By: Michelle Rizzi
I’ll be honest: I had never heard of Guadeloupe when my boyfriend suggested we go there for a last minute New Year’s Eve trip. We’d been searching for somewhere to soak up the sun during the Caribbean’s peak season, and stumbled across the key to the Caribbean thanks to an epic deal on Expedia: a round-trip flight via Norwegian Air. It was perfect, and met all our criteria (i.e: a beach, warm weather). We immediately booked a six night stay.
Guadeloupe, an archipelago of islands located in the French West Indies, has long been a popular French tourist destination. The two main islands — Grande-Terre in the East, Basse-Terre in the West — are connected by a small bridge, and from the sky, they look like the wings of a butterfly. Grande-Terre is comprised mostly of farmland, whereas Basse-Terre is home to the lush jungle and La Soufrière volcano. Both have beautiful, pristine sandy beaches, and majestic blue water.
And while I really wanted to keep the secret of Guadeloupe to myself, I just couldn’t. It’s that magical. Put it on your bucket list, and find out how to get there, where to stay, eat, drink, and what to do below.
There are $200 direct flights from John F. Kennedy International Airport to Pointe-a-Pitre International Airport via Norwegian Air (Europe’s answer to Southwest Airlines, minus the drink coupons) that leave in the afternoon, and take a little over four hours. You can also fly direct from Miami, Newark, Washington DC/Baltimore, Fort Lauderdale, and Boston.
Tendacayou Ecolodge and Spa: We didn’t stay here, but we wish we did. Tendacayou is located at the top of a hill in Deshaies with sweeping views of the ocean and jungle. The hotel offers a restaurant (more of that below), and a spa. Reviews online include words like “magical,” “paradise,” and “exquisite.”
Zion Train at Plage de la Chapelle, Grande-Terre: A bar located on the beach offering beer, crepes, and ice-cream.
Le Spot in Le Moule, Grande-Terre: The restaurant sits right above the Atlantic Ocean, offering a variety of seafood and a view that lasts for miles.
L’Amer in Deshaies, Basse-Terre: Charming seafood restaurant located in the heart of town overlooking the water. Get a Ti’s Punch, a local concoction of rum, sugar, and fresh lime juice.
Chez Liline, at Plage de Grand Anse near Deshaies, Basse-Terre: The best option for a low price point. Complimentary fried fish fritters, a common dish, served with every meal.
Le Poisson Rouge in Deshaies, Basse-Terre: Located at the Tendacayou Ecolodge and Spa. The menu changes daily, offering meat and seafood options.
Surfing: Arrange an hour and a half session with Fabien, the owner of Shaka Surf School. He provides boards and guidance based on level of experience, and will keep an eye on the conditions leading up to your scheduled date. We met Fabien at Plage le Souffleur in Port Louis, Grande-Terre, and spent two days with him: first, at the beach populated with tourists and locals, with a small, right breaking wave; then along a dirt road from which we paddle out 300 yards from shore over a shallow coral reef— according to Fabien, this spot didn’t have a specific name. The waves there were breaking both right and left, with the occasional six foot set. It was heavenly.
The Jardin Botanique de Deshaies: Located right outside of downtown Deshaies, the Jardin Botanique de Deshaies features local flora and fauna (birds…and a petting zoo), and spectacular views of town. While it was quite lovely, I would suggest skipping it.
The Costeau Reserve: The Costeau Reserve is named after Jaques Costeau, the legendary French marine scientist, conservationist, and explorer. It’s a national marine park with some of the best scuba diving and snorkeling in the world. Book an appointment-only excursion with Les Heures Saines, a nearby dive shop. Unlicensed divers can scuba as far down as 20 feet deep for 30 minutes with a guide.
Beaches: We explored a few — Plage de le Perle, Plage de Souffleur, Plage de Malendure — and found each one to be charming, safe, and utterly relaxing, adorned with palm trees, restaurants, beach bars, and even shops.
And a few things we wish we had done, but decided to save for our next visit: hiked the volcano; explored the southern parts of both Basse-Terre and Grande-Terre; surfed more; visited the Îles des Saintes; and snorkeled with sea turtles and manta rays.
Bring whatever you normally would pack for a beach vacation, but leave the heels at home. Guadeloupe is so low-key that I felt foolish wearing espadrille wedges.
French is the main language on the islands, and not everyone speaks English. A pocket dictionary may be helpful to translate the menu.
Rent a car to explore the island and cruise around at your leisure. Cabs on the island are expensive, and it is absolutely the type of culture you will want to explore.
Exchange money in the States, as the only place to exchange cash is at the airport. There are a few ATMs in Guadeloupe, but they are expensive and tough to find.
Make dinner reservations.