Guadaloupe

A Diver's Dream

The magical sensation of plunging into the Caribbean Sea to explore its myriad of marine life is only enhanced when surroundings above water are equally enthralling. Such is the case with the seven islands making up the mysterious archipelago called Guadeloupe, once called the French West Indies.

Because these serene landmasses create what is known as a geological basin, some of the world’s best diving is possible here. Virtually all types of coral fish species may be seen within this healthy marine landscape. Every form of diving is practiced here, and all levels of ability encouraged, from novice to veteran. The sheer number of marine outfitters specializing in the diving experience is testament to the popularity of the sport throughout Guadeloupe.

History & Geography

The Atlantic Ocean trade winds blowing off the African continent once brought the majority of European explorers directly into a Caribbean passage between the islands of Dominica and Guadeloupe. Columbus even named these outcroppings after his vessels and a Spanish monastery named after the Virgin Mary (Santa Maria de Guadelupe), whom he had prayed to during his 1493 voyage. Today, Guadeloupe presents a unique combination to visitors; an amazing display of flora and fauna, without the violence, crime, and cruise ship crowds some Caribbean islands suffer.

This friendly French-speaking country consists of the large twin islands of Basse-Terre and Grande-Terre, together shaped like the wings of a butterfly, and five “dependent islands” which include; Marie-Galante, Les Saintes, La Désirade, St. Barthélemy, and the northern three-fifths of St. Martin.

English and Créole are widely spoken here, and for those wishing to practice French, this is one of the friendliest locales on the planet to experiment. The fun begins when you utter a simple ”Bonjour”. The locals are quick to laugh, and before long visitors are able to obtain information, arrange services, or forge easy friendships.

All international aircraft land on the island of Grande-Terre, the flatter and drier of the two main islands. After debarking flight at Pôles Caraibes Airport, visitors begin a cultural baptism beginning with the lively singsong Créole patois spoken by locals, and continuing with a tapestry of influences including East Indian madras clothing, African “Gwo-Ka” street drummers, hip New York-style nightclubs in towns like Gosier and Sainte-Anne, and European standards at resorts like Club Med or Les Hotels et Des Iles (www.deshotelsetdesiles.com)

Grande-Terre

But if diving is your passion, go no further than the north side of Grande-Terre, where you will find like-minded devotees. Anse-Bertrand is the beach community where many submariners gather, with dive schools and convivial accommodations offered at reasonable rates throughout the year. Eden Plongée (www.edenplongee.fr) has been providing a wide array of services to divers and their families for many years, and is recommended by the National Park of Guadeloupe. A little further up the coast is the dramatic 200-foot cliffs of Le Grand-Vigie, where you may see the islands of La Désirade and Montserrat nearby.

To prepare explorations of this large island, book accommodations at La Toubana Hotel and Spa in Sainte-Anne ( www.toubana.com). A hillside perch with its own beach is perfectly located with a panoramic view of the sea, and 32 comfortable bungalows, plus a home-cooking eatery allows for that deep level of Caribbean relaxation to take over one’s body, mind, and spirit.

Basse-Terre

Basse-Terre Island meanwhile, where the sleeping volcano Soufriére stands silent over Pigeon Island, is to underwater divers what legendary marine explorer Jacques Cousteau called “the most pristine underwater environment on the planet.” As we celebrate the 100th anniversary of this nautical explorer’s birth (www.oceaninspiration.net), it is worth noting he placed Guadeloupe in the Top 10 Diving Destinations of all time.

The western coast, know as Côte-sous-Vent, is home to hidden marine treasures covering over 30 continuous miles of coral environment, featuring a score of sunken warships and their resident marine life. The Jacques Cousteau Marine Reserve, which is a protected non-fishing zone and a part of the National Park of Guadeloupe, includes the tiny Pigeon Islets and the waters off Malendure Beach, where hot springs create a consistently warm (26-28 C throughout the year) underwater feast for marine life, and a magnet for snorklers, scuba divers, and even non-divers touring in glass-bottom boats.

The center of activities is the Centre International de Plongées (www.cip-guadeloupe.com) in the town of Bouillante, which offers equipment rentals, tours, night dives, and even operates a school with PADI International certification. If you continue up the west coast, quaint seaside villages of Pointe-Noire, Deshaies, and Sainte-Rose will ensure you return a second time to Guadeloupe. This entire coast is a diver’s dream, but also a huge secret for those seeking an exotic retreat. If diving travelers would like to bring family members who are not divers, the country offers a full menu of other activities and sights.

Diving Alternatives

Top of this list is the hiking, walking, or camping near the volcano Soufriére, also on Basse-Terre Island. The road to the volcano begins north of Saint-Claude, accessed by the capital city of Basse-Terre along the southern coast road. The Carbet River begins atop the volcano, and along its descent produces Carbet Falls, truly one of Guadeloupe’s gems. Remaining the same since Christopher Columbus reveled at its sight, these stunning falls are not to be missed.

Vacationers will marvel also at the pathway network for hikers hugging the highest areas of Guadeloupe’s “second island”. You can go for a few hours or as much as seven days of overnight camping and hiking, with rustic cabins plotted along the way for traveler’s use or areas to pitch a tent. ( www.guadeloupe-parcnational.com)

La Grivelière (www.vertevallee-guadeloupe.com) is an ecological attraction worth the effort to explore. A heritage coffee plantation and processing site located inside the Guadeloupe National Park rainforest in La Vallée de la Grande Riviére, this spectacular rainforest facility demonstrates how to mix agro-tourism, ecotourism and entrepreneurship into a successful tourist attraction. The onsite eatery makes visitors feel immediately at home, with a complete menu of fresh local cuisine and unique artisan goodies (don’t miss the coffee digestif).

Marie-Galante Island

A curious mélange of European gastronomy stirs effectively with garden produce, Créole classics and a steady flow of fresh seafood, to provide visitors with more than a few excellent culinary reasons to travel to these islands. After all, no matter what a traveler does during his stay, at a certain point we all agree on one very important item: Food. So, whether divers have been actively pursuing underwater explorations, or family members discovering the many attractions to be found on shore, the cuisine of this place matters. Take Marie-Galante Island as a prime example. ( www.ot-mariegalante.com).

A 45-minute ferry ride from the capital city Pointe-à-Pitre delivers visitors to an easier, slower paced community. After debarking the boat, check in with Madame Pierre Marie Joseph at Chez JoJo’s Restaurant. The décor is basic, but their Créole Plate is memorable and inexpensive. Located on Pérle à Deshaies Beach in the main town of Grand-Bourg, locals and visitors alike savor classic fresh seafood literally minutes after being harvested. Wash down the food with the local Ti’Punch and ask about diving with David at Ti’Bulles (www.tibulles-plongee.com)

Last Dive of the Day

Whether you’re a novice snorkeler, a veteran scuba diver, or a landlubber, these islands of Guadeloupe are a dream vacation destination. Packaged to a boisterous mix of “Gwo-Ka” music, “Beguine” dance styles, and other colorful Creole traditions, these captivating islands provide an opportunity for all tastes, budgets and philosophies to enjoy this stunning Caribbean location. So, dive in and enjoy what the locals call "Karukera": Isle of Beautiful Waters (www.lesilesdeguadeloupe.com).