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Pointe des Châteaux, Saint-Francois, Grande-Terre
Pointe des Châteaux (Castle Head) is located at the easternmost tip of the island of Grande-Terre and recognized as a unique area for biodiversity and archeological riches. The site features majestic rock structures naturally carved by the crashing waves of the Atlantic Ocean. A hiking trail leads to the point marked by a giant cross and offering spectacular panoramic views of Grande-Terre and the distant island of La Desirade.
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Guadeloupe National Park on Basse-Terre includes the largest rainforest in the Lesser Antilles and is recognized for its biological diversity, including over 300 tree species, 270 varieties of fern, and 90 types of orchid. and wildlife includes 11 species of mammals and 28 species of birds (among them the indigenous black woodpecker). Hiking trails lead to the popular Carbet Falls and Cascade aux Ecrevissess (Crayfish Falls), and the Route de la Traversee is a scenic drive that runs through the park. More adventurous visitors can try rappelling, climbing to the summit of La Soufriere, or a jeep safari.
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The highest peak in the Lesser Antilles (with a summit reaching 4,812 feet/1,467 meters), the mildly active La Soufriere volcano -- the last eruption took place in 1976 -- is affectionately referred to as La Grande Dame by Guadeloupeans. It is located on Basse-Terre in the heart of the national park, and many visitors take the vigorous hike to the summit for views of the Guadeloupe archipelago and other nearby islands. Afterward, you can take a relaxing dip in les Bains Jaunes (yellow baths), which are fed by warm (86 degrees F/30 degrees C) sulfurous water that flows from natural hot springs -- perfect for revitalizing trail-weary muscles.
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Fort Napoleon, Terre-de-Haut, Les Saintes
Fort Napoléon is located on the Island of Terre-de-Haut, the larger of the two inhabited islands comprising Les Saintes. The fort was rebuilt in the mid-1800s following the destruction of its predecessor, Fort Louis, in a battle with the British in 1809. Named for Napoleon III, Fort Napoléon was restored in the 1980s and today is both a historical site and cultural museum, including details on the Battle of Saintes in 1782. The museum also has a collection of modern art depicting the Saintois lifestyle. Within the grounds lies the Jardin Exotique du Fort Napoleon, a botanical garden for succulent plants and populated with iguanas. The fort also has one of the best viewpoints in the Caribbean, overlooking Saintes Bayand with vistas stretching to the islands of Marie-Galante and La Desirade. Fort Napoleon is open every day, 9 a.m.-12: 30 p.m.Continue to 5 of 10 below.
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Protected by a 15-mile (25 mk) long coral reef, the Grand Cul-de-Sac Marine Reserve is in the northern half of the two wings (Grande-Terre & Basse-Terre) that make up the Guadeloupe "butterfly." This vast nature sanctuary, ranked a "World Biosphere Reserve" by UNESCO, is exceptionally wealthy in marine life -- turtles, reef fish, corals, starfish, coastal mangroves, and marine birds all thrive in these protected waters, making for excellent snorkeling and bird watching. There are also two wrecks and four small islands to explore, including the newest, îlet Blanc, created by Hurricane Hugo in 1989.
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The Deshaies Botanical Garden in Basse-Terre covers 12 acres and features 15 gardens, a lily pond, and a manmade waterfall that flows into a brook running under a wooden bridge. In addition to tropical flora, this family friendly attraction is inhabited by birds and native animals; visitors can take part in the daily feeding of Rainbow Lorikeets, multi-colored parrots that will land on you and nibble right from your hand. Visitors also can dine on French Creole cuisine at the on-site restaurant perched on a slope above the waterfall. The garden is open year round from Monday to Sunday; visitors are welcomed to enter between 9:00 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.; the park closes at 5:30 p.m.
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Cousteau Reserve and Pigeon Islands, Malendure, Basse-Terre)
This spectacular diving site in Basse-Terre received international acclaim when Jacques Cousteau named it one of the world’s top dive sites, and it's where he filmed the cinematic version of his book, The Silent World. Surrounding the Pigeon Islands, the Cousteau Reserve is a protected underwater park with coral reefs and gardens, colorful marine life, and several wrecks heavily covered in sponges. There are many outfitters at Malendure beach offering dive packages for beginners and seasoned divers alike.
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The Schoelcher Museum, Pointe-a-Pitre, Grande-Terre
The Museum Schoelcher tells the story of abolitionist Victor Schoelcher, a hero honored throughout the islands of the French Caribbean, and is housed in a colonial building that recalls the history of Pointe-a-Pitre. Schoelcher's writings, art, and other personal objects are on display, giving a view into the abolition’s life and his successful work to end slavery in France and her colonies. Throughout the year, local and international artwork also is displayed in the museum gallery. Open Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.Continue to 9 of 10 below.
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Guadeloupe rum (or rhum, as it is known in the French Caribbean) is treasured by both locals and connoisseurs worldwide for its high quality and signature taste: the local Rhum Agricole is distilled directly from sugar cane juice rather than molasses. There are nine distilleries across three of the Guadeloupe islands offering tours and tastings: four on Basse-Terre (where you will also find the Musée du Rhum); one on Grande-Terre (Damoiseau, which is now available in the U.S.); and three on Marie-Galante, which is Guadeloupe's largest artisanal producer of traditional rum. No rum tour is complete without enjoying the traditional local aperitif, the Ti-Punch, a simple but powerful cocktail made with rum, lime, and sugar.
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The entire island of La Désirade has been designated as a geological reserve. Accessible by a 45-minute ferry trip from Saint-Francois on Grande-Terre or a 15-minute flight from Pointe-a-Pitre International Airport, this haven of tranquility is skirted by white sand beaches and protected by large coral reefs, making it great for swimming and diving. The Petite-Terre islands of La Désirade are a nature reserve with remarkable biological diversity due to the juxtaposition of different natural environments over a small area -- forests, salt marshes, sandy beaches, cliffs, lagoon, coral reefs, and a lush marine environment.