Guadeloupe – is a French Overseas Territory and has a population of about 400,000 people mostly living on the two larger island masses, the islands forming the shape of a butterfly with the wings being the two islands that are separated by Riviére Salée, with the Grand Cul-de-Sac Marin Bay to the north and the Petit Cul-de-Sac Marin Bay to the south. Here in Guadeloupe they speak French and the currency is the Euro.
There are also smaller islands and rocky outcrops off-shore the main islands too – the biggest of these islands being Marie-Galante, La Désirade and the nine islands of Les Saintes, south of Basse- Terre.
Grand-Terre (the island) is overall flat and covered by sugarcane fields, whereas the sister island, Basse-Terre (the island) is largely mountainous. The capital city of Guadeloupe is also called Basse-Terre too and located on the south west coast of Basse-Terre Island.
A ring road follows almost all along the coastline on Basse-Terre with one road crossing over the mountains from east to west (la Route de la Traversée) and on Grande-Terre there is coast road running along the southern side of the island that passes by all of the South Coast beaches and then roads that lead north.
The main International Airport ( Guadeloupe Pôle Caraibes) is at Pointe- à-Pitre with the main flights arriving from Europe and the USA. Pointe-à -Pitre itself has many colonial buildings and is the biggest city in Guadeloupe with a population of about 17,000 people but with the districts around the city having around 200,000 people. The main Container port is here too at Port de Jarry which handles exports of sugar, coffee, cocoa and bananas and imports of other goods and Cruise Ships also call into port here too.
Guadeloupe was discovered by Christopher Columbus on his second voyage of discovery in 1493, but it wasn't until 1635 that a settlement was established on the islands by French colonists, who set about establishing sugar plantations. In 1650 the first African slaves were brought here to work on the plantations.
In 1703 the British captured Basse-Terre for a short few months before relinquishing it back to the French, and then again it came under British control between 1759 and 1763 and during this period the British brought around 18,000 African slaves to the island to work in the sugar plantations. The islands then under the Treaty of Paris returned to French control until 1809 when the British again re-captured it and for a short period it came under Swedish control in 1813, before returning once again to French control in 1814 and it has largely been under French control since that time.
The best way to get around Grande-Terre and Basse-Terre is by hiring a car or taking a well-marked Tourist-Taxi, but there are also buses too, which will introduce you to daily life of the local people and ferries that will take you to outlying islands.
Most tourists and holiday makers come to Guadeloupe to head to the South Coast beaches and resort hotels that line along the coastline with the town of Gosier being just 4 or so miles from the Pointe-à-Pitre and the airport. Here you will find the beaches and also Casinos and nightlife too with bars and restaurants making it a popular location to stay. There is also the Aquarium de la Guadeloupe, markets and shops with all the water sports and activities that you expect to find in a tourist beachside town. There is also Fort Louis located here too that dates back to 1695 and Fort Fleur d'Épée built by the British in 1756 that is now a museum. From Gosier you can also take trips to go deep sea fishing, diving, sailing or to visit any or all of the beaches that run along the coastline from here all the way to Sainte-Anne and on to Saint Franҫois where there is an 18 hole Golf Course and also ferries that leave to head to La Désirade Island and to Marie-Galante and Terre de Haut islands.
North from Saint-Franҫois on the north east coast there is the small village of Le Moule, where there are waves on the beaches attracting board riders to come here, while inland from here in Morne-à-L'eau there is an amazing old historic Cemetery that has around 1800 family crypts many decorated in black and white chequerboard tiles. Just reading some of the inscriptions on the graves will give you a glimpse into the past lives of people living here in Guadeloupe.
If you continued further north you will come to the northern tip of Grande-Terre Island where there are spectacular 200 feet high cliffs and a series of headlands that drop down into the sea below them with stacks (isolated rocks) just off the coastline too. This location is called Pointe de la Grande Vigie.
Basse-Terre island is where you will find the famous Jacques Cousteau Underwater Reserve locate off the west coast, named in honour of the French underwater explorer, diver, Filmmaker Jacques Cousteau (1910-1997) who is credited as the co-inventor of the first Aqua-Lung used to deliver air to divers under water. He was a passionate campaigner for researching and saving oceans and the environment.
This Reserve covers an area from the coastline of Basse-Terre to the Pigeon Isles and is said to be one of the best dive sites in the world. Dive boats, snorkelers and glass bottom boats take people to see the underwater world that is here, and there are also two sunken wrecks located here too on the reefs.
On land there is the Parc National de la Guadeloupe where there are 300 kilometres (186 Miles) of hiking trails through the rainforest, with waterfalls, birdlife and also the Volcano called La Soufrière (2254 feet high). It is about a 2 hour hike to the top overlooking the crater from Saint Claude, the nearest village. Saint Claude is just a little way inland from Basse-Terre (the Capital) on the south western coast. Near Saint Claude there is a Coffee Plantation and also a sugar plantation and chocolate factory that uses cocoa produced here on the island.
You can also see another part of this huge park by driving over the Route de la Traversée road that crosses over the mountains from west to east, roughly across the middle of the Basse-Terre Island. There are short trail walks off the Route to see waterfalls – some have pools below the waterfalls for swimming and you will also be able to stop at a zoo and Botanic Gardens here too called the Parc Zoologique et Botanique des Mamelles where they also have zipline set up too.
Basse Terre is the Capital City and has a population of about 9000 people. Here you will find the old Fort Degres overlooking the harbour and in town the Gerty Archimède Museum, a maritime Boulevard, Cathedral, clock tower and the spice market.
From Basse-Terre the town or Trois Rivières you can catch a ferry to Terre-de-Haut Island which lies to the south of Basse Terre Island. Terre-de-Haut is one of the 9 islands that make up the Les Saintes Island group. It is just 4.5 square kilometres in size with the main town, Le Bourg located on a sweep of the Bay, its small white houses with the red roofs making both the Anse du Bourg Bay and town very picturesque. Anse du Bourg Bay is said to the third most beautiful bay in the world. There are small bars, shops, restaurants and eateries here and just near the town is the old Fort Napoléon des Saintes that was destroyed by the British in 1809, but then rebuilt in 1867. There was a garrison stationed here until 1889 and then it became a Gaol and a detention centre during World War II before being abandoned. Today you will see iguana lizards here in a great garden and a small museum with the Fort commanding great views over the island and sea.
Terre de Bas Island is 9.45 square kilometres in size and is connected by Ferry to Terre de Haut Island – about a 15 minute journey. There is a small fishing village here called Petites Anses and just one beach, Grande Anse, whereas on Terre de Haut there are a number of beaches for swimming, diving or snorkelling – the most popular beaches being Pompierre and Plage de la Colline.
Tourists and travellers mostly come to these islands for a day trip just to see them, or to stay and go diving or just to enjoy the tranquillity of being in a small island and meeting the local 'Saintois' people, many locals being of Breton ancestry. On Terre de Haut there are a small number of guest houses and hotels and given the small number, it is best to pre-book accommodation. The best dive site is Le Paté-Sec where under the water you can see a wild landscape of canyons and faults and a myriad of fish.
The other 7 smaller islands here in Les Saintes are uninhabited by people, but home to iguanas and a few goats. On Islet à Cabri there are the ruins of an old fort, Fort de Josephine and around this island that was also once used as a Leprosy Hospital, people go snorkelling.
Marie-Galante Island is a round shaped island covering an area of around 164 square kilometres (63 square miles) with a population of about 13,000 people. The main town is Grande Bourg in the south west of the island with the port village of Saint-Louis on the north west of the island being the main ferry connection to Grande-Terre with the Ferries heading from Pointe-a-Pitre or Saint-Franҫois.
The island has a mix of rural country charm and beachside activities with the natural beauty of white sandy beaches, high cliffs in places, lagoons, small villages, Ox-carts carrying sugarcane, sugarcane plantations and around 70 old stone windmills of the 100 that once existed scattered across the country from the time when sugar mills were the norm. Only a few have been restored. Even today, wind is being used to create power for the island with a large windfarm near the village of Capesterre on the east coast.
The island's economy relies a lot on tourism but also sugar and sales of Rum, two of the more famous rums being Rhum de Père Labat 59 produced near Saint-Louis (see www.lacompaniedurhum.com )and Distillerie Bielle near Grand Bourg (see www.rhumbielle.com) that has been producing rums since 1769. They also have tours of the distillery.
Here on the island there are lots of places to stay near the many great beaches and in the villages and all the water sports from swimming to kayaking, sailing, fishing, wind surfing can be found on the island too as well as biking, hiking tracks as well as horse riding too. There are also the coral reefs where you can go snorkelling.
Some of the most spectacular scenery can be found on some of the rugged cliffs along the northern coastline – including the Gueule Grand Gouffre (Mouth of the Giant). The inland Trou à Diable (Devil's Hole), a subterranean lake is well worth seeing and there are guided tours to see this.
To see a historic Sugar Plantation head to Château Murat, near Grand-Bourg where there is an old stone windmill, the Château and even the slave quarter buildings from the time when the plantation employed 207 slaves working on the plantation here. The plantation dates back to 1839, with slavery abolished here in 1848.
The best way to see around the island is probably by taking a mini-bus tour but you could also hire a car or scooter too.
As with most places in Guadeloupe, there is great Creole style food to be found in restaurants and eateries and there are the village markets where you can also buy fresh fish, spices and just wander to take in the atmosphere and enjoy meeting some of the locals.
La Désirade Island – is a long narrow island to the east of Saint-Franҫois with a Ferry taking passengers the 45 minute trip to the main town on the island, Beauséjour. There is just one main road that runs along the southern coast of the island where the main beaches are located, with a long plateau running along the backbone of the island which is about 11kilometres long and 2 kilometres wide.
This island has a population of about 2000 people and the island is best known for its Cabris goats and iguanas that live here. At Easter they have a Goat Festival and here on the island there are a few things to see – such as the old lighthouse, former leper colony buildings, a church and an old cotton mill as well as the views from the top of the Plateau. Off-shore there is also Petite Terre Island which is a turtle sanctuary.