Best Things To Do in Guadeloupe
Sunbathers are attracted to the secluded sunny shores scattered around Les Saintes, Marie-Galante, and La Désirade. But adventurous types looking to make the most out of a day at the beach can find some awe-inspiring scenery in Guadeloupe National Park. When night falls, savor Creole cuisine and listen to the soothing sound of zouk (African-influenced Caribbean music) flowing through your hotel.
Updated October 15, 2012
- #1View all Photos#1 in GuadeloupeHiking, Natural Wonders, Parks and Gardens, FreeTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPENDHiking, Natural Wonders, Parks and Gardens, FreeTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND
Tucked amid Basse-Terre's verdant mountain landscape sits the Parc National de la Guadeloupe (Guadeloupe National Park), a 74,100-acre rainforest filled with picturesque traces (walking trails). The park's trails brush past lush forest foliage, magnificent waterfalls, and the summit of La Soufrière volcano. The trails range from short- to long-distance routes that vary in difficulty. Before you strap on your hiking gear, you'll want to pick up a Guide to the National Park brochure from the Guadeloupe tourism office (located in St. Claude, Basse-Terre) to map out your journey. If you would prefer to admire the park's natural splendors from behind the wheel, drive along the route de la Traversée, a scenic 16-mile road that cuts through the forest.
Recent travelers recommend packing bug spray and snacks for the trip. One TripAdvisor user notes, "The area is kept very natural and the hiking trails are well-marked [...] Remember to bring proper foot wear as the trails can be muddy if it has been raining."
- #2View all PhotosfreeLes Saintes#2 in GuadeloupeSightseeing, Free, Neighborhood/AreaTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPENDSightseeing, Free, Neighborhood/AreaTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND
Les Saintes consists of eight islands skirting Guadeloupe's southern coast. The picturesque cluster gets its name from explorer Christopher Columbus who, after discovering them in the 15th century, named them Los Santos (translated to Les Saintes in French). Terre-de-Haut, the main island—and the biggest of the bunch—features a variety of bistros, shops, and sunny beaches. If you don't mind stripping off layers, head to Anse Crawen, a tranquil beach on Terre-de-Haut often overlooked by tourists.
Recent travelers say it's fairly easy to see all of Terre-de-Haut in a day trip. "We rented a scooter […] The scenery is gorgeous all around and beaches are fairly quiet," says one TripAdvisor user.
- #3View all PhotosfreeLa Désirade#3 in GuadeloupeSightseeing, Free, Neighborhood/AreaTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPENDSightseeing, Free, Neighborhood/AreaTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND
It's no wonder Christopher Columbus and his crews were awestruck by the unspoiled beauty of La Désirade (meaning "The Desired One" in French). Legend has it Columbus caught sight of the island after days without fresh drinking water, and hence named the island after his desire to behold landfall (and clean water). On the island, you'll find cacti, coco-palms, and sea grape trees dotting La Désirade's sunny beaches, like Souffleur and Baie Mahault. When you need a break from soaking up the rays, pick up a scooter to explore the winding, main road that stretches up to Grande Montagne, the island's tiny village. From Grand Montagne, you'll behold spectacular panoramic views.
According to many travelers, La Désirade serves as an excellent place to unwind. "This island is very quiet with friendly people. We felt that the day and a half spent there was appropriate. Overall, we were quite pleased with our visit," comments one TripAdvisor user.
- #4View all PhotosfreeMarie-Galante#4 in GuadeloupeSightseeing, Free, Neighborhood/AreaTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPENDSightseeing, Free, Neighborhood/AreaTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND
Ever since Christopher Columbus caught sight of Marie-Galante and named the island after his ship, the Maria Galanda, visitors have been captivated by this enchanting isle. Today, Marie-Galante's unspoiled scenery can be found everywhere, from its quaint chateaus to its isolated sands. And its rolling hills—frosted with powdery sands, sugar plantations, and 19th-century windmills—add to its rustic ambiance.
Your first stop should be Grand-Bourg, the island's main settlement (located at the southwestern tip of the island) where you'll find a helpful visitor center. From there, head south to tour the Château Murat, a famed 18th-century plantation that features an exhibit detailing the island's history of sugar cane cultivation and rum-making. The chateau welcomes visitors from around 9:15 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, and admission is free. From here, continue south to Petite-Anse, a golden beach sheltered by sea-grape trees and Le Touloulou, a favored Creole restaurant.
- #5View all Photos#5 in GuadeloupeSightseeing, Wineries/Breweries, FreeTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDSightseeing, Wineries/Breweries, FreeTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
For your chocolate, coffee, and rum fixes all in one, you will want to devote some time to touring the islands' plantations and distilleries. You'll find centuries-old plantations peppering the rolling hills of Marie-Galante and the hillsides of Basse-Terre. Among the three distilleries found near Grand-Bourg (Marie-Galante's main town), Distillerie Bielle stands apart as one of the finest. One TripAdvisor user raves, "Bielle is a high quality rum and they produce a variety of white rum […] and old rum (rhum vieux). Possibly the best rum in Guadeloupe and […] the Caribbean." Make sure to call ahead to confirm hours of operation (590/97-93-62).
La Bonifierie, a coffee mill, gourmet chocolate producer, and café located in St-Claude, Basse-Terre serves as one of the island's leading chocolatiers, with divine dark and milk chocolates made with 100-percent locally grown cacao. You can reserve a tour of the complex, which includes a buffet and rum tasting. The combined plantation/café welcomes visitors from 9 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. Its confections and tours will cost you, but roaming through its cozy complex is free of charge. Call 0590/80-06-05 to confirm hours.
- #6View all PhotosfreePointe-à-Pitre#6 in GuadeloupeShopping, Free, Neighborhood/AreaTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDShopping, Free, Neighborhood/AreaTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
Shoppers looking for discounted French wares—including perfumes, scarves, and cosmetics—should head straight to Pointe-à-Pitre, Guadeloupe's fashion hub and Grande-Terre's largest city. The streets are narrow and almost always jam-packed during the day, so you'll want to arrive early to beat the rush of fellow shoppers. Apart from perusing the eclectic array of stores lining the waterfront, you'll also want to stop by the Marché Couvert, a vibrant marketplace surrounded by rue Frebault, rue St-John Perse, rue Schoelcher, and rue Dublessis. The colorful market stalls sell everything from aromatic spices, to fresh papaya to locally woven fabrics.
If you have any interest in French architecture, you'll also want to stop at rue de l'Eglise to admire the bright yellow Cathédrale de St-Pierre et St-Paul. The cathedral showcases elaborate metal buttresses that look as though they could've been taken off the Eiffel Tower.
- #7View all PhotosfreePlage Caravelle#7 in GuadeloupeBeaches, FreeTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDBeaches, FreeTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
On Grande-Terre's southern edge, just southwest of the quaint town of Ste-Anne, you'll find Plage Caravelle's long, sunny stretch. A preferred spot for snorkelers (the reef-protected waters are typically calm), this lovely beach features brilliant turquoise waves and blindingly white sand fit for lounging. When you need a break from the lazing along Caravelle's sparkling sands, check out the nearby Club Med resort, which offers day passes for non-guests who wish to take advantage of the resort's water equipment and restaurant.
Beachgoers agree Plage Caravelle is a pleasant sunning area, particularly for families. "Although the beach is a 'public' beach we did not find this to be a problem at all and we allowed our children to go where they wanted," explains one TripAdvisor user.
- #8View all Photos#8 in GuadeloupeNatural Wonders, Free, Neighborhood/AreaTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPENDNatural Wonders, Free, Neighborhood/AreaTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND
Pointe des Châteaux's striking cliff formations define Grande-Terre's easternmost edge, marking where the Atlantic Ocean collides with the Caribbean Sea. You'll notice a cluster of hollowed limestone coves, sculpted over time by turbulent winds and rough waves. Once you've hiked to the top to admire the eye-catching cliffs, retreat to Pointe des Châteaux's small beach or visit one of the sandy stretches lining the island's southern shoreline. Plage Tarare is another popular sunning spot for those who like sporting minimal swimwear and sprawling across heaps of white sand. You'll find Plage Tarare on Pointe des Châteaux's northern side.
Recent travelers highlight Pointe des Châteaux's dramatic scenery. "The drive out to the point was lovely and we found Pointe des Châteaux easily. Although we did not swim in lovely beaches, we did admire the rugged seashore," comments one TripAdvisor user.
- #9View all PhotosfreeLa Grande-Anse#9 in GuadeloupeBeaches, FreeTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDBeaches, FreeTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
For a slice of the French Riviera without a long overseas flight, head straight to La Grande-Anse. Draped in soft, khaki-colored sands and tall, swaying palm trees, La Grande-Anse stands as one of Guadeloupe's finest beaches. Though the beach lacks facilities, you'll be content with its calm azure waves and its unspoiled mountain scenery. The beach fills up quickly during the weekends, so arrive early if you're hoping to snag a primo sunning spot. If you would rather lay your towel on more isolated sands, head to the powdery shores skirting Les Saintes.
La Grande-Anse sits just over a mile north of the village of Deshaies on Basse-Terre. The easiest way to reach the beach is by driving along the N2. You'll find a parking lot next to the entrance; beach access is free of charge.
- #10View all Photos#10 in GuadeloupeNatural Wonders, SightseeingTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDNatural Wonders, SightseeingTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
Guadeloupe features calm waters ideal for aquatic enthusiasts. Some of the most popular dive sites lay in the bay of Petit Cul-de-Sac Marin, located just south of Rivière Salée (the channel that parts each wing of Guadeloupe). More standout diving areas fringe Les-Saintes. Diving spots surrounding Fort Napoleon on Terre-de-Haut are some of the area's finest. However, none of these can compare to the unique environment of Cousteau Underwater Reserve in Bouillante, Basse-Terre. The sheltered reefs brim with magnificent fish and other subsea splendors, such as star coral.
You don't have to dive deep below the surface to catch sight of Guadeloupe's rich diversity of aquatic life. One TripAdvisor user recalls, "We snorkeled along the shores with clear views to 10 meters and saw fantastic underwater scenery with corals, fish and turtles, including swimming within reach of beautiful parrotfish."
- #11View all Photos#11 in GuadeloupeRecreationTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPENDRecreationTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND
Guadeloupe's brilliant waters cast magnificent hues of green and blue, luring seafarers to set sail. But before you hoist anchor, you should note the strong winds and currents can be challenging for novice sailors, to say the least. If you would rather relax aboard and let someone else take the helm, there are plenty of luxury yacht charter operators that cruise around Grande-Terre, Les Saintes, La Désirade, and Marie-Galante.
Sunsail, a reputable yacht-charter company, offers sailing courses taught by experts. Sunsail also boasts sailing expeditions led by a skipper and crew. Boats depart from St-François (about 25 miles east of Pointe-à-Pitre in Grande Terre) to Les Saintes and other surrounding islands. Another charter company, Antilles Sail (website in French), offers a wide variety of package deals, with prices varying by catamaran size, meals, and crew services. If you would rather skim the waves on a kayak, board, or other floating device, many sailing companies rent kite boards and kayaks for daily use. You'll find most chartered sail companies located in and around Pointe-à-Pitre. For more information, consult Guadeloupe's official tourism board website.
- #12View all Photos#12 in GuadeloupeHiking, Zoos and AquariumsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDHiking, Zoos and AquariumsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
A wildlife-lover's paradise, Basse-Terre's Parc Zoologique et Botanique de la Guadeloupe (Zoological and Botanical Park of Guadeloupe) boasts rare and endangered species, including Ti raccoons, iguanas, and parrots. For a bird's-eye view of tropical flora and fauna, stroll across the park's tree top walks (suspended bridges elevated over 65 feet above the ground). If you would prefer to stay grounded, stroll through the serene botanical garden, which features wild orchids and flamboyant tropical trees.
Most travelers agree Guadeloupe National Park is Basse-Terre's main attraction, and the zoo serves as an extra bonus for hikers. "This zoo is more like a tropical forest hike with animals on the side," explains one TripAdvisor user.
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