Guadeloupe, Five Pointed Star of the French Caribbean
Guadeloupe is an archipelago comprised of five unique islands: Grande-Terre, Basse-Terre, Marie-Galante, Les Saintes, and La Desirade. That makes this destination especially favorable for a European-style extended stay, since you'll need some time to visit all five and explore their unique flavor, from the volcanic peak of Basse-Terre to the white-sand beaches of Grande-Terre, the beautiful bay and waters of Les Saintes, and beyond.
Basse-Terre, Guadeloupe's Mountainous Capital
Basse-Terre looms above the other islands of Guadeloupe with its spectacular mountain range topped by the (occasionally) active volcano, La Soufriere, the highest peak in the Eastern Antilles. The Guadeloupe National Park on Basse-Terre is the 7th largest in France, comprises 10 percent of the entire land mass of Guadeloupe, including tens of thousands of acres of rain forest, and protects the entirety of the 4,800-foot Le Soufrere.
In addition to this UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, Basse-Terre has preserved gardens, waterfalls, natural pools, hot springs, sulphur and mud baths, and marine reserves in abundance, including the renowned Cousteau Reserve. Guadeloupe's diverse cultural heritage is on full display in Basse-Terre with a 17th-century Catholic church, a Hindu temple, and an Arawak archaeological site -- all in and around the Guadeloupe capital, also named Basse-Terre.
Grand-Terre, the Top Destination for Travelers
If you picture the Guadeloupe islands as a butterfly, Grande-Terre is the easternmost wing. The island is set on a vast limestone plateau and is skirted by pristine, shaded white-sand beaches. Calm lagoons are a joy for snorkelers and the east coast of the island, which offers great waves from the Atlantic Ocean, is popular with surfers and kiteboarders. The island is home to Pointe-à-Pitre, Guadeloupe's largest city, but the coastal "communes" of Gosier, Saint Francois, and Sainte Anne are where you will find the greatest selection of hotels, luxury villas, restaurants, and nightlife -- something of a Caribbean version of the French Riviera. It is also home to a recently renovated 18-hole Robert Trent Jones designed golf course in Saint Francois.
Les Saintes, a Boater's Paradise
Les Saintes is an archipelago within an archipelago and a favored destination for yachties. There are two inhabited islands, Terre-de-Haut and Terre-de-Bas, and seven islets. On Terre-de-Haut, you will find Les Saintes Bay, listed as one of the most beautiful in the world. The island is famous for its picturesque, colorful streets, the multicolored boats dotting its shoreline, and the delicious Tourments d’Amour, a tartlet that’s soft on the outside and crunchy on the inside with coconut, banana or guava filling. Terre-de-Bas is best known for its pottery, the charming Petite-Anse village, and the magnificent Grande-Anse beach.
Marie-Galante: Rum on Call from a Distant Port
Located approximately 45 minutes away by ferry from Grande-Terre, tranquil Marie-Galante is a world apart with its beautiful white sand beaches, farmland, and award-winning rhum. Travelers can tour the Bellevue, Bielle and Poisson rum estates and see how the spirit is distilled and bottled, plus enjoy tastings. Marie-Galante has maintained its old-world charm: visitors will even come across oxcarts on the street -- once the only form of transportation on the island.
La Desirade: Lovely and Laid-Back
A national nature reserve, secluded La Desirade is about as laid-back as it gets in the French Caribbean: the tiny island has one main road and its 11km (6.8 mile) length is best explored on foot, by bike, or scooter. The island is rimmed with white- and pink-sand beaches protected by long coral reefs.