My tips for a successful stay in Guadeloupe

With around ten daily flights from mainland France, Guadeloupe has become a major tourist destination.

It’s an island we love and have visited several times. I’d like to introduce you to it and give you a few keys to a successful stay.

The article is aimed at readers who are completely new to the island and would like some pointers to help them plan their trip.

The ideal winter destination

For the end of 2021, we have decided to return to Guadeloupe. We’ve been there several times since our first trip in 1995, and enjoy staying for New Year’s Eve.

Going there during the metropolitan winter is the best time in my opinion. It’s not too hot, around 26 to 30 degrees, and the sun is quite generous. Of course, there can be windy or rainy days. But to be honest, it never bothered us much. On those days, we take the opportunity to rest!

It’s always exciting to discover a new country or region. But coming back to a familiar place has its charm too. You can better organize your trip according to your desires. Take a closer look at some of our tours, and explore lesser-known places. Take the time without the fear of missing out. In short, if you’ve enjoyed a place in the past, never hesitate to return. You won’t regret it!

A trip to Guadeloupe is both exotic and familiar

Many leave for the West Indies with clichés of tropical beaches in their heads. The first contact with congested freeways and the commercial zones of Baie-Mahault and Le Lamentin is often disappointing. Having flown eight hours to find yourself in the French suburbs is a little discouraging. If you arrive in heavy rain, with the fatigue of the journey, your morale is likely to take a hit!

You have to get past that first impression. The sun often comes out quickly, and the further away you are from the airport, the more real Guadeloupe you’ll see. And if you set aside your prejudices about tropical islands, I can assure you that you’re going to love this island!

Visit Guadeloupe

In the first part, I present the main geographical landmarks of Guadeloupe and the surrounding islands, as well as my advice on where to stay and what to do:

In the second part, I explain how I think you can get the most out of your stay:

As usual, you’ll find some useful links at the end of the article.


All texts in color coral indicate an internal or external link.

Storm in Guadeloupe

Understanding the geography of Guadeloupe

The island of Guadeloupe is shaped like a butterfly, with Basse-Terre on one side and Grande-Terre on the other. The Soufrière volcano is located on Basse-Terre, which, contrary to its name, is the most mountainous! This is the wildest part of the island and my personal favorite.

But don’t miss Grande-Terre, which has many attractions that make it worth a visit, even if it’s less charming.

Around Guadeloupe, there are several islands well worth a visit. Starting with Les Saintes, with the best-known island of Terre-de-Haut and the more secretive Terre-de-bas. Les Saintes is a small paradise with almost no cars. You absolutely must stay there for several days.

Marie-Galante looks like a big pancake. It will appeal to lovers of rural and peaceful surroundings. It also boasts some beautiful white sandy beaches.

Last but not least, for fans of the far side of the world, the small island of Désirade will be just what you’re looking for.

Unless you stay for several weeks, you won’t be able to see everything. Choices will have to be made.

Map of Guadeloupe

Basse-Terre: Volcano and tropical rainforest

Basse-Terre, the wild one! This part of the island is mostly covered by tropical forests, inviting you to go hiking. The paths are well-marked and the heat is bearable thanks to the altitude and the shade provided by the vegetation. Part of it is even protected by a national park (website in French only).

For me, this is the most beautiful part of the island. It lends itself well to hiking and snorkeling. There are several spots where you can snorkel to see superb coral and fish. By contrast, Basse-Terre is very quiet as soon as night falls. We don’t go there to party.

We can distinguish three areas where I recommend you look for your accommodation:

  • south to Trois-Rivières and Vieux-Fort,
  • in the center around Bouillante,
  • to the north between Pointe-Noire and Deshaies.

A beautiful road runs the length of the leeward coast. For magnificent views, don’t hesitate to take the side roads that climb the hills.

Leeward coast of Guadeloupe seen from the air

Around Trois-Rivières and Vieux-Fort

The first place to sleep on Basse-Terre is in the south, around Trois-Rivières.

You’ll be right next to the Soufrière volcano. Its ascent is not difficult, but it is often in the clouds. Lodging nearby is the best way to optimize your chances of climbing it in the best conditions, as shown in the photo below.

In this part of the island, you can take the rather strenuous walk to the three falls of Carbet.

Many holiday cottages (gites in French) have a superb view of Les Saintes, which is just 20 minutes by boat. To relax, there’s the magnificent Grande Anse beach, which is still not very touristy.

Pointe-à-Pitre is within easy reach by expressway. To do your shopping, simply go to the town of Basse-Terre.

A cloudless view of La Soufrière!
View of Les Saintes from Trois-Rivières

Around Bouillante

The second choice of accommodation on Basse-Terre is located around Bouillante in the central part of the west coast of Basse-Terre.

This is certainly the place where you’ll find the most possibilities, often with gites on the high ground offering both the advantage of coolness and a beautiful view. I can only recommend the one run by one of my cousins, Sophie. The gite, nestled in greenery, comprises three bungalows with names evocative of “1001 Nights“.

To get there from Pointe-à-Pitre, take the magnificent route de la traversée and cross the evocative Col des Mamelles. Halfway along, discover one of the best-known waterfalls in the national park: the Crayfish Falls.

The famous Cousteau reserve (website only in French) is located near Malendure beach.It is part of the National Park. It’s a marine protected area with the kind of seabed that attracted Cousteau.

You’ll find plenty of tour operators offering to take you to the islets Pigeon in the reserve, either by kayak, on an organized tour, or as part of a diving experience.

Unfortunately, the site is a victim of its success, and tourist flows can sometimes be too heavy. The underwater world is superb, but for how long? Let’s hope the authorities do what’s necessary to limit the number of visitors.

Crayfish waterfall
Diving instructor in Malendure
Baptism dive at Malendure
Merry Christmas in Guadeloupe

Between Pointe-Noire and Deshaies

The third possibility is in the north of the island, between Pointe-Noire and Deshaies. This is our favorite spot in Basse-Terre. There are still relatively few tourists, the coastal road is beautiful and Deshaies is a pleasant village with a few cafés overlooking the bay.

Except for the well-known and spectacular Grande Anse Bay, the beaches, all magnificent, are less frequented than on Grande-Terre.

My favorite beach, Petite Anse, lies halfway between Pointe-Noire and Deshaies. But don’t spread the word too much around you, so it doesn’t become a new overtouristed spot. The seabed boasts beautiful coral and multicolored fish. The beach itself lies at the end of a small bay surrounded by wooded mountains.

This is the coast for adventure! It’s up to you to find your favorite by visiting the various beaches in the area. Travel is also about surprises. Not everything can be found on the Internet or in guidebooks.

Finally, I’d also recommend a visit to the botanical garden in Coluche’s former estate.

Grande Anse beach in Deshaies
Lizard in Guadeloupe
Petite Anse beach in Pointe-Noire
Plage de la Perle

Grande-Terre: The “Little Britanny of the Antilles

Grande-Terre has a more rural, inhabited landscape than Basse-Terre. Tourists’ favorite spots are in the south, along the coast around Gosier, Saint-Anne, or Saint-François, where the most beautiful beaches are to be found. It’s Grande-Terre’s main tourist attraction.

The weather is perhaps a little less rainy than on Basse-Terre, which catches the clouds because of its higher relief.

What to see What to do?

In Grande-Terrre, you’ll spend a lot of time at the beach, but don’t hesitate to take the small country roads into the interior via the Grands Fonds. The rather rugged terrain, with its mornes, is interesting.

The north of Grande-Terre offers a more rural environment. Pointe de la Vigie, with its spectacular cliffs, and Porte de l’Enfer are well worth a visit. The latter is a beach in a very deep bay, unfortunately sometimes encumbered by sargassum.

On the way back to Pointe-à-Pitre from the north, you’ll pass through an interesting mangrove area. A nature reserve, ” le Grand cul-de-sac Marin ” (website only in French), has been created to protect waterfowl. Boat trips with snorkeling are organized by agencies. I haven’t had a chance to test them.

Pointe de la Grande Vigie
Gates of Hell

Pointe des Châteaux is a major tourist destination in the east. Take the opportunity to spend some time on the wild and beautiful Grandes Salines beach. Be careful, though, as the current is strong and you’ll need to be a good swimmer.

In Saint-François, you can take a gyrocopter tour with Ulm Caraibes. It’s a spectacular experience that I highly recommend. I loved the feeling of flying in mid-air.

As you read through various blogs, you’ll notice that we recommend a trip to Petite Terre. It’s a nature reserve accessible by boat from Saint-François. The seabed is ideal for snorkeling. The only drawback is that you have to go through service providers with highly supervised tours. Personally, I preferred to avoid it as it was too touristy for my taste.

Pointe des Chateaux and Grande Saline beach
Grande Saline Beach
Gyrocopter at Saint-François

Where to stay in Grande-Terre?

In Gosier, Saint-Anne or Saint-François you’ll find a wide choice of accommodation, hotels and gites. The further you are from the coast, the less it will cost. The quality is fairly uneven, with the best-rubbing shoulders with the ordinary. So be aware of your surroundings and the comments of previous guests.

Le Gosier is the chic suburb of Pointe-à-Pitre, with a residential feel that perhaps gives less of a vacation impression. A trip to the ilet du Gosier is a great idea outside weekends.

Sainte-Anne is renowned for its white sandy beaches. It’s a family atmosphere. The village is very busy during the day. There’s also the magnificent Caravelle beach.

Saint-François is a traditional fishing port and marina. This is the place on the island with the liveliest nightlife, with its restaurants and cafés. Everywhere else in Guadeloupe is very quiet. It’s perhaps the city that feels the least Guadeloupean.

To be honest, I have no real preference between these three places. It’s more the quality of the holiday cottage that guides my choice of residence. This side of the island is quite dense. Dwellings are everywhere.

However, if this is your first visit to Guadeloupe, you’ll be better off in Basse-Terre. 

Sainte-Anne Beach
Saint-François aerial view

Pointe-à-Pitre: The island’s capital and its slavery memorial

Pointe-à-Pitre must have had a certain allure in days gone by, with its colonial-style houses. Today it’s bankrupt and in a sorry state of neglect. 

Go to Pointe-à-Pitre, especially to visit its slavery memorial. The architecture of the building is very successful. A visit to the permanent exhibition provides a better understanding of the origins of the difficulties in the West Indies, which arose from the extermination of local populations, the slave trade, and slavery.

It’s a pity, though, that the memorial doesn’t deliver a message of hope for the future. The past is certainly unacceptable, but today, in the French West Indies, the different communities have everything they need to build a more tolerant and inclusive society. They must be inspired by Nelson Mandela’s message: “We can change the world and make it a better place. It’s up to you to make the difference. They can’t do it by dwelling on the past. But the local situation is complex and, as I’m not a resident, I’m cautious about what solutions to offer and what advice to give.

Saint-Pierre and Saint-Paul Cathedral, Pointe-à-Pitre
ACTe Memorial

My favorite: Terre-de-Haut aux Saintes

It’s a 20-minute boat ride from Trois-Rivières. There is also a small airport that can be reached by chartering a plane from Pointe-à-Pitre.

The bay of Terre-de-Haut is rightly considered one of the most beautiful bays in the world. The small central village is quite pretty and makes you feel at home. What’s more, it’s an island that invites contemplation. And that takes time.

Many tourists visit it as part of a day trip. Personally, I strongly recommend a few days’ stay. After the last boat has left, it’s a delight to enjoy the calm of the island when the tourists have gone.

The island can be explored on foot, but I recommend renting a bike, preferably an electric one, as the hills can be quite steep.

Terre-de-haut Bay
Terre-de-haut Church
Port de Terre de haut
Sunset in Terre-de-haut

In Terre-de-haut, you’ll be spoilt for choice when it comes to beaches, each with its personality. The best-known are Pompierre beach, Anse Crawen, and Pain de Sucre, but there are many others to discover at your whim.

Don’t forget your mask and snorkel, as the seabed is very interesting. There’s also a shipwreck that you’ll feel like you’re flying over right in front of the houseboat! You’ll discover superb coral and, with a bit of luck, swim with turtles. The underwater photos are by my friend Laurent Gaillard.

The author swimming with a turtle
Corail aux Saintes
Corail aux Saintes
Corail aux Saintes

Two of the island’s highlights are Fort Napoléon and the Camel Walk. The views are spectacular but go early or late in the day to avoid the heat.

Another of the island’s attractions is its restaurants. You have several excellent ones. Our favorites are the “Au bon vivre” crossbred cuisine and the more traditional “Ti Kaz’ la“. Consider making a reservation.

When it comes to sleeping, you’ll be spoilt for choice. As for the rest of Guadeloupe, search on Airbnb or Abritel and select the accommodation that matches your budget or expectations. If you’ve decided to stay away from the village, you’ll need to have your own means of transport, such as bicycles or buggies, so you don’t end up too isolated.

La Désirade: The end of the world

It’s like a big pebble in the ocean. It takes 45 minutes by boat from Saint-François. I went there for a day in 2022 and enjoyed it.

The island is rugged and topped by a large, table-shaped mountain, just like Cape Town. To make the most of it, it’s best to rent a car or scooter. There’s no particular attraction, but it’s an end-of-the-world vibe that’s pretty gripping. It’s well worth staying for a night to get a feel for the area.

A special feature of Désirade is that you’ll come across iguanas!

And at the end of the day, to relax after your visit, I recommend the beautiful Souffleur beach.

La Désirade
Plage du Souffleur at la Désirade
Iguana on Désirade
Cimetiere marin de la-Désirade

Marie-Galante : The rural island

It can be reached by boat from Pointe-à-Pitre. I went there in 2021 for two days.

Personally, I found this island a bit boring. So it’s hard for me to praise it. But you should know that many fall under its spell because it resembles the Guadeloupe of 40 years ago. If you love the countryside, tranquillity, and beautiful beaches, go for it!

The island is large with rural landscapes. Half of the island’s surface area is devoted to sugar cane. You’ll find beautiful white sandy beaches. The prettiest is La Feuillère A long stretch of white sand bordered by coconut palms and turquoise waters. The Murat dwelling, the former residence of a sugarcane grower, is well worth a visit.

Given its size, it’s essential to rent a car and stay for at least two or three days to enjoy the atmosphere.

A good place to sleep and dine is Hotel M, not far from Capesterre.

La Feuillère Beach
Murat house

Visiting Guadeloupe: Residential or touring?

The island of Guadeloupe, or rather the archipelago, is much larger than a glance at the map would suggest.

Bear in mind that transport times are long. If you’re near Saint-François, you’ll need more than two hours to visit the main tourist attractions on Basse-Terre. That’s a four-hour drive in a single day. On the other hand, if you opt for accommodation in Deshaies, you’ll have to cross the island in the opposite direction to get to Pointe des Châteaux, with the traffic congestion around Pointe-à-Pitre in the process.

One-week stay? Just one place!

If you’re only coming for a week, I recommend a single location, preferably on the west coast of Basse-Terre. If you’re staying longer, you can consider visiting several places, but aim for at least 4 to 6 nights per location visited..

Some tourists prefer discovery. They’ll organize an itinerant trip, spending one or two nights in different parts of the island. Sure, they’ll minimize the hours of travel, but they’ll miss out on the magic of Guadeloupe, which is all about taking your time and letting yourself be won over by a certain tropical languor. Unfortunately, you’ll find plenty of blogs that concoct such tours. Don’t be inspired by them!

Don’t try to see everything!

Most tourists visit Les Saintes on a round-trip day trip. I think it’s a shame because you’ll end up tired from a long day’s driving and frustrated at having only flown over this fabulous place. The same advice applies to Marie-Galante. If your stay in Guadeloupe is too short, I advise you not to go, but to come back another time and spend a few days there.

I myself have not yet visited Terre-de-Bas in Les Saintes. I’m saving it for my next trip to Guadeloupe!

Day-trippers to Les Saintes

Sleeping in Guadeloupe: Hotel or gite?

The French West Indies are not the Canaries. There are very few hotels. They are generally small and rarely exceptional. I highly recommend staying in a home-stay or holiday cottages . There’s plenty of choice, and depending on your requirements, you’ll have access to the full range of comforts, from a simple bungalow to a luxurious villa. And, very often, you’ll have privileged contact with your host or hostess, who will give you all the tips you need to make the most of the island.

As far as I’m concerned, location is everything. The calm, the view, and the charm of the place are essential. Comfort is secondary.

In the West Indies, we live mostly outdoors, so there’s no need to find the conditions of your metropolitan apartment.!

And the good news is that air conditioning is generally not necessary in winter. Temperatures are rarely scorching, and the trade winds bring plenty of air.

On the other hand, be sure to use mosquito netting around beds and windows .

Below, I’ll give you some of the accommodation addresses I’ve enjoyed. But don’t limit yourselves to these and search for your own. The offer is very large and my proposals may already be booked.

Breakfast at Ti'Kannot'La

To enjoy Guadeloupe, don’t overdo it!

You’ll have noticed that in this article I haven’t given you a list of the 30 places to visit or activities to do. I haven’t suggested an itinerary either. It’s deliberate!

Guadeloupe is best enjoyed at a slower pace. Spend some time choosing your accommodation. The rest is up to you, depending on the weather and your personal preferences. There’s no place you can’t miss.

Important: go to bed early and get up early to make the most of the day. Guadeloupe is not a destination for night owls. But coming from Europe, with the time difference, it’s easy!

On-site, try to understand the complexity of these French overseas departments. You’re in France but with a complex history. Don’t be too quick to judge, and try to talk to local Guadeloupeans or people from mainland France who live there. This will give you a different view of current events in the French West Indies, which are often oversimplified and unflattering on television.



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