Maybe you’ve heard about this little island in the Caribbean, but in case you haven’t, get ready to add yet another destination to your must-see list. This island is currently having a major PR moment, and for good reason. Guadeloupe is affordable, easy to get to, and a little slice of European heaven set in the crystal waters of the Caribbean.
If Nice, France and New Orleans had a love child, Guadeloupe would be it. The nation distinctly embraces its European roots while celebrating its rich African heritage, and the result is strictly Creole. The official language is French, and it is widely spoken on the island, but you can easily make your way around the language barrier to experience one of the New York Times’ “52 Places to Visit in 2016.”
It’s rare that I would open a travel article and not wax on about the usual reasons why you should visit an island. But honestly, as an African American woman, what struck me first and foremost about Guadeloupe weren’t the beaches, which are everything you’d expect from the French Caribbean: pristine waters lapping against pink, white or black sands, depending on which of the 5 islands that comprise the Guadeloupe archipelago. It was the way that the locals embraced their African heritage, using #NeverForget as their unofficial motto. Coming here felt distinctly like “home.”
The most memorable moment of my trip was undoubtedly visiting the Memorial ACTe, aka the Slave Museum. This was one of the most moving experiences I’d felt at an exhibit in my life…ever, and I’m not using that lightly. Ask nearly anyone that has visited this interactive museum dedicated to the history of slavery, from biblical times to modern day human trafficking, and they will surely say the same. Opened in 2015 on the grounds of a former sugar plantation, the ACTe stands deliberately, and majestically, in the Caribbean harbor, so it’s the first reference point of Guadeloupe that tourists see when they sail into the nation. The exterior of the museum is designed in silver and black to resemble a tree–silver, representing their African roots and black commemorates an airplane’s black box, beckoning you to “remember.”
— Mémorial ACTe Gpe (@memorial_acte) March 21, 2016
The museum is part of UNESCO’s Slave Route Project, and focuses on how slavery affected lives, love, and work of people in the Caribbean islands, and Guadeloupe from the 16th to the 19th century. The ACTe features touch maps and sensors that guide you on your interactive tour through the museum and its artifacts, from chains and padlocks to copies of Le Code Noir (the French book of rules “governing the administration of justice, policing and discipline the N-ggers”). The museum resonated so heavily with me, I had to take several beats to process the experience once I left. If this were the only thing I did in Guadeloupe, the trip would have been worth it. As I said on social media after visiting, ”Take your parents, take your kids, just GO to the ACTe!”
While the ACTe is wonderful, there are many more reasons to visit Guadeloupe. Firstly, it’s easier than ever to get there thanks to Norwegian Airlines’ seasonal nonstop service from the East Coast. The quick 4.5 hour flight includes free wi-fi and departs from New York City, Baltimore and Boston. The best part? It's priced from $100 each way, which makes getting there easier and more affordable than ever.
Next, there are the beaches. Guadeloupe’s 5 islands of Grande Terre, Basse Terre, Marie Galante, Les Saintes and La Desirade have 250 beaches between them, each sun kissed with powdery sand that varies from black, white, pink and even gold depending on the locale. Moreover, Guadeloupe has an efficient ferry service that allows you to island hop and experience each of the distinctive isles.
WHERE TO STAY
Le Croiset, a beach town located in Grand Terre is close to the airport and where many of the tourist hotels are located. During my time there, I stayed at the Creole Beach Hotel and Spa, a family friendly property on a bluff overlooking the Caribbean Sea. The rooms are affordable, so you don’t have to blow your entire budget to stay in a decent hotel on a gorgeous beach. Check the website for rates.
WHERE TO PLAY
Proud to introduce to you one of our 5 jewels…Les Saintes pic.twitter.com/zFWIXBKA0F
— Guadeloupe Islands (@visitGuadeloupe) August 25, 2014
My favorite beaches were located on Les Saintes, a quaint island just a 20 minute (and $20.00 round trip) ferry ride from Trois Riviers, but world’s away from the bustling (if you can use that word in reference to a Caribbean island) city vibe. Here, simplicity rules. This island of 3,000 inhabitants has virtually no motor cars–you get around by bike or renting what amounts to a small, super charged golf cart. The local celebrity is the doctor, who so loves the island, he redesigned his house to resemble a ship’s bow. Head over to Terre-de-Haut for snorkeling in the crystal clear bay or sunning on their black sand beaches.
WHERE TO EAT
If an island doesn’t have good food, then it’s highly unlikely that I would ever recommend it as a place to visit. Shallow? Perhaps, but truth is, I’m a foodie and Guadeloupe didn’t disappoint. The food, like the island's culture, is steeped in its Creole roots. The highlight of my dining experiences was a meal at Au Widdy’s. Rudy (“Widdy” in Creole) Colmar, the super easy on the eyes proprietor, is a renowned chef in Guadeloupe, and has a Creole inspired menu that changes regularly based on what’s fresh at the local seafood and vegetable markets. While everything is tasty, if Colmar has his signature Ahi Tuna tartare with mango and passion fruit on the menu, do yourself a favor and order it!
Speaking of markets, you’ll find food and spice markets all over Guadeloupe. These colorful street markets are a shopper’s delight, selling spices, hooch (in the form of potent mango, coconut, and passion fruit), or other homemade concoctions, magnets, tea, coffee–and did I mention hooch? Can’t decide which flavor? Ask if they’ll let you sample one, or all, just make sure you have a driver; they’re that potent!
THE GREAT OUTDOORS
— Guadeloupe Islands (@visitGuadeloupe) February 13, 2015
The outdoorsy girl in me would be remiss if I didn’t show some love to all of the things in nature that make Guadeloupe so spectacular. Have you ever hiked a volcano? Well, you can do that here. Throw on your shoes, layers, and some rain gear and head up to La Soufriere Volcano for some serious hiking. As you ascend the volcano, you can see and smell the sulfur smoking from underground. That grey stuff oozing out of the ground? Scoop up a handful and put it into a plastic bag to take back to the hotel for a clay masque. When you’re finished, hop into the hot springs and take a warm bath.
I’m a certified SCUBA diver and I found the diving in Guadeloupe to be pretty breathtaking. With warm waters, hovering around 82 degrees, it has plenty of vegetation, coral, lobsters, hills and valleys to make for an adventurous and scenic dive. One tip, since the island is French speaking, call ahead to ensure there will be a dive instructor available that speaks English. I went diving at Plongee Sous Marine Pisquettes in Les Saintes. Ask for Cedric, his English is perfect.
Speaking of perfect, that just about sums up a trip to Guadeloupe. Affordable, easy to get to, great food, even better beaches, and lots to do. What more can you ask for? Just GO!