Where You're Docked
Cruise ships tie up at the Centre Saint-John Perse terminal, which is adjacent to Pointe-a-Pitre, Guadeloupe's major city.
On Foot: You're within five minutes of downtown Pointe-a-Pitre.
Taxis: Taxis line up at the cruise terminal.
Renting a Car: National (800-227-7368, daily rentals from $45) and Avis (800-331-1084, daily from $47) both have airport locations (ten minutes from Pointe-a-Pitre; Avis also has an agency in the resort town of Gosier.
Pointe-a-Pitre, on the island of Guadeloupe that's called Grand Terre (the other major island, the more rural Basse Terre, is connected via a bridge), is a sprawling, busy metropolis that's been described as the Caribbean Marseilles.
The city of Pointe-a-Pitre is notable for its outdoor markets -- such as Marche St. Antoine and Marche de la Darse -- both in the heart of downtown, near Place de la Victoire, Pointe-a-Pitre's main square. Another market, the Place Gourbeyre Flower Market, next to the Cathedral of St-Pierre and St-Paul, is worth a detour through narrow, winding streets. Beyond markets, there's wonderful shopping, a blend of couture French boutiques and storefront after storefront selling bolts of fabric; madras is a great souvenir.
Been There, Done That
Driving tour of Grand Terre. Beyond Pointe-a-Pitre, head east, where, once past the bustling resort area of Gosier, the expressway becomes a two-lane road and you pass through numerous villages. The ultimate destination? Pointe des Chateaux, a rocky, lava strewn bit of coast where the Atlantic and Caribbean meet, tempestuously. It evokes France's Brittany. You can take your towel and sunbathe in the cove, snack on local foods (and drinks) offered by vendors who set up shop in a roundabout there, or hike around the rocks. Nearby, through a path leading through skimpy woods, there's another beach; a ramshackle bar has set up tables, with umbrellas, in the shallow water there. A good lunch stop is St. Francois, where cafes and bistros line the marina there.
Driving tour of the southern portion of Basse Terre, where a two-lane road leads you through charming villages like Trois Rivieres and onward to the main attraction: La Soufriere. This 4,813-ft. high, still-active volcano is part of the immense Parc National de la Guadeloupe (a World Biosphere Reserve as designated by UNESCO) and is the highest point in the Lesser Antilles. It's a great place to hike (you can drive most of the way up, park and then hike to the lip, about a two-hour excursion). The town of Caribbean-fronting Basse-Terre, Guadeloupe's capital, is nearby; it's charming, small-town like and wonderful for wandering.
Snorkeling, scuba diving and sunbathing in northern Basse Terre; most dive trips emanate around Pigeon Island, just off that northern coast, and numerous operators have set up shop along the waterfront there. The main diving area around Pigeon Island is called the Cousteau Underwater Park.
Take a ferry to the lesser-known (and lightly touristed) Guadeloupean island of Marie-Galante (ferries depart from Pointe-a-Pitre throughout the day; the ride takes 60 minutes each way). There you can visit Chateau Murat, a restored 17th century sugar plantation and rum distillery. There are also lovely beaches.
Best beach for a Half-Day Visit: Take a taxi to the resort area of Gosier.
Best beach for snorkeling: Northern Basse-Terre's black sand beaches (or hop on a ferry to nearby Pigeon Island).
Best beach for beach bums: Head to Grand Terre's Ste-Anne, home of Club Med and numerous stretches of beautiful white sand and fairly calm waters.
Romantic beach: Anse Carot and Anse de Vieux Fort, on Marie-Galante.
Casual, in-town joints: Caraibes Cafe (from 11 a.m., Place de la Victoire) has excellent three course set lunches plus pizzas and salads.
Gourmet Lunching: Try the Creole specialties at La Fougere (Monday-Friday noon-3 p.m., 34 Rue Peynier)
For More Information
French Government Tourist Office: 410-286-8310
On the Web: www.antilles-info-tourisme.com/guadeloupe
Cruise Critic Message Boards: Caribbean
The Independent Traveler: Caribbean Exchange