The ‘Pearl of the French Caribbean’, Guadeloupe is an archipelago in the Southern Caribbean Sea. This French overseas territory, home to a huge Tamil population, is good to visit any time of the year to cruise on its clear waters and merry with its traditional rum.
It looks like a butterfly on a map, the two main islands being the two wings, united at the middle by a thin line. It’s not too different up close. Differently shaped patches of land, filled with colours from a lively neighbourhood, just like the patterns on the flaps of the flying one. The islands are Basse-Terre on the west and Grande-Terre on the east united by a mangrove swamp on the Rivière Salée. Pointe-à-Pitre, the capital and largest city lies near the river. These are the two main islands of Guadeloupe besides a number of small islands in the Caribbean, all of which enjoy a tropical climate. Guadeloupe which has an area of about 1600 sq. km, is a preferred destination for many Europeans seeking warmth during the cold months and unwinding in its laid-back environment.
The winged neighbours
Basse-Terre, the bigger of the two islands has a lot to offer to visitors. Its turquoise beaches, such as its swimmable beach- Plage de Clungy, waterfall series-the Carbet falls and the highest peak in the Lesser Antilles- La Soufrière, an active strato-volcano.
Its thick rainforests make for France’s 7th largest national park, le Parc National de la Guadeloupe, which is an ideal destination for hiking on the volcanic island.Infact, hiking is an activity enjoyed here by many at different hiking spots. “The dense cover of trees all around, has a lot of hidden trek routes that only the locals would know of and it is easy to wander off without the guidance of someone who knows the right way,” says Jordan Golabkan, a Guadeloupean by residence and a business manager by profession. The island with brown, black and pink sands is also home to La Réserve Cousteau, an internationally renowned and protected underwater park which is rich in biodiversity just like the rest of the Caribbean.
The other ‘wing’ or the Grand-Terre islet is the one more famous for the ‘Caribbean nights’ a tourist might be seeking. Numerous night-clubs, day-long parties by the beach, sand and water sports, are a part of the day-to-day life on the island. The main places to see here include a fort-Fleur d’épée, a museum –Schoelcher, a site of archaeological treasures-La Pointedes- Châteaux and an underwater trail for exploring the marine life in Gosier Island- Le Gosier Islet.
“Guadeloupe is an active destination. People here like to stay outdoors. They would often take a morning-dip in the sea, go trekking in the mountains or forests, play volleyball at the beaches, party over the weekends or do jet-skiing which is famous here besides the other water sports,” says Golabkan. The destination hosts the annual Jet Ski world competition, Karujet, which will complete two decades next year. And the ones who do not take the sport competitively, ski to the parties.
Parties and pina coladas
Although geographically small, the island is big on outdoor activities and galas.The multiple small islands host musical jamborees and the guests can either choose to spend a day on a single islet or hop islands. The parties are everywhere, and for a tourist, it’s like living a party scene from a Hollywood movie – grand yachts on blue lagoons, vibrant Caribbean music and endless helpings of pina coladas and rum.
Guadeloupean rum or rhum as it is called, is savoured by both locals and connoisseurs for its high quality and signature taste that is a result of a time-honoured distillation process which is used till day. Rhum agricole is coveted for a unique taste, and is distilled from fresh sugarcane juice as opposed to rhum traditionnel made from molasses. Its white variant is used in the making of pina coladas which, at the parties, is mostly popular amongst the ladies.
Many would drive their own boat to the parties, including youngsters who can access a license to drive the craft at the age of 16. Tourists can hire a boat and party the Guadeloupean way. Boat rentals vary on the extent of luxury on board and there is something to suit every pocket. Boats can be rented by contacting private owners through various online platforms.
Other than the fancy yachts, traditional sailboats make for an important part of Guadeloupe’s culture and a nine-day annual sailing race during July, sets racers on their traditional boats to sail across the island and celebrate them all.
Like most of its Caribbean and Latin American neighbours, Guadeloupe is also known for its annual carnival which is celebrated from January to March. These three months of festivity fill the streets of the island with parades, music performances and dance shows. Artists in fancy costumes are a glittery sight and the Guadeloupeans, painting the town red, are in a merry abode. It’s a good time to visit the place, enjoy the carnival and the pleasing weather.
A day on the island
Hire a cycle and join a guided cycling tour to explore the island that majorly witnesses two seasons- dry and wet. Guadeloupe’s weather is pleasant through the year and the environment is usually relaxed and peaceful. As you bike around or stroll on the streets and beaches of the island, grab a coconut sorbet, a local drink easily available. Besides the sorbet, you might want to savour a tourment d’amour, literally ‘agony of love’, is a tart like cake available in numerous flavours like vanilla, coconut and rum. This tropical treat, with a creamy coconut jam centre, is a French classic.
Weekends are spent outdoors, mostly on the beach. You could see people setting a barbeque and grilling their time away. The cuisine is a mix of African, European and Indian with a lot of sea-food consumption. A famous dish is the Bokit, a deep fried naan like bread which comes stuffed with meat, vegetable or fish, is a Creole delicacy. It is also known as a ‘Creole sandwich’ by many and it is readily available at street stalls or food-trucks.
Street food in Guadeloupe can be a hearty treat and gears-up one for the shopping hours that await.
Shopping can be done at the malls, at the many local boutiques or at the local markets- the Saint-Antoine market in Pointe-à-Pitre, the Basse- Terre market, the market in Sainte Anne or the night market in Le Gosier. You may not find high-end luxury stores in the malls here, but the colours and aromas that the markets offer, should put an end to your touristy shopping check-list. And of course, don’t forget to buy the rhum.
The Indian connection
The population of 451,000 has about 55,000 people of Indian origin who stepped onto the land from Tamil Nadu in the late 19th century. These Indo-Guadeloupeans make this island a home to the largest Tamil population in the Caribbean. Thus spotting a Hindu- Tamil temple here is not uncommon. Many families have their own temples which one can visit by taking permission. The Tamils here have been taking efforts to preserve their traditions in Guadeloupe by means of several associations which promote Indian culture. They have been on the island for over 150 years now.
The beaches on the island provide a sense of calmness to those wanting some quiet and the thrill of sports and sails to those willing to get active. One can choose to revel under the clear blue skies during the day and watch boats go by and let their hair down at a party during night. Guadeloupe can relax you and excite you; just be ready for what the archipelago has to offer.
How to reach
Direct and connecting flights from Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi fly to Pointeà- Pitre Le Raizet Airport (PTP) in Guadeloupe. The flight can be almost a day long and once in Guadeloupe you can hire a car from the airport to reach your destination.
Where to stay
From fancy hotels, villas, bungalows to eco-lodges and simple home-stays, there are many places a tourist could stay at. Bookings can be done online through various platforms or at www.guadeloupeislands. com/accommodations.