Top 10 Highlights in Guadeloupe: Exploring the "Butterfly Island"
Updated: Jun 10, 2020
What started off as traveling for a flight deal ended up with me falling in love with a new country. I guess the unanticipated love is what makes a trip all the more memorable! Similar to Martinique, this was not a place that I heard much about or knew where it was located. Have you heard of this island? Do you know where it is located on the map? I am not judging you if you don’t. However, it is a place definitely worth getting to know.
What are some things you should know about Guadeloupe?
Guadeloupe is an overseas department of France. Basically, they are still being ruled by France and are considered French citizens with all the privileges of a French passport while being situated in the #Caribbean.
Guadeloupe’s current cultural influences are a combination of African, French, Indian and Creole.
Christopher Columbus, who landed in 1493, titled the island Santa Maria de Guadalupe de Extremadura, after the Virgin Mary's image in a monastery in Guadalupe, Extremadura.
The island prior to Columbus’ arrival was named 'Karukera', which means, 'The Island of Beautiful Waters'.
In the 1600s, Spanish settlers tried to colonize the island, but were stopped by the Carib indigenous people. In 1674, the French took over. However, the British managed to gain control over the island several times during the next century. Even the Swedish managed to gain control for a short period of time.
Although slavery was formerly abolished in May 1848, it was not truly the case until 1967. Yes...you read that correctly.
TOP HIGHLIGHTS YOU MUST CHECK OUT IN GUADELOUPE:
Compared to Martinique, I found that #Guadeloupe had more things to do, probably because it is a bigger island. Their infrastructure and tourism are also a little more developed. Here is what I recommend from my brief time there, which was a little under 4 days.
1. Ride a glass-bottom boat to see the Cousteau Underwater Marine Reserve (25€/pers)
Yes, you read that correctly, glass bottom! Part of me was quite concerned and I kept wondering if the bottom of this boat would start cracking on us. This was probably the most unique experience I had during my #FrenchCaribbean trip. Once you get to the bottom of the boat, there are glass windows covering both sides where you can look and see the underwater world: fish, coral, plants, divers! The views from atop the boat were great as well of the landscape.
2. Stroll around the Jardin Botanique de Deshaies (13€/pers)
I had never been to a Botanic Gardens in the Caribbean, let alone outside the United States. It is a whole different experience as well as a pleasant surprise. The range of tropical flowers and plants was quite wide with vibrant colors at every corner. You also have the opportunity to feed rescued birds. If you are looking for lots of instagrammable spots, come here! Looking to just relax in a tropical oasis? Also come here!
3. Hike to Pointe des Château (FREE!)
Breathtaking views ✔ HIstorical significance ✔ Natural scenery ✔ Moderate hike ✔ This place covers it all! The biggest marker of this area is a huge cross, which was erected for the 100th year celebration of the diocese of the Saint-François parish. A new cross was erected in 2002. The area itself is a peninsula that extends into the Atlantic Ocean located in Saint-François, on the main island of #GrandeTerre in Guadeloupe. From above, from a couple of directions you see blue ocean waves crashing heavily onto rocks and shorelines. It is not water meant to swim, even for the strongest swimmer. Looking ahead, you can see vast areas of cliffs, making you feel like you are on top of the world. When you are done with this hike, make sure to stop for some handmade sorbet at “Chez Jeannette’s” cart. I recommend the Sorbet Metisse, which is a mixed flavor of different fruits including passion fruit, mango and some other flavors.
4. Walk around Cimeterie Morne-à-L'eau (FREE!)
I don’t normally tour cemeteries on trips or even back home. HOWEVER, I made an exception here because I read that the cemeteries are truly unique. Although it was raining while we walked around, the visit was well worth it! My biggest concern was slipping since much of the area is made of bath tiles. Now you are probably wondering what place does bath tiles have in a cemetery. Much of this cemetery is comprised of white and black tiles. Some say that the black and white tiles represent yin and yang, and others claim it’s a combination of black, the European color of mourning, and white, the African one. Originally, only wealthy landowners could afford to bury their dead here. However, many Guadeloupeans of all races and classes are now buried there. The best way to view this cemetery is from higher up. Go up the steps as you will be shocked by how pretty a sea of black and white looks.
5. Tour Pointe-à-Pitre in a Pousse-Pousse (30€/pers)
Yes, this is probably the most touristy experience I am suggesting. However, it is a great way to not only learn history, but take a break from the heat. Even though it was February when we visited, it was still hot enough to break a sweat. Our guide gave us a very thorough history of the island- ranging from natural disasters to #slavery to architecture.
We made several stops to look at important monuments related to the colonization history of the island. The only thing I wished was that I took this tour at the beginning of my time in Guadeloupe instead of the end. I also wished I had the same tour in Martinique, so I can appreciate their history just as much.
6. Shop at a local market (FREE to look! Not to shop haha!)
I don’t know about you, but I love to shop locally ESPECIALLY when I am abroad. There is no better feeling than wearing an item and someone asks, “Where did you get that from?” to then answer “x country.” That has happened to me countless times at work or when hanging out with friends, probably because I have a costly habit of buying jewelry, purses and headwraps when possible, abroad. I also recently started collecting Christmas ornaments as I used to only collect shot glasses. Guadeloupe is where I really had a field day. From walking around downtown Pointe-à-Pitre alone, I ended up purchasing two dresses in native print, a headwrap, and several earrings. My interaction with a woman giving me straight auntie vibes made me truly fall in love with the spirit of Guadeloupe! Some markets that I would suggest checking out are La Dacha Marché nocturne in Le Gosier and Saint-Antoine market in Pointe-à-Pitre.
7. Visit the Memorial Acte Museum (10€/pers)
Seeing this museum featured in several IG stories for the past couple of years is probably what put Guadeloupe high on my radar to begin with. For starters, you cannot take pictures inside so all I heard was people’s experiences walking out of it. It is a museum that I think every black person in the Diaspora should visit! I would compare it to the African American museum in Washington, DC in many ways. The one thing I will say to not spoil this experience for you is that this museum gives you the true history of slavery and does not sugar coat its impact. It is a journey! It is best to check it out mid-afternoon when the sun is at its peak and you are looking for a space to cool down.
HIGHLIGHTS TO CHECK OUT IF YOU HAVE MORE TIME:
8. Take a tour at the Cocoa Factory, La Maison du Cacao
Who does not love chocolate? At La Maison du Cacao, not only do you get to see how chocolate is made, but you also get to sample chocolate at various stages of the process. You are also introduced to various products aside from chocolate that are made with cocoa, including cocoa butter in its purest form.
9. Swim at Cascade aux écrevisses
I love a good waterfall! Though smaller than other waterfalls,it is still worth checking out if you have the time. It is not a deep hike to get to it, which I appreciated If you just want to take in natural beauty in Guadeloupe, I highly recommend this spot. Warning: the water is quite cold, but refreshing. I cannot really swim so I just sat in the water on top of some rocks. Considering the “swimmable” area is very rocky and deep, I would advise against trying to get close to the waterfall.
10. Taste rum at Distillerie Damoiseau (FREE!)
As with anywhere in the Caribbean, I would check out a rum distillery. Compared to the Depaz distillery in Martinique, this one is much bigger. Distillerie Damoiseau is one of five distilleries in Guadeloupe, but the only one located in Grande-Terre. It was originally founded as a sugar planation by the Rimbaud family of Martinique at the end of the 19th century, post slavery emancipation. It was not until 1942 when the estate then was transformed into a rum distillery by Roger Damoiseau.I felt this provided a much larger scale in terms of production process. Similarly, there is an area that you can head to after exploring the distillery to sample different flavors. Here, I sampled much stronger rum as well as more unique flavors.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS:
TRANSPORTATION: How to get to Guadeloupe? How to get around Guadeloupe?
When we took this trip, Norwegian Airlines had non-stop direct flights in the winter season from JFK to both Fort-de-France, Martinique and Pointe-a-Pitre, Guadeloupe. We flew to Martinique, but then flew out of Guadeloupe. To get to Guadeloupe, we took a 5 hour ferry. Although it was cool to see different ports such as Dominica, the motion sickness from the ferry literally bouncing on ocean waves was not worth it! In the future, I would probably fly to the island. While CHEAP direct flights no longer exist since Norwegian airlines stopped their flights (which started at $98 each way), you can still get to Guadeloupe directly from February to April on a Monday, Wednesday, or Friday thanks to JetBlue! I recently checked and found that they have round trip flights for under $500. There is not a direct flight to Martinique. However, from Guadeloupe, you can take a short flight on Air Caraibes, Air Antilles, or Air France for as low as $67 one way. That is a significant game changer as in the past, your only options to get to the French Caribbean were to either get a flight to Antigua or Barbados at which point you would have a very long layover before you could be able to fly to Guadeloupe and Martinique. You could have also taken flights that required at least 2-3 stops at various Caribbean islands. Unfortunately if you travel outside of the February-April window, you will still face these challenges. Traveling from NYC in this fashion would cost between $700-1,000 at bare minimum. Definitely plan accordingly!
Once you are in Guadeloupe, it is best to hire a driver or rent a car. Almost every person who I talked to or almost every comment I read said to rent a car. However, since I do not drive, we hired a driver as the main attractions are not close to each other. In terms of renting a car, many cars are stick shift. Guadeloupe has a decent bus system if you are trying to get to different cities. However, I am unsure as to how close it drops you to sites you want to visit. I took the bus from near our hotel in Le Gosier to Pointe-à-Pitre. During my time in Guadeloupe, I used Taina who owns GUADELOUPE EXPLOR, which I highly recommend. She was super professional, super knowledgeable and extremely welcoming from beginning to end.
LODGING: Where to stay in Guadeloupe?
I stayed at a hotel in Le Gosier because it was a central area and was fairly close to the airport. Our hotel did not have direct access to the beach. However, many other hotels do so, for a higher cost. We were aiming for a cost effective trip and knew that we would make a stop to the beach on one of the days. Le Gosier was also a central place for our driver to pick us up each day for our excursions. There are several restaurants within walking distance, whether you want French cuisine, Creole cuisine or a more Americanized cuisine.
FOOD: Where to eat in Guadeloupe? What are national dishes to try?
Let me start off with national dishes to try out:
Accras De Morue: I had this several times in Guadeloupe and it was tasty every single time. I highly recommend trying this appetizer/snack, which is commonly made with codfish in a batter that is fried in a ball shape.
Ti-Punch: This is a common drink in both Martinique and Guadeloupe. Guadeloupe is where I actually tried it. I was thinking that I was getting a fruity cocktail. Oh no, this is a STRONG drink comprised of white rum, sugar cane syrup or sugar, and lime! However, it is worth trying for the experience. Ti-Punch is meant to be sipped on during a meal as it is considered a leisure activity. In some bars, the ingredients are separate. Therefore, you can prepare the drink to your liking.
Colombo: This is very common in Guadeloupe (as well as Martinique). I would describe it as a curry chicken served with rice or lentils. Considering Guadeloupe has strong Indian heritage mixed in its own culture, it is a common feature in menus.
If you are looking for particular restaurants to try out, I would recommend the following:
Le Maharajah Monty (12-3pm; 7-11pm): this is an Indian cuisine restaurant located in Pointe-à-Pitre . Everything was flavorful and on point, including the chai latte. Service is slow, but that is generally in most places in Guadeloupe.
L’Ourisan Blanc: this is a French cuisine restaurant located in Le Gosier, and is walking distance from several hotels. Portions were small and this was definitely on a higher price end. However, I found my food to be rich and delicious!
Restaurante Chez Lelette: this is a Creole cuisine restaurant located in Deshaies. This was my best meal in Guadeloupe for authenticity, taste, and atmosphere. This had the best views of Deshaies beach and the freshest seafood!
Pictured left to right: Le Maharajah Monty, L’Ourisan Blanc, Restaurante Chez Lelette
OTHER: What to keep in mind when planning a trip to Guadeloupe?
Know some French or download Google Translate. Everyone pretty much speaks French since it is still a French territory!
The Euro is the currency that used. As a result, compared to other Caribbean islands, things are not as cheap here!