he island ‘nation’ of Guadeloupe (pronounced Gwa-deh-LOOP) is an archipelago in the Caribbean Sea comprising several distinct islands, all part of the French West Indies in the Lesser Antilles. The butterfly-shaped island of Guadeloupe proper is actually made up of two islands, Basse-Terre and Grande-Terre, separated by a narrow seawater channel, the Riviere Salee. The other islands are Marie-Galante, La Désirade, and Les Saintes, which lie just offshore, and St. Martin and St. Barthelemy (a.k.a. St. Barts), some 125 miles north.
Often known as “The Civilized Island”, Guadeloupe is actually an oversees department of France, and as such its its official language is French, and it definitely has a French flair about it– from the elegance of its cuisine and the joi de vivre of its people to its nude beaches and excellent shopping. Note that as part of France, Guadeloupe is part of the European Union and the Eurozone; hence, as for all Eurozone countries, its currency is the euro.
But though it is a French Island, its people, culture and mores are a similar blend to the other Caribbean islands: mainly European, African and East Indian. So while shops close for the French version of a siesta and it’s a good idea to bring a French phrase book, the markets, music, dance and local patois are pure Caribbean.
The two wings that form Guadeloupe are very different from each other, one flat and the other with an active volcano and a rain forest. The flat side has sugar cane, great beaches, and rum distilleries to sample. The other side is where you go to climb the volcano, explore the rain forest, snorkel or scuba.
Basse-Terre, the western island, is the volcanic one, with mountains 4,000 feet high. The rainforest on these slopes is full of color, birds and mighty waterfalls and cascades. In fact, the three falls of the Carbet River create such a spectacle of froth and spray that Columbus and his crew at first thought the hillsides were covered by snow.
Grande-Terre, the eastern island, is flatter and drier, lacking the dramatic scenery of its sister. But to make up for the lack of scenery, Grande-Terre has plenty of sunshine, the major towns and cities of the archipelago, and miles of white sand beaches that stretch to the horizon.
Gosier is the holiday center of Guadeloupe, on the southern coast of Grande-Terre. This is where the majority of tourism is focused, with its hotels, restaurants, nightclubs and shops. Still, it is a pleasant, sleepy place with a highly recommended picnic spot up in the hills above town that overlooks a small beach, an offshore islet and a lighthouse. And don’t let Gosier’s quietness during the day fool you; it wakes up at night time when the restaurants and nightclubs begin to open, and it wakes up with a roar!
If you like a little nightlife to give your vacation some zip, you can party all the time, part-eee all the time in Gosier!
Gosier also has one of the island’s two casinos, where you can play Blackjack and American roulette or commune with the slot machines. (Legal age is 18. Proof of identity –passport or driver’s license with photo– is required for entrance to the gameroom and the fee at both casinos is 69F.) Dress is casual here, with jacket and tie not required. But do be aware that wearing beach apparel away from the beaches is frowned upon.
If you enjoy shopping, Guadaloupe is a good place for it. Besides excellent buys on luxury items with made-in-France labels (perfumes, china, crystal, etc.) which are usually discounted by about 20% if paid for with certain credit cards, there are very good local products which make fine gifts: dark and light rums, coffee beans, unusual spices, handicrafts in pottery, straw, and wicker, hand- painted fabrics, and handmade lace. Champagnes and wines from France, as well as imported cheeses, patés, and other delicacies, line the shelves of many new supermarchés that have sprouted up on the island. Lastly, make sure you visit the principal city of Pointe-a-Pitre, where the markets are animated open-air bazaars that contrast nicely with the smart little boutiques snuggled into city streets.
Note that the United States Dollar (USD), is accepted in many stores, however change may be given in the Euro. Major credit cards are also widely accepted.
Guadeoupe is also an excellent spot for scuba diving and snorkeling, with no less an expert as the late Jacques Cousteau recommending it as one of the world’s top 10 diving sites. Especial favorites are Pigeon Island and Cousteau Underwater Park.
*NOTE: You should be aware before you go that all of the beaches in these islands follow the European model and are topless-optional –you may wear your swimsuit top if you want, but an awful lot of women don’t. And there are a few beaches that are clothing-optional entirely, some of which are not necessarily safe for unaccompanied women. So if this custom bothers you, you should go elsewhere for your vacation.
As for dining, there are well over 100 restaurants to choose from, and you will find everything from French cuisine and fine wines to curry dishes and local Caribbean concoctions. Creole dining is gaining enormously in popularity, with some of the best eateries being beachside cafés or in-town bistros, and several little more than the front porch of the cook’s home (these can be a marvelous discovery!). The hardest decision you may have to make during your vacation is where to eat next.
A particularly pleasant timeshare choice is The Creole Beach Hotel, an RCI-affiliated Resort on a lovely stretch of white sand beach in Gosier. This particular beach has no shade, so bring your umbrella and lots of sunscreen. (There are also lawns around the beach that are used for sunbathing.)
The Creole Beach Hotel boasts exceptional restaurants and a very nice pool surrounded by beautiful tropical gardens. Available activities include water-skiing, snorkeling, windsurfing, volleyball and a putting green. Evening entertainment plus shopping and nightlife are very nearby, and you will find yourself quite spoiled by the staff when you finally have to leave for home.
Do bring your French phrasebook, as you will probably need it to get by both on the island and at the resort. On the other hand, if you are not a Type-A personality you will probably have a great time without that phrasebook just by smiling and going with the flow!
Guadeloupe is a fun island, and The Creole Beach Hotel is a wonderful place from which to experience it. Enjoy!
Some Web sites to explore for more information:
- http://www.creolebeach.com/ – The resort’s web site
- http://guadeloupe-guide.info/ — Lots of info here
- http://www.myguadeloupe.ca/en/guadeloupe/ –“Imagine France as an Island”
- http://www.lonelyplanet.com/guadeloupe/ –The usual good info from Lonely Planet
- http://www.frenchcaribbean.com/Guadeloupe/info/pages/GPMainPage.html –Very good, for all the French Caribbean islands
“On the Road” is a compilation of destination ideas, resort reviews, videos and more gathered from a variety of sources that includes our readers.
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