With five main islands—La Désirade, Les Saintes, Grande-Terre, Basse-Terre, and Marie-Galante—and rich history, there are numerous attractions in Guadeloupe, and you're sure to enjoy exploring this gorgeous French Caribbean archipelago. This area located between Antigua and Dominica in the French West Indies offers visitors everything from colorful local markets to white sandy beaches on the Atlantic and Caribbean to tropical forests and an opportunity to hike up a volcano. And food lovers can indulge in some unique tasty cuisine with influences from France, India, and Africa.
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 archaeological 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 offers spectacular panoramic views of Grande-Terre and the distant island of La Désirade.
Guadeloupe National Park on Basse-Terre was designated a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1992, along with the nearby Grand Cul-de-Sac Marin Nature Reserve. The park includes the largest rainforest in the Lesser Antilles and is known for its biological diversity, including over 300 tree species, 270 varieties of fern, and 90 types of orchids. Wildlife includes more than 10 species of mammals and almost 30 species of birds (among them the indigenous black woodpecker). Hiking trails lead to the popular Carbet Falls and Cascade aux Ecrevissess (Crayfish Falls); the Route de la Traversée is a scenic drive that runs through the park. More adventurous visitors can try climbing to the summit of the active La Soufrière volcano (the last eruption was 1977) or take a jeep safari.
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 1977—is affectionately referred to as La Grande Dame (an elderly woman of great prestige) 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.
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 the Saintes in 1782. The museum also has a collection of modern art depicting the Saintes' 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 Les Saintes Bay and with vistas stretching to the islands of Marie-Galante and La Désirade. Fort Napoleon is open every day except holidays.
See Marine Life at the Grand Cul-de-Sac Marine Nature Reserve
Protected by a 15-mile long coral reef, the Grand Cul-de-Sac Marin Nature Reserve, ranked a "World Biosphere Reserve" by UNESCO, is in the northern half of the two wings (Grande-Terre & Basse-Terre) that make up the Guadeloupe "butterfly." This huge sanctuary is rich in marine life—turtles, coral, reef fish, marine birds, starfish, and coastal mangroves all thrive in these protected waters, making for great bird watching and snorkeling on white sand beaches. There are also a few wrecks and four small islands to explore, including îlet Blanc, created by Hurricane Hugo in 1989.
The Botanical Garden of Deshaies in Basse-Terre features 15 gardens, a lily pond, and a manmade waterfall that flows into a brook running under a wooden bridge. In addition to over 1,000 species of tropical flowers and plants, 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 and the Caribbean. The garden is open daily year-round.
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 Réserve 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.
Guadeloupe rum (or rhum, as it is known in the French Caribbean) is beloved by both locals and fans worldwide for its taste and high quality: he local Rhum Agricole is distilled directly from sugar cane juice rather than molasses. There are several distilleries across three of the Guadeloupe islands offering tours and tastings: on Basse-Terre (where you will find the Musée du Rhum); on Grande-Terre (Damoiseau, which is now available in the U.S.); and 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.
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 two uninhabited Petite-Terre islands of La Désirade are a nature reserve with amazing biodiversity in a small area, with everything from a lush marine environment to forests, salt marshes, lagoon, sandy beaches, cliffs, and coral reefs.