Réunion Island’s west coast lagoons, the perfect spots for snorkeling in shallow waters

Reunion Island is a relatively young island, where coral reefs are not well developed. In the absence of islets or offshore reefs, snorkeling is mostly found in the coastal lagoons, protected by a coral reef, and on a few rare spots open to the ocean.

Baliste Picasso dans le Lagon de l'Hermitage
Shallow and full of fish, the western coast lagoons are great snorkeling spots. Here, in Lagon de l’Hermitage.

There are about a dozen snorkeling spots in Réunion Island, all located on the west and south coasts of the island, between the Bay of Saint Paul in the west and Saint Joseph in the south. On the northern and western coasts, the ocean is too dangerous to snorkel because of the swell, the currents, but also the risk of shark attack.

If you like shallow and shore snorkeling, then Réunion Island is the place to visit: all the island’s spots have free access, mainly from sandy beaches. Ready for a tour of the best snorkeling spots on the island? Let’s go!

Vue aérienne de la passe de l'Hermitage.
Aerial view of the Hermitage Pass.

The best snorkeling spots on Reunion Island’s West Coast

Starting south of Saint Gilles, the Hermitage Lagoon is the most extensive on Réunion Island. It stretches for nearly 8km along the west coast to Trois-Bassins, bordering a beautiful sandy beach fringed with casuarina trees. Offering shallow and calm waters sheltered from the Indian Ocean, it is considered the best snorkeling location in Réunion.

The Hermitage Lagoon can be divided into three distinct snorkeling spots: Lagon de l’Hermitage itself in the north, Lagon de la Saline south of the Passe de l’Hermitage, and then Lagon de Trou d’Eau between La Saline and Trois-Bassins.

Snorkeling au-dessus des coraux du Lagon de Trou d'Eau.
Snorkeling above healthy corals in Trou d’Eau.

These three sections of the lagoon offer more or less similar shallow coral beds, although in very variable health depending on the area. In these shallow waters (less than 5ft/1.5m), snorkelers will enjoy a great diversity of fish swimming around more or less extensive corals.

Lagon de l’Hermitage is occasionally visited by sea turtles (and sometimes rays), but it is in the northern part of Lagon de la Saline that you will have the best chance to spot them. For a few years, immature hawksbill turtles have indeed taken the habit of feeding on the coral debris near the pass, sometimes only a few meters from shore.

Un snorkeleur observe une tortue imbriquée au Lagon de la Saline
Encounters with small turtles are now very common in Lagon de la Saline.

15 kilometers south of Saint Gilles, Lagon de Saint-Leu also has good snorkeling. It hosts beautiful corals but, partially open to the ocean, it is more exposed to waves and currents. The rare snorkeling spots in Réunion located outside lagoons are also found along the west coast.

Vibrant Boucan Canot, north of Saint Gilles, has been for decades one of the most popular snorkeling spots on the island. Its reef ridges, where sea turtles, angelfish and huge surgeonfish abound, have unfortunately been recently closed by the authorities, except in a small area protected by a shark net.

Vue aérienne du récif de Boucan Canot
Boucan Canot reef faces one of the island’s most beautiful beaches. This spot is currently closed due to the risk of shark attacks.

Also equipped with a shark net, Plage des Roches Noires, Saint Gilles’s famous central beach, can be snorkeled when the sea is calm, but the authorized snorkeling area is very small here too.

At the foot of the black rocks cliffs between Saint Gilles and Saint Paul, Cap Lahoussaye is popular with snorkelers, free divers and divers. Some diving clubs in Saint Gilles offer boat trips to this pretty deep location, where a cave can also be explored. Cap Lahoussaye also has free shore access (from the rocks), but we don’t recommend this option unless you are with somebody who knows the area.

Un snorkeleur observe une tortue marine à Boucan Canot
Boucan Canot was one of the best locations on the island to encounter sea turtles. Here, a small green sea turtle.

Reunion Island’s coasts are home to important populations of dolphins and humpback whales. While the dolphins are present all year round, the whales come to breed off the island’s shore during the southern winter, from June to October.

Several diving clubs and boat tour agencies offer boat trips to snorkel with these fascinating animals offshore. Tours usually depart from the port of Saint Gilles.

Un banc compact de centaines de chirurgiens bagnards
Hundreds of convict tangs shoaling on Etang Salé reef flat.

The best snorkeling spots on Reunion Island’s South Coast

Some 15 kilometers south of Saint Leu, Etang Salé snorkeling spot, also known as Bassin Pirogue, is one of the best on the southern side of the island.

This semi-enclosed lagoon, with its black sand and massive yellow corals, offers a singular seabed, very different from the other locations. While hawksbill turtles sometimes rest under the fishing boats moored in the basin, the reef areas allow observing amazing sea life.

Un grondin volant sur les fonds sableux du Lagon de Saint-Pierre.
A flying gurnard in St Pierre.

Lagon de Saint Pierre, the biggest city in the southern part of the island, is another popular snorkeling spot. Its reef, which probably has the healthiest branching corals on Réunion Island, supports large groups of bannerfish, butterflyfish and puffers.

Beyond Saint Pierre begins the Sud Sauvage (Wild South), where the ocean is far too rough to snorkel safely. However, on this volcanic coastline hit by the waves, it is still possible to snorkel in two artificial pools, protected by rock barriers: Grande Anse Rocky Pool, which has small corals, and Manapany Rocky Pool, which has rocks only.

Le bassin rocheux de Grande Anse, La Réunion
Grande Anse rocky pool, between St Pierre and St Joseph, shelters coral and interesting marine life.

Established in 2007, the Réunion Marine Reserve protects the fragile coral ecosystems of the island, and all its lagoons, except Lagon de Saint Pierre. On the west coast spots, wilderness areas, where any human activity -including snorkeling- is forbidden, have been delimited. They are marked with yellow beacons, and signs on the beaches allow to locate them (we have also marked them on the detailed maps of each spot).

What will I see while snorkeling Réunion Island?

Despite their shallow depth, Réunion Island lagoons allow observing a rich underwater life. More than 1000 species of reef fish, including triggerfish, wrasse, surgeonfish, butterflyfish, pufferfish and small moray eels call Réunion’s coastal waters home.

The emperor angelfish, one of the most beautiful fish in the Indian Ocean, is sometimes seen in La Saline or Boucan. In the sand, you may be lucky enough to spot a flying gurnard or a peacock flounder.

Poisson ange empereur à Boucan Canot
An emperor angelfish at Boucan Canot reef.

Starfish, clams, sea urchins, porcelain and nudibranchs are also common sightings at reef and in the seagrass beds. Coral health, which suffers from bleaching episodes but also from breakage near the most crowded beaches, is however very variable.

Reunion Island is not a prime destination for snorkeling with sea turtles or rays, but encounters with these animals in the lagoon are becoming more and more frequent. For green sea turtles and hawksbill sea turtles, try your luck in Lagon de la Saline (near the pass), in Lagon de l’Hermitage (in the seagrass beds), or in Etang Salé (between the boats). They are also often seen in Boucan Canot, outside the lagoon, but the spot is currently closed.

Murène ponctuée à Grande Anse
Small morays from more than 15 species live in Réunion’s shallow waters. Here, a turkey moray in Grande Anse.

Etang Salé lagoon, semi-open, is occasionally visited by eagle rays or stingrays. Snorkel near the channel to have the best chance to spot one.

Dive with us 👇 in Réunion Island’s shallow lagoons. The name of the snorkeling spot where the images have been shot is mentioned on each sequence.

 

When to go snorkeling Réunion Island?

Snorkeling can be done all year round in Réunion Island, but several factors need to be taken into account.

Water temperature varies from 70°F (22°C) during the southern winter (May to October, the weather is mostly cool and dry) to 80°F/27°C (with a peak of 85°F/30°C in the lagoons) in summer (November to April, hot and humid climate).

In October and November, conditions are ideal, but the coast has a lot of visitors. In summer, rain is more frequent, particularly during the cyclone season (January to March), when access to the water is sometimes impossible for several days.

In winter, the wind can be strong, lowering the visibility and making swimming less pleasant. Snorkeling outside the lagoon can be dangerous because of the waves.

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