Recently, I took a trip to the French Caribbean, to a less than traveled (at least by Americans) island called Guadeloupe. It’s an island I barely knew anything of, except that it was a French colony and likely had scuba diving. After spending five days in this tropical paradise, I came away ever so impressed by what I had experienced, from the delicious french-creole gastronomy, beaches, volcanoes, and stunning mountain scenery.
NYC to Guadeloupe on Norwegian Air
Perhaps the main reason I decided to make this trip to Guadeloupe was the absolutely ridiculous flight deal. Norwegian airlines, was and will in the future, run a incredibly cheap price to Guadeloupe. Flights can be found from as cheap as $150 round trip, direct flight! Yes $150! Seeing as how expensive domestic flights are in America, I can’t even fly within my own state for that price, let alone on a 4 hour flight to the tropics.
Perhaps Norwegian got a sweet deal with the airport, or everyone’s scared to visit because of the Zika virus, but regardless it is a complete steal. Norwegian is also flying direct with the same prices to the French island of Martinique as well. I ended up getting my flight for around $160 which might as well be free!
Update 2022/2023: Norwegian Air no longer flies these routes from the US to the Caribbean.
Getting around in Guadeloupe
Guadeloupe is a French overseas department, meaning it might as well be a state of France. Upon arrival to the airport, the immigration lines are the same as anywhere else in the EU. In fact, someone visiting Guadeloupe from within the Shengen doesn’t even need to bring a passport with them. The airport was a lot nicer than I had expected and immigration was a breeze.
Language in Guadeloupe
French is the national language here. Seeing as how 95% of the tourists that visit this place are French, having a basic knowledge of the language will help a lot. The French tourists and local creole people don’t speak much English, and no menus or signs are in English either. Aside from gesturing and pointing, knowing some French will be infinitely useful, or at the very least have Google Translate ready with the offline French pack.
As Guadeloupe is part of France, the Euro is the only currency used. Most of the nicer restaurants on the island will take credit cards.
Rent a Car in Guadeloupe
Guadeloupe is a larger island and if you want to see anything at all on this island, renting a car is almost imperative. Cabs are very expensive in the city and unless you’re staying in the capital of Pointe-A-Pitre, a cab ride out to the other parts of the island can easily be 50-100 euros one way. There are numerous car rental shops at the airport and a reservation beforehand is important. As it is European, automatic cars are hard to come by and I ended up paying three times as much for the privilege (~50 euros a night).
The food is easily one of the highlights of visiting Guadeloupe. Like the hybrid cuisines of most Caribbean nations, Guadeloupe blends flavors from its African and French roots, as well as being influenced from Asian cultures. With ample amounts of seafood, fruits, and spices, the creole food here is fantastic.
Being as Guadeloupe is part of the EU, the cost of goods is not cheap. Food is generally expensive but probably no more expensive than it is in other EU based Caribbean nations. A modest lunch costs 12-15 euros and dinner was more expensive at 20+ euros for a seafood dinner at an average restaurant. There are many higher end restaurants on this island, especially in Grand Terre so I can only imagine how expensive those places are. Even the local non-tourist orientated restaurants cost me 10 euros for a standard chicken colombo. Drinks were about 5 euros for a beer and more for cocktail drinks.
Perhaps it was because I had envisioned Cozumel style prices before coming here, but I was taken back by how expensive things were.
Rum is the drink of choice in Guadeloupe. It’s cheap, good, and can be found literally everywhere. It was mostly served as “Ti-Punch” which is straight rum with sugar and lime juice. Not so good at first, but after two or three, they started growing on me and by the 5th or 6th, I was out for the count. I had plenty of good nights with this stuff and recommend a liberal helping of the good stuff when traveling to Guadeloupe!
Hand crank ice-cream
I’m not an ice cream connoisseur of any type but I must say Guadeloupe had some amazing ice cream. It was all done in the old ways, hand cranked out of a wooden barrel, and people were selling it all over the streets. I’d never seen ice cream made in such a fashion but damn was it delicious. For 2 euros a cup, we must have had a dozen of these during our 4 day stay on the island.
Basse Terre and Grand Terre
The island of Guadeloupe is split into two halves, with the capital city of Pointe-A-Pitre in the middle, resembling that of a butterfly. The two sides are distinct in their landscape, people, and vibe. The east side or Grand Terre (Big Land) is home to all the nice hotels, resorts, and most idyllic beaches. Think Club Med style area.
The west half of the island is Basse Terre (Low Land) is home to mountainous terrain, volcanoes, beaches as well but it is generally less touristy than Grand Terre. Basse Terre is also home to most of the diving in Guadeloupe as the Jacques Cousteau Reserve sits right off its coast.
Airbnb on Basse Terre
We ended up staying in an awesome Airbnb in Basse Terre. From all the research I did, Basse Terre seemed like the spot to be to appreciate nature, secluded beaches, dive, and get away from the touristy scene. Hotels and guesthouses were hard to find on Basse Terre as it is less developed but there was an abundance of Airbnb’s to be had, almost all at far lower prices than hotels. We ended up paying 50 euros a night for our amazing room in a retired French couple’s house.
It was at the top of the hills with perfect unobstructed views of the Caribbean! An absolute pleasure and can highly recommend. Our hosts, who didn’t speak a lick of English (thankfully I speak enough French), were so funny and welcoming. We were constantly served rhum and I woke up hungover most mornings, and they even invited us to a dinner (French style with way too many courses) on our last night as the guy caught some Tuna. Can’t recommend Airbnb enough!
Guadeloupe is a lot bigger of and island than I had expected. Having only 4 days is barely enough to explore all of Basse Terre, let alone the rest of the island. Nevertheless, it didn’t stop me from seeing as much as I could. Renting a car is the best way to see the island. There are plenty of car rental companies at the airport and rates are very reasonable if you can drive manual. There are two or three main roads that connect both sides of the island. A full drive around the island can be done in 3-4 hours.
La Grand Soufriere Volcano
Easily one of the main highlights of Guadeloupe is hiking up its largest volcano. Located on the Basse Terre side, the still active volcano is 1.5km high, and has magnificent sweeping views of Guadeloupe and the surrounding Caribbean. It’s a 2-3 hour hike up, and another 1-2 hour hike down but it is totally worth it. I was warned that the clouds come in and routinely block off the views from above but we got lucky and came on a sunny day.
The secret is to hike here as early as possible so to escape the heat and before the clouds move in for the afternoon showers. Most of the tour buses come here in the morning but not until almost 8am so starting before 8am is key to avoid the crowds.
The best beaches in Guadeloupe
There’s loads of picturesque beaches all around Guadeloupe but from my limited experience, I found the most idyllic and most tropical to be on the Grand Terre side of Guadeloupe, between the areas of Gosier and St Francois that face the Caribbean. On the Basse Terre side of the island exists beautiful beaches as well. These are far more desolate as the all inclusive hotels are in Grand Terre only.
The area of Deshaies (Pronounced Day-Ah) was home to plenty of less than traveled beaches which is perfect for those wanting to escape the crowds in Grand Terre. I found some of these beaches to be extremely picturesque as well, like the Grand Anse Beach and Plage De La Perle.
Malendure beach on the western side of Basse Terre, although touristy, is a great place to snorkel. From the shore, there are loads of reefs and turtles are plentiful in this area too.
The area of Vieux Fort on Basse Terre had some stunning black sand beaches as a result of the Soufriere volcano adjacent to it.
Pointe des Chateaux
Located at the very eastern tip of Guadeloupe is the beautiful area of Pointe Des Chateaux (Castle Point). There is no castle here unfortunately, but there is a giant statue of a cross that people can hike to. From the top, you can see views of Guadeloupe’s other islands. The scenery changes drastically from the tropical beaches only a few kilometers away but it’s well worth the trip in my opinion. This area reminds me a lot of a tiny version of Cape Point in South Africa.
Diving in Guadeloupe
The main purpose for our visit to Guadeloupe was to do some diving. Having just finished my divemaster certification in Komodo, I was ready to get to diving again. Normally, I would have just booked a flight to Cozumel and called it a day but the cheap flight on Norwegian Air just couldn’t be overlooked!
Most of the diving on Guadeloupe is located on the western coast of Basse Terre, from the area of Pointe Noire to Bouillante. There are loads of dive shops all around this area. Most of the shops are French, and the ones that advertise English speakers likely have only a few DMs/Instructors that can speak English. In fact, aside from seeing a few Americans on my flight from NYC, I didn’t see a single other English speaker the entire time I was on Basse Terre!
After doing some research on TripAdvisor and sending out a few emails, I ultimately decided on Atlantis Formation, a shop right next to Malendure beach. The owner Vincent, was a very experienced course director that spoke perfect English and was super responsive to all my emails. After a few days of diving, I can definitely recommend them!
Diving Conditions in Guadeloupe
The diving on Guadeloupe was actually more impressive than I had thought. The visibility was great (25m+), water temperature was good (27c+), and currents were muted making it a relaxing place to dive. We had all our dives in the Jacques Cousteau marine park around Pigeon Island.
The corals were in far better shape than I had pictured and there was an abundant amount of marine life in the park as well. We saw schools of barracuda, jackfish, sargeant majors, turtles and more. Because of the volcanos on the island, there are many underwater geysers that fumed up much warmer water, a cool thing I’d never felt before.
My favorite thing here had to be the wreck dive. The Augustin Fresnel is a huge 50m+ ship that was sunk a few decades ago. We penetrated the wreck, meandering around the captains quarters in the pitch darkness. I’m a big fan of wreck dives, just for the feeling of being in a space where my body tells me I should be walking but instead I feel like I’m floating in space. Quite the marine life has developed around the ship including schools of reef fish, vibrant corals, and a gigantic resident moral eel.
Ile Des Saintes
A French diver I met back in Sipadan, Malaysia told me to visit Ile Aux Saintes if I ever made my way to Guadeloupe. It is a small island to the south of Guadeloupe that is accessible by ferry from Trois Rivieres. I didn’t have time to come here sadly but all my dive guides raved about the place. From the pictures, the beaches look even more beautiful and isolated than the mainland and diving I can only wonder! A trip for the next Guadeloupe visit!
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