Caribbean Destination Series Part 13-Guadeloupe


 
Guadeloupe
Overview
Introduction

A visit to Guadeloupe can be as varied as the flowers, cuisine and music found on the seven idyllic isles that make up its archipelago. Reactions to Guadeloupe often fall into the love-it-or-hate-it category. For some visitors, the beauty of the geography, the warmth of the native Creole population, the superlative cuisine and the potential for adventurous activities are so compelling that they never leave. Others, particularly those who arrive here for a few hours of frenzied shopping, do not care for what they experience and never return.

For many newcomers, this set of outcroppings in the blue waters of the Lesser Antilles is paradise, thanks to the pristine beaches, accommodation options and French-inspired cuisine. The boisterous backdrop of gwo-ka music, beguine dancing and other colorful Creole traditions are unique and unforgettable. Guadeloupe offers something for all tastes, budgets and philosophies in one location.

Dust off your French-language dictionary, but don’t be overly concerned about your grammar. Guadeloupe natives are Creole speakers, meaning that you will hear a melange of words borrowed from English, French, Spanish, Portuguese and African dialects, spoken in a singsong patois. Listen to the locals talking among themselves and you will soon understand that laughter is never far away from any verbal exchange and that Guadeloupe is about passion for life in many forms. So relax, smile a lot and begin each attempt at communication with a sincere “Bonjour.” The rest will pleasantly surprise you.

Geography

The principal island, Guadeloupe, is really two islands with two very different topographies (they are separated by a saltwater river and joined by a bridge, the Pont de la Gabare). To the west is volcanic Basse-Terre, which is mostly given over to the National Park of Guadeloupe, a mountainous rain forest that covers a fifth of Guadeloupe’s total area. Grande-Terre, to the east, is flat and—except for the towns—mostly planted with sugarcane. It has most of the island’s hotels and good beaches. Guadeloupe also incorporates the neighboring Les Saintes Iles (which include Terre-de-Bas and Terre-de-Haut), as well as the islands Marie-Galante and La Desirade.

History

Long before it became a part of France, Guadeloupe was home to Carib Indians. They called the island “Caloucaera” or “Karukera”: Isle of Beautiful Waters. Despite attempts by the Spanish in the early 1500s, Guadeloupe wasn’t successfully colonized until French settlers arrived in 1635. After they defeated the Caribs, the French established a plantation economy and imported slaves from Guinea to work the sugarcane fields. Like most other parts of the Caribbean, Guadeloupe was targeted for takeover by rival colonial powers in the 1700s and 1800s. Except for some limited periods of British rule, the French remained in control of the islands. In time, Guadeloupe became the most lucrative island in the French West Indies.

The French Revolution reached the islands in the late 1700s: Victor “The Terrible” Hugues freed the slaves and executed many of the royalist plantation owners, but Napoleon re-established slavery after he came to power in the early 1800s. Slavery was permanently abolished in 1848, largely through the actions of Victor Schoelcher. Workers from India were then brought in to work the fields.

Guadeloupe gained representation in the French parliament in 1871 and was made an overseas departement of France in 1946. St. Martin and St. Barthelemy (St. Barts), part of the French West Indies, are also administered from Guadeloupe.

After a number of years plagued by a combination of natural disasters and political shenanigans, the Guadeloupean regional government has managed to establish a peaceful political and social landscape. A new generation of Guadeloupeans, including many who are returning from time overseas, is creating new economic opportunities for the island.

Snapshot

Guadeloupe has a variety of attractions: volcanic mountains, excellent French and Creole cuisine, shopping, beaches, snorkeling, deep-sea fishing, scuba diving, some gambling and a number of historic sites.

If you are looking for lush, tropical mountain scenery, extraordinary beaches (with several colors of sand) and a rich local Creole culture—and if you are comfortable with a French-speaking environment—you will love Guadeloupe. If a non-English-speaking environment and not-always-pristine surroundings bother you, you will be less impressed. Relative to the rest of the Caribbean, costs on Guadeloupe are somewhat high, and it’s a bit more challenging to tour.

Port Information
Location

On Grande-Terre, four large cruise liners can tie up at Centre Saint-John Perse, which is a five-minute walk from downtown Pointe-a-Pitre. The parklike terminal includes shops, restaurants and a branch of the tourist office. The main tourist office is just up the street, in a restored colonial mansion. Monday-Friday 8 am-5 pm, Saturday 8 am-noon. 5 Square de la Banque. Phone 590-820-930.

Some small cruise ships call on Basse-Terre at either of two small towns on the western coast, Malendure or Deshaies. Neither of these two-street villages offers much for the visitor to do, but both are ideally situated for exploring the national park, La Soufriere Volcano and the Cousteau Underwater Reserve, which are must-sees. Passengers are tendered to small jetties in both Deshaies and Malendure.

Popular shore excursions in the islands include narrated bus tours to the National Park of Guadeloupe (usually stopping at a rum distillery along the way), city tours of Pointe-a-Pitre, trips to La Soufriere and Carbet Falls (the highest falls in the Caribbean), as well as a sail on the catamaran King Papyrus (time to swim, snorkel and relax on the beach included).

Potpourri

Guadeloupe produces two-thirds of the bananas eaten in France.

If you buy a hat made from madras fabric, be aware of what the hat is saying about you: Those with one point signify that your heart is available, two points mean your heart is already taken, three points—the “matador”—mean your heart is taken, but you’re still open to offers.

The village of Bourg, on the island of Terre-de-Haut, has its own style of headgear, the salako, a straw or bamboo platter covered with cloth.

Les Saintes Iles has two different species of iguana occupying the same area: It’s the only place in the world where that is believed to occur.

On Grande-Terre, you’ll see the crops being brought in from the fields in carts pulled by oxen.

The trade winds are called les alizes.

Bastille Day (14 July) is celebrated with special vigor in Guadeloupe. There are lots of parties you can join.

See & Do
Sightseeing

Guadeloupe’s natural wonders are among its most compelling attractions: The Chutes de Carbet, the highest (800 ft/248 m) waterfall in the Caribbean, and La Soufriere Volcano Observatory are both on Basse-Terre. (The volcano has been dormant since the 1970s.) There are also a number of museums and historic sites that capture aspects of the islands’ past: The Edgar Clerc Archaeology Museum in Le Moule, Grande-Terre, exhibits artifacts of the peoples who lived here when Columbus first arrived. In Pointe-a-Pitre, the Musee St.-John Perse is dedicated to the diplomat and Nobel Prize-winning poet who was born on Guadeloupe, and the Musee Schoelcher tells the story of Victor Schoelcher, who helped abolish slavery on the island.

Around the archipelago, you will find numerous reminders of the industries that dominated the islands for centuries. Visit Compagnie Fermiere de Grosse Montagne, a working sugar plantation on Basse-Terre, or the Rum Museum in Ste. Rose. (There are plenty of places to sample that living tradition today.) La Griveliere, an old coffee plantation in the Vallee de la Grand Riviere on Basse-Terre, demonstrates how coffee was traditionally grown and processed.

Recreation
Beaches

Beaches on Grande-Terre have either white or ochre sand. Those on the Atlantic coast are wilder and less crowded, but all beaches are brimming over during holidays and long weekends. From Pointe-a-Pitre take a 10-minute bus ride (a couple of euros round-trip) or a taxi (18 euros-25 euros) to the Bas du Fort/Gosier hotel area, where mostly man-made strips of sand are set up with rows of beach chairs, watersports shops and bars. There’s also a wide strip of white sand at Ste. Anne’s Beach, which is about a 30-minute drive from town. It can get crowded on weekends.

For a quieter beach, take a launch from the beach at Gosier over to uninhabited Ilet Gosier (10 euros-15 euros round-trip). Purchase snacks and beverages before you go, because there are no eateries on this tiny island. It’s best to make arrangements in advance.

The beaches on Basse-Terre often have dark sand. The best known, Plage de Grande Anse, is the only long expanse of ochre sand. A pleasant walk north from Deshaies, it has changing facilities, watersports, boutiques, quite a few outdoor snack bars and Le Karacoli, one of Guadeloupe’s best restaurants. To avoid the throngs, opt for the sand in front of Le Karacoli—lunch and a dip can be delightful.

The wide, gray expanse of Plage de Malendure, on the west side of Basse-Terre, is lively with restaurants, bars and open-air boutiques. It’s the departure point for snorkeling and scuba trips to the Cousteau Underwater Reserve off Pigeon Island. And Plage de Riviere Sens is a narrow band of gray sand, popular with residents of Basse-Terre. It extends from the Riviere Sens Marina to Vieux Fort. It is a good place to swim and one of the best beaches for watching the wonderful sunsets.

The excellent beaches that ring Marie-Galante are a big draw: Many have sand that is so white, it’s almost blinding. On the Atlantic side, beaches are typically rocky with rough, sometimes treacherous surf, and the Caribbean side has calm waters and sandy beaches lined with tall palms. Plage de la Feuillere is one of the island’s best beaches, but there are others that are equally stunning.

Boating & Sailing

King Papyrus, a 200-passenger catamaran, offers seven-hour trips from Pointe-a-Pitre to Ilet Caret, a coral-barrier island, on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday (58 euros-70 euros, including lunch; phone 590-909-298). Sun Evasion (phone 590-908-390) and Paradoxe Croisieres (phone 590-884-173) offer catamaran day sails from Pointe-a-Pitre to Les Saintes Isles. Paradoxe Croisieres also offers catamaran trips to Petite-Terre and Marie-Galante.

For do-it-yourself types, stands on hotel beaches rent Hobie Cats, Sunfish and Sailfish for about 20 euros-40 euros an hour (some locations have a three-hour minimum). Windsurfing equipment is also available.

The 1,000-berth Port de Plaisance, also known as Bas du Fort marina, has what Boating Magazine calls “perhaps the finest private harbor in the western hemisphere.” Strategically located halfway between the Gosier and Ste. Anne hotels and Pointe-a-Pitre, this conclave of dreamy boats (up to 130 ft/48 m in length) is an impressive sight. A number of companies there charter boats, bareboat or crewed. Try Cap Sud (phone 590-907-670), VPM Antilles (phone 590-907-443), Stardust Marine ( phone 590-909-202), Star Voyages Antilles (phone 590-908-626) or Sunsail (phone 590-908-280).

Fishing

Catches around Guadeloupe include red snapper, kingfish, wahoo, blue marlin, sailfish, bonito, shark and barracuda year-round, and yellowfin tuna in spring and fall. Half-day fishing excursions typically cost about 185 euros per person, including equipment and drinks. On Grande-Terre, contact Evasion Exotic in Pointe-a-Pitre. Phone 590-909-417.

On Basse-Terre, you can arrange a deep-sea fishing trip with La Touna Restaurant on Galet Beach in Pigeon, phone 590-987-010; Rocher de Malendure Sportsfishing Center outside Malendure, phone 590-987-377; or the Les Hautes de Deshaies, phone 590-281-420. All three organize half- and full-day excursions, with prices starting at about 160 euros per person for a half-day. (It’s always possible—and advisable—to negotiate.)

Golf

Golf Municipal de St. Francois is an 18-hole, par-71 course. Facilities include a clubhouse, pro shop and restaurant, and there’s even an English-speaking golf pro. Greens fees run 38 euros-60 euros, depending on the time of day and day of the week. The course is 22 mi/35 km east of Pointe-a-Pitre, across from the Hotel Meridien Cocoteraie. Phone 590-884-187.

Hiking & Walking

The Parque National de la Guadeloupe, the national park, with more than 175 mi/280 km of well-marked trails, is one of the best places for hiking in the entire Caribbean. Orchids, tree ferns, waterfalls and placid pools await in the rain forest. You can get information and maps at the park office in St. Claude (phone 590-808-600), as well as at park entrances. http://www.guadeloupe-parcnational.com.

For walkers and hikers, Basse-Terre’s Grand Randonnee G-1 is a remarkable hiking route from Vieux-Fort on the southern coast of Basse-Terre to Pointe Allegre at the northern tip, near Ste. Rose. This outstanding hiking grid opened in 1994 in collaboration with the national park. Visitors can literally walk for an hour, a day or several days, using shelters along the way for rest stops or to spend the night. One of the unique features of this trail system is the continuously spectacular views, thanks to the fact that the trails have been routed along higher terrain. For information, contact the national park office.

You might also want to check out the excellent excursions run by the Organisation des Guides-Accompagnateurs de Moyenne Montagne (phone 590-812-483), which range from easy one-hour hikes to challenging four-hour treks.

Horseback Riding

Because Guadeloupe’s economy is still based on agriculture, the horse plays a continuing role in everyday life. This is wonderful news for visiting horse lovers, because you can saddle up and ride through forest, field and across beaches, or be completely slothful and be pulled aboard any one of the many different forms of buggies.

On Grande-Terre, you can arrange rides through Ecuries de Ste. Marthe in St. Francois. Expect to pay about 35 euros per hour. Phone 590-589-992 or 590-550-831. Other options on the island include Domaine de Belle Plaine (phone 590-580-109) and La Licorne (phone 590-454-824).

Basse-Terre has its share of horse-riding facilities. La Manade in St. Claude leads excursions through the tropical forest in the foothills of La Soufriere. Prices range 40 euros-60 euros, depending on the length of the trip and other variables such as whether lunch is provided, the size of the group and time of year. Phone 590-815-221. La Martingale in Baie Mahault also offers guided rides. Phone 590-262-839.

Scuba & Snorkeling

Serious divers always head for the Cousteau Underwater Reserve off Pigeon Island, which lies west of Basse-Terre. You’ll undoubtedly hear that Cousteau called this site one of the world’s 10 best diving spots (although some say he made the claim early in his career). World’s best or not, the underwater terrain is dramatic, with giant boulders, hot springs, sunken shipwrecks and enormous barrel sponges. Two other beautiful reef sites are off Ste. Anne on Grande-Terre and off Ilet Fajou in La Reserve Naturelle du Grand Cul de Sac Marin, between the two main islands.

Dive shops abound in Malendure—it’s close to the Cousteau Reserve. Les Heures Saines at Le Rocher de Malendure is a full-service dive shop that meets U.S. and French standards and has several English-speaking dive instructors on staff. It offers three dives a day starting at 10 am. Phone 590-988-663. You might also try Plaisir Plongee Caraibes, phone 590-988-243; Aux Aquanautes Antillais, phone 590-988-730; or CIP-Centre International de Plongee, phone 590-988-171 or 590-987-723. For dive trips to the coral reefs off Ilet Fajou, check with Club de Plongee in Deshaies (phone 590-842-626), Hotel et Village Callinago-El Dorado Beach (phone 590-904-646, http://www.callinago.com) or Canella Beach Hotel Residence (phone 590-904-400) in Gosier on Grande-Terre.

Expect to pay 40 euros-55 euros for a one-tank dive with an instructor. Be prepared for a French style of diving, which might include different equipment and techniques from those you may be used to. Regardless of where you choose to dive, you must be a certified diver and present your C card to rent equipment and go diving (unless, of course, you’re taking an introductory class).

To snorkel in the Cousteau Underwater Reserve, contact Nautilus at La Plage de Malendure, phone 590-988-908, or Aquarus at the Bouillante town dock, phone 590-988-730. They make several daily guided tours in glass-bottom boats, which include at least 15 minutes for snorkeling. Prices range 17 euros-50 euros.

Beachside stands at all the resorts on southern Grande-Terre rent snorkeling equipment for about 9 euros a day, and several companies offer excursions to La Reserve Naturelle du Grand Cul de Sac Marin.

Other Options

There are horse races periodically at the St. Jacques Hippodrome at Anse Bertrand. Phone 590-221-108.

Nightlife

Guadeloupeans love to dance. Discos—most of the south-coast villages on Grande-Terre have at least one—get going after 11 pm and continue until dawn. An entrance fee of about 11 euros usually includes one drink (expect to pay the same for each subsequent libation). Bas du Fort Marina has half-a-dozen waterfront nightclubs, usually filled to capacity. New Land outside Gosier has been one of the best for years. Other names for night owls to keep in mind: Le Zenith, Pharaon, La Cascade and Vol du Nuit, all in the Gosier area; Shivas in Le Moule; Cararet in Abymes; Palace in Ste. Anne; and L’Extase in Jarry (http://www.extase-gpe.com). You can also take a lively Saturday-night dinner cruise, with band and a show included, on the King Papyrus for about 62 euros (phone 590-909-298). If you plan to hit the Gosier Casino-Caraibe Club in Point de la Verdure or the Casino de St. Francois in the marina, be sure to take along a photo ID, preferably a passport (no ID is needed to simply play the slot machines).

All of the large hotels on Grande-Terre offer typical gwo-ka music and folklore performances, as well as dinner dancing (beguine-style) with excellent local musical groups. In Pointe-a-Pitre, the Centre des Arts schedules concerts, ballets and plays with both local and international stars.

Among the choices on Basse-Terre are the disco Espace Vaneau in Bouillante—it jumps until dawn on weekends; La Note Bleue in Deshaies—a piano player performs on Saturdays; Le Karacoli on Grande Anse Beach, which becomes a small disco on weekends; La Boite de Nuit in Pointe-Noire; and Le Pigeonnier in Pigeon—a live zouk band plays on Wednesday and Friday. Sometimes you can catch a show or concert in the town of Basse-Terre.

Shopping

Shop for French goods at fairly reasonable (and tax-free) prices, bamboo hats and local handicrafts such as paintings, dolls, patchwork tapestries, lace, African dresses and madras cotton crafts. Particularly nice souvenirs, though not inexpensive, are miniature wood carvings of the islands’ brightly painted houses by artist Pascal Foy on Terre-de-Haut. Rum and local spices are other possibilities. (Note that if you’re paying with a foreign-currency credit card or traveler’s check, you might be able to obtain a 20% discount in the larger tourist shops—ask about it.)

In Grande-Terre’s Pointe-a-Pitre there are good duty-free buys as well as local crafts and French fashions. The markets are the best places to pick up small gifts. At Quai de la Darse, the capital’s busiest shopping area for residents, hawkers are out early, trying to sell fruits, vegetables and fish to customers. The dozen-or-so shops in Centre Saint-John Perse frequently offer lower prices than can be found elsewhere. Original African-inspired jewelry is available at Suzanne Moulin, and gold jewelry can be found at Jean Louis Padel and many other shops. Both Vanilla Boutique and Brasil Tropique sell attractive clothing. Along Quai Ferdinand de Lesseps are two large souvenir shops, Bleu d’Outre Mer and Atelier de Melodie. The colorful Marche Saint-Antoine in Pointe-a-Pitre, called Marche Epices (Spice Market) by the locals, will initiate you into the sights and sounds of Guadeloupe’s Creole community. Ste. Anne’s market area, immediately across from the beach, includes the Village Artisanal, where you can find quality items such as clothing made of local madras fabric, handmade crafts and island art.

Rue Frebault is one of the best shopping streets for duty-free items. Try Dody for madras clothing. Paris Island and Phoenicia have the best selection of Parisian perfumes and cosmetics. Au Bonheur des Dames is a small department store with good buys on luxury leather goods and porcelain.

The adjoining (and usually crowded) Rue de Nozieres could be known as Fashion Avenue. Tiny boutiques stocked with fashions from the Cote d’Azur and Paris are lined up for five blocks. Know your European size equivalent, and don’t expect much English to be spoken. Knowing such basic phrases as trop petit (too small) or trop cher (too expensive) is helpful.

On Basse-Terre, rum and liqueurs based on rum—bought directly from the various distilleries around Ste. Rose, Trois-Rivieres or Vieux-Habitants—are excellent buys. The traditional (and beautiful) handcrafted lacework—tablecloths, sheets, clothing and lingerie—made and sold by the Association des Broderies in Vieux Fort are real collector’s pieces. There are a couple of little boutiques in the Riviere Sens Marina and in the city of Basse-Terre, as well as beachside shops at Malendure and Deshaies.

The Destrellan Commercial Center in Baie Mahault is definitely worth a stop if you’re in the area. For shopaholics, it warrants a special trip: The 70 boutiques include Roger Albert, Martinique’s famous parfumerie and the Galerie de l’Artisanat. Espace Art deserves a special mention: It showcases the work of 50 of the islands’ best artisans.

Shopping Hours: Generally Monday-Friday 8:30 am-1 pm and 2:30-6 pm, Saturday 8:30 am-1 pm.

Itinerary
Local Tours

Among the established tour operators in Pointe-a-Pitre is Agence Georges Marie-Gabrielle. Groups travel in modern buses with English-speaking guides. 21 Rue Alexandre Isaac. Phone 590-822-205.

On Basse-Terre, the best tour operator is Emeraude Guadeloupe, which offers guided treks to La Soufriere, Carbet Falls and Grand Etang. The company also leads mountain-bike tours of the national park and southern Basse-Terre. Place de la Mairie. Phone 590-819-828 or 590-801-609.

Day By Day

Some visitors to Guadeloupe may just wish to lie on its exquisite sandy beaches, and others may want to engage in more active pursuits. Whichever you choose, the islands provide enormous potential on both an adventurous and a cultural level. The following itinerary covers most of the major attractions.

Day 1—Arrive Pointe-a-Pitre. Depending on how tired you are, you may want to kick back and relax on a beach. You can also venture out to the Marche Epices (Spice Market) to experience the sights and sounds of Guadeloupe’s Creole community.

Day 2—Relax in the morning or tour the southern coastline of Grande-Terre from Pointe-a-Pitre to Pointe les Chateaux to the east. After lunch, head north toward Le Moule for an afternoon of sightseeing or lounging on the beautiful beach at Plage de l’Autre Bord. Don’t miss the Musee Edgar Clerc or the Distillerie Damoiseau.

Day 3—Rent a car and venture to Basse-Terre and the community of Trois-Rivieres. Plan to spend two nights there to properly explore the island. Head north up the coast to Vallee de la Grand Riviere and the Maison du Cafe heritage rain-forest site. If you want to go diving, drive farther to Le Rocher de Malendure and make arrangements to visit the Cousteau Underwater Reserve. Novice or veteran, you will enjoy exploring the amazing waters surrounding the area. After diving, you will find a number of satisfying restaurants in Malendure.

Day 4—Explore Basse-Terre with a guided tour or a hike along the many trails in the national park or around Le Soufriere volcano.

Day 5—From Trois-Rivieres, take the ferry to either Terre-de-Haut in Les Saintes Isles or to Marie-Galant. Many visitors make this a day trip, but for a true get-away-from-it-all experience, spend the night.

Day 6—Take advantage of what the island you’re on has to offer, including water activities, historic sites, long deserted beaches and mangrove swamps to paddle through. Return by ferry to Pointe-a-Pitre and spend the night on the town, experiencing great food, beguine music and a lively crowd of locals and visitors.

Day 7—If you missed the market in Pointe-a-Pitre when you arrived, now is the time to take advantage of the many gift shops. Pick up madras, rum, wood carvings and other local curiosities. Another area to shop is Ste. Anne’s beachfront, including the Village Artisanal, which offers plenty of Guadeloupean crafts.

Day 8—Depart Guadeloupe.

Day Plans

To help you make the best of your time in Guadeloupe, we’ve designed three different itineraries. PLAN A

City and the Markets

Start by checking out the little shops in Pointe-a-Pitre’s Centre Saint-John Perse. Along the waterfront you’ll see Marche de la Darse, a market with clothing and piles of seasonal fruits, vegetables and fish displayed under bright umbrellas.

Then stop at the tourist office on Place de la Victoire to pick up a map and some brochures. Head to the Cathedral of St. Pierre and St. Paul, which is among the more unusual architectural creations we’ve seen. If you want more market atmosphere, stroll over to the main market (Marche St. Antoine) on Rue Peynier. Nearby are the city’s two museums, Schoelcher and Saint-John Perse. They are both worth your time, but if you have to choose, we recommend Saint-John Perse.

Have lunch at La Fougere at the foot of Rue Peynier and get ready for some serious shopping in the afternoon. Head for Rue de Nozieres and peruse the latest fashions from Paris and the Cote d’Azur. If it’s perfume you want, spend some time sniffing the duty-free fragrances in Paris Island and Phoenicia on nearby Rue Frebault.

PLAN B

The National Park

Rent a car and start as early as possible, equipping yourself with walking shoes, hat, sweater or windbreaker, insect repellent, bottled water and towel. Wear a swimsuit under your clothes. Follow the signs for Route de la Traversee in the national park. Stop at the Maison de la Foret (Forest House) and take any of the three short, easy trails that fan out from this nature center. At the end of each, in the quiet heart of the dense forest, are little buildings where you can get information about the fauna, flora and topography in several languages.

The Cascade aux Ecrevisses (Crayfish Falls) on the Corossol River, a 20-minute walk up and back, is a good place to stop for a refreshing swim. Press onward and visit the zoological park (Parc Animalier des Mamelles), then have lunch at Le Rocher de Malendure, just south of the beach.

PLAN C

The Capital, the Volcano, the Falls

Start as early as possible. Rent a car and equip yourself for hiking later on—walking shoes and insect repellent are essential, and a sweater or windbreaker will come in handy when you reach higher altitudes.

Head for the small capital city of Basse-Terre to visit Fort Delgres (the city’s history museum) and the cathedral. Get picnic-makings at one of the little stands along Rue Schoelcher or around Place du Champs d’Arbaud and head up the narrow winding road to the parking lot of La Soufriere (time for the windbreaker). You won’t get right to the edge of the crater—that can be a three-hour hike—but you will have a picnic spot with an incredible view.

Drive to St. Sauveur, turn left on the narrow Habitue Road and follow the signs through a banana plantation to Les Chutes du Carbet. Park your car at the dead end and continue on foot. About 20 minutes of moderate hiking will bring you to the base of Carbet’s second cascade. On the left is a thermal spring whre you can soak and soothe weary leg muscles.

Dining
Dining Overview

French Creole culture is very much alive on Guadeloupe, which you’ll appreciate when you sit down for a meal. There are so many good French and Creole restaurants that you almost have to try to get a bad meal. Look for lobster, crabes farcis (stuffed land crabs), accras (salt codfish fritters), boudin (blood sausage), gratin of christophine (a type of squash), bouillabaisse, colombo (local curry), roasted wild goat, peppery sauces, French wines, red snapper, palourdes en sauce (clams cooked with garlic and parsley), conch, tropical fruits (try the unusual carambole, or star fruit) and vegetables. Callalou is a dish of greens and smoked ham, and matete is a dish of rice and crab that is a tradition on Easter Monday and Pentecost. Other unusual items on the menus include broiled rabbit, octopus and smoked fish—by all means, experiment. White or yellow yams, green christophine, malanga and sweet potato add color to the table.

Expect to pay within these guidelines for a meal for one, including tax and tip but not drinks: $ = less than 11 euros; $$ = 11 euros-23 euros; $$$ = 24 euros-57 euros; and $$$$ = more than 57 euros.

Local & Regional

Auberge de la Distillerie
A lovely little country hideaway at the edge of the national park on Basse-Terre. It offers a balance of classic French and Creole dishes. Monday-Saturday for lunch and dinner. $$$. Most major credit cards. 23 Route de Versailles, Tabanon, Petit-Bourg. Phone 590-942-591.

Caraibe Cafe
A good place for people-watching day and night. And a good place for eating: Be sure to consider the generous three-course daily specials of grilled lobster, well-spiced chicken colombo or leg of lamb. The regular menu features big salads, fresh fruit juices and sorbets and 17 different kinds of pizza, including a seafood variety. Daily for lunch and dinner. Reservations not accepted. $$. MasterCard and Visa. Place de la Victoire, Pointe-a-Pitre. Phone 590-829-223.

Chateaux de Feuilles
If you’re on the north end of Grande-Terre, you can take a dip in the pool of the lovely Chateaux de Feuilles, stroll around the garden or chat with the chef as he prepares lunch in the big outdoor kitchen. The always-original menu du jour, prepared with the freshest ingredients, might include sea-urchin pate, kingfish with vanilla or passion-fruit creme brulee. Tuesday-Sunday for lunch; dinner by reservation only. $$$. MasterCard and Visa only. Campeche (5 mi/8 km southeast of Anse Bertrand), Grande-Terre Island. Phone 590-223-030.

Chez Clara
Clara Lesueur and her staff turn out some fine family recipes at this pretty and popular terraced restaurant on Basse-Terre. Monday, Tuesday and Thursday-Sunday for lunch and dinner, Wednesday and Sunday for lunch only. The restaurant closes for the month of October. $$$. MasterCard only. Bord de Mer, Ste. Rose. Phone 590-287-299.

Chez Loulouse
Restaurants like this one are called lolos: They serve authentic local cuisine, from goat and conch dishes to lobster and crayfish, at reasonable prices. This lolo has the best view of the windward side of Basse-Terre. Glass-bottom boat rides are available as well. Daily for lunch and dinner (till 9 pm). $$. Most major credit cards. Plage de Malendure, Pigeon, Basse-Terre Island. Phone 590-987-034.

La Fougere
An oasis in a big old mansion, serving both a la carte and a daily set lunch, which might feature chicken or goat curry, smoked chicken with shrimp or a hard-to-find authentic Creole creation. Monday-Friday for lunch; dinner for groups only by reservation. $$. Most major credit cards. 34 Rue Peynier, Pointe-a-Pitre. Phone 590-890-105.

Seafood

La Route du Rhum
Located next to the marina in Pointe-a-Pitre, this restaurants offers a beautiful, tranquil dining experience. Specialties are fish carpaccio, mullet Creole-style and crayfish supreme. Monday-Saturday for lunch and dinner. $$$. Most major credit cards. At the marina, Bas du Fort, Pointe-a-Pitre. Phone 590-909-000.

Le Domaine de Severin
Crayfish five different ways, conch lasagna, home-smoked fish and wonderful desserts are served in a colonial great house overlooking a garden and a working rum distillery. Many activities on the estate are open to dinner guests, so bring your bathing suit. Open Sunday-Tuesday for lunch, Thursday-Saturday for dinner. Reservations available. $$$. MasterCard and Visa only. Cadet, Ste. Rose. Phone 590-283-454.

Le Rocher de Malendure
If you’re in Malendure, check out the seafood selections at this multilevel restaurant. Its fishermen’s plate is a sampling of freshly caught marlin or kingfish, smoked swordfish, crayfish or conch with local shrimp. Monday-Saturday for lunch and dinner, Sunday for lunch only. Reservations available. $$$. MasterCard and Visa. South of Malendure, Basse-Terre Island. Phone 590-987-084.

Lucullus
A lolo that features the chef’s original creations, including ouassous (a large crayfish) flambe, ray wing in maracudja (passion fruit) cream and hearty Caribbean fondue. Ask about the special vacation menu of appetizer, entree and dessert for 13.50 euros. Daily for lunch and dinner (till 11 pm). $$. Most major credit cards. Route de Plage, Ste. Anne. Phone 590-854-429.

Security
Personal Safety

Guadeloupe’s largest city, Pointe-a-Pitre on Grande-Terre, used to be a dangerous place after business hours. But new sidewalk cafes and improved lighting have made Place de la Victoire busier—and safer—in the early evening. Avoid walking alone after 7 pm and on Saturday afternoons and Sundays in the city center near the market, which will be shut up tight. If you plan to engage in late-night revelry, do it in an area busy with a mix of local residents and tourists or confine your celebration to your resort or hotel. Beware of pickpockets and purse snatchers riding double on motorbikes in the tourist areas of Gosier, Bas du Fort and St. Francois.

Crime is rare on Basse-Terre. The villages there are almost deserted in the evening, but it is considered quite safe to walk around at any hour.

For the latest information, contact your country’s travel-advisory agency.

Health

Tap water is safe, and the food in most restaurants poses no danger. Avoid contact with all freshwater rivers and ponds: Bilharzia (schistosomiasis), which may be present in these waters, can cause severe damage to the liver. The waters off some beaches on the Atlantic side are too turbulent for safe swimming, and a few beaches are occasionally infested with sand fleas (take repellent). The manchineel tree, whose fruit is poisonous and sap extremely caustic, is more often found on the outlying islands. It is sometimes, but not always, identified by a colored band and signs (in French).

No matter where you are on the islands, dial 15 in a medical emergency. The Centre Hospitalier in Pointe-a-Pitre is modern and first-rate (phone 590-891-010). In the town of Basse-Terre, St. Hyacinthe Hospital is on Rue Daniel Beauperthuy (phone 590-805-454). Be aware that medical personnel may not speak English, although most hotels can assist in locating English-speaking physicians.

For the latest information, contact your country’s health-advisory agency.

Dos & Don’ts

Do try some of the locally made rum, which connoisseurs consider to be among the best in the world (it’s made from fermented sugarcane juice rather than molasses or syrup). You can’t get it anywhere outside Guadeloupe and mainland France. What Guadeloupeans call syrop de la batterie isn’t car-battery acid, it’s a high-potency rum liqueur that should be consumed sparingly.

Don’t count on much English being spoken anywhere (although a little is spoken at the major hotels). So brush up on your French or be prepared to use sign language to make yourself understood. Your efforts coupled with a smile will elicit a helpful response.

Do dance the biquine (or beguine), which originated in the French West Indies. And do stop at local clubs to hear zouk music and the more traditional gwo-ka.

Do plan to snorkel or scuba dive off Pigeon Island or other spots on the western coast of Basse-Terre. The many sunken wrecks there are favorite nesting areas for colorful schools of fish.

Don’t pick flowers, hunt, fish or use a radio or boom box in the national park. These activities are illegal.

Don’t expect to break any speed records driving around the islands. The average speed limit is about 25 mph/40 kph.

On the other hand, do be prepared for the French style of driving—drivers speed even when going in reverse, and they think nothing of darting across several lanes of fast-moving traffic.

Don’t be surprised to see some skin: Topless sunbathing is very common, and clothing-optional beaches are found on most of the islands.

Hotels
Hotel Overview

Accommodations range from first-class beach resorts to country inns in small towns and in the mountains. Some of the smaller hotels are interesting, but we suggest staying in as nice a property as possible to reduce the likelihood of hassles. Most properties are well-run, fairly clean and adequate, but our experience at the lower end of the scale has been that the service can change from extremely good to downright rude and back again in a relatively short period of time. On the outlying islands, accommodations range from basic to very basic.

Facts
Geostats

Passport/Visa Requirements: Beginning 8 January 2007, all U.S. citizens must have a passport when traveling by air to or from Bermuda, Canada, the Caribbean, Central and South America and Mexico. Citizens of Canada, Mexico and the British Overseas Territory of Bermuda also must have a passport or other designated secure document to enter the U.S.Beginning 1 June 2009, passports are required for land crossings at the Canadian and Mexican borders with the U.S. and for cruise passengers returning to the U.S. from Mexico, the Caribbean, Canada or Bermuda. Reconfirm travel-document requirements with your carrier prior to departure.

Population: 416,352.

Languages: French..

Predominant Religions: Christian (Roman Catholic, Protestant), Hindu..

Time Zone: 4 hours behind Greenwich Mean Time (-4 GMT). Daylight Saving Time is not observed.

Voltage Requirements: 220 volts.

Telephone Codes: 590, code for the French West Indies; 590,island-wide area code. Some cell phones use the 690 area code.;

Money
Currency Exchange

ATMs are found at most banks and inside many hotels, motels and gites, and Credit Agricole has a 24-hour money-changing machine in the Bas du Fort Marina that exchanges many foreign currencies (including U.S. and Canadian dollars) into euros. Another way to avoid long lines at local banks is to use one of the exchange offices along Rue Frebault and Rue de Nozieres in Pointe-a-Pitre.

Guadeloupe’s shops and restaurants often accept U.S. and Canadian currency, as well as traveler’s checks, but the exchange rate will not be favorable.

Banking Hours

Generally Monday-Friday 8 am-noon and 2-4 pm. In summer, hours change to 8 am-3 pm.

Tipping

A 15% service charge is usually included in menu prices (ask if you’re not sure). You may certainly leave something extra for excellent service, but servers do not expect a tip.

Weather

The best time to visit is November-May, when day temperatures are in the 70s-80s F/23-32 C and nights are in the 60s-70s F/15-27 C. June-October is hurricane season, but except in the rare instance when a hurricane does occur, the weather in June and July can be dry and delightful. The rainy season, September-November, is called hivernage. Guadeloupe is more cloudy and rainy than most Caribbean islands at that time, and the humidity is unbelievably high.

What to Wear

Beachwear is unacceptable in downtown Pointe-a-Pitre, where dress may be casual but is always chic. There are no tie-and-jacket requirements for men anywhere, even in the casinos. Topless bathing is the norm at hotel pools and beaches and is becoming more common at public beaches, much to the dismay of local people. Several beaches, called plages naturistes, have been set aside for nudists on Grande-Terre and Les Saintes.

Communication
Telephone

You can buy a phone card (Telecarte) at almost any post office, newsstand or shop displaying the sign, Telecarte en vente ici (Telecard sold here). Use the card in phone booths marked Telecom. They make both local and international calls easier and less expensive.

To call Guadeloupe from abroad, you must first dial your country’s international access code, followed by the West Indies code with the island-wide area code (590-590), then the local number. When calling locally, dial 590 followed by the local number.

Mail & Package Services

The main post office in Pointe-a-Pitre (on Boulevard Hanne) is a nightmare, with long lines and surly clerks. If you’re in the town of Basse-Terre, you could drop off mail at the post office on Rue Amede Fengarol. The staff does not speak English at either location.

Transportation
Air

Several international and Caribbean-based airlines serve the modern Pole Caraibes Airport (PTP), which is 2 mi/3 km from Pointe-a-Pitre on Grande-Terre. There are regular flights from Pole Caraibes Airport to the other islands. Buses and taxis are available at the airport.

Bus

On Grande-Terre buses are inexpensive, but riding them can be confusing, thanks to the fact that each bus is owned and operated independently. Generally, they stop at stop signs (arret) or anywhere the driver is waved down. The yellow-and-green buses that stop in front of the tourist office in Pointe-a-Pitre go to the Bas du Fort/Gosier hotel area every 30 minutes. On Basse-Terre you can hail buses to and from Pointe-a-Pitre anywhere along their routes up and down the coast. Your fare depends on the distance you travel (you pay when you get off).

Jitneys, nicknamed les bombes, provide cheap, fast service, but everything from schedule to driving style is strictly up to individual drivers.

Car

Rental cars (usually with manual transmission) are the best way to see the main islands, but be sure to reserve one prior to arrival. You can rent a car in Pointe-a-Pitre from the major rental companies or from local companies, which offer better prices. Rental cars are also available on Basse-Terre in Deshaies next to the dock and on Grande Anse Beach, as well as in downtown Basse-Terre. Count on paying a minimum of 55 euros per day. Any veteran traveler will advise you to photograph your rental car inside and out, in front of the rental agent. That way, you will have a record of the car’s condition when you picked it up, and the agent will know better than to try to charge you for previous damage.

The network of roads is one of the best in the Caribbean, with French traffic regulations and road signs. Cars keep to the right. Guadeloupe’s drivers are skillful speed demons.

Don’t talk on a hand-held phone while driving: It’s illegal, and the fines are stiff.

Ferry

Ferry service to the smaller islands is provided by L’Express des Iles (phone 590-831-245) and Brudey Freres (phone 590-900-448). Crossings can be rough at times—if you’re prone to seasickness, fly. L’Express des Iles also offers catamaran service connecting Guadeloupe with Martinique, with a stop in Dominica.

Ship

Many cruise lines include Pointe-a-Pitre in their Caribbean itineraries, and the government has made dramatic improvements to the dockside facilities to better accommodate them.

Taxi

Taxis, which have meters, are readily available in Pointe-a-Pitre. They offer reasonable, regulated rates for short journeys, but they are expensive for longer treks. Rates rise by 40% after 9 pm and on Sunday and holidays. A few taxis are available on Basse-Terre in both Malendure and Deshaies, but it’s a long, expensive trip anywhere (e.g., the fare from Deshaies to the town of Basse-Terre runs about 80 euros). Taxi drivers are willing to give private tours. Negotiate your price before starting and be sure all parties understand what currency has been quoted. Finding a driver who speaks English may be a bit difficult, but a good French phrase book can help you with the experience.

Other

You can rent mountain bikes in Pointe-a-Pitre at Dingo Location (phone 590-838-137) or Easy Location (phone 590-242-154). In Gosier, try Equateur Motos (phone 590-845-994). Expect to pay about 23 euros per day.

Motorbikes are available in Pointe-a-Pitre from Vespa Sun (phone 590-913-036) and Equateur Motos (phone 590-845-994). VTT Scooter in Gosier also rents motorbikes (phone 590-844-181). Daily rates run about 34 euros, plus insurance and a hefty deposit.

For More Information

Tourist Offices

Guadeloupe: Comite du Tourisme des Iles de Guadeloupe, 5 Square de la Banque, Pointe-a-Pitre. Phone 590-820-930. Fax 590-838-922.

Canada: French Government Tourist Office, 1981 Ave. McGill College, Suite 490, Montreal, PQ H3A 2W9. Phone 514-288-4264 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting              514-288-4264      end_of_the_skype_highlighting. Fax 514-845-4868.

U.S.: French Government Tourist Office, 444 Madison Ave., 16th Floor, New York, NY 10022. Phone 212-838-7800 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting              212-838-7800      end_of_the_skype_highlighting. Fax 212-838-7855.

Embassies Representing Guadeloupe

Canada: Embassy of France, 42 Sussex Drive, Ottawa, ON K1M 2C9. Phone 613-789-1795 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting              613-789-1795      end_of_the_skype_highlighting. Fax 613-562-3735. E-mail consulat@ambafrance-ca.org.

U.S.: Embassy of France, 4101 Reservoir Road N.W., Washington, DC 20007. Phone 202-944-6000 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting              202-944-6000      end_of_the_skype_highlighting. Fax 202-944-6166. E-mail info-washington@diplomatie.gouv.fr.

Foreign Embassies Serving Guadeloupe

Canada: Canada is represented by its high commission in Barbados: Bishop’s Court Hill, St. Michael, Bridgetown. Phone 246-429-3550. Fax 246-429-3780. E-mail bdgtn@dfait-maeci.gc.ca.

U.S.: The U.S. is represented by its embassy in Barbados: ALICO Building, Cheapside, Bridgetown. Phone 246-436-4950. Fax 246-429-5246. E-mail consularbridge2@state.gov.

Additional Reading

Caribbean and the Bahamas by James Henderson (Globe Pequot Press).

Guadeloupe by Pascale Couture (Ulysses).

Events
Calendar

Guadeloupe comes alive in February and March for Carnival, when festivals take over the streets of major towns every weekend, culminating on Ash Wednesday. The Creole Blues Festival is held on Marie-Galant at the end of May: International music is performed on the beach, in cafes and at historical monuments. Bastille Day, 14 July, is cause for music and celebration all over the islands. Another big party happens in mid August: La Fete des Cuisinieres, or the Festival of the Women Cooks, one of Guadeloupe’s most colorful traditional events. Cooks dressed in traditional Creole madras skirts and embroidered aprons parade through Pointe-a-Pitre to a gala banquet. Also in August is the annual Tour de la Guadeloupe, a miniature version of the Tour de France bicycle race. The largest boating event of the year is the Triskell Cup competition, held in late October from the tiny Islet Gosier. It attracts world-class sailing vessels, with and without spinnakers. On 22 November, the feast of Ste. Cecile (the patron saint of music), most churches and squares hold music festivals, and in December, just before Christmas, Pointe-a-Pitre hosts an international jazz festival.

NORTHSTAR Travel Media, LLC. ©2010 All rights reserved. 

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