What to do with one week in the lovely Gwada
Guadeloupe, a butterfly shaped archipelago in the heart of the West Indies, consists of 5 main islands: Basse-Terre, Grand-Terre, Les Saintes, La Desirade, & Marie Gallant. Charmingly referred to as ‘Gwada’, it’s a wonderful combination of Caribbean, Creole, & French influences – from boulangeries selling perfectly crusty baguettes to locally caught fish minced and mixed up with breading into irresistible fried accras. One week later, I’m smitten and half tempted to book the Norwegian flight back next winter. I can’t wait to explore the rest of the archipelago.
Here are some ideas for your trip to Guadeloupe (and a map to get your bearings):
Spend the day at postcard perfect Sainte-Anne beach. White sand, calm clear water in shades of azure, and a view of the island Marie Gallant on a clear day, this beach is an easy way to completely forget about life back home. The curved rock jetties jutting out from the beach form lovely lagoons and the entire beach is protected by a coral reef – giving you the wonderful combination of pool clear water, white caps, & the gentle roar of crashing waves.
Parking: The beach backs up to a half mile long access road with free parking.
Shade: Plenty – under swaying palms and sea grape trees.
Food: The beach is lined with all sorts of places to eat – from freshly grilled lobsters to an array of food trucks selling local treats.
Fair warning: This beach gets crowded (and noisy) on the weekend.
La Caravelle (aka Club Med Beach)
You can access the lovely Caravelle beach by parking at Club Med (and pay the day usage fee) or you can park a little ways away and take an easy ~10-15 min stroll along a beautiful seaside promenade to the beach (and access the beach for free).
Take N4 toward Caravelle/ Club Med and turn in at the Freestyle School sign (map link) where there’s a pink standing surfboard on the side of the road. Follow this road to the end and park there. When you face the sea, take the path to the right along the water and walk about 15 minutes. You’ll likely see diving pelicans and kite surfers whizzing by.
Shade: There are plenty of sea grape and coconut trees to lounge under.
Food: There are food stands along the beach.
Waterfalls & Hot Springs
Head over to Basse-Terre for the day. Les Ecrivesses is a beautiful waterfall at the end of an easy, paved five minute walkway. The giant leaves of the rain forest frame the path and the cooler air feels immensely pleasant after a few days in the hot sun. There’s also the series of Carbet waterfalls nearby.
Next up, head to Dolé hot springs in Gourbeyre. Park on the side of the street and spend some time soaking in the waterfall fed pool. If you walk 200m farther up the road stairs will appear on the left. There’s apparently a small waterfall and ruins at the top of the stairs. That’s going on my list for next trip. If you make it up there let me know!
Dedicate a day to rum appreciation
Fields of sugar cane abound across the rolling hills of Guadeloupe (and Martinique, for that matter). This cane is distilled into everything from fire water (59% proof rhum agricole in Marie Gallant) to bourbon barrel aged to tropical fruit infused rum. We went to the Montebello distillery, and it was incredible seeing the sugar cane transported to the machines and then processed. Sample a few varieties, grab a bottle (or two), and head back to your favorite beach for some sunny day drinking.
Pointe des Chateaux
Take a ride out to Pointe des Chateaux, the tiny strip of land that extends to the far east of the island. You literally drive to the end of the island and stop when you see parked cars. There’s no coral reef protecting the land here so the Atlantic can produce huge waves that crash on the beach. It’s quite a sight. There’s an overlook up a twenty minute hike with breathtaking views of nearby island Desirade. It’s an easier hike in sneakers but flip flops will work.
Take a lazy drive back – swing through Francois and take a walk around the marina or through town where you’ll see traditional Creole homes.
We stayed in Sainte-Anne in two different places (due to my extreme procrastination booking lodging and March being high season). I highly recommend both places, but for different reasons:
Tremendous host/ Relaxing countryside locale – Villa Kaz Ô MatinBleue Maison D’hôtes
I’ve stayed in all kinds of places all over and have never received a warmer and more genuine welcome than with Zak. She offered to pick us up at the airport (for less than a taxi) and on the way back asked if we were hungry. Of course we were, so she stopped to order a pizza, dropped us off at the villa, served us some local rum, and then picked the pizza back up. It felt like staying with family. The villa has an expansive terrace overlooking her backyard filled with banana, passion fruit, & coconut trees and the rolling countryside beyond. If this place isn’t available she has two others on the island. All you hear is the occasional passing car and the distant moo of local cows. (Booking.com)
Amazing View & Beach Proximity – Villa Le Tropic
If you want to swing in a hammock on your terrace overlooking the water, have a pool downstairs, and be able to walk to the beach, this place will be as perfect for you as it was for me. The owner lives in France but has a local representative to greet you and give you the key. (VRBO)
I’m glad we ended up in Sainte-Anne as well. It’s a small town with a stunning beach that’s easy to walk around and very low key.
I had a lot of trouble finding a day trip operator online but finally found Guadeloup-Explor. The owner, Taina (pronounced Tie-nah), is amazing! You know those tour guides who talk constantly or are robots on auto-pilot? Taina is neither – with family roots in Guadeloupe and France she effortlessly took us through Basse-Terre in her pleasant minivan, peppering the day with fun facts and history. Her English is perfect.
If you go during high season, I highly recommend you book your car in advance. Most rentals are manual, but if you’re missing that life skill (like me) there are plenty of taxis to get around. The roads are excellent and you drive on the right. There is public transportation but the buses are apparently sporadic at best. I didn’t even bother to give it a go.
Guadeloupe is a department of France, and the locals speak French and Creole. It will be a little bit tricky to get around without any French but don’t let that deter you. Download a French app phrase book/ dictionary and learn how to say a few polite phrases. It’s amazing how far a friendly Bonjour! (Hello!) with a smile will take you.
Be Sure To Try:
- Planteur – Local rum mixed with fruit juice
- Ti-punch – Local rum muddled with sugar and lime
- Accras – Tasty deep fried fish fritters
- Caresse Antillaise – local fruit juice (passion fruit + orange and guava are my favorites)
- Paradis Ice Cream – local ice cream in a variety of tropical flavors
Like most Caribbean islands, mosquitoes are a real nuisance. Being the dry season they weren’t too much of a problem this trip, but Zika is present on the island so any pregnant women might want to hold off on this trip for now.
Guadeloupe is a wonderland of things do, see, and explore. Since a week isn’t nearly enough time …
Ideas for next trip!
- Swim with sea turtles at Malendure beach on Basse-Terre
- Learn to kite surf at Bois Jolan
- Check out the cliffs in north west Grande-Terre
- Hike La Soufriere volcano
- Go to Les Saintes, Marie Gallant, & as many of the tiny islands off the coast as possible
- Try the 59% proof rum in Marie Gallant
Profitez de vos vacances!