passing boats) to get to the newer areas of coral (↕2-4ft/0.5-1.5m). Here the sea bed is very well preserved. Shoals of convict surgeonfish swim across the area. The water level soon becomes too low to go any further towards the barrier reef.

The end of the basin (at the Pointe des Sables level) is extremely dangerous (currents, waves and sometimes shark attacks) and several people have drowned here. Always keep at a safe distance from the Pointe des Sables. Don't swim in the channel. If the current gets stronger, go back to the shore. Ask at the aid station if you have any doubts about conditions in the basin.

Restaurants and accommodation

Etang Salé is a lively town during the day and at weekends. There is a wide variety of places to buy food nearby (bar vans, snack bars and restaurants). There are no hotels on the beach, but a range of accommodation is available in the town. On the beach, there are free showers.

Snorkeling Report gives the most precise tips possible about the snorkeling spots and potential dangers, but each one of us is responsible for our own safety in the water. For more information, take a look at the snorkeling safety page. If you want to add extra information or make any corrections to the spot descriptions, please contact us.

Spot’s weather forecasts (°C)

Spot tips

  • Type of spot
  • Level of difficulty
    Intermediary level
  • Maximum depth
    8ft (2.5m) on the reef flat, 20ft (6m) in the channel
  • Water entrance
    Easy, from a sandy beach
  • Potential Dangers
    Urchins. Waves and currents in the channel.
  • Lifeguard
  • Visitor numbers
  • Access costs
  • Restaurants nearby
    Yes, inexpensive
  • Public toilets & showers

Spot map

Spot photos

Underwater spot photos

Species you may spot while snorkeling Etang Salé

Common name Scientific name Abundance Fishbase Wikipedia
Round ribbontail ray
Taeniurops meyeni
Threadfin butterflyfish
Chaetodon auriga
Melon butterflyfish
Chaetodon trifasciatus
Vagabond butterflyfish
Chaetodon vagabundus
Blackback butterflyfish
Chaetodon melannotus
Yellow teardrop butterflyfish
Chaetodon interruptus
Turkey moray
Gymnothorax meleagris
Yellow boxfish
Ostracion cubicus
Moon wrasse
Thalassoma lunare
Giant clam
Tridacna sp.
Convict surgeonfish
Acanthurus triostegus
Spanish dancer
Hexabranchus sanguineus
Show all species
You encountered a specie at this spot that is not listed here?