Guadeloupe’s evocative blend of lush natural beauty and rich Creole and French culture make it a magical place to visit. The archipelago is an overseas region of France, and Guadeloupe’s food, language, and culture reflect this strong tie.
If you look at a Guadeloupe map, the main landmass 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 Guadeloupe hotels and resorts and many of the islands’ tourist attractions dot the golden shores of these main islands, and Guadeloupe’s largest city and cruise port, Pointe-a-Pitre, lies on the southern shore of Grande-Terre.
Guadeloupe also encompasses the smaller islands of La Desirade, Les Saintes (also called Îles des Saintes), and Marie-Galante, which also offer beautiful beaches and quaint villages. All 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.
Wondering about the best places to visit on your trip? Consult our list of the top tourist attractions and things to do in Guadeloupe.
Note: Some businesses may be temporarily closed due to recent global health and safety issues.
Guadeloupe National Park, Basse-Terre
Nature lovers of all kinds will find something to love at Guadeloupe National Park (Parc National de la Guadeloupe). Designated a World Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO, the park often draws more than a million visitors a year.
Among its many attractions are 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 plants and animals, including 100 species of orchids and 11 species of bats.
Bird-watchers will enjoy the diversity here, with resident species such as the black woodpecker, pearly-eyed thrasher, and Lesser Antillean pewee.
A good way to take a sightseeing tour of 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.
One of the unique things to do in Guadeloupe is hike up La Soufrière volcano. You can also take another trail in the park to a series of waterfalls on the lower slopes of the volcano, known as Les Chutes du Carbet (Carbet Falls).
Address: Habitation Beausoleil Montéran, 97120 Saint Claude
La Soufrière Hike, Basse-Terre
The highest peak in the Lesser Antilles, La Grande Soufrière is an active volcano, which hikers can ascend on the Chemin des Dames trail. This approximately two-hour strenuous climb offers panoramic views from the highest points of the massif – as long as the weather is clear.
Along the way, you’ll see a diversity of otherworldly landscapes. Hot springs, mud pools, and fumaroles punctuate the volcano’s barren, black sides, and the triple waterfall of Chutes du Carbet flows down the eastern face of La Soufrière massif from a height of 115 meters. You can view the falls from lookouts.
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.
Completing this hike requires sturdy hiking boots, plenty of water, and a reasonable level of fitness. Make sure you bring a rain jacket, too.
Interesting fact: The volcano has erupted eight times since 1660, with the last eruption in 1977.
La Pointe des Châteaux, Grande-Terre
La Pointe des Châteaux is a photographer’s dream. This scenic isthmus lies at the easternmost point of Grande Terre, with castle-like rock formations jutting out of the sea. The windy, wave-battered point exudes a rugged beauty reminiscent of Brittany.
A botanical path leads from the village to a vantage point among great black rocks. Here, you have a clear view to the islands of La Désirade, Petite-Terre, and Marie-Galante.
Nearby, you can walk to a wild and wind-whipped white-sand beach. The surf is rough here, though, so swim at your own risk.
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. It also encompasses 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.
The reserve’s diverse ecosystems harbor a wealth of wildlife. Turtles, sea urchins, giant sponges, and an impressive diversity of fish number among the many marine species. 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, the excursion explores the mangroves and the Moustique River and allows time for 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.
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. This is one of the most beautiful beaches in Guadeloupe. Flanked by lush headlands, the beach stretches for more than a kilometer, with soft golden sand and plenty of shady trees.
Plage de Grande Anse is 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 cafés and food trucks near the parking lot, which sell mouthwatering crepes and other snacks.
Farther north, Plage de la Perle is another popular beach near Deshaies, with cafés and restrooms, and it tends to be a little quieter than Plage de Grande Anse
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). Dive operators cater to all skill levels, and you can snorkel along the shallow-water reefs or view the coral and marine life from a glass-bottom boat.
The health of the reef here has declined in recent years, but you can still see fairly large schools of fish, as well as some colorful coral. Turtles, parrotfish, trumpetfish, and barracuda swim among the coral gardens here, and the area offers good wall and wreck dives. You can also kayak over to the reserve from the mainland.
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.
Basking on this beach is one of the top things to do in Grande-Terre. It’s also 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 beautiful 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.