Guadeloupe was originally settled by Arawaks and Amerindians around 300 BC. They were later displaced by the Caribs. Christopher Columbus was the first European to discover the island in 1493 on his second voyage. He named it after a saint affixed atop a monastery in Spain. Guadeloupe, however, remained unsettled, serving only as a trading post until the French came along and colonized it in 1635. They set up sugar plantations and imported slaves to work them. In 1674, Louis XIV annexed the islands.
Though the English occupied the island from 1759 to 1763, Louis XV traded lands in Canada in exchange for Guadeloupe. During the French Revolution, the island experienced its own revolution when slaves were emancipated and plantation owners were executed or exiled. Slavery was restored though by Napoleon I in 1815, and then prohibited permanently in 1848. The freed slaves were replaced by indentured workers from India.
After WWII, Guadeloupe was granted overseas territory status. While there have been movements toward independence for years, Guadeloupe today still remains part of France, represented by elected senators and deputies in the legislature in Paris. The island is also part of the European Union.
Attractions by Region
Guadeloupe looks like a tilted butterfly geographically. The two main islands are Basse-Terre and Grande-Terre. Both sit in the northwest part of Guadeloupe, separated by a narrow strait called La Rivere Salee. Basse-Terre forms the southwest wing of the island pair while Grande-Terre is the northeast wing. In Guadeloupe northeastern most corner, you’ll find the small island of La Desirade; in the south, the island of Marie-Galante; and in the southwest, Iles des Saintes.
Grande-Terre is an agricultural island with banana and sugar plantations. Its coast features sandy tropical beaches. It features the largest city in Guadeloupe, Point-a-Pitre, which is the island’s business center and transportation gateway. The city unfortunately lost much of its old buildings in an 1843 earthquake. But you can still visit the original market square of Place de la Victoire, some old buildings laced with balconies that have survived, as well as the Basilique de St. Pierre et St. Paul whose iron bolted framework survived the earthquake. In the south coast, you’ll find Gosier and Guadeloupe’s strip of resorts. Be sure to check out the sugar cane fields, colonial mansions, pre-Columbian Arawak ruins, and old fortresses found on Grand-Terre.
Basse-Terre, on the other hand, is less tropical. Its beaches are dark and it is dominated by mountain scenery. Guadeloupe’s capital, Basse-Terre, hails from this island. The town features old colonial buildings and forts, including the mid-17th century Fort St. Charles. The highlight of Basse-Terre is the Parc Naturel, which is a 74,000-acre park featuring lakes, waterfalls, rainforests, and scenic uplands – a remarkable sight in a densely populated island.
Marie-Galante is a tranquil refuge where you’ll find remains of rum distilleries and sugar cane plantations. You’ll also find old French manor houses and sugar mills. The natural beauty of Marie-Galante is palpable – a scenery of rocky abysses, green highlands, and awe-inspiring grottos.
Iles des Saintes
Iles des Saintes is made up of eight small islands. The islands feature jagged coasts with secluded bays and rocky coves, making them ideal playgrounds for water sports enthusiasts. The main island on Iles des Saintes is Terre de Haut, where all the tourist facilities are found.
Many of the beaches in Guadeloupe are fronted by hotels and motels. A number of the beaches are nude and clothing optional, including the popular Pointe Tarare. The most beautiful of the beaches is La Creole Beach with its fine white sands. Other beaches include Petit-Canal, Port Louis, and La Moule.
In Basse-Terre, you’ll find darker sands, while Marie-Galante offers beaches of honey-hue washed by turquoise-colored waters.
Be sure to visit Pigeon Island, considered by legendary Jacques Cousteau to be one of the top ten scuba diving spots in the world. Many others just as superb are found in the off-shore islands of Guadeloupe.
French cuisine and Creole creations are abundant on the island. The flavors are a fusion of traditional French, Creole, and Caribbean, and the ingredients used are local. Specialty dishes include palourdes which are tiny clams in herb-flavored broth, the Colombo which is a goat curry, cribiches which is a freshwater crayfish dish, blaff which is a poached lime fish, and crabe farci which is a spicy stuffed crab. Instead of wine accompanying meals, which is the way of the French, rum is the beverage of choice for the people of Guadeloupe.
The nightlife in Guadeloupe is happening. You’ll find nightclubs in discos in the touristy areas of St. Frangois and Gosier, which are also home to the island’s two casinos. Local clubs offer traditional gwoka music and zouk dancing. The big hotels will present folklore shows from time to time, which feature Caribbean music involving drums and calypso. Cockfighting is also a popular spectacle on the island for those not opposed to the sport.