Located in the northwest portion of Reunion Island, the beautiful Cirque de Mafate is totally surrounded by mountains. This rugged and wild cirque is the only one of the island's three natural amphitheatres that's accessible only on foot or by helicopter.
The lack of automobiles and paved roads make this cirque a favorite destination for hikers as they can explore this unspoiled wilderness unencumbered by cars or tour buses. Hikers may reach Cirque de Mafate on roads that lead from the other two cirques, and once there, a number of mountain gites (small cabins) are available to accommodate those who desire an overnight stay.
Arriving at Cirque de Mafate by helicopter is an awesome site and the choice for many Reunion Island guests who would prefer not to hike but would still like to see the interior of the cirque. Many companies offer helicopter rides to Cirque de Mafate from various parts of the island and advanced reservations are usually not necessary.
If you choose not to make the trek into the Cirque de Mafate or the idea of a helicopter ride is unsettling, you should consider taking a trip by automobile to the Maido Peak - a scenic overlook - where, at 2,200 meters, you can enjoy a bird's eye view of this cirque.
Cirque de Mafate was first settled in the 19th century by individuals referred to as "maroon" slaves; those who had escaped from their masters. Later, poor white laborers came and staked out claims here. Today, the cirque has one village, La Nouvelle, and a number of additional hamlets, located on flat-lands known as "ilets". All of the Cirque de Mafate is public property, managed by the local forestry service. Residents of the cirque rent from this government service at a very affordable price.
It takes a special kind of person to live here, as there is no main electrical supply. Residents use solar panels or diesel generators to avail themselves of power for lighting, cooking, and other daily activities. Water heaters are usually solar-powered as well. Any fuels used for electricity or heating must be flown in by helicopter. There are, however, small grocery stores that serve the other needs of both residents and travellers.