Something for Everyone
Some Caribbean islands are known for great diving. Others offer stunning beaches, or magnificent scenery, land adventures, unique culture or fine dining. But if you want to have all these things and more wrapped up in a single destination, the Guadeloupe Islands might be your top choice.
Though often referred to as a single destination, Guadeloupe is actually a group of islands sitting at the southern end of the Leeward Islands group just north of Dominica. On a map, the two large islands of the group, Grande-Terre and Basse-Terre, look like a single land mass. But they are actually separated by a narrow channel known as the Rivière Salée. More important than this cartographic detail are the striking differences between these islands. The more populated island of Grande Terre is home to the cosmopolitan capital of Pointe-à-Pitre and the golden-sand beaches of its southern coast are lined with premier resorts. In contrast, volcanic and mountainous Basse-Terre is heavily wooded, lightly populated and the place to go for eco-adventures. Small outlying islands such as Marie Galante, La Desirade and the Iles de Saintes offer a step back to a quieter, old-school Caribbean experience.
Under the Sea
The Guadeloupe Islands are surrounded by an extensive network of coral reefs and volcanic substrate. Dive sites can be found around all of the islands, with the most popular area being the western coast of Basse-Terre, which is the site of the Cousteau Marine Park at Pigeon Island. Here, underwater landscapes feature slopes encrusted in hard and soft corals, punctuated by underwater headlands and valleys. The island's west coast sits in the lee of prevailing trade winds and swells and is home to a significant portion of Guadeloupe's diving activity. The reserve's no-take and no-anchor policies have resulted in thriving coral colonies that support healthy populations of reef fish. Deeper sites on outer slopes sometimes attract blue-water fish such as tuna and king mackerel. Nearby is a trio of artificial reefs. The twisted remains of the 165-foot Franjack have become a refuge for turtles, fish and moray eels; the 190-foot former lightship Augustin-Jean Fresnel sits nearby at a depth of 100 feet and the 155-foot coastal freighter Gustavia completes the collection. A few miles to the south of the Pigeon Islands is the champagne site at Bouillante, where geothermal activity creates streams of gas bubbles that rise from sand channels within the reef.
You can experience different diving and snorkeling adventures on Grande-Terre, where shorelines extend seaward in a series of grass beds and shallower coral ridges. At Grand Cul-de-Sac Marin, a 24-mile expanse of reef lies within the Guadeloupe National Park. This area is home to dozens of dive sites where the focus is on the luxuriant mid-depth coral and sponge formations. Dive operations at Saint-Francois offer trips to the less-visited island of La Desirade for dramatic seascapes that include caves, canyons and boulder-strewn slopes. For even more underwater variety, divers can schedule day trips to Les Saintes. Sites around this cluster of eight small islands range from protected coves rich in soft coral forests to points and outcroppings ideal for drift dives.
Beach lovers have plenty of options in the Guadeloupe Islands. There are popular strands where oceanfront lounges are within hailing distance of a beach bar; long arches of palm-fringed golden sand with not a hotel in sight; black-sand beaches bordered by rainforest and surf-washed out-island shores. Beaches sheltered by fringing coral reefs or the wind shadows of mountains provide calm water for swimming and snorkeling, while those exposed to trade winds are favorites with windsurfers and kiteboarders. Paddlers can explore the coast, traverse the Rivière Salée or navigate an extensive network of mangrove channels.
Basse-Terre is the epicenter of land-based eco-adventures. More than 70 percent of this green island lies within a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve. In the Parc National de la Guadeloupe, jungle streams cascade over rainforest-clad slopes and an active volcano soars to a height of almost a mile. This pristine landscape is laced with more than 180 miles of hiking trails that lead through groves of mahogany, giant ferns and bamboo to hidden waterfalls, bubbling hot springs and remote forest glens that are home to more than 270 species of birds. Bragging rights and sweeping views of the islands await those who follow the path upwards to the summit of La Soufrière, which is the highest point in the Lesser Antilles.
Another French Link
The Guadeloupe Islands are a department of France, but they are also very much a part of the Caribbean. This blending combines a tropic lifestyle with continental culture. In bustling Rue Frébault, Pointe-à-Pitre is lined with boutiques stocking perfumes, haute couture and delicacies straight from Paris. The scene shifts at Rue Duplessis when shoppers are immersed in the sights, sounds and scents of the St. Antoine Spice Market. In this open-air celebration of local commerce, animated vendors hawk handicrafts, seafood and produce and the smells of exotic spices permeate. Similar dualities abound across the islands. One can linger over buttery croissants and café au lait at a sidewalk cafe, or duck into a corner rum shop.
Guadeloupe's dining scene is among the most celebrated in the Caribbean, with island chefs drawing on both French and Creole traditions. Lively dance traditions such as zouk, quadrille and toumbélé are enjoying newfound popularity in a culture that celebrates its roots, but also enjoys fusion jazz and dancehall music. The islands also support a vibrant arts community and have produced some of the region's most respected writers. A network of excellent roads facilitates land travel while an efficient ferry system making island hopping easy. Favorite destinations include postcard-quaint bays of Les Saintes and the quiet island of Marie-Galante, which provides a glimpse of old-school Caribbean life.
We work with some of the top resorts and dive operators on Guadeloupe Islands and are able to plan your perfect island getaway including flights and filled with adventure. To learn more about the Guadeloupe Islands and start planning your next vacation, talk to our travel specialists at 800-330-6611 or send a quick note to firstname.lastname@example.org.