Guadeloupe at a glance
Because this archipelago, of five very different islands, combines Caribbean cool with French chic. “Les isles de Guadeloupe” are: Basse-Terre, Grand-Terre, Marie-Galante, Les Saintes and Desiderade.
The Reserve Cousteau, Basse-Terre, was named after Jacques Cousteau, the French father of scuba. He thought this area had the world’s finest marine life. There is an underwater statue of him, which divers touch for luck.
You probably didn’t know
That the dance of Guadeloupe is called the “begine”, performed in colourful Creole dress. Or that Guadeloupe is called “the butterfly island” because of the shape of the two main islands, Basse-Terre and Grande-Terre, which are joined by mangrove swamp.
The Honest Folk of Guadeloupe (Timothy Williams, 2015); Death on Paradise, the BBC TV series filmed here.
- Population: 403,750 (2014)
- French language spoken
- Year-round temperatures around 29°C with July–November the wettest months
Things to do in Guadeloupe
Guadeloupe serves up some great dishes, with influences from Europe, Africa, India and America.
In the tiny seaside town of DesHaies, on the north-west coast of Basse-Terre, you’ll find an incongruous mix of French patisseries and West Indian diners. There’s no missing L’Amer, painted bright orange. This busy restaurant on the main street overlooks the sea and serves Guadaloupe specialities such as fresh lobster and the aperitif Ti-punch (lemon, rum and sugar).
La Canne à Sucre
In the capital, Pointe a Pitre on Grande-Terre, La Canne à Sucre looks out over the busy harbour and serves French cuisine with a Créole twist. A great spot for people-watching.
Les Petits Saints
Auberge Les Petits Saints on Les Hauts, Terre de Haut (one of the small islands that make up Les Saintes) is a former mayor’s villa stuffed with antiques. Now a boutique hotel with an open-air terrace restaurant, it offers superb views and good local dishes.
The smaller islands of the archipelago tend to be sleepy. On these, nightlife means local dances or just hanging out in little town squares with a Carib beer. (Though everywhere springs to life during carnival.)
Most of the after-dark action in Guadeloupe is found on Grande-Terre in the areas near the capital.
The buzzy area of Le Gosier has a number of lively clubs, including Le Petit New York: a stylish spot with a DJ and good cocktails. Before hitting the dance floor those in the know head to Gosier’s night market, open Fridays 5pm–10pm. Overlooking the sea, it sells jewellery trinkets and crafts.
Le Casino de Saint-François
If you like a flutter, there are a few tiny casinos. Le Casino de Saint-François is an elegant nightspot with gaming areas, bars, a restaurant and theatres for live shows.
From fine French designs to flea markets
For fine French designs, luxury items and perfumes the centre of Point au Pitre, the capital on Grande-Terre, has upscale shops on Rue Frebault and Nozieres. But for more homespun goods, such as Creole dolls, fabrics, straw hats and spices there are numerous open-air markets around the city. Bargains can be found at flea markets held on Sundays in Moule, Saint Anne and Saint Claude as well.
Probably Guadeloupe’s best buys are rum and coffee. The isle of Marie-Galante has three distilleries and is the largest artisanal producer of traditional rums. Distillerie Bielle has a well-stocked shop selling all the varieties made here and other souvenirs of this quiet island.
The complex colonial history of these islands is evident everywhere: in the mix of ethnicities and cultures, the food, the festivals. And now this past is documented in a new museum. Memorial ACTe was opened in June 2015 by the French president Francois Hollande, and is the only memorial to slavery in the Caribbean – a difficult subject explored here through exhibitions, concerts and live performances. The museum is housed in a dramatic, modern black-granite building on the water at Point au Pitre, Grande-Terre.
In the Gran River valley, Basse-Terre, the Griviliere is an old coffee farm that extends over one of the island’s most beautiful natural sites and tells the story of coffee, cocoa and the plantation system. Events and tours are often available for families.
Events to look out for:
- Carnival (January–February)
- Mardi Gras parade Point au Pitre (February)
- Triskell Cup sailing Festival (November)
- Noel Kakado – Christmas songs in various locations (until Christmas Eve)
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