A Guide to Îles des Saintes

A miniature volcanic archipelago made up of seven idyllic islands, only two of which are inhabited, Îles des Saintes (commonly known as Les Saintes) is one of Guadeloupe’s crown jewels. This reef-hugged set of isles offers French sophistication mixed with a funky, laid-back Caribbean lifestyle. Take a day-trip via daily ferry to Terre-de-Haut, the archipelago’s main island, and enjoy the white-sand beaches, sailing, and snorkeling in the bay or head up to Fort Napoleon on foot or by rental scooter for panoramic views. Make sure to dine at one of the French and Creole bistros along the water, and to try a local tourment d’amour—a crusty-edged, soft-centered tart flavored with guava, pineapple, or coconut.

The most important historical site on Guadeloupe’s miniature archipelago of Les Saintes also boasts one of the most breathtaking views in the Caribbean. Perched some 400 feet above Les Saintes Bay, Fort Napoleon’s panoramic view of the water—dotted with sailboats and surrounded by bluffs—is worth a visit to Terre-de-Haut on its own. But it’s of historic interest as well. Rebuilt in the mid-19th century after the British destroyed it, the fort turned into a prison that was used during World War II. It was restored in the 1980s and houses a museum showcasing the history of Les Saintes. You can stroll inside to see the former grounds that served as a jail, and walk the botanical gardens afterwards, filled with the island’s various cactus species. Look out for iguanas peeking out of holes in the fort’s walls, as ubiquitous on the grounds as they are all over the island. Take in the glorious scenery for as long as you like before descending back down, on foot or on your rented electric scooter.
The bay of Les Saintes ranks among UNESCO’s list of most beautiful bays in the world—and it’s not hard to see why. The views, whether on approach from the sea or from atop one of its bluffs, make up a dreamy Caribbean postcard, with the bluest of waters punctuated by small sailboats and a few docks, and its shores lined by sugar-white beaches. Under its surface, coral reefs thrive, making it an excellent snorkeling and diving destination. Lazying on a catamaran drifting across the bay is also a worthwhile experience, whether you get into the water or not.
Often likened to Rio’s Sugar Loaf, and possibly named after it because of the resemblance, Pain de Sucre Beach is an idyllic stretch facing an emerald-and-blue cove along Les Saintes’ bay. It’s off the beaten track and away from the larger daytime crowds, which makes it even more special. You have to take a short, leafy hike off the main road, onto a series of rocky steps leading to the beach. Boats occasionally moor nearby because the snorkeling is great, as is the sunset.
30 Rue Jean Calot terre de haut, 97137, Guadeloupe
On the main village drag, less than a five-minute walk from the arrival dock, Au Bon Vivre is a French restaurant with Caribbean flair, where two-hour lunches include creative dishes like pineapple foie gras, coconut snapper, or conch lasagna. The dimly lit brick interior displays portraits of jazz artists, but you also have a choice to sit in the courtyard and dine al fresco. The ambiance and menu more than make up for the lack of ocean views.
The second, and smaller, inhabited island of Îles des Saintes is Terre-de-Bas, reached by boat shuttles from Terre-de-Haut. There’s not much to do here other than explore nature in its wildest state, but one of the sights that makes it worthwhile is the only beach on the island: Grande Anse. It’s mostly undeveloped and rarely crowded, and offers nearly a mile of golden sand and blue bay water. You’ll find a local restaurant there for a plate of fresh seafood and rice, at cheaper prices than on Terre-de-Haut.
Terre-de-Haut, Guadeloupe
The path to Terre-de-Haut’s Pompierre Beach, the most beautiful on Les Saintes, leads you through a dense labyrinth of gigantic coconut trees where goats quietly graze and stroll. Up front awaits a wide stretch of golden and white sand and a sea ideal for swimming. It’s a popular spot but it never feels crowded because of the ample space. Bring your snacks to enjoy on the picnic tables at the back.
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