Indian Ocean Island Hopping – Detailed Itinerary

I spent the past week darting around the Indian Ocean. I love the obscure, and to confess, I was ‘country’ collecting for the Travelers Century Club.

Lemurs in Madagascar

My targets:

  1. Comoros Islands (UN member)
  2. Mayotte (French Overseas Department)
  3. Madagascar (UN Member)
  4. Mauritius (UN Member)
  5. Rodrigues (semi-autonomous island of Mauritius)
  6. Réunion (French Overseas Department)

The Indian Ocean is an expensive place to travel. Flights are few and mostly on expensive regional airlines like Air Austral. Of the major alliances, SkyTeam is strongest, with Air France and Kenya Airways having a number of flights in the region. Air France partners with Air Mauritius and it is possible to redeem for Air Mauritius flights, though intra-Africa awards are costly.

This trip was last minute and I spent a lot more than I wanted. I went through many iterations of the schedule and only nailed it down the day before departure. The difficulty of confirming flights and even if some airlines exist was nail-biting throughout.

Why do it now? If Delta moves to revenue-based awards these fights, even in economy, will be prohibitively expensive.

The base was a Delta open jaw award for 80,000 miles + $271.70, from New York to Moroni, Comoros and back from Réunion. Island hopping from there was on pricey regional airlines. Award options were limited, costly and time-consuming. For instance, a Delta intra-Africa award would have been 60,000 miles plus overnight layovers in Nairobi to get connections.

I had one week and six destinations so blasted through as directly as possible.

To offset meal costs, I kept hotels as simple as possible, and meals generally under $10.

December 5:

  • Delta flight New York JFK – Amsterdam (overnight), took this instead of Friday morning because needed to work Friday daytime

December 6:

  • Kenya Airways flight Amsterdam to – Nairobi (overnight)

December 7:

  • Kenya Airways connection to Moroni, Comoros
  • Hotel Les Arcades ($55)
  • Slept 15 hours from 3 pm

December 8:

  • Dawn walk of Moroni, blazing hot by 7 am
  • Tour of Grand Comore by local guide Chauffera ($83)
  • Ewa Airways flight Moroni – Mayotte ($397)
  • L’Horizon Mayotte ($75) – highly recommended

December 9:

  • Morning walk of Mayotte
  • Air Madagascar flight Mayotte – Antananarivo, Madagascar ($380.99)

December 10:

December 11:

  • Morning trip to UNESCO-listed Royal Hill of Ambohimanga ($30 including airport drop-off)
  • Air Mauritius flight to Mauritius ($776.52, including subsequent flight to/from Rodrigues and on to Réunion
  • Budget rental car ($52)
  • Le Bambou Guest House ($30)
  • Dinner at Chinese restaurant that gave me bad allergic reaction

December 12:

December 13:

  • Air Mauritius flight to Réunion via Mauritius
  • Enterprise rental car ($56)
  • Drive to Hell Bourg and UNESCO-listed Pitons, cirques and remparts of Réunion Island
  • Air France flight from Réunion to Paris Orly (overnight) (note: originally I was going to stay to the next day however award space never opened on the night flight and taking the morning flight meant a night in Réunion plus a night in Paris so I moved up my departure; plus Réunion is just a big French suburb with brutal heat)

December 14:

  • Delta flight Paris CDG to New York JFK

December 15:

  • I slept

Do I recommend these places? Except for Madagascar, not really.

Mauritius as a beach destination is worth maybe a 5-hour flight. Mayotte and Réunion have resorts that cater to French-speakers but nothing stellar. Rodrigues is a place to chill and not much else. Comoros is rough-going.

The climate in Comoros and Mayotte in particular is hot to a whole new level. I felt like an ant under a magnifying glass.

Madagascar has great nature and great food, it’s fatal flaw is infstrastructure and traffic. Sitting for hours in gridlock without a working A/C is not pleasant and no vehicle seems to have a working A/C. With the right planning a Madagascar trip can be wonderful.

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  1. A day doesn’t seem like enough time to say you have been(let alone not recommend a place)…country collecting hardly seems worth it for this amount of time and money.

  2. This is one of the many reasons I love reading your blog! I’ve heard of those places and countries but never knew anyone who’ve been there (ok with the exception of Reunion because a French-speaking friend loved that place!)

    I’ve heard Madagascar termed as the 8th continent. Did you feel that way? Did it really seem like out-of-this-world? Did you see the baobab trees? Lemurs? Eat Madecasse chocolate? Just curious.

    Can’t wait to read your blog articles on these places!

  3. Sounds like a great trip, Rapid Travel Chai! How was the Air France flight from Réunion to Paris Orly? I’d love to read your trip report if you have one. Thanks.

  4. I know “rapid travel” is your speciality but I wish you had spent more time in Madagascar at least! Why do you think intra-Africa awards are expensive? I called Air France and they quoted me 15k MRU-TNR one way in Y. Kenya Airways JRO-NBO-TNR is 17.5k bookable online. I’m planning a trip to Africa in 2015 and targeting places with bird species I want to see. How did you arrange the car & driver to Andasibe-Mantadia NP? I want to do something similar but spend 3 days in the park.

  5. Thanks for posting this trip report! That first day sounds like a killer. I guess you don’t have any back problems if you were able to do this.

    The Delta award was a great deal! Did you just book on the website?

    Reunion has been on my bucket list ever since I saw an IMAX film a long time ago that was shot there. The movie had no plot–it was basically three really good looking people climbing and rappelling in Reunion, but the scenery was spectacular. Did you not find it so on your excursion there? Your opinion of Reunion is similar to my idea of Saint Barts–a French suburb with good beaches.

  6. @Dave, @Heather – a fair criticism. We all have different amounts of time and money and we should choose our travels how we like to spend them. If I had stayed longer I would have spent even more on accommodation and meals, plus work vacation days that I don’t have, so I cut it down to the week that I did have. I don’t particularly like islands and beaches, unless there is significant historical sites like WWII sites in the Solomons or Nan Madol in Micronesia. That said, of the ones I visited on this trip, from my research and admittedly limited experience, none stood out for historic or natural attractions, above water or below, compared to destinations much more accessible for tourists in most parts of the world.

    Also, these are very small places. Grand Comore has effectively one serviceable road that loops around the island and even at a slow pace we covered the upper half of the island in a few hours.

  7. @Joey – Madagascar is really beautiful, with the caveat to sort out the logistics. The countryside of rice fields and stately houses is lovely, and there is so much to explore in its many natural parks. Many of the classic routes there take a minimum of one week and fairly costly to arrange 4×4, flights and sometimes boats.

  8. @worldtraveler2018 – the flight sucked. I tried many times to contact Delta and Air France and could never get an advance seat assignment. The flight was totally packed, even though they have two a day plus other carriers. Originally I had a middle seat, then the check-in agent got me an aisle in the back. The food was ok, a little bottle of local rum was a nice touch. The 777 economy seat had more legroom that then Delta 767 I was stuck in on the connection. AVOD is so-so. The climate is very hot and the passengers are French, so the atmosphere is rather ripe.

    Based on this and prior times looking at this trip, economy class for the day flight is generally available, the night flight is less available until last minute. Business class also is in short supply until last minute. Mauritius is much harder for awards. Antananarivo is somewhere in the middle, but also has easily available Kenya Airways that connect in NBO up to LHR, AMS and CDG.

  9. @Tara – the miles plus the taxes & fees on the Air Mauritius I called about were equal or more to just buying the tickets. Some of my desired segments were not available, but one I got them to quote was 30k open jaw + $300+ compared to around $450. I should have noted that it can really differ by airport because of widely varying taxes in the region, so some might be quite attractive. They are much better than 80k on Delta. I did not have the time to investigate using Korean Air Skypass, though I did see the distinctive Korean Air uniforms as the crew headed to their Nairobi flight. Korean Air is an interesting SkyTeam option to Africa.

    For the driver I asked the airport taxi to get a baseline, knowing they are usually sharks. That guy wanted to $200+. When I got to the hotel it was in the December daily afternoon downpour so I was not going exploring, and many of the city taxis look like they wouldn’t make it far anyway. The hotel reception guy introduced his driver friend and it turned out great. The driver is Aina, his email is

    Andasibe-Mantadi is great though since the most accessible to the capital it is quite heavily touristed. I had lunch at the superb Vakona Forest Lodge which is great value, I couldn’t believe the rates for the beauty of the hotel, and for a multi-day stay you might just arrange a direct airport transfer with them.

  10. This is interesting. I find the assessment of the French islands particularly interesting because I have been looking at visiting the ones in the Caribbean and cant seem to pull the trigger for reasons like you mention. I would enjoy reading more about them if you do write something.

  11. I would say that in these cases you probably sold a few of the destinations short, and that in many cases you can’t really travel fast and smart below a certain infrastructure threshold.

    Reunion is well worth visiting, but not as a beach destination and imo not the areas you chose. The locations we considered memorable and more than worth experiencing you could not even reach from the airport in the time frame you had, much less make the evening flight.

    Much more memorable is the southern part of the island as well as the less accessible interior which we accessed via cilaos. Most enjoyable to us was the spectacular scenery and hiking + outdoor activities – not really a place where drive by tourism works. The strengths of the place are more about experiencing nature via outdoor activities.

    If all I saw was what you did I would be unimpressed as well.

  12. @matt – the cilaos hiking looked nice, and if the award had opened for the next night I would have tackled the volcano in the morning, however I still feel like given the extreme cost and distance from most parts of the world, these islands did not have enough to justify, compared to say Pacific islands like Palau and Solomons.

  13. That Vakona Lodge looks amazing, just my kind of place! I’m still about 9-10 months from being in the booking window (UA Australia – Africa, then Flying Blue for regional segments) but I appreciate having a recommended driver who is reasonable. It seems the park has local guides available there which is good.

  14. @guera – it was one my worst Delta award booking experiences. I shouldn’t have booked in the middle of the night with an inexperienced agent. The Kenya Airways LHR-NBO I later learned was not set up properly. It kept telling the agents over the course of the week that a schedule change was coming and could not issue until the change was announced. This was bogus and was never resolved. Finally I got an agent who figured out it was never going to work and the only way the trip was saved a few days before departure was that AMS-NBO opened up space.

    The Air France segments are bookable on but not any Kenya Airways. Looking up both is better on the Air France website. You can book either promo or classic fares via Delta except that some classic fares are not really classic and go for higher miles that Delta can’t issue. Once you figure out the real classic price for Air France you can expect to find those on Delta. For instance RUN-ORY Classic is 30k, but last minute it was showing 41k that Delta could not book.

    Reunion in the mountains is attractive, I was going to do the volcano hike if the Friday night flight had opened. The coast is a massive, continuous suburb with lots of traffic.

  15. @Tara – from what I understood the local guides for the park are mandatory or nearly so. They hand around the entrance and are licensed. Each I encountered seemed good and enthusiastic in spotting wildlife for their guests.

  16. @rapidtravelchai,
    Jumping around a bit here.

    For sure the worthwhile portion of Reunion is on the interior – we essentially ignored the outside ring except as a route to the interior, and as a base from which to launch on a helicopter flight (which was not cheap but worthwhile). When we were planning our trip, it became apparent to us that
    1) Reunion held our interest a bit more than Mauritius, which we also visited
    2) That interest had nothing to do with beaches, or the suburb-like outer ring, or really anything reachable in a 1-day stay. The hiking, interior scenery, volcano, etc. were the main draw. (Don’t visit Cilaos for the food by the way – they talk up their lentils but at the end of the day they’re still bland beans…)

    Regarding remoteness, I certainly won’t argue with Palau or the Solomons (and in any case don’t have the experience there), but I would say that to both of us the remoteness and out-of-the-way nature was part of the appeal in the first place. At the same time, it’s really just one flight away from Paris and an “easy” way to combine tropical with European city in one trip (assuming that the costs can be kept manageable). For us the cost was just the mileage difference between africa and europe (20k miles as we were in business), and sleeping on planes a couple of nights rather than hotels (which you could almost argue saved money…) The cash price I would not likely pay to get here from the US. From Europe etc. it would be under consideration.

    I understand that you visited basically to check off a couple of countries, and in that way you got what you wanted out of the trip. At the same time you basically experienced only the most mediocre aspect of the place.

    @guera – the interior landscape, and doing things such as climbing/rappelling/hiking/canyoning/etc. would be what I would suggest for Reunion. It did not give the impression of being exceptional as a beach destination, and the coastline is fairly heavily developed and trafic laden. Get down in the less-accessible areas and things get a lot more interesting. If you’re interested in a similar setting (or even better similar activities) as the Imax, you will likely meet your expectations. It would be a cool location for a multi-day (or just overnight) village-hopping hiking trip as well, hike into some of the villages accessible only on foot (or helicopter).

    As long as your expectations and objectives are calibrated, along with costs, I would say it is worth visiting.

    At the end of the day we are all limited by time and resources. We had originally considered madagascar, but to really experience what we wanted to it did not seem feasible in the time provided. We ended up with 2 days and 2 half-days in reunion (arrival and driving around in the approximate area Stefan did on one day, helicopter flight and volcano the next, day hike to Col du Taïbit, another short hike and vanilla plantation visit on the last.) We based in Cilaos, which requires a drive down the quite winding “road of 420 turns” to reach the coast, and is thus quite a bit less busy and more isolated. Had we stayed longer we would have done more hiking and perhaps some canyoning as well, and wouldn’t have minded an extra day or 2 for this, as well as a drive up the eastern side.

  17. I respectfully disagree with your assessment of Reunion: I spent seven days there in August and it was absolutely amazing. One of the most gorgeous hiking destinations I’ve ever been.

  18. @Scott – interesting, lots of Reunion fans, I defer to those those, like you, who saw more of the interior than I was able.

    @RakSiam – I thought so at first as well, turns out Radama was one of their illustrious 19th-century kings.

  19. What a crazy/awesome trip. Great way to check off the bucket list, and I can understand why you were so tired in the end.

    I really enjoyed Mauritius on my honeymoon, but that’s likely because we just wanted to sit on the beach at a nice resort. I’d go back there again, but so many other places to see before that time comes.

  20. Rodriques takes me back 5 decades when i get a phone call from an American of Chinese roots, who was passing through Pretoria. en-route to Rodriques, which till then i never hear of or imagined. He had seen in his “Atlas”, this tiny island in the south Indian Ocean, somewhat desolate, and off he went. Never heard from him again. But i know it exist and nowadays virtual travel there

  21. At least you got some genuine tropical tummy problems. Otherwise you burn aviation fuel, get passport stamped, take taxi, sleep, blog (do you spend more time blogging or looking out the window at the places you visit?). A real man of the world, lol.

  22. @david battabong – sorry would laugh along but mouth full of homemade fruitcake at a guest house in Dominica.

    I don’t spend my time worrying about how other people travel, I have limited time off from work and spend it however I feel is most rewarding. Some countries I stay two weeks, some like Indian Ocean I hop around. If I had unlimited time and money things might be different. As it stands, I pack in as much as I can in whatever amount of time I can fit it. Sometimes I blog about, though you reminded me I never did the follow-on posts to that trip.

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