What to Do in Guadeloupe
With five tropical islands and daily ferries connecting them, there are plenty of options for outdoor exploration across Guadeloupe. Go beach hopping from black to pink to white sands; surf the Atlantic or dive the Jacques Cousteau Reserve; conquer waterfalls or hike to the summit of La Grande Soufrière volcano. Also enjoy the Afro-Caribbean pulse of the markets and food trucks, dance freely to gwo-ka drumming sessions roadside or in the studio, and go rhum tasting. When you’re up for a slice of France, spend days in Les Saintes’ fabulous bistros and boutiques.
Monteran, St Claude 97120, Guadeloupe
Covering nearly two thirds of Basse-Terre island, Guadeloupe National Park is an astounding 54,000 acres of lush rain forest, plus offshore mangrove and coral reefs. Some of the island’s best-known sights are inside the park, including active La Grande Soufrière volcano at its center, 4,800 feet above sea level. The park also contains famous waterfalls like Carbet Falls and the Cascade aux Ecrevisses, and Les Bains Jaunes thermal pool is a refreshing swim after conquering one the park’s many hiking trails. Nature lovers will swoon over the 800-plus species of flora and fauna here, ranging from orchids to bats to the endangered agouti (a type of small rodent). You can explore Guadeloupe National Park on your own or go with an outfitter like Vert Intense, an eco-friendly operation that knows every inch of this vast green escape, and also offers canyoning.
Pointe des Châteaux, a protected natural and heritage site, is one of the most unusual landscapes in the Caribbean region. This rocky, craggy peninsula, which includes singular rock formations jutting out of the ocean, sits on the northeastern edge of Guadeloupe, facing a wide-open, turbulent Atlantic Ocean. Impressive waves crash on the limestone rocks and onto a gorgeous (but not swimmable) white-sand beach. On the end of the stretch is a trail leading you on a 20-minute hike to the top of the hill, where a 33-foot cross towers over Guadeloupe. The million-dollar panoramic view reveals nearly all of Guadeloupe’s archipelago, including Marie-Galante, Basse-Terre, and Les Saintes.
Avenue Martin Luther King
Experience Guadeloupe’s deep-rooted African culture by signing up for a gwo-ka dance class. Gwo-ka (“big drum”) is part drumming, part call-and-response chanting, and part dancing and is an important part of Guadeloupe’s musical expression. Seven different rhythms on different sized drums, accompanied by calabash, combine to create an intoxicating, high energy beat to which participants take turns responding. In Pointe-à-Pitre, the long-running Akadémiduka offers energizing gwo-ka dance classes for newbies as well as the experienced. The instructor teaches the class alongside a performing band of gwo-ka drummers and dancers in traditional outfits. It’s one of the most fun things to do in Guadeloupe, and a real eye-opener on the culture.
One of the most popular beaches on Guadeloupe is Sainte-Anne, a family-friendly, mile-long stretch of white sand on the south coast of Grand-Terre. A coral reef protects the beach and the resulting calm water offers shallow swimming for the little ones. The beach has everything you need, including a fruit and spice market, casual beachfront restaurants, and a nearby arts and crafts shopping mall. After sunset, it is illuminated until midnight and active families come for a cool night swim, beach volleyball, and street snacks. Food trucks come out for the night, serving up bokits (a kind of fried sandwich) and conch kebabs.
Rue Frébault, Pointe-à-Pitre, Guadeloupe
On the weekend, market days in Pointe-à-Pitre are like an outdoor celebration, with gwo-ka drumming on the streets leading to the markets. Browse the attractive stalls brimming with spice-filled bags at the Spice Market before checking out the arts and crafts and madras textiles and moving on to fruits and vegetables at Marché de la Darse on the waterfront. Take a break at a nearby café afterwards, and relax some more to the sound of the drums.
Locals agree that Marie-Galante is the “real” Guadeloupe. Daily ferries whisk visitors and residents back and forth to this island, 40 minutes south of Grande-Terre across occasionally choppy waters. But the charming, pastoral island is well worth it. On Marie-Galante, more farmers ride ox-drawn carts than buses, and the most uncrowded, pristine beaches line the turquoise waters here—like the secluded and brilliant white Plage Vieux Fort. The food is traditional Creole, served with pride in homes-turned-dining-rooms, while the rhum distilleries are considered the best in Guadeloupe.
An archipelago within an archipelago is already an astonishing fact to grasp, but Îles des Saintes, made up of nine islets, only two of them inhabited, is full of yet more surprises. Hop on a daily ferry ride south from Trois-Rivieres in Basse-Terre to these gorgeous offshore islands around a stunning aquamarine bay dotted with sailboats and hugged by coral reefs. Also known as Les Saintes, these islands combine a traditional Caribbean setting of secluded beaches, forts, and towering palm trees with a chic French village lifestyle. The streets here are free of cars, the winding roads to be explored by electric scooter or on foot. Hike to Fort Napoleon for a breathtaking panoramic view over Les Saintes Bay, explore the surrounding waters by catamaran, go diving off the bluffs, sample some of Guadeloupe’s best French and Creole fusion restaurants, and shop the boutiques for French fashions and local jewelry.
Guadeloupe’s most famous dive spot lies off the coast of Basse-Terre, surrounding the Pigeon Islands, and is part of the Guadeloupe National Park’s protected marine assets. Named after Captain Cousteau, who pushed for the protection of this biodiverse marine site and filmed a documentary here, you can find the French explorer’s statue resting in these waters. Dive shops offering excursions to the Jacques Cousteau Marine Reserve are based along Plage de la Malendure in the coastal community of Bouillante. There are dive options whether you’re a beginner or advanced. Snorkeling is also ideal for newbies here, with shallow waters teeming with coral, turtles, and tropical fish.
Like on French counterparts Martinique and St. Martin, Guadeloupean rhum agricole is distilled from 100 percent pure sugar cane juice rather than from molasses (and is known as “rhum” versus “rum”). A number of well-respected small rhum factories in Guadeloupe—including Boulogne, Damoiseau, and Bellevue—offer distillery tours year-round, and these are particularly interesting during the sugar cane harvest season between February and June. Domaine de Bellevue, in Marie-Galante, is a solid pick for a full educational experience. You’ll see the ancient sugar mill, learn about the eco-friendly distillery process, and taste various rhums (including one flavored with Ethiopian beans) as well as a traditional ti’ punch, Guadeloupe’s official cocktail. There’s on-site shopping as well in case you’d like to stock up for home.
Îlet du Gosier, Guadalupa, Guadeloupe
After grabbing lunch on the ultra-local Plage de la Datcha on the south of Grande-Terre, hop on an afternoon boat shuttle from the beach to nearby Îlet du Gosier. You can spot the islet from shore—and if you’re fit, you can even kayak or swim over. With a wraparound white-sand beach, shallow waters for snorkeling, and the rustic Ti’ Robinson bar for rhum cocktails and Creole dishes, it’s the perfect day trip from somewhere like Pointe-a-Pitre.
Deshaies Botanical Garden is one of the largest in the Caribbean and a simple stroll through its 12 acres is a treat. Expect to see flamingos, hummingbirds, parrots, and goats, as well as over 200 species of tropical flora, including hibiscus, orchids, various palm trees, and bougainvillea. There’s a fishpond, cascade, and plenty of shaded areas. The on-site restaurant is a great spot to relax with a cocktail and panoramic views over the gardens and Caribbean Sea.