15 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Guadeloupe
The island archipelago of Guadeloupe offers an evocative blend of natural beauty and rich Creole and French culture. 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, Grande-Terre in the east and Basse-Terre in the west, separated by a narrow mangrove channel called the Rivière Salée. Palm-fringed beaches rim the coastline, and the interior is lush and mountainous with waterfalls, hot springs, and an active volcano. Most tourist facilities are located on the southern shore of Grande-Terre, which is also home to the largest city and cruise port, Pointe-a-Pitre.
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 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
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 and bamboo. Along this route are lookouts, picnic areas, jungle waterfalls, and a staffed roadside center at Maison de la Forêt. You can also stop for a cooling swim at Cascade aux Ecrevisses, a small waterfall spilling into a pond. Other popular things to do in the park include the hike up the volcano and another trail to a series of waterfalls on the lower slopes of the volcano, known as Les Chutes du Carbet (Carbet Falls).
2 La Soufrière Hike, Basse-Terre
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 flows down the eastern face of 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.
Address: Habitation Beausoleil Montéran, 97120 Saint Claude
3 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.
4 Grand Cul-de-Sac Marin Natural Reserve Boat Tour
Cradled between the northern shores of Basse-Terre and Grande-Terre, Grand Cul-de-Sac Marin Natural Reserve (Réserve Naturelle du Grand Cul-de-Sac Marin) is a great place to soak up the wild side of Guadeloupe on a boat tour. This 15,000-hectare reserve is a mosaic of mangrove forests, mudflats, coral reefs, seagrass meadows, turquoise lagoons, and tiny islets, as well as transitional zones where sustainable human activity is permitted. Together with Guadeloupe National Park on Basse-Terre, it forms the UNESCO-listed Guadeloupe Archipelago Biosphere Reserve. Among the prolific marine life living within the reserve are turtles, sea urchins, giant sponges, and an impressive diversity of fish. Birders can spot species such as kingfishers, herons, pelicans, and frigate birds. You can visit the reserve on a guided boat tour, usually called the Blue Lagoon tour, which includes exploring the mangroves and the Moustique River; snorkeling on the coral reefs; and a stop at the tiny white-sand island of Ilet Caret, ringed by luminous turquoise water. If you don't speak French, make sure you request an English-speaking guide.
5 Plage de Grande Anse, Basse Terre
On the northeast coast of Basse-Terre, near Deshaies, Plage de Grande Anse is a picturesque slice of palm-lined sand and clear waters. Flanked by lush headlands, the beach stretches for more than a kilometer, with soft golden sand and plenty of shady trees. It's a wonderful beach for a stroll, and the waters are usually great for swimming, although the surf can be a little rough on windy days. It's not the best place for young children to swim, as the sea floor drops off suddenly beyond the shoreline. A bonus here is that you can rent kayaks to paddle around the mangrove-fringed lagoon behind the beach. After a morning of sunbathing and swimming, head over to the little cafes and food trucks near the parking lot, which sell mouthwatering crepes and other snacks.
Further north, Plage de la Perle is another popular beach near Deshaies, with cafes and restrooms, and it tends to be a little quieter than Plage de Grande Anse
6 Jacques Cousteau's Underwater Reserve
Off the coast of Basse-Terre near Bouillante, the waters surrounding Pigeon Island comprise the Jacques Cousteau Underwater Reserve (Réserve Cousteau) with some of Guadeloupe's best sub-aquatic scenery. You can snorkel along the shallow water reefs, scuba dive, or view the coral from a glass-bottom boat, and dive operators 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. You can also kayak over to the reserve from the mainland.
Address: Bouillante, Guadeloupe , Plage de Malendure 97125
7 Zoo de Guadeloupe, Parc des Mamelles, Basse-Terre
Bordering Guadeloupe National Park, Zoo de Guadeloupe is a popular hilltop garden and nature reserve on the banks of the Rivière aux Hérbes. Around 85 species of animals are represented here, including many rare and endangered species. Hiking trails thread through the tropical rainforest, where you can 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.
Address: Route de la traversée, D23
8 Jardin Botanique de Deshaies, Basse Terre
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 you can stroll among cascades, lily 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.
Address: Deshaies 97126, Basse Terre
9 Terre-de-Haut Island, Les Saintes
Terre-de-Haut Island, the eastern island of Les Saintes, exudes a more European character than its western counterpart, Terre-de-Bas. 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 sand. The houses here are European in character, with whitewashed walls, red-tile roofs, and flower gardens.
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.
10 Terre-de-Bas Island, Les Saintes
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.
11 Sainte-Anne Beach, Grande-Terre
Palm-fringed Sainte Anne is one of the most popular beaches in Guadeloupe. The seaside promenade skirting the shore is a lovely spot for a stroll, and the beach is busy but beautiful, with white sand and shallow water in dreamy shades of blue. This is a great spot for a swim, with typically calm waters. Near the beach is a selection of restaurants and market stalls selling local crafts.
To the west, fronting Club Med La Caravelle, Plage Caravelle is another lovely beach with an offshore reef. If you prefer a little more serenity, Plage de Bois Jolan, to the east, is less crowded than Sainte-Anne, but you need to bring your own food and refreshments as the beach lacks amenities.
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 you can see the ruins of many windmills around the island. Sunbathing, swimming, hiking, and local events are all popular activities. Built in 1839, Château Murat was the biggest sugar plantation in Guadeloupe, and its 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, the ruins of a sugar factory, and a medicinal garden. Feuillere Beach is one of the nicest stretches of sand on the island.
13 La Désirade Day Trip
Meaning "The Desired One" in French, La Désirade certainly lives up to its name for travelers who want to escape the tourist crowds. This peaceful island lies about a 45-minute rocky boat ride from Saint-Francois on the southeastern coast of Grande-Terre. Composed of tabular rock, it is the oldest island in the Lesser Antilles and was once a leper colony but is now a geological nature reserve. Alluring palm-lined beaches, such as Fifi and Souffleur, ring the island, and coral reefs protect its shores. Snorkeling, swimming, and diving are all popular activities here, and a hiking trail at Le Morne du Souffleur offers spectacular sea views. You'll also see plenty of iguanas and goats during your visit.
Not far from La Désirade lie Petite-Terre are two uninhabited island nature reserves known for their biodiversity.
14 Plage du Souffleur, Grande-Terre
One of Grande-Terre's prettiest beaches, Plage du Souffleur skirts the coast of Port-Louis, a small fishing village on the island's northwest coast. Sea grape trees and coconut palms fringe this picturesque stretch of white sand and aqua sea, offering plenty of shady patches to lie out your towel. Depending on the conditions, you might find some decent waves here for body surfing, and when the water is calm, snorkeling can be fun. Food trucks sell Creole food and refreshments.
In nearby Port-Louis, brightly painted wooden houses and vintage iron lampposts give the town a cheery feel. A 20-minute drive through an area of desert vegetation leads to Pointe de la Grande Vigie, the northernmost point in Guadeloupe, with sweeping views across the sea to neighboring islands on clear days.
15 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. Saint-Antoine market offers a zingy sampling of Creole flavors, and 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.
More Beautiful Islands near Guadeloupe
Guadeloupe is surrounded by other gorgeous islands, where natural beauty is the top draw. To the south lie Dominica, Martinique, and St. Lucia, with lush, mountainous terrain and fantastic opportunities for hiking. To the north, a volcano still smolders on tiny Montserrat, and Antigua and Barbuda are home to some of the best beaches in the Caribbean.
For other tropical travel ideas, see our articles on the best luxury all-inclusive resorts in the Caribbean and the best tropical vacations.