Guadeloupe - Introduction

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Guadeloupe is a French island in the Lesser Antilles. It's actually an archipelago, including St. Bartholomew and the French portion of St. Martin, but most references to Guadeloupe refer to the island of Guadeloupe itself. Of course, that is also a misnomer, as Guadeloupe is actually two islands; Basse Terre and Grande Terre, separated by a salt water river.

Guadeloupe, like Maui, resembles a butterfly due to the effect of two islands appearing as one. Unlike Maui, the two islands are of distinctly different geological origins. That unique characteristic creates the diversity that is Guadeloupe. Basse Terre, volcanic in origin, is the island of the 74,000 acre Parc Naturel. The Parc is a tropical rain forest which includes the 4,800 feet volcano La Soufriere along with countless waterfalls and tropical pools including the Chutes Carbet (two of which are over 300 feet in height). Grande Terre, a limestone plateau, has white sand beaches, tremendous cliffs, and is home to the majority of the island's farmlands.

The combination of the island's Creole influence and Caribbean location with its French heritage has created an island whose national passion is its cuisine. Each August features a chef's festival, and small restaurants dot the landscape as frequently as the ruins of colonial windmills.

Guadeloupe is large. Basse Terre and Grand Terre total approximately 530 square miles. St. Bart's, for comparison, is 8 square miles. I doubt Grand Cayman is even as big as St. Barts. To my eyes, Guadeloupe appears to fall in size somewhere between Rhode Island and Delaware. A rental car and a penchant for exploration should be included in any visitor's luggage.

The island's capitol is the city of Basse Terre on Basse Terre. It's largest city, and location of the international airport, is Pointe-a-Pitre on Grande Terre. The majority of the island's hotels and resorts are also found on Grand Terre. As one follows the southern coastline away from Pointe-a-Pitre, they are Gosier, Ste. Anne, and St. Francois. Ste. Anne is home to Club Med and Caravalle beach. Most other resorts and restaurants are found in Gosier and St. Francois, as are the island's two casinos.

St. Francois also features a large marina and a Robert Trent Jones Jr. designed golf course. The island's other (and larger) marina is located at Bas du Fort, roughly between Pointe-a-Pitre and Gosier. Ferries, catamarans and other expeditions to the offshore islands of Les Saintes and Marie-Galante depart from these marinas, a factor to be considered in your travel planning as a visit to one of these islands is a popular day trip.

Guadeloupe is not a poor island. Its economy is not dependent on tourism and supports a large infrastructure including large highways surrounding Pointe-a-Pitre with accompanying rush hour delays (a factor to consider when planning a drive to Basse Terre). Neither is Guadeloupe a wealthy island; you will not find the shops of Martinique or the glitter of St. Barts. In their place will be roadside cattle and acres of sugar cane fields. Still, Guadeloupe's economy is strong and its rural areas are strongly reminiscent of Appalachian farm country.

The homes in some areas will look unfinished or run down. If you drive slowly enough, peek inside an open door or window. You will find rooms colorfully and tastefully appointed, a complete contrast to the exterior. Evidently, there is a cajun tradition which loosely translates into "It is what is on the inside that is important." At first, it seemed puzzling to see a Mercedes or BMW in the car port of home with no exterior paint and goats in the yard. Considering that I spend more time in my home and my car than I do my yard, I am beginning to see the wisdom of the Guadeloupean way.

In our five days, we encountered no begging, no "volunteer" guides for a fee, and no indications of criminal activity of any kind. In all, the people were friendly, especially considering that our best French speaker was relying upon two years of high school French from fifteen years ago. Those who spoke some English were proud to display their knowledge, those who did not, patiently tolerated our struggling French. Occasionally we would receive a disapproving stare; invariably, it was from another tourist, not a Guadeloupean.

The only English language travel guide to guadeloupe is published by Ulysses Travel Guides. It has a great deal of detail, maps, and color photos. For a traveler who wants the comforts of a Caribbean resort island with beauty and ruggedness for exploring during the daytime and doesn't mind the adventure that traveling in a foreign country always provides, I strongly recommend Guadeloupe.