Guadeloupe is a beautiful and serene archipelago of tropical islands. There are nine inhabited islands, Basse-Terre, Grande-Terre, Marie-Galante, La Desirade, the two islands of Iles des Saintes, Saint Barthelemy, Iles le la Petite Terre, and Saint-Martin, officially named the Department of Guadeloupe. The country has an interesting and varied cultural past. The islands were first occupied by the Arawak tribe, though there is little remaining trace of these Amerindians, who were defeated by the formidable, cannibalistic warrior tribe of the Karibs (or âCaraÃ¯besâ); in turn overcome and killed by the first French colonial settlers.
This dramatic multi-cultural past was supplemented by the colonistsâ participation in the African slave trade, and then by the influx of workers from China and India, who came to labour on the coffee, sugar, and cocoa plantations after slavery was abolished. The result of this turbulent history of conquest and immigration is a spirited, fascinating and singular culture, with a lively atmosphere derived from thousands of different influences.
As an overseas department of France, Guadeloupeâs official language is French and it is considered polite to open most discussions with local people with a friendly âbonjourâ. Most people commonly speak Guadeloupean Creole French, or Creole patois, a dialect discernibly different from European French. On the northern islands of Saint-Barthelemy (Saint-Bartholomew) and Saint-Martin, English is widely spoken. The majority of people in Guadeloupeâs most popular tourist destinations also speak English.
Currency is the Euro, in keeping with the French governance of the area, and the general exchange rate is 1.49 Euros to the Pound and 0.78 Euros to the U.S. Dollar. You can check current exchange rates at www.xe.com
An equatorial country, Guadeloupe remains hot and fairly humid throughout the year with temperatures of between 23ÂºC and 32ÂºC, although the islands are cooled agreeably by year-round trade winds. Water temperatures are equally inviting, remaining between 25ÂºC and 30ÂºC. Weather patterns in Guadeloupe are similarly tropical, with defined dry and rainy seasons. The dry season lasts from February to June, with only occasional light showers â mainly concentrated in the highlands. The monsoon season lasts from July to January, punctuated by fairly dramatic, intermittent hurricanes in September and October.
One of the most notable attractions of Guadeloupe is the Parc National de la Guadeloupe; situated on Basse-Terre the park covers most of the islandâs interior. The park has been declared a part of the UNESCO MAB Biosphere Reserve of the Archipel de la Guadeloupe, the other part of which is the equally beautiful marine area, the Grand-Cul-de-Sac Marin. The Parc National is covered with tropical forest, and is filled with orchids as well as with over 300 other species of plant: a spectacular sight. In the centre of the park you will find the Cascade aux Ecrevisses; a jungle waterfall truly worth the long trek. Amongst the many attractions of the park, however, the active volcano SoufriÃ¨re de Guadeloupe stands out. Also called La Grande SoufriÃ¨re, (appropriately French for âsulphur outletâ), the volcano last erupted in 1976, and at 4,813 ft is the highest mountain in the Lesser Antilles. It is a magnificent sight and offers unrivalled views of the archipelago, and of the densely rainforested heart of Basse-Terre, from its heights. The volcano is best visited early in the morning to avoid the view of the summit being obscured by cloud-cover.
The natural wonders of Guadeloupe continue with the Chutes du Carbet. These two waterfalls are surrounded by tropical foliage and jungle plants, and are quite breathtaking â particularly as you are lucky enough to visit when there is not too much of a crowd. At 361ft and 377 ft high, the waterfalls plunge dramatically down sheer mountainous drops to pools of water where you can swim.
Culturally, one of the best attractions on Guadeloupe is the MusÃ©e St-John Perse, dedicated to the famous poet and Nobel Laureate. The website, although in French, is worth having a look at to get an impression of the museum and to see the many photos.
Shopping in Guadeloupe can be a varied experience. In amongst the standard tourist fare and boutiques aimed at foreigners, there are some fantastic local shopping events. The open-air markets and bazaars of Pointe-Ã -Pitre are lively and engaging places where you can hunt down interesting local produce. Here you will find unusual rare and fragrant spices, as well as aromatic native coffee beans, and an array of dark and light, distilled rums. Other indigenous goods include hand-painted fabrics, painstakingly hand-stitched lace, voodoo dolls, wicker, pottery, and straw crafts. Outside of the markets it is well worth looking for some of the French imports, in particular wine, perfumes, and liquors.
Following the colonial influence, in Guadeloupe you drive on the right side of the road, as in France. You will also see road signs and symbols similar to those used in France. You will need a valid driving license to drive in Guadeloupe, and after 20 days you must have an International Driving License. Generally the roads are of a high standard and driving is not a problem; this is particularly true on the mainland of Basse-Terre and Grand-Terre. However, some of the less developed and mountainous roads of Basse-Terre can be rougher, with some very sharp turns. Caution is recommended, particularly at night when these roads are probably best avoided.
Food and Drink
Food in Guadeloupe is predominantly Creole. It is strongly influenced by the various French, African, and West Indian cultures that have impacted on the country, resulting in a distinctive and unique cuisine. Lunch is the main meal of the day and can be served up anywhere from the restaurant of a premier hotel to the small and friendly front porch of a local cook.
Guadeloupe is, in many respects, the culinary centre of the Caribbean, and the food on offer is truly exotic, combining the rare, aromatic spices of the West Indies and Africa with freshly caught local seafood. You can find stuffed crabs and shellfish, smoked and marinated fish, and curried chatrou, otherwise known as octopus, served with columbo or with the spicy sauce chien. Meals are often preceded with rum then served with French wine, for a truly eclectic local and colonial experience.
Guadeloupe has an active nightlife and evening scene, with plenty of different venues to choose from. Of particular note are the music nights, clubs, and impromptu gigs by local groups, which are based around the quintessentially Guadeloupean dance music, âLe Zoukâ. Le Zouk was originally created in France and in Guadeloupe by musicians from the West Indies, and is also very popular in Paris. The music and the scene surrounding it draw their influences from Latin America and Haiti, as well as incorporating African rhythms and styles. The fusion of ethnic drumming, electronic and synthesized accompaniment, and other instruments alongside the drums, makes for a heady and intoxicating mixture that explains the frivolity and popularity of Le Zouk events.
The islands also play host to a number of other nightclubs, as well as a range of jazz and piano bars. The main areas for nightlife are Gosier, Bas-du-Fort, Le Moule, Gourbeyre, and St. FranÃ§ois. Gosier and St. FranÃ§ois also have casinos, which stay open until 3 or 4 am nightly.
The best tourist information on Guadeloupe can be found at the multi-lingual website www.antilles-info-tourisme.com
The French Tourism Board also offers a helpful map of Guadeloupe, with links to place-specific contact information at www.tourisme.fr
The main airports on Guadeloupe are the San Juan Luis Munoz Marin International Airport, at Saint-Barthelemy (also serving Saint-Martin), and the Point-Ã -Pitre International Airport. Air France flies to Saint-Martin, Point-Ã -Pitre, and Fort de France on the nearby Martinique, regularly from both London and New York