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

In the absence of islets or offshore reefs, snorkeling is mainly practiced in the lagoons, protected by a coral reef, and on a few rare spots open to the ocean. All the spots on Reunion Island are freely accessible from the shore.

Snorkeling Réunion island's lagoons, Indian Ocean
The lagoons bordering the island’s west coast are shallow and teeming with fish, which makes them perfect for snorkeling (pictures taken at Lagon de l’Hermitage).

Several lagoons follow one another along the western and southwestern coast of the island. Beginning in the south of Saint-Gilles, Lagon de l’Hermitage is the largest and the best preserved in Réunion. Facing a magnificent beach lined with casuarinas, this is the island’s favorite snorkeling spot. After the Hermitage Pass, it gives way to Lagon de la Saline, where the corals are more damaged. Continuing south, you reach Lagon de Saint-Leu, then L’Etang Salé (also known as “Bassin Pirogue”). Lagon de Saint-Pierre, the “Capital” of the south, is another excellent site for snorkeling. Beyond begins the Wild South (“Sud Sauvage”), where the ocean is far too dangerous to get into the water. On this volcanic coast jagged by the waves, it is still possible to go snorkeling in Bassin de Grand Anse and Bassin de Manapany, artificially protected from the waves by rock barriers.

Murène étoilée
A snowflake moray in Lagon de Saint-Pierre, on the island’s southern coast.

The few snorkeling spots open to the open sea are only for seasoned snorkelers. In the absence of a coral reef, they do not offer the safe conditions of lagoons, and the risk of shark attacks is real. The superb Boucan Canot reef, north of Saint-Gilles, was recently equipped with a shark net, and the authorized swimming and snorkeling area is now very small – and not very interesting. Also equipped with a shark net, Plage des Roches Noires can be snorkeled when there is no swell, also in a very small, mostly sandy area. Cap Lahoussaye, popular with freedivers, is however not recommended anymore.

The coasts of Réunion are frequented by many dolphins and by humpback whales. While dolphins are present all year round, whales come to breed here only during the southern winter, from June to October. Several diving clubs and tours companies organize boat trips to snorkel with them offshore, when the sea conditions allow. These tours usually leave from the port of Saint-Gilles.

Snorkeling with turtles at Boucan Canot, Réunion Island
Sometimes visited by sea turtles, Boucan Canot is one of the Reunion Island’s few off-lagoon spots. Sadly, it is currently closed to swimmers and snorkelers because of sharks.

Despite their shallow depth, the lagoons of Réunion offer great sealife sighting. Over 1000 species of reef fish can be found there, including lagoon triggerfish, surgeonfish, butterflyfish and small moray eels. Starfish, giant clams, sea urchins, cowries and nudibranchs are also easy to observe on the reef and seagrass beds. The coral health, which suffer from bleaching episodes but also from breakage on the most crowded beaches, is however very variable. Réunion is not a famous destination for snorkeling with turtles or rays, but encounters with these fascinating creatures in the lagoons are more and more frequent. For green turtles and hawksbill turtles, try your luck in Lagon de la Saline (near the pass), Lagon de l’Hermitage (in the seagrass meadows at high tide), or in l’Etang Salé (in the sandy areas around the boats). For the rays, L’Etang Salé, where the semi-open lagoon is sometimes visited by eagle rays or stingrays, is also the most recommended location.

Raie aigle à l'Etang Salé
Common eagle rays occasionally visit the reef flat of l’Etang Salé.

Established in 2007, the Réunion Marine Reserve now protects the fragile coral ecosystems of the island, and all of its lagoons, except that of Saint-Pierre. On all the lagoon spots on the west coast, strict reserve areas (where all human activity – including snorkeling – is prohibited) have been set. They are indicated by yellow beacons, and panels on the beaches allow you to find your way (they are also indicated on the detailed maps of each spot published on Snorkeling Report).

Panneaux et balises de la réserve marine de La Réunion
On the lagoon shores, info panels help visitors to know the regulations of the different marine areas (left, in l’Etang Salé). Right, a beacon marking the limit of the strict reserve area in l’Hermitage.

When to go to snorkeling in Réunion Island?

Snorkeling can be done all the 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, making swimming less pleasant, and snorkeling outside the lagoon can be dangerous because of the waves.

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