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Where the Ships Dock
This butterfly-shaped beauty is really two islands in one. On Guadeloupe's western wing, called Basse-Terre, waterfalls tumble down steep mountains to rivers that wind through dense rain forest. An active volcano, spewing steam, looms over tiny villages. But if you cross the narrow seawater channel that separates the two wings, you'll think you're in a different country: The flat eastern half, Grande-Terre, is heavily populated, with bustling markets, fine restaurants and captivating museums in the island's principal city, Pointe-a-Pitre.
Guadeloupe has recently spread its wings north in an effort to attract visitors from the U.S. and other English-speaking nations. The government has stepped up promotion of the island, and articles in glossy magazines have been touting Guadeloupe's vivid creole culture and spirit of joie de vivre. The efforts seem to be working: More and more vacationers are savoring the natural delights of Basse-Terre's world of mountains and waterfalls, as well as Grand Terre's urban sophistication.
Most cruise ships dock on the southern coast of Grande-Terre at Pointe-a-Pitre (pop. 80,000), near Guadeloupe's best beaches and resorts. Some smaller ships anchor offshore from one of Basse-Terre's coastal villages, Malendure or Deshaies. They're close to the National Park of Guadeloupe, which encloses a volcanic mountain range culminating in the 4,812-ft-/1,467-m-high volcano, La Soufriere. (The capital city of Basse-Terre is the major port for bananas, but not cruise ships.)
Guadeloupe has many smaller islands, too. Of them, Terre-de-Haut in the idyllic island group called Les Saintes is an increasingly popular cruise destination, while Marie-Galante sees cruise ships only occasionally.
Because their islands are a French Overseas Region, Guadeloupeans have status identical to citizens of mainland France. Administered by a regional council, a general council and a Paris-appointed prefect, Guadeloupe is also the political capital for St. Martin and St. Barthelemy.
France's influence in Guadeloupe goes back many years. Columbus first came upon Guadeloupe in 1493, and the Spanish later attempted to take the island (they were repulsed by the Carib Indians). In 1635, French colonists claimed Guadeloupe and drove the Caribs to neighboring Dominica five years later. As the sugar industry gained importance, the English coveted the island, but--except for a few short stints of British rule--the French held on. The islands have been French for the past three centuries.
The current population of about 410,000 is of mixed ethnicity, but many of the people are descended from slaves brought to work on the plantations. There is also an Indian community, whose ancestors came from Calcutta to work as indentured laborers after slavery was abolished. Other residents are descended from the French settlers.
The official language is French, but creole is the common idiom. (Don't expect to find English speakers outside of major hotels, tourist restaurants or shops.)
Careme, the dry season, lasts from January to June, while hivernage, the more rainy, humid period, is from June to December. Temperatures range 72-86 F/22-30 C (slightly cooler in the mountains).
Beachwear is unacceptable in downtown Pointe-a-Pitre, where dress may be casual (but always chic). There are no tie-and-jacket requirements for men anywhere, even in the two casinos. Topless bathing is the norm at hotel pools and beaches and is becoming more common at public beaches, much to the dismay of local people. Several beaches, called plages naturistes, have been set aside for nudists on Grande-Terre and Les Saintes.
Official Name: Guadeloupe.
Passport/Visa Requirements: A birth certificate with raised seal, along with an official photo ID such as a driver's license, is acceptable for a U.S. or Canadian citizen, though we recommend a passport. A citizen of Australia or the U.K. must present a passport. Reconfirm travel document requirements with carrier before departing.
Health Certificates: None required.
Departure Tax: None.
Population: About 410,000.
Size: 530 sq mi/1,373 sq km.
Climate: Tropical, hot and humid.
Languages: French and creole. Some English is spoken in the major tourist areas.
Economy: Agriculture, tourism.
Government: Department and Region of France.
Religions: Roman Catholic, Protestant, Hindu.
Electricity: 220 volts, 50 cycles AC.
Time Zone: Atlantic; four hours behind Greenwich Mean Time. Daylight Saving Time is not observed.
Telecommunications: Good. Area Code: 590.
Currency: French franc. U.S. and Canadian currency--as well as most major credit cards and traveler's checks--are accepted at some hotels, restaurants and tourist-oriented shops.
Tourist Offices: In Canada, French Government Tourist Office, 1981 McGill College Ave., Suite 490, Montreal, PQ H3A 2W9, phone 514-288-4264, fax 514-844-8901; and 30 St. Patrick St., Suite 700, Toronto, ON N5T 3A3, phone 416-593-6427, fax 416-979-7587. In the U.K., French Government Tourist Office, 178 Picadilly, London W1V 0AL, phone 171-493-9232, fax 171-493-6594. In the U.S., Guadeloupe Tourist Office, 161 Washington Valley Rd., Suite 205, Warren, NJ 07059-7121, phone 732-302-1223, fax 732-302-0809. Guadeloupe does not maintain a tourist office in Australia.
Saint-John Perse, whose name is everywhere in Guadeloupe, wasn't a saint, but a native Guadeloupean who won a Nobel Prize for his poetry in 1960.
Karukera was the name the Carib Indians gave to Guadeloupe--it means "Island of Beautiful Waters."
The French Revolution happened on Guadeloupe, too. The black nationalist Victor Hugues freed the slaves and had hundreds of royalist plantation owners beheaded.
Two-thirds of the bananas eaten in France are grown on Guadeloupe.
About 16,000 Guadeloupeans are employed in the sugar industry, which makes rum, a leading export.
Water is safe to drink everywhere on the island, but most people prefer the taste of the locally bottled brands--try Capes or Matouba.
A bonjour or bonsoir is the key to conversing with Guadeloupeans. If you don't speak French, take along a French phrase book or dictionary.
Time is always told by the 24-hour clock--for instance, 1 pm is 13 hours.
If you hear someone speaking of a metro, they're not talking about a subway, but rather someone who has moved to the French West Indies from mainland France.
WHERE THE SHIPS DOCK
Terre-de-Haut may be tiny--roughly 4 mi/6 km long--but it's the largest of an offshore island group called Les Saintes. A haven for yachts and small cruise ships, it's often likened to a miniature Rio de Janeiro, with green hills that form a curving backdrop for whitewashed, red-roofed houses. The inhabitants are called Les Saintois--they are generally as blond and blue-eyed as were their ancestors, who arrived 300 years ago from Brittany. Their fishing boats, called Saintoises, are brightly colored, racy craft with names like Yes Papa and Love Machine.
Cruise passengers are tendered to the pier right in the center of the tidy village of Bourg. The tourist information office (open when ships are in port) is behind the town hall. People on Terre-de-Haut are friendly and eager to help you (but most do not speak English).
Bourg is probably one of the world's safest places, but take the usual precautions: Don't wear expensive jewelry or flash money around and don't leave valuables unattended.
This is a pedestrian's paradise, albeit uphill. Everything is accessible by walking. All the taxis--a half a dozen or so minivans--are in the square every morning, but if your French is nonexistent you will probably be better off putt-putting around the island on one of the motor scooters for rent--they're the only rental vehicles available. You'll find them lined up at the foot of the dock and along the street just to the right. The machines of Paul Lognos (phone 590-995-408) and Azincourt (phone 590-995-263) are usually in good repair (about US$35 per day with a US$350 deposit). Ask for a helmet, and ride solo for safety. Or you could try one of Tropico Velo's bikes or mountain bikes displayed curbside next to the church (about US$15 per day, US$85 deposit; phone 590-995-662). The airport is a pleasant stroll of 10 or 15 minutes in the direction of Grande Anse Beach. Mr. Carrascosa, the local pharmacist, does 15-minute flightseeing trips in his four-seater Piper Aztec (US$20 per person, phone 590-995-248).
Arrive supplied with francs, because the island's one and only bank, the Credit Agricole on the square by the pier, is open on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays only (9 am-2:30 pm). The post office also changes money, but the lines are usually long because telephone calls are made there as well.
The easiest way to mail letters and postcards is from your ship, but you can also drop them at the post office, which is located behind the town hall.
Telephone calls can be made from the post office and--if you purchase a phone card--from several public booths: next to the pier, by Fond de Cure (the open market) and at the church.
The manchineel tree, whose applelike fruit is highly poisonous and whose sap leaves a nasty burn on the skin, is quite common, especially at Anse Crawen. It is usually, but not always, identified by signs.
The police station (gendarmerie) is on the main square (phone 590-995-377), and one of the two island doctors lives just up the hill in the ship-shaped house overlooking the sea (phone 590-995-066 or 590-995-133).
GUIDED SHORE EXCURSIONS
If you prefer to leave the details of sightseeing to someone else, a guided tour will be best.
For the most part, cruise passengers are left on their own, but there is sometimes one ship-sponsored tour. Shore excursions and their prices vary from cruise line to cruise line, so the final price may be higher or lower than the price listed below. (Fees for children range from half price to full price.) Check with your ship's shore-excursion staff or your travel agent for additional information.
Fort Napoleon and the Botanical Gardens--This brief tour takes you to the marine museum and botanical gardens at Fort Napoleon. 2-3 hours. About US$22.
LOCAL TOUR COMPANIES
The half-dozen taxis function as tour buses (US$10 per person for an island tour lasting one or two hours) for up to 19 passengers. Sights include Fort Napoleon, a beach or two and probably the island's highest point, Le Chameau. Rose Rosette (phone 590-995-061) and Charles Henri Vincent (phone 590-995-179) are the most personable drivers we've encountered. Expect only the most basic English.
HIGHLIGHTS FOR INDEPENDENT TRAVELING
With only a day in port, you'll want to spend your time seeing the best Les Saintes has to offer. Here are our recommendations.
Fort Napoleon was constructed in 1867 on the northeastern end of the island, but never had to defend itself. Restored by young volunteers, it was opened to the public in 1982. In addition to its marine museum, it has a display of contemporary art and a botanical garden with flowering cacti, a boutique and wonderful panoramas. When the guide Elan at Fort Napoleon points into the bush, exclaiming Victor Hugo, Voltaire or Verlaine, look for iguanas--they're all named after French literary figures. (Open daily 9 am-12:30 pm, with guided tours offered--in French only--at 9:30, 10:30 and 11:30 am; US$3; phone 590-379-954 or 590-379-959.)
The winding, flower-bedecked lanes of the village of Bourg are ideal for strolling. The population is concentrated there, in Le Mouillage in the north (pretty gingerbread-trimmed houses) and in Fond de Cure, the fishing quarter in the south. Stop at the small outdoor market by the sea in Fond de Cure, and look for the fishermen bringing in their rose and blue nets a bit farther west along the beach, or at Anse Mire. The older men still wear their distinctive inverted-saucerlike straw or bamboo hats called salakos (of unknown origin, but probably of Asian inspiration). A walk up to Le Chameau, the highest point (1,014 ft/309 m), is about an hour's strenuous hiking (only about seven minutes by scooter), but the view is pure picture postcard. All of Terre-de-Haut and the seven other islands of the archipelago can be seen, and on a clear day you might catch a glimpse of La Soufriere, Guadeloupe's volcano.
La Cimetiere Rose, the ancient sailors' cemetery near Grande Anse Beach, is the pride of the Saintois. The white tombs are decorated with black and white tiles and polished conch shells. On All Saints' Day, they are lit with hundreds of candles.
Expensive little boutiques that sell very French beachwear, T-shirts, jewelry, knickknacks and doodads are proliferating. You'll see the same merchandise you see throughout the Caribbean--but at higher prices (U.S. visitors may also be disappointed in the tiny French sizes). Pascal Foy's Kaz a Nou, Galerie Martine Cotton, the Atelier du Savon and Chicken Georges are the most interesting shops. Beyond the Mairie (town hall) is Ultramarine, a tiny cottage whose owner has taken the time to search out more unusual dolls, clothes, T-shirts and handcrafted gift items from France, Haiti and Africa. Seaside Galerie is a group of new little shops arranged around a patio just up the street from the pier. Arts, gifts, antiques, photo needs, jewelry, beach stuff, ice cream and take-out dishes are all available, as are showers and a laundromat. Almost everyone takes Visa and MasterCard, but no one accepts American Express.
Be aware that the local shops recommended by tour operators and taxi drivers generally pay for the privilege. Prices at those shops may be somewhat higher than others. As always and everywhere, buyer beware.
Shopping Hours: Generally Monday-Friday 9 am-7 pm, with some shops around the pier open a bit later when ships are in port.
All of the white- or golden-sand beaches are within a 10-minute walk from the center of town. Calm, crescent-shaped Pompierre, shaded by sea grapes and almond and palm trees, is on the road to the airport. It's best early or late, for it's also the most popular beach. Secluded Anse Crawen, near the Bois Joli Hotel, is the place to head for some legal skinny-dipping. Grande Anse is always windy and rough with big, boiling breakers and a strong undertow. Swimming is not advised, but it's a perfect place for a long jog or leisurely beachcombing. The view from the path that leads up to the top of the cliffs is spectacular.
Snorkeling and Scuba--Plage de Figuier is beautiful, with excellent snorkeling, yet rarely frequented by visitors. The beaches on either side of the Pain de Sucre, called Anse Devant and Petite Anse, are also good.
Espace Plongee is located at Maison in the Fond du Cure quarter beyond the market (phone 590-995-184). You must be a certified diver and present your C card to rent equipment and go diving. Some ships also offer classes for beginners, so check with your ship's shore-excursion staff.
Fishing--Fishing with the Saintois in a Saintoise is the experience of a lifetime. Most fishermen will be delighted to take you out, but you'll need to speak French--if only to negotiate a price. Dorado, tuna, snapper, kingfish, captainfish, triggerfish, bonito, quiaquia, coulirou, lobster, conch, whelks, squid and sea urchins are the familiar catches.
Boating and Windsurfing--Paul Lognos rents locally made motorboats (US$60, phone 590-995-408). Guy and Christian Maisonneuve rent Sunfish (US$25 an hour), Windsurfers (US$20 an hour) and act as pilots for water-skiers (US$15 for seven minutes).
The island is dry, with many cacti, but mango and papaya trees flourish, as do white frangipani, flamboyant, hibiscus, oleander, alamanda, bougainvillea, crotons and even orchids. Pelicans, frigates and three species of hummingbird also live on Terre-de-Haut. The moderately easy trail up Morne Morel Peninsula, which starts from the restaurant in Baie de Marigot and climbs up and over, ending at Pompierre Beach, offers a good overview of bird and plant life.
Dining is one of Les Saintes' most popular pastimes, so every year the choice of restaurants increases--there were 15 at last count. The seafood could not possibly be fresher, and the locally smoked kingfish (tazard) is a marvel. Tarts filled with coconut jam, guava or banana and called Tourmente d'Amour (Agony of Love) are found only in Les Saintes. They're on the menu at most restaurants, but those sold at the pier, still warm from the oven, are the best (you buy them out of baskets carried by older women and barefoot children).
Expect to pay within these guidelines for a meal for one, not including drinks: $$ = US$10-$20; $$$ = US$20-$50.
At Les Petits Saints aux Anarcadiers, salads are served around the pool at lunchtime. Dinner, at US$30, is prix fixe, a generous three-course meal that changes every evening. The snapper with passion-fruit sauce is definitely worth waiting for. (Open daily noon-2:30 pm and 6:30-10 pm; reservations suggested for dinner; $$$; MasterCard and Visa accepted; up on a hill behind town, phone 590-995-099.)
For light fare of pasta, pizzas or unusual salads, try La Saladerie's seaside terrace on the beach. (Open Wednesday-Monday noon-2 pm and 7-9 pm; reservations suggested; $$$; MasterCard and Visa accepted; Anse Mire, phone 590-995-443.)
Le Triangle has the best creole specialties in town. (Open Monday-Saturday noon-2 pm and 6-8 pm; no reservations; $$; no credit cards; Plage du Bourg, phone 590-995-050.) El Dorado has the island's largest menu, ranging from pizza to lobster to creole dishes. (Open Monday-Saturday for breakfast from 9 am, lunch noon-2 pm, dinner 7-9 pm; reservations required for dinner; $$$; MasterCard and Visa accepted; in Bourg, near the church, phone 590-995-431.) Also worth mentioning are the small waterfront terraces of Le Genois and Cafe de la Marine (on the main street), which serve thin-crusted pizzas topped with unusual combinations of ingredients.
Tipping: A 15% service charge is usually included in menu prices (ask if you're not sure). Of course, you may leave something extra if special service has been received.
Nilce's Piano Bar (phone 590-995-680), in a pretty two-story house right at the dock, has become the place. There's nightly entertainment, but the real treat is when Brazilian-born Nilce picks up the mike to sing. Light meals, pastries and ice cream are served upstairs and on the terrace until 1 am.
The island's lone disco, Biguine, packs the whole island in on Saturday nights and holidays and has been known to rock until the wee hours.
Most cruise ships spend a day in Les Saintes. To help you make the most of your time in port, we've designed an itinerary specifically for cruise-ship visitors. For detailed information about specific attractions, see Highlights for Independent Traveling.
FORT NAPOLEON, ART AND THE BEACH
Those out for a bit of exercise should start for Fort Napoleon early, as it gets unbearably hot along the unshaded road after 11 am. Skip the guided tour (especially if you don't speak French) and just stroll about--but do get to the museum before it closes at 12:30 pm. For lunch, visit La Saladerie by the beach at the bottom of the road.
Afterward, stop by Martine Cotton's art gallery in the port and Pascal Foy's studio behind the church to see him working on his unique Cases Creoles, old-style facades that are fast becoming collector's items. Visit the pretty little sailors' cemetery, which is decorated with polished conch shells, on the way to Pompierre Beach for a swim. Or scooter out past the Bois Joli Hotel--hidden behind masses of varicolored bougainvillea--to Anse Crawen for a dip au naturel. On your way back to Bourg, visit the top of Le Chameau, preferably at sunset.
|© 1998 Weissmann Travel Reports, a unit of Cahners Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.|
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