14 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Guadeloupe
In the Eastern Caribbean, the island archipelago of Guadeloupe enchants visitors with its evocative blend of natural beauty, Creole and French culture, and fascinating history.
Originally inhabited by the Arawaks, and later the Caribs, Guadeloupe was also coveted by the Dutch, attacked by pirates, and briefly occupied by Britain. Today the archipelago is an overseas region of France, and its food, language, and culture reflect this tie.
Guadeloupe proper resembles a butterfly in shape with two main islands, Grand-Terre in the east and Basse-Terre in the west, separated by a narrow mangrove channel called the Rivière Salée. Pretty palm-fringed beaches rim the coastline, and the interior is lush and mountainous with waterfalls, hot springs, an active volcano, and great opportunities for hiking. Most tourist facilities are located on the southern shore of Grand-Terre, which is also home to the largest city and cruise port, Pointe-a-Pitre. Composed of volcanic mounds and ridges, Basse-Terre is high and rugged, with well-preserved tropical forests and the active volcano of La Soufrière.
The archipelago also encompasses the smaller islands of La Desirade, Les Saintes, and Marie-Galante, which offer many natural attractions of their own. All of Guadeloupe's islands boast excellent opportunities for birding, photography, hiking, and water sports such as surfing, snorkeling, swimming, and diving. Guadeloupe also hosts many colorful carnivals and festivals, including the five-day Mardi-Gras Carnival ending on Ash Wednesday.
1 Guadeloupe National Park, Basse-Terre Island
Designated a World Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO, Guadeloupe National Park (Parc National de la Guadeloupe) on Basse-Terre Island, often draws more than one million visitors per year. The park encompasses 300 kilometers of hiking trails, La Soufrière volcano at 1,467 meters, Col de la Matéliane at 1,298 meters, and a wide range of flora and fauna, including 100 species of orchids and 11 species of bats. Birdwatchers will enjoy the diversity here with resident species such as the black woodpecker, pearly-eyed thrasher, and lesser Antillean pewee. A good way to tour the park is via Route de la Traversée (D23). This scenic trans-coastal highway winds through the tropical forest of majestic mahogany trees, giant ferns, and bamboo. Along this route, visitors will find lookouts, picnic areas, jungle waterfalls, and a staffed roadside center at Maison de la Forêt. Many visitors also stop for a cooling swim at Cascade aux Ecrevisses, a small waterfall spilling into a pond.
2 La Soufrière
The highest peak in the lesser Antilles, La Grande Soufrière is an active volcano, which has erupted eight times since 1660. Hot springs, mud pools, and fumaroles punctuate its barren black sides. Hikers can ascend the volcano along the Chemin des Dames trail, an approximately two-hour climb with panoramic views from the highest points of the massif, as long as the weather is clear. The triple waterfall of Chutes du Carbet cascades down the eastern face of the La Soufrière massif, from a height of 115 meters, with lookouts over each waterfall. Hikers who follow the trail to Etang As de Pique will find one of the largest of the mountainside lakes formed in craters on the volcanic massif surrounded by lush hillsides.
3 Terre-de-Bas Island
Terre-de-Bas is the western island of Les Saintes and features small fishing villages swimming beaches and hiking trails. Two hours is sufficient to cross the island, which is considered one of the most natural and wild in the Guadeloupe archipelago. Grande Anse on Terre-de-Bas features a small 17th century church, a pretty bay and beach with huts for swimming and snorkeling, and a hiking path to the promontory of 273-meter Grande Montagne. Gros-Cap is the main village of Terre-de-Bas with a ferry landing, hotel, restaurant, and the starting points of roads and hiking trails.
4 Terre-de-Haut Island
Terre-de-Haut Island, the eastern island of Les Saintes, exudes a more European character than its western counterpart. The terrain and climate were unsuited to raising sugar, so the settlers were mainly fishermen. The pastel-colored houses and brightly-painted fishing boats (saintoises) provide excellent photo opportunities. At the island's main village, Bourg des Saintes, "Sugarloaf" volcanic hill overlooks a curved blue bay fringed by white sands. The houses here are European in character, with whitewashed walls, red tile roofs, and flower gardens. Located on a hill overlooking the bay, 17th-century Fort Napoléon with its historical museum and Exotic Garden is one of the island's main tourist attractions. Another highlight, Morne du Chameau is the highest point on the island and takes around two hours to ascend from Terre-de-Haut village. Across the bay, Ilet à Cabrit is a small island where the ruins of 19th-century Fort Joséphine still stand.
Lying in the shadow of the Soufrière volcano, Basse Terre is the administrative capital of Guadeloupe and one of the oldest French settlements in the Caribbean. Banana boats fill their holds at the harbor, and the town is a mix of French colonial architecture and modern government buildings. Points of interest include 17th-century Fort St-Charles (also called Fort Louis Delgrès), the town square (Place du Champ d'Arbaud) and its adjoining park Jardin Pichon, and the Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul. At the Archaeological Gardens history buffs will find a series of Arawak petroglyphs and wildlife lovers will enjoy the Zoological and Botanical Park. Overlooking town, the suburb of St Claude is home to large colonial mansions, former homes of the fugitive French aristocratic families who founded sugar plantations in the 18th century. Hiking trails ascend the volcanic massif with sea views.
6 Zoological and Botanical Park
An easy drive from Pointe-a-Pitre, the Basse-Terre Zoological and Botanical Park is a popular hilltop garden and nature reserve on the banks of the Rivière aux Hérbes. Children love the animals here. Hiking trails thread through the tropical rainforest where visitors may spot tortoises, raccoons, monkeys, jaguars, and parrots. One section of the park is strung with rope bridges leading through the canopy with spectacular views over the mountainous terrain.
7 Pointe-a-Pitre Shopping
Shoppers will find Guadeloupe's best buys in the archipelago's largest town, Pointe-a-Pitre. French perfumes, jewelry, cosmetics, crystal, and fashion tempt shoppers at the Center Saint-John Perse as well as the stores along Frébault, Nozières, and Schoelcher Streets. The colorful outdoor markets are fun to visit as much for the ambiance as their merchandise with many market vendors dressed in colors as bright as the tropical fruits they flaunt. The harborside market sells spices, flowers, crafts, and clothing, and fishing boats tie up here to sell their catch. Other markets around town include Saint-Antoine, Saint-Jules, and the Flower market.
8 Sainte-Anne, Guadeloupe (Grand-Terre)
At Sainte Anne, visitors will find a settlement dating to the 17th century and one of the finest beaches in Guadeloupe. Sainte Anne was the capital of Grande-Terre until 1759, and today the ruins of sugar mills surrounding town are a testament to its former status as an important sugar exporter. A seaside promenade invites travelers to stroll under the palms, and the beach here is busy, but beautiful with white sand and shallow water in dreamy shades of blue. Visitors will also find a selection of restaurants and a market selling local crafts near the beach.
9 La Désirade
Meaning "The Desired One" in French, La Désirade certainly lives up to its name. A 45-minute boat ride from Saint-Francois, this peaceful island, is ringed with beautiful palm-fringed beaches and protected by long coral reefs. Snorkeling, swimming, and diving are all popular pursuits here, and a hiking trail at Le Morne du Souffleur offers spectacular sea views as does Grande Montagne, the island's tiny village. Composed of tabular rock, this beautiful island was once a leper colony, but is now a geological nature reserve. Not far from La Désirade lie Petite-Terre, two uninhabited island nature reserves known for their biodiversity.
10 La Pointe des Châteaux (Grande-Terre)
La Pointe des Châteaux is a scenic isthmus at the easternmost point of Grande Terre. The windy, wave-battered point with castle-like rock formations exudes a rugged beauty reminiscent of Brittany. A botanical path leads from the village to a vantage point among great black rocks, which gives a clear view to the islands of La Désirade, Petite-Terre, and Marie-Galante.
11 Port-Louis (Grande-Terre)
Port-Louis, a small fishing village is home to one of Guadeloupe's prettiest beaches, Plage du Souffleur. This wide-open stretch of beautiful white sand is fringed by flame trees, which look especially beautiful when they blossom in the spring. Brightly painted wooden houses and vintage iron lampposts give the town a cheery feel. A drive through an area of desert vegetation leads to Pointe de le Grande Vigie, the northern-most point in Guadeloupe, with 360-degree views across the sea to neighboring islands on clear days.
12 Marie-Galante Island
Called the Big Pancake by its inhabitants, Marie-Galante is a round, flat island known for its gorgeous beaches. Sugar farming and tourism are the primary industries and visitors will see the ruins of many windmills around the island. Sunbathing, swimming, hiking, and local events are all popular activities. At Habitation Murat, an eco-museum honors Marie-Galante's arts and culture, including the history of its sugar industry. Also on-site are a restored colonial mansion, windmill tower, and the ruins of a sugar factory. Feuillere Beach is one of the nicest stretches of sand on the island.
13 Jacques Cousteau's Underwater Reserve
Off the coast of Basse-Terre near Bouillante, the waters surrounding Pigeon Island comprise the popular Jacques Cousteau Underwater Reserve (Réserve Cousteau) with some of Guadeloupe's best sub-aquatic scenery. Visitors can snorkel along the shallow water reefs, scuba dive, or view the coral from a glass-bottom boat. The dive sites cater to all skill levels. Turtles and large schools of fish, as well as parrotfish, trumpetfish, and barracuda frequent the coral gardens here, and the area offers good wall and wreck dives. Travelers can also kayak over to the reserve from the mainland.
14 Jardin Botanique de Deshaies
Brimming with beautiful tropical flora and many colorful species of birds, Jardin Botanique de Deshaies is a peaceful botanical garden on Basse-Terre's northwest coast. Paths lined with bright splashes of bougainvillea wind throughout the grounds where visitors stroll among cascades, lily-topped ponds, and gazebos. Children will love feeding the fish as well as the rainbow lorikeets, which descend on outstretched arms. A hilltop restaurant provides beautiful views of the gardens and the sea.