It was by accident that we ended up in Guadeloupe.
When we flew from Miami to Dominica (via Peurto Rico) we had no idea where we’d be headed after our two month jaunt on the island. Unfortunately for us, border control in the US demanded we show them an exit ticket off Dominica.
So, in a rush, we purchased a ferry ticket to Guadeloupe.
And boy, were we glad we did.
Guadeloupe is a beautiful island. In fact, it’s more like two islands joined via a tiny spit of land in the middle.
Basse-Terre, or the Lower Island, is mountainous and has similar jungle-like terrain to Dominica. Grande-Terre, the other island, is flat and has some of the more spectacular white sandy beaches – something we longed for in Dominica at times.
We spent a week couch-surfing on Guadeloupe and exploring the two islands. There’s a lot to do in paradise (check out this amazing list here!) and I thought I’d give you my own rundown.
8 things to do in Guadeloupe:
1. Kayak in the mangroves
Much like our visit to Guadeloupe, it was by accident that we stumbled across some kayaks lined up across the river shoreline. Located at the river mouth just outside the northern town of Le Moule, located on Grand-Terre, we hired a two person kayak for half a day.
Rowing up the river, we were soon inside the narrow tunnels of the mangroves. It was peaceful and we were the only people on the river. Every so often we’d be disturbed by a loud splash of a fish jumping out of the water.
Looking carefully at the branches of the mangrove trees which plunged into the water, we could see crabs scuttling up and down the wood.
The sunlight dappled through the branches and every so often we’d catch a long-legged bird daintly stepping amongst the water reeds.
What you need to know:
We hired the kayaks from Molem Gliss. Their website is www.kayak-moule.fr.
We paid €15 per person for a half day hire. If you want to hire the kayak for just two hours, the price is €10 per person.
2. Go to carnivale
Don’t go to Guadeloupe expecting it to be Paris on a tropical island. The country has a very strong Caribbean and Creole influence and with this comes the celebration of carnivale every year.
For the months of January to March, carnivale is celebrated with gusto. And we were lucky enough to be there during this time to enjoy it. (And you know from our blog on the New Orleans Mardi Gras that we love a good party!)
On every Sunday from the first Sunday in January, a parade takes place in Guadeloupe’s capital Pointe-à-Pitre.
Our couch surfing host Sandra took us along to one of these parades and we had a great time. Kids as young as five slapped giant ropes onto the road in whip-like fashion causing a loud crack that was somewhat frightening.
Other participants dressed as skeletons and roamed the streets with haunted faces.
Large and colourful groups banged their drums and sang in unison as they pounded the pavement with big grins on their faces.
It was a great night.
And if you’re there on Ash Wednesday (this year it’s on the 2nd of March) you have the opportunity to watch the ultimate Mardi Gras and grand finale of this year’s carnivale.
What you need to know:
Have your wits about you when you visit Pointe-à-Pitre as it’s the dodgy part of the island and pickpockets operate. However, during carnivale there’ll be a heavy police presence – we didn’t have a problem.
3. Hike La Soufrière volcano
The first day we were on the island, Sandra drove us to Basse-Terre and to the base of its large volcano called La Soufrière.
Shrouded in mist, we hiked to the summit stopping for numerous photo opportunities along the way.
The first part of the hike was through a step stony path in the jungle.
Then we came to scrubland and massive rock formations as we made our way up the volcano. Towards the end the path narrowed and we squeezed ourselves between packed mud on either side to get to the summit.
At the top of the volcano you can peer into the crater and even if the day is cloudy and you can’t see much (which is a common occurance in this area) you’ll be able to smell the sulphur.
We saw bubbling mud pool and a green oasis in a section of the crater which must’ve grown back since the 1976 eruption (which caused alarm but no damage).
At the end of the hike we jumped into the hot springs and rested our weary bodies.
What you need to know:
The round-trip hike took about four hours. Bring snacks and lots of water. Dress warmly because it can get cold and windy at the top of the volcano, even if it’s sunny and hot on the beaches of Grand-Terre – it’s a completely different climate.
4. Tour a rum distillery – or visit the ruins of one
Rum, or rhum, is the drink of choice in Guadeloupe.
The locals have been distilling rum since the 1640s, although then it was mainly made by slaves who were forced to cut down and process the sugarcane by hand.
The Creole Ti Punch is the best way to experience the drink. Made with lime, sugar and cane syrup, Ti Punch is a potent yet tasty cocktail.
Both our house sitting hosts – Sandra and Renaud – introduced us to Ti Punch and also enticed us to explore the culture of rhum on the island.
With Sandra we visited an old abandoned sugarcane factory located near Le Moule which was built in the 1700s but hasn’t been in operation since the ’50s.
We snuck over the fence and explored the ruins which were surprisingly intact, if a little eerie.
With Renaud we went to the Damoiseau rum distillery where you could walk around the entire factory floor and see production in action.
After exploring the production lines we went to the shop-come-cafe where you could enjoy a free tasting. We all knocked back some rhum vieux, or old rum, which tasted more like scotch to me.
What you need to know:
The abandoned distillery is located near La Maison du Crabe, a restaurant east of Le Moule. When you see the sign for the restaurant, driving towards Le Moule, turn left and continue down this road.
You will pass a large fence after about one minute and this is where the abandoned factory is.
The Damoiseau rum distillery is located in Baie Mahault, Guadeloupe, about 15 minutes from Le Moule. It’s free to do a tour.
5. Explore the many markets
The French always seem to pull off great markets.
When I lived in Paris, I remember my host mum taking me to numerous flea markets. She taught me the art of bartering and I once picked up a designer leather handbag for €5.
So you can imagine my delight to discover there are numerous markets in Guadeloupe.
I can only personally speak for two because these were the ones we went to when we were on the island.
Every Friday night in Le Gosier is a market that sells a number of touristy and art and craft knick-knacks. I bought a t-shirt which had a design on it that had made the shape of the Guadeloupe islands into a smiley face.
The market is lively – there were a lot of people there shopping and nodding along to the local musicians.
On the Wednesday night we also went to the markets in Le Moule which sold more food than tourist items. The fruit and veg was abundant and there was a great meat van full of a wide selection to satisfy the largest of carnivores.
There was food being served to go as well, and there was a surprising amount of Indian curries being eaten.
Make sure during your time on the island you eat some of the local street food, whether from a market stall or a beachside café. The bokits – a fried sandwich – are delicious and a steal at around €2 – €3 a pop.
What you need to know:
Sometimes parking can be difficult around the market areas so it’s best to arrive early or come late to get a spot.
6. Laze on the beach or slackline across the sand
One of the best things I liked about the beaches in Guadeloupe was that nearly all of them have palm trees growing out of the sand.
This means there’s no need to worry about an umbrella as you can always find a shady spot to while away a relaxing afternoon.
Another great aspect to having trees on the beach is that you can slackline by tying each end to a palm tree. We’d never done this before and Renaud taught us how. It’s quite difficult at first but if you do it three days in a row (like we did!) you should be able to manage walking four steps or so on your own.
We’re told the best beaches are the ones on Grande-Terre and these were the only ones we explored.
The Club Med beach in Saint-Anne is meant to be one of the best and it certainly was picturesque. You have to pass through a fence to enter – which might make you think that it’s exclusively for guests but it’s open to the public so no need to worry.
Le Gosier has a pretty beach too and there’s an island about 1km away which you can swim to if you’re brave enough. (Or hire a kayak and get there by boat.)
On the northern side of the island near Le Moule there is l’Autre Bord beach which borders the Atlantic ocean making the sea more rough.
You can still swim though and we found this beach to be a little less busy.
7. Visit a neighbouring island
It’s certainly worth exploring the islands that surround the main island of Guadeloupe. There are a number to choose from – Petite Terre, La Désirade, Les Saintes and Marie Galante.
For the latter two islands, you can get a ferry there which is probably the cheapest option. For example, there’s a ferry that leaves from Trois Rivères to Les Saintes and it only costs around €15 for a round trip.
For the smaller islands you only have the option to either go on a day tour or rent your own boat.
We went on a day trip via a speed boat to Petite Terre. The advantage of going on a speedboat was that it arrives on the island about an hour before all the other tourists in the catamarans arrive. This is great because the island can get really busy throughout the day.
The disadvantage is that it’s a rough ride on the speed boat. Expect to get soaked. It’s not one for those who’re easily seasick!
What you need to know:
If you go on a day tour, I’d recommend booking around a week in advance in the high season. We tried booking just two days in advance and our options were severly limited – we almost couldn’t get a spot at all.
If you’re with a big group of friends (6 or more) it might be worth hiring a boat and getting to the smaller islands on your own. But be warned – the sea can get quite rough so only do this if you’re confident you’ll be able to handle the boat on your own.
8. Hike up to Pointe des Châteaux
Many a spectacular view can be found on Guadeloupe and one of the best is from Pointe des Châteaux. Don’t be fooled into thinking there’s a castle at the end of the hike up the hill – I was briefly! The point gets its name because the shape of the rock formation looks like a castle on top of a cliff.
There are sweeping views in all directions and it’s a great place to get your bearings of the island.
What to know:
Wear comfortable shoes and take a jacket – it can get quite windy at the top of the point. Put an hour aside to do the walk at a leisurely pace and buy a refreshing local hand-churned coconut ice-cream from a vendor in the car park. It costs €2.
And there you have it – my list of things to do in Guadeloupe.