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With its black sand and sea beds covered in coral, the Bassin Pirogue, a semi-lagoon located at Etang Salé, is an unusual snorkeling spot at Réunion Island. The lagoon is partly protected by a coral barrier and snorkelers can observe a good diversity of reef fish. Hawksbill sea turtles and eagle rays are also frequently seen in the lagoon. Be careful not to stray too far away from the recommended areas, since the northern part of the lagoon is extremely dangerous  because of strong currents, waves, and the presence of sharks.

Blue giant clam on Etang Sale reef flat
Maxima clams abound in Bassin Pirogue, which is the best location in Réunion to spot them.

How to get to the Etang Salé snorkeling spot

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. You can park in the large car park with its flame trees and bar vans. You’ll be able to see this area soon after arriving in the town. Local buses also go to the beach.

Etang Salé Reunion Island snorkeling map
Etang Salé/Bassin Pirogue snorkeling map, Réunion Island.

Water entrance for snorkeling at Etang Salé

The basin is generally crossed by a south to north current, which is from left to right when you are on the beach, facing the ocean. We recommend that you to get into the water in the boat mooring area. This is at the southern part of the lagoon. Exit the water near the small jetty or from the channel, if you are an advanced snorkeler.

Be careful when entering the water, because there are a lot of sea urchins in the area, and the sea bed is stony. Do not enter the wilderness area, delimited by yellow beacons (see map).

Etang Salé lagoon snorkeling exploration tips

The snorkeling area covers the inner part of the basin, between the shore and the coral reef. It is not possible to explore the reef itself as the water is too shallow. In the northern part of the lagoon, the reef is split by a relatively deep channel, large enough for allowing boats to enter.

The first dozen yards from the beach are sandy (↕2-10ft/0.5-3m), but this is where you have the best chance of coming across hawksbill turtles, particularly near the pontoon and below the boats.

Hawksbill turtle in Etang Sale, Reunion
Hawksbill sea turtles frequently enter the lagoon to rest in the sandy areas, especially under the boats.

These turtles are used to coming in the lagoon to rest in its calm waters. Criss-cross the area early in the morning to increase your chances of spotting them. In the sand, you may also see flying gurnards or flounders.

You need to go a little further to reach the coral areas (↕2-4ft/0.5-2m). Here is where you will find black sand, purple sponges, mainly yellow, porous coral beds and long-spined sea urchins. If you have snorkeled other spots around Réunion island, you will see that the Etang Salé seabed has its own features. The area is rich in fish. There are butterflyfish, including the teardrop butterflyfish with its bright yellow color, bannerfish, wrasses and triggerfish, and others that inhabit the waters.

Undulated moray at Etang Sale
Several species of moray eels are found in the lagoon, including the impressive undulated moray.

Giant clams, with their bright colors, 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.

If you want, you can also snorkel around the channel (about 6-7 yardswide), where the depth increases abruptly (↕12-15ft/4-5m). A number of species that usually stay on the outer slopes of the reefs enter the basin through the channel, notably the emperor angelfish. Try to spot the moray eels that live at the edge of the channel. Large eagle rays are occasionally seen in the channel or on the reef flat.

Little dragonfish in Reunion Island
Encounter with the elusive little dragonfish, a species rarely seen in Reunion Island’s lagoons.

The mouth of the lagoon, near the Pointe des Sables, is dangerous because of the strong currents that could take you to the open sea, so use caution in this area. Always keep a safe distance from the Pointe des Sables. Don’t swim further north than the channel. If the current gets stronger, go back to the shore. Ask the aid station for advise if you have any doubts about the practicability of the lagoon.

Resraurants and accommodation at Etang Salé

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

 

  • Level required Beginner
  • Protected areaRéserve Naturelle Marine de la Réunion
  • Maximum depth8ft/2.5m on the reef flat, 20ft/6m in the channel
  • Water entranceEasy, from a sandy beach
  • Potential DangersUrchins. Waves and currents in the channel.
  • LifeguardNo
  • Visitor numbersMedium
  • Access costsFree
  • Restaurants nearbyYes
  • Public toilets & showersYes

MAP Spot

These snorkeling spots are accessible to beginners and kids. You will enter the water gradually from a beach, or in a less than 3ft. deep area. The sea is generally calm, shallow, with almost no waves or currents. These spots are usually located in marked and/or monitored swimming areas. It is not necessary to swim long distances to discover the sea life.

This level only apply when the spot experiences optimal sea and/or weather conditions. It is not applicable if the sea and/or weather conditions deteriorate, in particular in the presence of rough sea, rain, strong wind, unusual current, large tides, waves and/or swell. You can find more details about the definition of our snorkeling levels on our snorkeling safety page.