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The Portuguese discovered the uninhabited island in 1513. From the 17th to the 19th centuries, French immigration supplemented by influxes of Africans, Chinese, Malays, and Malabar Indians gave the island its ethnic mix. The opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 cost the island its importance as a stopover on the East Indies trade route. It remained a colony until 1946, when it became a département of the French Republic.
Locals take great pride in marking the anniversary of the abolition of slavery (which happened on the 20th December 1848), in a festival known locally as “La Fête Cafre” (a “cafre” being the name given to an indigenous dweller of the island, now widely used to address a friend). This gesture towards the past is still very much present in society today, and as such the word “slave” (“esclave”) is a grave insult to a Réunionnais.
Today, the population of Reunion is widely varied in terms of ethnic origin, which each group inheriting its respective traditions.
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The main airport is Roland Garros International Airport located near Saint-Denis (RUN). The vast majority of intercontinental flights arriving at Reunion come from France, with a handful of other airports through the Indian Ocean. Airlines flying to Reunion are the following:
- Air France operates direct flights between Paris Orly and Roland Garros.
- Air Austral is the principal local airline, which serves numerous destinations in Africa and the Indian Ocean (South Africa, Comoros, Mauritius, Madagascar, Mayotte and the Seychelles), as well as Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport. Air Austral also offers transfers onto the TGV-Air service for various destinations within France, and the Thalys line from Paris towards Brussels. If coming from Asia, there exists a seasonal service from Bangkok Suvarnabhumi airport.
- Air Madagascar flies from Roland Garros to Antananarivo, Antsiranana, Nosy Be, Sainte-Marie. Note that Air Madagascar stops in at Roland Garros on its twice-weekly Antananarivo to Guangzhou, China, but does not have traffic rights to carry passengers between Saint-Denis and Guangzhou.
- Corsair offers a weekly service to Paris Orly, Lyon, Marseille and Toulouse.
- Air Mauritius has multiple daily flights to Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam Airport, Port Louis, Mauritius. The trip is just a short 45 minutes.
- French Blue offers service to Paris-Orly.
- XL Airways France flies from Roland Garros to Lyon, Marseille, and Paris–Charles de Gaulle. Service to Toulouse begins in November 2017.
For travelers from North America, travel direct to Reunion can be very expensive (well over US$2000 in economy and booked months in advance!) due to a lack of competition and lack of codesharing agreements with Air Austral at Paris-CDG. The most affordable way to travel from North America to Reunion is to book a flight to Mauritius, then book a separate flight for about US$180-300 round-trip between Mauritius and Reunion, which are less than an hour apart by air. Mauritius is served by several major carriers, such as British Airways, Emirates, South African Airways, Turkish Airways, Air France (to Paris-CDG, rather than Paris-Orly), KLM (seasonal), Lufthansa (seasonal), and Austrian (seasonal), so fares are competitive at about US$1200-1800 and can involve shorter layovers.
The small Pierrefonds Airport on the southwest side of the island near Saint-Pierre has daily flights to Mauritius on both Air Austral and Air Mauritius, plus a seasonal Air Austral flight to Rodrigues. Information from Wikivoyage