This loop begins high up near Col des Boeufs and drops way down into Cirque de Mafate. You'll have amazing views nearly the entire route, and the trails are entertaining. You'll have great views of the Cirque, Piton des Neiges
, Dos d'Ane, Piton Cabris, Maido, the ramparts, waterfalls, and the small villages in Mafate. This loop is comprised primarily of two trails: Sentier Scout
and Sentier Augustave
. Scout is fairly "easy", made of quality singletrack with smooth switchbacks and only limited exposure in a few sections. Augustava is more difficult with lots of exposure along narrow trails carved into the steep cliffs, boardwalks tacked onto the sides of the cliffs, and river crossings that require some jumping. Augustave is also likely to be wet.
Parking is available for a few vehicles at both the Sentier Scout
and Sentier Augustave
trail heads. The road up is paved, but very steep, narrow, and winding—drive safe! At some point, you'll have to hike a short distance along this road between these trail heads to "close" the loop.
You'll begin descending on well-built singletrack and switchbacks from the Scout TH. The first mile or so is in forest, but along the cliff so there are occasional views along the Bras Bemale ravine. Once you cross Bras Bemale (here a tiny stream), the views open up. Stairs carved into a cliff make for some exciting hiking with some exposure. At the top of the small ascent, you'll encounter one of the trail highlights: a narrow ridge with steep drops on both sides that offers incredible 360-degree views from Piton des Neiges
to the Indian Ocean. The following mile isn't special.
At about 2.25 miles, the trail will begin descending more quickly. You'll frequently encounter excellent viewpoints offering great views back towards Piton des Neiges
and forward over Piton Cabris (the really pointy one) towards Saint Denis. As you progress you'll get more interesting views of the Cirque's ramparts to the west, including Maido and, eventually, Grand Benare.
At the bottom of the main descent, you'll begin encountering the small villages that dot the bottom of Cirque de Mafate, and a trail intersection at La Plaque where GRR3 Tour du Cirque de Mafate
come together. Head north following signs for, and then through, Ilet a Malheur. There are many side trails through the villages, but the main red and white blazed trail should be easy enough to follow. After Malheur you'll cross a bridge over Bras Bemale's gorge with a lovely waterfall and views to the ramparts.
Look for a white blazed trail (Bord Bazar Direct
) to your left/west shortly after the bridge. This infrequently used trail offers a nice extension of the route—which could be skipped to save about 0.5 miles (if skipping take GRR2
/3 to Sentier Augustave
). There are some nice views from the trail towards Grand Ravine, Grand Benare and Piton des Neiges
. There is a perfect rest stop with a picnic table where the trail rejoins the GRR3 Tour du Cirque de Mafate
at the base of Piton Cabris.
Get back on the GRR3 Tour du Cirque de Mafate
heading NE through Aurere. In the northeastern corner of the village look for white-blazed Sentier Augustave
. Shortly after you start on Augustave, you'll cross another awesome narrow ridge with clear views of Dos d'Ane and Grand Benare. The trail will gain some elevation and begin following the edge of the cliff. The next few miles are basically a narrow ledge carved out of the cliff with a steep drop hundreds of feet of down to Bras Bemale—and fantastic views west. The downside is you'll have to contend with a water pipe that is unsightly and very leaky.
After you cross Ravine de la Marianne on a bridge, you begin encountering another very special feature of this trail: boardwalks tacked onto the cliff edge. These precarious looking platforms are not for those scared of heights! They do offer great views of the gorge and Mafate more generally. After the stairs section of boardwalk, you'll enter the woods a bit and cross two small streams.
Finally, you'll descend a bit to meet the river (Bras Bemale) that you've been able to hear, but not see, since you crossed it after Ilet de Malheur. You'll cross the river a few times by boulder-hopping. The trail can be lost among these boulders—keep a keen eye out for the white blazes. You'll also encounter a few lovely waterfalls!
Eventually, the trail turns east and follows Ravine Savon up to the road/trailhead. This section is a steep slog without much to see, but note how the flora changes dramatically. Lastly, follow the road back to the Sentier Scout
trailhead. GRR1 Tour du Piton des Neiges
parallels the road, but doesn't connect at the trailhead so it's unfortunately not usable for this stretch.
Cirque de Mafate was originally populated by escaped slaves due to it's inaccessibility. There are still no roads in any part of the Cirque—only hiking trails—making it a very special place to visit (although village supplies can be brought in by helicopter today). The small villages are all on Reunion National Park land and offer a variety of lodging options while still remaining very enmeshed in the nature.
Cirque de Mafate is part of the Reunion UNESCO World Heritage Site formed in 2010.