Guadeloupe, a French overseas territory, is an island group in the southern Caribbean Sea. Resembling a butterfly, its 2 largest islands are separated by the Salée River. Hilly Grande-Terre has long beaches and sugarcane fields. On Basse-Terre, Parc National de la Guadeloupe encompasses hiking trails, 3-tiered Carbet Falls and active volcano La Grand Soufrière. Smaller islands include Marie-Galante and La Désirade.
A welcome to the islands of Guadeloupe usually includes a warm greeting with a glass of Ti-punch and the sound of local Biguine music. The islands described in this section consist of Grande Terre, Basse Terre, Marie Galante, Les Saintes, la Désirade.
Each island has its own culture and history to be explored through the many museums, activities, festivals and musical performances. But when it comes to the unsurpassable natural beauty, the islands all link to form an incredible mangrove swamp and lush rain forest. The turquoise sea and white sand beaches invite you to linger or participate in the many water sports available. With a variety of accommodations at your disposal, wonderful shopping opportunities, delicious local cooking and an exciting nightlife, Guadeloupe is sure to be one of your most memorable holidays ever.
Food lovers are in for a real treat while on staying in Guadeloupe. The traditional Créole dishes are married exquisitely with French flavours and African spices, blended at times with subtle hints of Indian and Asian cuisine. Fish and seafood are staples in almost every meal. Common dishes found on menus include shellfish stews, smoked cod, accras fritters, crab sausages, stewed conch. Goat or pork curries and beef stews are a delight as well. Local exotic produce (plantains, carambole, christophine, igname and Cythère plums) accompany most meals. Traditional desserts are blanc manger, tourment d'amour, cocoa sticks and exotic fruit sorbets.
Local rum is used to prepare delicious cocktails, favourites being the Ti-Punch and Shrubb. Guadeloupean coffee is among the best in the world, as are the vanilla pods grown in Deshaies. Delicious preserves are made from the many local fruits and vegetables. Every August, Guadeloupe hosts a Fête des Cuisinières.
Culture The Guadeloupean culture has been greatly influenced by the various the settlers and slaves brought to work the land. You will find French, African, East and West Indians, and Asian influences within the architecture, the food, the language and most aspects of daily life. They are a friendly and proud people. You will always be greeted with a customary Bonjour.
Guadeloupeans are terrific craftsmen and work with the raw material furnished by nature to create utensils, jewellery, clothes and children's toys, which are sold at the many markets. Several art galleries display and sell the works of local artists. Greater writers have emerged as well from these islands, the most renowned being the poet Saint-John Perse (Alexis Léger).
The islands have a thriving music industry and claim fame to several genres originating from this part of the world. One of these is Zouk, a folk music style started in Martinique and Guadeloupe. Gwo ka is a family of hand drums used to create seven basic rhythms, and multiple variations on each. Gwo ka singing is typically guttural, nasal and rough, and is accompanied by uplifting and complex harmonies and melodies. Another music style, called Biguine, created here is know for its hip-swaying dance.
Geography This archipelago is composed of a total of nine inhabited islands, and is flanked by the Caribbean Sea to the west and the Atlantic Ocean to the east. These islands include Basse-Terre, Grande-Terre, Marie-Galante, La Désirade, Iles des Saintes, Saint-Barthélemy, Iles de la Petite Terre, and Saint-Martin (French part of the island of Saint Martin). The capital city of Basse-Terre is located on the island of the same name.
There are 306km of coastline. Eight of the nine islands are of volcanic origin, the largest being Basse-Terre which is mountainous and home to the still active La Soufrière volcano. Grande-Terre is the exception, being mostly a limestone formation. The two larger islands, Grande-Terre and Basse-Terre, a separated by a narrow channel called Riviere Salée.
History First sighted by Columbus in 1493, the Spanish made never could lay claim to the island due to lost battles with the fierce Carib Indians. The Caribs had also forced out the original settlers, the Arawak Indians. The French successfully colonized the islands in 1635. Within 40 years the plantation system was fully functional with African slaves toiling the land. Pointe-à-Pitre was founded and developed by the British during a a short lived English rule, lasting from 1759 to 1763. Guadeloupe returned to the French following the signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1763.
The British attempted another invasion in 1794 but were defeated by Victor Hugues, who freed and armed the Guadeloupean slaves. Following this uprising, a reign of terror ensued, resulting in many deaths. The next years saw a continuous power struggle over the islands; slavery was reinstated, the French regaining power and slavery finally abolished for good in 1848. Labourers from a French colony in India were brought in to work the land. The political atmosphere still remains tense at times.
Nature What surprises most travellers is the lush and varied vegetation found on the islands of Guadeloupe. The fertile volcanic soil permits abundant agricultural crops of pineapple, banana, papayas, litchis, orange and lemon trees, most of which are actual imports to the islands. Royal-palm trees dot the beaches and the La Soufrière volcano is the culminating point of the mountainous region, surrounded by the rainforest.
The animal life can be a bit sparse. The racoon is the emblem of the national park and is protected. The occasional guimbo bat and the mongoose can be spotted. But one could joke that the island has gone to the birds with so many species present. Bird watchers can spot the endemic black peak, mocker corossols and grivottes, green herons and a variety of egrets. Many hummingbirds can be seen, such as the garnet-red and the crested hummingbird.
Sports The Guadeloupean Tourist Board has cleverly divided the island's attractions and activities into color coded groups: yellow represents flavour, red is for culture, blue is water and green for nature.
The blue (water) section emphasizes on the many water sports available for practice. There are excellent swimming beaches, good surfing and windsurfing, canoeing, body boarding, jet skiing, sailing and many more. You will find here wonderful snorkelling and diving sites. With such outstanding aquatic flora and fauna, nearly every kind of coral and tropical fish can be found here. Deep-sea fishing excursions are organized, offering the chance to catch marlins, bonitos or breams.
The green (nature) section concentrates on the wonderful hiking trails that take you through canyons, rainforests, waterfalls and botanical gardens, or even up a volcanic summit. In some cases, these can also be explored on horseback rides. Golfers will enjoy the popular international 18-hole Saint François Golf Course.
Favourite sports by the natives include cycle races and the annual oxen pull races organized by the farmers.
Basse-Terre Currency : Euro Driver's License : If renting for less than 20 days, a valid driver's license is accepted. For a longer rental period an international driver's license is required. Electricity : 220 V, 50Hz Entry Requirements : A passport, valid 3 months beyond intended stay, and an ongoing or return ticket are required. It is the traveller's responsibility to check with the country’s Embassy for up-to-date information. GMT Time : -4hr. Daylight savings time is not applied. Government : Overseas department of France Land size : 1,702 km2 Language : French, Créole National Airlines : Air Caraïbes Population : 448,700 approx Religion : 95% Roman Catholic Required Vaccines : None Tourist Season : December through April
Banks & Money
In Guadeloupe, the legal currency is the Euro. Dollars can be exchanged in the many banks and change offices. Banks ATMs are available throughout the more populated areas of the islands.
Most major credit cards and traveller's cheques are accepted almost everywhere. Smaller shops may only accept cash so always carry a bit with you.
Climate Daytime temperatures vary between 25C and 32C. Nights can be a little cooler so bring a light sweater. The dry season, also known as lent, lasts from January to April. The heat is tempered year round by a breezy trade wind.
For monthly average temperatures please refer to your destination of choice.
Communication The country code for Guadeloupe is 590. It is a good idea to purchase calling cards from the post offices since only a few local phone booths accept coins.
Internet services are available at most hotels, Internet cafés, libraries or Tourist Information Centers. A small fee may have to be paid. The post office can be easily identified by the bright yellow logo.
Health Tap water is safe to drink everywhere. The most common illnesses are sunburns and traveler's diarrhea (turista). Some types of fish can cause food poisoning, so if you catch a fish, show it to a native. Do not swim in rivers that post warning signs that warn of the dangerous Bilharziosis (a parasitic disease).
There are no required vaccines to enter the country, unless you are arriving from a yellow fever affected destination. The following vaccines are recommended for any tropical destination: hepatitis A and B, rabies, typhoid, tetanus and yellow fever.
Official Holidays January 1 - New Year's day March/April - Easter Monday May - Ascension May 1 - Labour day May 8 - Victory Day May/June - Whitsun Monday May - Emancipation day July 14 - Bastille Day August 15 - Assumption November 1 - All Saints' Day November 11 - Armistice December 25 - Christmas day
Safety Guadeloupe is considered relatively safe and enjoys a low crime rate. However as a tourist you are more likely to be a target of petty crime. Shoplifting by motorcyclists has been reported.
Take advantage of the safety deposit boxes provided by the hotels, do not leave valuables unattended in public and carry your wallet and camera discreetly. Also make sure to lock your hotel room and rental car. Don't wander alone at night on the streets.
Shopping The Guadeloupe islands boast of wonderful skills, with unique variations from one island to the next: beach wear made from colourful madras textiles; crafts made from coconut fibres, banana and palm tree leaves; jewellery, weavework; woodwork; and pottery.
A must is a bottle or two of Guadeloupean white or old rum, and also delicious fruit punches made from coconut, guava, passion fruit or banana. At the market you can buy wonderful spices and flavours, such as vanilla, cinnamon, cocoa, saffron, cumin, pepper, cloves, hot peppers and ginger. The local coffee is highly praised by connoisseurs.
Taxes & Tips There is no government sales tax in stores. Hotels often add a 10 to 15% service fee. Restaurants always include a 15% service charge on the bill, but a bit of change can be left for extra special service. Taxi drivers own their cars but may be tipped 10% for extra help. Airport porters should receive $1 per bag.
The departure tax, required on scheduled flights, is already included in the airfare.
Transportation Guadeloupe has one international airport, Guadeloupe Pôle Caraïbes, and 7 regional airports. Short flights between other islands are easy with small charter companies. Ferryboats travel between the various tourist points and Guadeloupean islands.
Car, motorcycle or scooter rentals are available throughout the island. Taxis or taxicos (shared taxis) have fares that are set by the government. The only public transport is the privately owned buses that cross the island. Except for the bus station, there are no official stops so wait by the side of the road and flag down the driver.