C'est la bonne vie! Yes, it is a good life, and Guadeloupe certainly has it all - thick rainforests, enchanting waterfalls, sandy beaches and charming villages. Lying 320 km (198 miles) north of Martinique and part of the
French West Indies , it's composed of two butterfly-shaped islands connected by a narrow channel, linked by a drawbridge over the Rivière Salée, a river that introduces the calmer Caribbean to the more turbulent Atlantic.
Columbus discovered Guadeloupe in 1493 nine years ahead of Martinique. Guadeloupe's dependencies, the nearby islands of Marie Galante, Iles des Saintes and La Désirade are packaged by tourism as
Les Isles de Guadeloupe. On the smaller surrounding islands, little has changed over the centuries. On Terre-de-Haut, part of the Iles des Saintes, there are unspoiled beaches and families descended from Breton sailors. Marie-Galante in the southeast has stunning beaches and produces some of the Caribbean's best rum; remnants of colonial sugar mills are charming reminders of the island's past as a sugar producer. To the northeast, La Désirade is a recommended day trip for its untouched landscape and beaches.
Guadeloupe's left "wing" is Grande-Terre, and the right "wing" is Basse-Terre which offers white sand beaches and rolling hills. The island's biggest town, Pointe-à-Pitre, is a European-style shopping village with (for shoppers) magnetic "made in France" labels including irresistible savings of 20-30 percent.
Museums are ubiquitous here. Saint-John Perse and the Schoelcher Museum are housed in colonial manors. The Edgar Clerc archaeological museum depicts Guadeloupe's Amerindian ancestors. Also available are zoological gardens, orchid gardens, coffee and cocoa plantations - something for everyone.
Basse-Terre, dotted with banana plantations, tends to draws the nature lovers with
La Soufrière, a quiet volcano alive but asleep at the center. It's the Eastern Caribbean's highest point at 1,468 m (4,813 feet). Rain forests in the nearby 74,100 acre
Parc National de Guadeloupe beckon one to drive or hike or even spend the complete day on Grand Anse, one of the island's finest beaches with spectacularly soft sand. Above, to help fill the day, watch in the sky for sugar birds, cow herons, black woodpeckers, moor hen and sand-brown gannets.
Of course, with the island's French influence,
Guadeloupe boasts more than 200 wonderful restaurants, some literally located on the front porches of local homes. Lunch, or le déjeuner, is the main meal of the day. With a refreshingly light rum drink, the Creole dishes are simply delicious and they feature stuffed land crabs, stewed conch and curry dishes accompanied with tasty French wines. Tipping is optional with a service charge usually added to bill. The island exports much of what it produces to France, including sugar, bananas, rum, and pineapple.
Finally, if you are trying to decide on one French island between Martinique or Guadeloupe, Martinique may be more sophisticated, but Guadeloupe offers more diversity and those calm leeward beaches. The food is terrific at both.
Pole Caraibes Airport is located near Pointe-a-Pitre. Gateways/Flying Times: Montreal - 5 hrs. Miami - 3 hrs. New York - 4.5 hrs. Temperature ranges between 22-27C (72-81F) on the coast and 19-27C (66-81F) inland.
2. The official language is French, but English is widely spoken.
Nightlife consists of casinos, discos, nightclubs and dinner/dances.
4. The best
sightseeing consists of: Pointe-a-Pitre, the commercial center, Basse-Terre, the capital city, the National Park rainforest and the La Soufriere volcano, pre-Columbian drawings at the Archaeological Park, the Hindu Temple of Changy, Fort Delgres, Fort Fleur d'Epee, Pointe des Chateaux, Pointe de la Grande Vigie and Carbet Falls.
5. Air Canada flies from Montréal to Guadeloupe Saturdays year-round. Between December and April, they offer an additional flight on Wednesday. Passengers can also fly from Toronto on one of the daily nonstop flights to Barbados and transfer onto other carriers (usually LIAT), making the ongoing journey to points within the French West Indies. A departure tax, required on scheduled flights, is included in the airfares. Canadian residents need a passport, plus a return plane ticket.
6. You can rent a car on Guadeloupe to explore Basse-Terre; the loop around the island is one of the most scenic drives in the Caribbean.
7. Because the territory of Guadeloupe falls under the same monetary system as mainland France, they use the Euro (€).
8. Local electricity is 220-volt AC (50 cycles); you will need a transformer and an adapter.
9. The official language is French; Creole is the unofficial second language. English is spoken only in the major tourist centers, rarely in the countryside.
Courtesy of the Caribbean Tourism Organization
Mike Keenan writes for QMI Agency (Sun Media) Canada's largest newspaper publisher, printing 44 daily newspapers as well as a web portal, Canoe.ca. Besides regular columns for the St. Catharines Standard, Welland Tribune and Niagara Falls Review. Mike has been published in the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, Buffalo Spree, Stitches, West of the City and Hamilton-Burlington's View Magazine. His work is found in QMI published dailies such as the Toronto Sun, Ottawa Sun, Vancouver Sun, London Free Press, Calgary Sun, Winnipeg Sun and Edmonton Sun.