Caribbean Travelweb

Guide To Guadeloupe



The largest French West Indian island, Guadeloupe encompasses a massive 1704 square kilometres, the majority of which is taken up by its two adjoining mainland islands, Basse-Terre and Grande-Terre, whose outline resembles a greenbacked butterfly in flight. Its two "wings" have entirely different personas and equally misrepresentative names: the western Basse-Terre , or "low-land", is anything but, given its central core is dominated by mountain ranges, including the Lesser Antilles' highest peak, La Soufrière . These surround the island's bountiful rainforest and descend to meet twinkling black-sand beaches like Plage Malendure that extend to protected underwater dive sites abounding with aqualife.

The eastern "wing", the furled Grande-Terre , or "large-land", is slightly smaller than Basse-Terre, utterly flat by contrast, and predominantly rural. Most of the action happens along its southern coast, where one white-sand beach after another seems to merge endlessly along the coast, with the stunning Plage Caravelle forming the centrepiece. Its outer reaches are pounded by the savage Atlantic Ocean to produce jagged limestone outcroppings like the windswept Pointe-des-Châteaux , and the exquisite Lagon de la Porte d'Enfer natural swimming pool.

Guadeloupe's offshore islands are equally diverse. Marie-Galante , with its rural landscape of sugarcane, hearkens back to a Guadeloupe of thirty years ago, while La Désirade , the most desolate of the lot, is quite possibly the Caribbean's least developed island. The most visited-offshore isle, tiny Terre-de-Haut , is the prettiest of all, with quaint architecture and fabulous bays and beaches.

Getting There

By Air

* Transatlantic Flights: Air Canada, Air France, Americain Airlines, KLM (only to Saint Martin) serve Guadeloupe at the moment.

* Caribbean Flights: Air Caraïbes, Air Antilles Express and Liat connect the islands of Guadeloupe and the Caribbean.

By Ferry

Ferries to the Saintes, Marie Galante, Désirade, Dominica, Martinique, Saint Lucia depart from the Maritime Station in Pointe-à-Pitre.
Ferries to Marie-Galante and Désirade also depart from Saint-François.
Ferries to the Saintes also leave from Trois-Rivières.
Regularly scheduled trips between St Maarten/St Martin, Saba and St Barth from Marigot and Gustavia

Entry Requirements

No restrictions for French citizens with an ID-card or a valid passport.
Tourists from the EU, the USA, Canada, Switzerland and Norway need a valid passport for stays up to 3 months.

Helpful Visitor Information


The official language is French. Most people speak creole. In big tourist centers and at the northern islands (Saint-Martin, Saint-Bartholomew), they also speak English.

Getting Around

Guadeloupe Pole Caraïbes Airport is 6km (4mi) north of Pointe-à-Pitre. There are car rental agencies and a taxi stand at the airport. An airport bus runs about twice an hour to Pointe-à-Pitre on weekdays.

Guadeloupe has a good public bus system that operates from early morning to early evening, with fairly frequent service on main routes. On Sunday, service is much lighter and there are no buses on most secondary routes. Taxis are plentiful but expensive. There are taxi stands at the airport, in Pointe-à-Pitre and in Basse-Terre. Larger hotels commonly have taxis assigned to them and the drivers wait in the lobby.

Renting a car is a good way to get around Grande-Terre and Basse-Terre. Several agencies have offices at the airport and in major resort areas. Drive on the right; your home driver's license is valid. Renting a motorcycle can be fun on Terre-de-Haut and Marie-Galante, since there are few autos on the road. If you want to travel at a slower pace on Marie-Galante or La Désirade, try renting a scooter or a bicycle. There are buses on Marie-Galante every day but Sunday.

Getting between Guadeloupe and its associated islands is easiest by ferry. There's service between Pointe-à-Pitre and Les Saintes, Saint-François, Trois-Rivières and Marie-Galante. There are also ferry routes between Saint-François and Marie-Galante and La Désirade. Flying between the islands is faster but not necessarily more convenient. Air Guadeloupe has daily flights between Pointe-à-Pitre and Marie-Galante, La Désirade and Terre-de-Haut.

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.

Health risks
Guadeloupe is a French Department, therefore the health care system is excellent. Unlike most tropical regions, there are almost no communicable diseases or those transmitted by parasites. There are no poisonous or dangerous animals, except as noted below.
Some good advices:

  • Sun screen with a high SPF is highly recommended. The region is located between the Tropic of Cancer and the Equator !
  • Don't stay under the Manchineel tree (similar to an apple tree). It has caustic and mildly poisonous sap. Don't touch the leaves or eat the fruits. The juices burn the skin. The main island of the Guadeloupe archipelago is cleared of most of these trees, but there are still plenty of them on the Saintes and on Saint-Barth - very often marked with warning signs.
  • Some fish, especially around the northern islands eat poisoned seaweed which can lead to severe food poisoning in humans. Therefore, if you catch a fish, show it to a native (or a cat).
  • The black sea-urchin with its very long and dangerous spines is poisonous. However, you can eat the white sea-urchin.
  • Swimming in some rivers is dangerous because of Bilharziosis (a parasitic disease). Normally there are warning signs.
  • Beware of the Scolopendra (millepede with a shell). Its sting is similar to that of a scorpion.
  • Be aware of stray dogs at the beaches, because they can transmit worms. Wear your sandals to the beach and use a mat.
  • Some mosquitos transmit the Dengue virus, similar to a severe flu; use mosquito repellent and sleep under mosquito nets or in rooms with air conditioning.
  • Last but not least, practice safe sex. Be aware that sexually transmitted diseases, (primarily Aids) are more common in Guadeloupe than in any other French Department.

The currency is the Euro. Most banks and bank machines accept most international credit cards. Credit cards are welcomed almost everywhere, the best known is Visa. Traveller Cheques are widely accepted. Bring some cash for small expenses !

Light and casual clothes are suitable days and evenings, suits and ties are not necessary. For those attending mass at church, smart casual attire is necessary. Don't wear swim suits in the city; it is considered bad manners.
Don't forget rain protection, sweaters and waterproof hiking shoes for hiking trips in the rain forest.

Drinking water
You can drink tapwater, don't drink water of rivers and small streams (Bilharziose). There are local and imported bottled waters (Matouba, Capes, Didier).

Voltage is 220, 50 Hz, European standard wall plugs. Transformers and adaptors are necessary for American appliancies.

- The country code for Guadeloupe is 590.
- Calls from Overseas: internal code + country code 590 followed by the 9 digits of the telephone number (++590-5 90 21 04 32 (fixed set) or ++590-6 90 41 09 23 (mobile phone)).
- Within the department of Guadeloupe (including the main island Guadeloupe, the Saintes, Marie-Galante, Désirade, Saint-Martin, Saint-Bartholomew), from France or another French Overseas Department, only the 10 digit phone number is necessary (05 90 21 04 32 (fixed set) or 06 90 41 09 23 (mobile phone)).
- Oversea calls: international dial code 00.

Calling cards or credit cards are needed for most of the local phone booths, only a few accept coins. You can get calling cards at the post offices.

Valid health pass necessary. There is no rabies on the island. Caution: only a few lodgings accept pets. You should consult a veterinarian to obtain a special preventive deworming treatment for dogs !

Local time on Guadeloupe is GMT - 4 year-round.
That is: a time difference of 5 hours in winter and 6 hours in summer with central Europe.
Time difference with the US Eastcoast: 1 hour during winter time (no time difference in summer).
Sunrise between 5.00 and 6.00 am, sunset between 6.00 and 6.30 pm.

Service and tax are included in the prices, but tips are always welcome.

Activities and Attractions

Guadeloupe has many fine beaches, some of which are of the clothing-optional variety. There are white-sand beaches in the resort towns of Gosier, Sainte-Anne and Saint-François. On the northern side of the peninsula leading to Pointe des Châteaux are a couple of remote beaches: Anse à la Gourde, a gorgeous sweep of white coral sands, and Anse Tarare, an adjacent nudist beach. While most of Grande-Terre's eastern coast has rough surf, there's a swimmable beach at Le Moule and a little protected cove at Porte d'Enfer. On the western side of Grande-Terre, Port-Louis is the most popular swimming spot, with a broad sandy beach that attracts weekend crowds. On Basse-Terre, the best beaches are along the northern side of the island just north of Deshaies: Grande Anse beach, with its expansive golden sands, and Plage de Tillet, a secluded clothing-optional cove.

Diving & Snorkeling
Guadeloupe has over 150 miles of coastline, and although not all of it offers good diving, the extent of the coastline means that there are a number of nice diving areas.

Basse Terre has the most diving and the largest number of operators. Pigeon Island is the site of the Cousteau Marine Park. Despite its popularity as a dive destination, the marine life is in good condition. All the sites are buoyed and this has obviously contributed greatly to the preservation of the reefs. There are also 2 wrecks near Pigeon Island.

Grand Cul de Sac Marin is the area on the north side between the two sides of Guadeloupe. Several miles of reef have developed in these sheltered waters and much of the area has been declared a marine park but access is restricted.

The surf season lasts from October until May, but the other months can offer ideal conditions too. The waves break on coral, lava or rock reefs. In winter they'll be of 1,5m to 2,5m. The Trade Winds, blowing nearly the whole year, are more intense in spring/summer, where you'll meet swell of 1m to 2m. The small height difference between the tides allows surfing the same spot all day long. During hurricane season (September and October), experienced surfers will enjoy the exceptional swell following or preceeding hurricanes arising in the Caribbean!

Guadeloupe has good surfing from October to May at Le Moule, Port-Louis and Anse Bertrand, and from June through August at Sainte-Anne, Saint-François and Petit-Havre. Windsurfing is centered near the resorts on the southern side of Grande-Terre and on the island of Terre-de-Haut.

You can hike many short trails on Guadeloupe that take in waterfalls, primordial rainforest and botanical gardens. Serious hikers head for longer, more rigorous trails in the Parc National de la Guadeloupe, including one to the volcanic summit of La Soufrière and another to the base of Chutes du Carbet, the Eastern Caribbean's highest waterfalls.

Gourmet restaurants: French cuisine with local specialities
Traditional creole restaurants: exotic decoration, typical creole cuisine with local specialities
Local restaurants: simple decoration and family cooking
Lolos: small shops with some tables and daily specials

Parc National de la Guadeloupe
At the heart of Basse-Terre, this national park makes for a great drive and/or hike through orchid-filled rainforests and fern-covered hillsides. The large forest reserve is bisected by the Route de la Traversée, a lovely mountain drive that passes thick bamboo stands, enormous mahogany and gum trees, heliconia and ginger. Maison de la Forêt, in the middle of the park at the very centre of Basse-Terre, has an exhibit centre with (French-only) displays on the forest. A short trail starts at the centre, crosses a swing bridge over the Bas-David River, and proceeds through a verdant jungle of gommier trees, tall ferns and squawking tropical birds. Cascade aux Ecrevisses, a jungle waterfall in the centre of the park, is worth a visit, as is the modest zoo at the western edge of the park

Bustling Pointe-à-Pitre is a mix of old and new: largely commercial in appearance, it's peppered with colonial architecture and West Indian flavor. The city began as a fish market at the edge of the harbor in 1654, and is now is Guadeloupe's largest city as well as its economic centre.

Pointe-à-Pitre is a small town, and though it may see a lot of traffic, it's not exactly over-endowed with tourist traps. There are a couple of small museums, but other than that its most interesting sight is the hullabaloo of the busy harbourside market.

This former fishing village has boomed into the country's second-largest resort area, not always with a high degree of sensitivity. While the western side of town is still largely provincial in character, the eastern side has been given over to tourism development. The deep U-shaped, yacht-filled marina is lined with restaurants, luxury hotels, car rental agencies and boutiques. If a round of golf and sunbathing by the pool are the highlight of your overseas trips, then Saint-François is probably the place for you. Either way, it's the major jumping-off point for trips to the smaller islands of Terre-de-Haut, Marie-Galante and La Désirade.

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