Popular Guadeloupe Shore Excursions
Pointe-a-Pitre: Go for a morning walking tour in Pointe-a-Pitre. Grab a map at the portside information booth and head up Rue Peynier. Check out the buildings painted in bright Caribbean color combinations and the impressive edifice of the Musee Schoelcher. After a couple of blocks, you'll reach the covered Spice Market, built in 1874. Walk through the square and admire the fountain, which will remind you that you really are in France. Look ahead and to the right for the pedestrian Rue Saint-John Perse; it's lined with vendors selling crafts and shops filled with Madras plaids. You'll also pass a statue of drummer Marcel "Velo" Lollia, a favorite son. Take a right onto Rue des Nozieres and have a look at the lovely old mansion that's home to the Musee Saint-John Perse, which honors Pointe-a-Pitre's Nobel Prize-winning poet. Double back to the pedestrian street and follow it to the market, where you'll find produce and a fish market. To your left is the vast Place de la Victoire. Walk up the long side of this plaza, then turn left onto Rue Alexandre Isaac, which will take you straight to the Church of Saints Peter and Paul, which has iron girders inside, reminiscent of the Eiffel Tower. After that, you might want to browse shops or stop at a cafe.
Basse-Terre: Visit Guadeloupe's other side, Basse-Terre, for a dose of nature. Guadeloupe National Park (Le Parc National) is France's seventh-largest park, with waterfalls, tropical forest and an active volcano. Your best bet is to get a group together for a driving tour. The Route de la Traversee takes you across the middle of the island, through a wonderland of tropical plants and forests. Popular stops include the small but lovely and easily accessible waterfall La Cascade aux Ecrevisses and the Maison de la Foret interpretive center, with a few displays (pamphlets in English) and a looped discovery trail that leads you through various aspects of the tropical forest. In the forest, you'll see flowers, trees and insect life (Route de la Traversee; open in high season 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 1:45 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday to Saturday and 9 a.m. to 1:15 p.m. Sunday; closed weekends during low season). Also on this route, but operated independently, is the Parc des Mamelles, a zoological and botanic park featuring 85 species of animals, which also lets you explore the rain forest canopy on walkways (Route de la Traversee, Bouillante; +590-0-5-90-98-83-52; open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., last entrance at 4:30 p.m.). Bad afternoon traffic jams occur on the bridges back to Grande-Terre, so allow ample time to get back.
Grande-Terre: Consider doing a driving loop of Grande-Terre and its beach towns. Sainte-Anne has a lively outdoor market stretching along its main drag, featuring crafts and food. Saint-Francois is a fishing port, and fishermen hawk the day's catch on the dock. Travel out the island's eastern arm, and you'll reach beautiful Pointe des Chateaux, where the Atlantic and Caribbean meet. To the south, are the Caribbean's calmer waters; to the north, Atlantic waves pound the shore. Stop for lunch at one of the open-air restaurants between Saint Francois and Pointe des Chateaux. If you like rum, pay a visit to the historic Damoiseau Distillery, near Le Moule (see Been There, Done That).
Aquarium of Guadeloupe: This is small complex with an interesting array of aquatic life, including three sharks. Located on the road between Pointe-a-Pitre and Le Gosier, it's a good stop on a rainy day. You can see everything in an hour or less. The aquarium also offers snorkeling tours. (Place Creole, Marina, Le Gosier; +590-0-5-90-90-92-38; open 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.)
Deshaies Botanical Garden: This well-maintained wonderland is home to exotic birds, orchids and many other species of plants and trees. You'll also find a restaurant overlooking a waterfall and a rope bridge for the adventurous. (About a mile outside of Deshaies, Basse-Terre; +590-0-5-90-28-43-02; open 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., last entry at 4:30 p.m.)
Musee du Rhum: Located next to the Reimonenq Distillery, this rum museum walks you through the history of rum and its production on Guadeloupe, with a short video and exhibits of old distillery equipment. There's also an eclectic assortment of other displays, including 40 models of tall ships and a collection of 5,000 insects. After visiting the museum, you can stop by the distillery's tasting room for free samples. (Off the N2, in Bellevue, Sainte Rose, Basse-Terre; +590-0-5-90-28-70-04; open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Saturday)
Damoiseau Distillery: If you want to visit a working rum distillery, have your taxi driver call ahead to the Damoiseau Distillery to see whether they're crushing sugarcane. Production generally runs from January through May, with work stopping at 2 p.m. You can take a self-guided tour even if production isn't going on, but the machinery is less interesting sitting idle. Either way, be sure to walk beyond the production shed to the warehouses. One is left open and you can inhale the heady perfume of rum aging in barrels. At the shop and tasting room, you can sample three rums of different ages, plus rum punches. All the signage is in French, so it may be frustrating if you don't know the language. (On the D101 road in Bellevue, near Le Moule, Grande-Terre; +590-0-5-90-23-55-55; free tours 7 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday to Saturday, January through June and 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday, July through December; tastings and shop open 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday to Saturday, closed holidays)
Golfing: Duffers can get a fix at the lovely Robert Trent Jones-designed Golf International de Saint-Francois. (Avenue de l'Europe/D118, Saint-Francois +590-0-590-88-41-87; tee times 7 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., reservations are essential and can be made online)
Best for an Easy Escape: Take a bus (numbers G7 through G18) or taxi from Pointe-a-Pitre to nearby Le Gosier, where you'll find the unimpressive public Datcha Beach. But don't despair. You can find better beaches west of it, hidden behind hotels, yet accessible via the Impasse Montout or one of the hotels farther west -- look for Creole Beach, Salako Beach and Arawak Beach. For a true escape, take a shuttle boat from the dock at the end of Rue Felix Eboue (east of Datcha Beach) out to nearby Ilet du Gosier for beach time and snorkeling (bring your own gear). You'll also find trees for shade and a basic, open-air restaurant for grilled fish, barbecue chicken and drinks.
Best for Sunning and Shopping: In Sainte-Anne, a fun, lively outdoor market stretches down the main drag, which runs parallel to the white-sand beach that sits a block away. At the market, vendors of all sorts sell food, souvenirs and crafts. At the popular beach, you'll find water sports, a swimming area cordoned off by floats, and lots of locals. Sainte-Anne is about half an hour by taxi from Pointe-a-Pitre. If you've checked out Sainte-Anne and are ready for a bit more peace and quiet, the lovely stretch of La Caravelle Beach is about a mile west of Sainte-Anne, behind the gates of the Club Med. It's fully accessible to the public -- just pass through the gate.
Best for Nude Sunbathing: This being France, you're bound to find naturists, and on beautiful Anse Tarare Beach, you'll also enjoy good snorkeling. Neighboring Anse a la Gourde Beach has crashing surf and strong currents (not recommended for children) and an equally beautiful setting. Both are on the north (Atlantic) side of the arm that reaches out toward Pointe des Chateaux on Grande-Terre's far eastern side, about an hour and 20 minutes from Pointe-a-Pitre.
Best on Basse-Terre: About a mile north of the town of Deshaies (near where the D18 intersects the N2) on Basse-Terre's northwest coast, La Grande-Anse is the longest beach in Guadeloupe. Stretching more than a half-mile, its golden sands make it one of Guadeloupe's most beautiful beaches, too. There are trees for shade and beach vendors (lolos) selling food. Allow about 45 minutes to get there from the cruise terminal in Pointe-a-Pitre. Be aware of the bad afternoon traffic jams that can occur on the bridges back to Grande-Terre and allow ample time to get back.