North of Dominica in the Lesser Antilles are some of the Caribbean’s better kept secrets – the islands of Guadeloupe. Called Karukera by the original inhabitants meaning the” land of beautiful water”, it is currently an overseas region of France and has been under its control since 1635. The islands were discovered by Christopher Columbus and started out under the thumb of Spain. Official currency is the Euro and the official language is French, though Creole is widely spoken.
The main islands of the five largest Guadeloupe Islands in the Caribbean are Grande-Terre and Basse-Terre (also the name of the capital city). These islands are so close they resemble a butterfly on a map with the narrow sea channel as the “body” in between the wings. Though extremely close in proximity, the two islands’ topography is quite different. Basse-Terre is characterized by a chain of mountains including the volcanic Soufrière the peak of which is the highest in the Lesser Antilles. It boasts lush vegetation: forests and rainforests. Grande-Terre on the other hand exhibits a low, almost rolling landscape with high sea cliffs to its north and white sand beaches on the south side. Three other, much smaller, islands of Guadeloupe are Marie-Galante, Iles des Saintes (actually an archipelago of eight islands), and Les Désirades. There are also about dozen or more smaller islets. Visiting by cruise ship, you would probably dock at Point-à-Pitre on Grande-Terre, both the island’s major port and biggest city. The islands’ only international airport, Guadeloupe Pôle Caraïbes Airport, is also outside this city.
Tourism is not the major base of the economy as would one expect but combined with the service jobs created by the local government and French grants keeps the standard of living comparatively high. Guadeloupe also serves as the location setting for the British mystery series “Death in Paradise”, a very popular television show in Europe, North America and elsewhere.
La Grande-Soufriere (Image: Bigstock)
Did you expect me here? (Image:Pixabay).
Best Time to Visit
When to visit Guadeloupe? The drier months are conveniently the North American winter, December to April called Creole Lent locally. That is usually the busiest time for travel as people further north are escaping snow, cold or rain for the Caribbean sunshine. One says “drier” as it still may rain each day but briefly.
The temperature is warm but not extremely hot, and the islands benefit from the tradewinds. And because temperature depends on altitude, it can vary quite a bit on Basse-Terre due to its terrain.
Guadeloupe is not immune to hurricanes. The last bad one was in 2017, Maria, but due to its position any hurricane season can have its threats. Earthquakes are not unknown either as two faults exist through the islands, the last quake being in 2004. And La Grande-Soufriere is still active. But none of this should deter one from visiting these attractive islands which are less busy and less expensive than some of their Caribbean neighbours.
Golden sands of Grand-Anse (Image: Stephane Wegner on UnSplash)
White sand beach, La Desirade (Image: Pixabay)
What is There to Do?
Check out Fort Napoleon on Les Saintes.
Try the Tourment D’Amour, a sweet tart traditionally made by the wives of Les Saints to welcome their husbands back home from the seas. Coconut sorbet is a cool treat sold on many Guadeloupe beaches. Seafood is abundant everywhere. And because these islands were the first coffee-growing region in the Americas, make sure this drink is on the menu too.
The variety of wildlife is amazing ranging from the bane of North American cities, the raccoon, to an import from India, the mongoose. There is also a native endangered rodent, the agouti and well over two dozen bird species. The Parc Des Mamelles (Guadeloupe Zoo) on Basse-Terre highlights all the animals of the Lesser Antilles and Guyana. You can walk on hanging walkways twenty feet in the air bringing you closer to the flowers and birds in the tree tops. Pricing starts at about €15.50 and there are family rates.
Islands mean beaches. There are white sand, golden sand, black sand and even pinkish sand beaches. – take your pick! The most popular for families is Sainte-Anne. If you love white sand, try Caret Islet in the Grand-Cul-de-Sac Natural Reserve, or Massuare Beach. This is handy to the mangrove swamps on Marie Galante which you can also explore by paddle boat. Grande-Anse and Pain du Sucre beaches have golden sands, and Malendure Beach has the volcanic black sand.
Water Sports. Check out Costeau’s Reserve which a marine wonderland surrounding tiny Pigeon Island. You can kayak out there if you wish. Explore the coral reefs by snorkelling or scuba diving. Can’t or don’t swim? There are tours available on glass-bottomed boats.
Besides sunning on a beautiful beach, one can also experience a relaxing and restorative sulphur bath. The baths of Sofaia in Sainte-Rose are free. Sulphurous mud baths are also available at Balin Beach in Vieux-Bourg, Grand-Terre. If you are a romantic at heart visit the Les Bain Amours, a heart-shaped pool in the forests near Gourbeyre. It is very busy during the high season but there are more natural hot spring pools nearby if you wish to take a dip.
Visit during the months of Jan to March when the Carnival is in full swing to take in local music, dance and food – plus lots of fun!
Colourful Carnival (Image: Pixabay)
Fort Napoleon (Image: Bigstock)
If you wish to add Guadeloupe to your list of Caribbean islands to visit, contact your travel concierge at this agency to ensure you get the most out of this French territory. It’s the perfect destination for families, romantic couples or adventurous wanderers – and let’s not forget, fans of Death in Paradise that fictional series where its British and called Sainte-Marie!