Part of the French West Indies, Guadeloupe has it all: rainforests, waterfalls, sandy beaches and charming villages. Guadeloupe is really two butterfly-shaped islands connected by a narrow channel. The left “wing” is Grande-Terre, and the right “wing” is Basse-Terre. Offshore, on smaller surrounding islands, you can step into societies that have changed little over the centuries. On Terre-de-Haut, part of the Iles des Saintes, you’ll find pristine beaches and families descended from Breton sailors. Marie-Galante in the southeast, has spectacular beaches and produces some of the Caribbean’s best rum – remnants of colonial sugar mills are quaint reminders of the island’s past as a sugar producer. To the northeast, La Désirade is a recommended day trip for its untouched landscape and beaches.
The more sophisticated Grande-Terre boasts white sand beaches and rolling hills. The island’s biggest town, Pointe-à-Pitre, is a European-style shopping village offering goods with ‘made in France’ labels – and at savings of an estimated 20 to 30 percent. Museums abound here. Saint-John Perse and the Schoelcher Museum are housed in colonial manors. The Edgar Clerc archaeological museum enlightens visitors about Guadeloupe’s Amerindian ancestors. Culture buffs might seek out the zoological garden, the orchid garden, or coffee and cocoa plantations.
Basse-Terre is a draw for nature lovers. An astounding volcano, La Soufrière, which lies sleeping at its center, is the Eastern Caribbean’s highest point at 4,813 feet. Drive or hike through the nearby rain forests in the 74,100 acre Parc National de Guadeloupe, or spend a day on Grand Anse, one of the island’s best beaches, known for especially soft sand. The wildlife is awe-inspiring. In the air, you might spot sugar birds, cow herons, black woodpeckers, moor hen sand brown gannets.
French imports make dining on Guadeloupe a pleasure; the destination boasts more than 200 restaurants, some on the front porches of local homes. Lunch, or le déjeuner, is the main meal of the day. Start with a rum drink, then try creole creations such as stuffed land crabs, stewed conch and curry dishes. French wines are commonly served with the meal.
Three offshore islands make super day trips. Friendly residents greet visitors in small fishing villages.