Guadeloupe – The Island of Awe

I am sure when most people first see the name of this caribbean destination the eyes squint, there is a quizzical look on the face and the question that comes to mind is – “Where’s that?”  Well, that’s why I am here for you.  To introduce you to an island you may have never thought existed.  La Guadeloupe is located in the eastern caribbean region and its nearest neighboring islands are Martinique, Dominica and St. Lucia.  The island is composed of Basse Terre (think mountains, waterfalls, and country side) and Grand Terre (think city, suburban, and urban areas complete with nightlife, arts and craft markets and museums).  Perhaps one of the things that visitors should be aware of prior to visiting is the fact that Guadeloupe is an insular region of France (i.e. french territory) and therefore the primary language is french.

Now that you have the basics covered, what is really important to know?  From the east cost, Guadeloupe is roughly 4.5 hours from the mid-Atlantic east coast and direct flights are available (this means more rum to bring back, but I digress).  High season for the country starts in November and runs until March.  As such, it is highly (did I say HIGHLY) recommended that car rental reservations be made well in advance.  Trust me, I have first hand knowledge of this.  This is not a location where you can just walk into a rental agency, wave your credit card, and say that you want a car for the weekend.  If you are staying in the more developed areas, you definitely need a vehicle.  Taxis are pretty expensive, so be forewarned.

Where to stay?  There are a ton of options; however, I chose to stay in Le Gosier which is centrally located and not far from the beach.  Le Gosier is located approximately 20 minutes or so from the capital Pointe-a-Pitre and area where is the airport is located.  Every budget type can be accommodated in Le Gosier, from thrifty airbnb to higher end hotels, so there is no problem finding lodging to suit your needs.  There is a visitors center in Le Gosier that can provide you with a wealth of information about La Guadeloupe and they also have free wifi available for use, just ask for the code.

What to eat?  Actually, it is more like “what not to eat”.  As with any other caribbean destination, you have lots of fresh fruit and vegetables and fish.  But, there is also a creole influence with respect to the food which takes things up a notch.  The food is very well seasoned and the portions are ample enough so that you can take home leftovers (especially important if you are traveling on a budget).  I can pretty much guarantee that whatever you are in the mood for, you can find it in Guadeloupe.

What to do?  It is almost standard protocol to visit the beach as the caribbean is known for having some of the best beaches in the world.  However, there is more to Guadeloupe than the beach.  Visitors to the island can find a lot of things to do that will give them a feel for the culture.  Two of the highlights of my trip were visiting a waterfall in Basse Terre and visiting Memorial ACTe.  It should be known that there is a lot of walking to get to the waterfall, but when you finally reach it, it is a gorgeous sight.  Remember to pack your bug spray.  The Memorial ACTe is perhaps one of the most well put together museums dedicated to telling the history of slavery in Guadeloupe and the caribbean.  Please note that the information presented in this museum is not a regurgitation of the water-downed history lessons you learn in school.  It is factual, in your face, well researched history.  Be prepared to be amazed and to also have your emotions stirred.

What to know before you visit?

  1. As mentioned earlier, Guadeloupe is a french territory and therefore the euro rules the land.  Therefore, it is important that you research exchange rates prior to your trip and understand how far your money will stretch.
  2. Although Guadeloupe is a french speaking territory, people are very cordial and patient with those who are non-french speaking individuals.
  3. Most of the hotels offer european plans.  Therefore, don’t expect to find a lot of places where free breakfast is included.
  4. With respect to lodging in some hotels, note that the rooms are very basic (not in a bad way) and you will have a bed, bathroom and tv.
  5. If you decide to stay in an airbnb, be sure to confirm the exact location of the rental.  Some people list their properties are very “creative” with the descriptions.  Their definition of “beach nearby” may be 5 miles away.  Research, research, research!
  6. If you choose to rent a vehicle, please realize that most rentals are standard shift vehicles.  If you are lucky enough to acquire an automatic, please know that you are going to pay appropriately 30-50% more for the rental.  As I stated earlier, book your rental months in advance if you will be visiting during high season.
  7. The local drink is Ti Punch.  If you are not a drinker, you might want to just stick with a coke or something else.  The drink doesn’t seem like much, but it can literary make someone’s head do a 180… but it is good!

St. Barths is for shopping not sainthood

So, as I mentioned in a previous post, birthday trip 2015 had me visit 3 neighboring islands for some fun in the sun.  One of the islands that I explored was St. Barths, a french territory in the eastern caribbean.  I journeyed to St. Barths by ferry from St. Martin (french side) and it took approximately an hour and fifteen minutes to reach.  The cost for the journey is roughly $80 and it is not necessary to book in advance during low season as plenty of space is available.

Upon arrival in St. Barths (at approximately 10a.m.) I noticed the beautifully colored buildings and to the left of the dock, I noticed the high end stores that would beckon most shopaholics (good thing I am not a shopper).  I set off on foot, with a fellow passenger, to visit one of the local beaches – Shell Beach.  This beach is approximately a 10 minute jaunt from the dock by foot in front of a really nice and cozy local restaurant.  Oh yes, restaurants in St. Barths do not typically open until 12p.m. so that means not as much as a french fry until 12p.m.  My new travel companion didn’t care for this beach as much, so we set out for a new beach location.

Heading back to the dock, we stopped in a few local shops where I was able to get my obligatory souvenir shotglass and converse with some of the locals (je parle un petite français).  The locals advised us to visit Nikki Beach (which sounds like Naked Beach when they say it) as it is a little more lively than Shell Beach.  So, off we go to Nikki beach.

The beach is much larger and less crowed that the other beach, but that is about it.  There is a restaurant which opened about 30 minutes after we arrived, but I must say that I found the staff rather snooty.  Apparently in order for the men to work there, they have to be like 6’6″ or so.  Everyone wears white and, while the staff speak english, they are more comfortable conversing in french.  I order a six-inch plate of spaghetti with shrimp at a cost of $30US (34 euro) and didn’t need water because I traveled with a 1.5l bottle.

Neither my new travel buddy  nor myself are big shoppers so we stayed at the beach and restaurant until 4p.m. (an hour before the boat was due to come pick us up).  At that point, we hailed a taxi for the 5 minute ride to the dock, paid the man the $25 euro fair (paid in US dollars) and walked around on the streets to kill time.  I stopped at a local grocery story to grab a bottle of the local vanilla rum and some snacks for the voyage.  We still had another 30 minutes left so we had a nice refreshing fruit cup at a local restaurant, chatted with a few locals and another couple that we saw on the boat earlier.  5p.m. couldn’t come sooner.

While St. Barths is a nice place, aesthetically, there isn’t a lot to do there by way of tourism.  You can laze at the beach all day if you want, but if you are looking for adventure, pack your patience.  One thing for sure, do not visit without a full wallet as a bottle of water in a restaurant will run you $5 (and I don’t mean the good stuff).  It is definitely not a repeat offender type of place for me, but I am happy that I can cross it off my list and get one country closer to completing my second bucket list.