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 basin 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 northern part of the lagoon is extremely dangerous (strong currents, waves, presence of 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.

Etang Salé Reunion Island snorkeling map

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).

Exploration

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.

Giant clam at Etang Salé, Réunion Island

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.

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 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

Once you arrive at the channel (about 6-7 meters wide), the depth increases abruptly (↕12-15ft/4-5m). A number of species (including angelfish) 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.

Flying gurnard at Etang Salé

The end of the basin (near the Pointe des Sables) is extremely dangerous (currents, waves and potential 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 basin.

Restaurants and accommodation

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 the town. On the beach, there are free showers.

Species you may spot while snorkeling L’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  
Indian Ocean 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  

 

  • 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.