With its black sand and sea beds covered in coral, the Bassin Pirogue, a semi-lagoon located at l’Etang Salé, is an unusual spot in Réunion Island. Partly protected by a coral barrier, snorkelers can observe in the lagoon 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 (strong currents, waves, presence of sharks).

Giant clam at Etang Salé
Important populations of giant clams are found in the Bassin Pirogue, which is the best location in Réunion to spot them.

How to get to 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, which you will see soon after arriving in the town. Local buses also go to the beach.

Etang Salé Reunion Island snorkeling map

Entering the water at Etang Salé

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). Do not enter the Strict Nature Reserve/Wilderness Area, marked with yellow beacons (see map).

Exploring Etang Salé snorkeling spot

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.

Hawksbill sea turtle in Etang Salé
Young hawksbill sea turtles frequently enter the lagoon to rest in the sandy areas, especially under the boats.

The first dozens of meters 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. Several individuals 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. In the sand, you may also spot flying gurnards or flounders.

You need to go a little further to reach the coral areas (↕2-4ft/0.5-2m). 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 here the seabed has its own features. The area is rich in fish: butterflyfish (including the teardrop butterflyfish, with its bright yellow color), bannerfish, wrasses and triggerfish, among others, inhabit the waters. 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.

Shoal of convict tang at Etang Salé, Réunion Island
When snorkeling the lagoon, you will surely come across large shoals of hundreds of convict surgeonfish.

If you want, you can also snorkel around the channel (about 6-7 meters wide), 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. See if you can spot the moray eels that live in the reef drop-off. Large eagle rays are occasionally seen in the channel or on the reef flat.

Flying gurnard at Etang Salé
In the sandy areas, you might be lucky enough to encounter a flying gurnard, here accompanied by tiny bluefin trevally.

The exit of the lagoon (near the Pointe des Sables) is extremely dangerous (currents, waves, and the possible presence of sharks) 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 lagoon.

Accommodation and catering near Etang Salé

L’Etang Salé is a lively town during the day and at weekends. There is a wide variety of places to buy food nearby (food trucks, snack bars, and restaurants). There are no hotels on the beach, but a range of accommodation is 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.