Guadeloupe Basse-Terre: from the Mountains to the Sea

Guadeloupe is a country of two halves, quite literally split via its two islands, Basse-Terre and Grande-Terre with the tiniest of bridges between them – blink and you’d miss it.

Geographically these islands couldn’t be further apart with Basse-Terre rising mountainously from the sea with a dense tropical rainforest centre and an active volcano punctuating the South of the island; Grande-Terre is relatively flat, a land of sugar cane fields and white sandy beaches and more developed than its sister island.

The majority of our babymoon was spent on Basse-Terre, the more varied geography resulting in there being more varied activities to partake in. So the following is our guide to the best of the island (at least from what we got to experience).

What to do?

I cannot say that our sejourn in Guadeloupe was a 24 hour adrenaline rush of activity; part of the purpose of our holiday was to relax and there is only so much waddling I felt up to in a day, so that was a limiting factor too. So the first few days were spent lolling about on the beach.

Grande Anse
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A huge semi-circle of golden sand, Grande Anse is one of the more famous beaches in Guadeloupe, but despite that and the fact we went at Easter when it was theoretically at its busiest, this beach was big enough for all of us.

A swimmer’s rather than a snorkeller’s beach, there’s a nice shelf of sand into the sea and not too much of a current to sweep you out. It is backed by trees so you can hide yourself in the shade. There are a few cafes in the centre of the beach around which the beach gets busier but you can find relative seclusion at either end of the beach if the pumping creole music gets too much.

To my chagrin, more time was spent relaxing and reading than dipping in the sea, but as a result I can most certainly recommend The Secret Life of Bees and Digging to America as good accompaniments to beach bum life.

Pigeon Island

Jacques Cousteau brought Pigeon Island to the world’s attention by declaring it one of the best dive sites in the world. Such praise resulted in the area around Pigeon Island being named Réserve Cousteau, and there is even a sub-aquatic statue of Mr Cousteau that one can pay homage to (not that we found it).

The town of Malendre which is the closest to Pigeon Island, is a small black sand beach surrounded by a gathering of huts selling tourist paraphenalia and providing access to the reserve. The first day we went I was feeling nauseous and decided I was not up to kayaking my way across to the island, so we wimped out and got a boat. The trouble was, our French being what it is, the boat we got wasn’t quite going where we thought it was – so rather than to the island, we ended up in a cove around the headland pottering about with a beginners’ dive lesson. This was better in the end as we did eventually make it to the island so got to see both sites. The highlight of the headland was definitely the lion fish – what kind of crazy evolutionary force cause this fish to take shape?
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Another day, when I was feeling better, we hired kayaks (or at least persuaded our hotel to book them for us) and headed for the island. I cannot say that the power behind the kayak was fairly distributed between Fred and myself, but it was a good crossing and after pulling our kayak out of the water (you get a watertight barrel for your stuff), set off for a good snorkel.

And what a snorkel it was. There are points on that first beach where the water is not very deep and you are simply surrounded by tropical fish, tons of them. There is part of the island called The Aquarium, but the sheltered bay facing Malendre seemed much more like that to us.
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The other side of the island (accessed by a path on the far left of the beach – rather than the bushwacker vague path in the middle which we luckily abandoned) was fun too – deeper water and shelves of coral, the divers are almost as fun to watch as the fish with their streams of bubbles majestically rising to the surface.

And to complete the experience, while kayaking back, a turtle came to say “hi”!
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And if all that was not enough, further down the coast is the town of Pigeon with its aptly named Poste de Pigeon. What more could you want?

Cascades
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Another highlight of Basse-Terre is its waterfalls; in fact it was seeing two of the Chutes du Carbet from the sea that persuaded Christopher Columbus to dock and replenish his water in Guadeloupe. We visited Cascade aux Écrevisses which is a few minutes walk of the Route de la Traversée (a pretty road through the rainforest but without the spectacular views you might expect), and the second of the Chutes du Carbet (there are three). The view of the waterfalls you see above is best from the lookout just in front of the toilets, but the half hour amble to the waterfall is nice even if the final view is rather obstructed by a falled tree. There is a hike to the first waterfall for those who are a bit more adventurous, but you need a good few hours to do it and it is rated difficile so we gave that a miss. Instead we prioritised the Grand Étang, a big lake a bit below the Chutes, and took the facile route round that. Facile is obviously rated on a different scale for the French, as I would have tagged it moyen, given the clambering over roots required and a bit of stream fording (requiring Fred to come back and get me as my stepping stone abilities even when not pregnant leave a lot to be desired!). A lot of fun in the jungle, but remember the mossie repellent!

La Soufrière volcano
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Fred was a bit obsessed with making it here. Even before we left, he was enthusing to his friends about dragging me on the 3-4 hour hike up the volcano. I did my research on the effects of sulphar (seemingly not much) and was considering it, but think it would have been a step too far for me and the bump. But we did a bit of it, taking the old colonial path up from the new car park to the old car park (access to the latter having been prohibited after an earthquake), and from there you had nice views up the volcano and could relax and see the odd rat and mongoose scuttling around the undergrowth. The best views were from the old road – if you walked down it a bit from where the path joined it, there were great views down to the South and to the islands of Les Saintes and Dominica beyond.

The hike from there to the top of the volcano would have been a round trip of three hours, and we arrived too late to do that even had we wanted to, but it looked fun and maybe one day when the bump has learnt to walk…

Where to eat?

If there is one thing we learnt from our trip to Guadeloupe, it’s that you should always book in advance. We thought it was just the Easter weekend that was bad, but throughout the week the response of “complet” became very familiar.

Our favourite places to eat in Basse-Terre were all around Deshaies, further South, Il Faro restaurant gets a good press but it wasn’t open on the days we were exploring the South, so that nixed that idea.

Le Mahina

Housed in a stunning blue and white wooden building looking onto the harbour, this restaurant served a good range of food (and cocktails) which provided something other than fish. The decor was stunning and we went there twice, so it must have been good.

Peppine

Winning the prize for feeding us when no one else would (on Easter Sunday) and for good banter while we were waiting, this place has the reputation for the best pizza on the island and it was certainly very good (and very much needed). There are tables outside but when it’s not a public holiday it seems to mostly be used as a takeaway.

If you are staying at Tainos Cottages and they are doing dinner, then that is an offer worth taking up – all home prepared and cooked by the family, Fred thought it was the best fish carpaccio he’d ever had!

Where to stay?

Tainos Cottages

Speaking of Tainos Cottages…
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Amazingly positioned just back from the Grande Anse beach, there are a set of beautiful dark wood cottages which look like they should be in a Lombok catalogue (if one still existed). We stayed in number 4, which seemed to be the cat cottage and indeed the kitten did sometimes come to visit. It had a beautiful four poster and you could just about see the sea and the sunsets from the terrace. The only downside to the cottages was the openness to the outside world (including an outside passage to the loo) meaning there were a few mossies which got a bit tiresome. Apparently we did it all wrong though – the trick is to open up all your windows and let the air flow through dragging mossies with it – shutting yourself in with them just encourages them apparently!

Family run across two generations with a few toddlers to “help”, the cottages had a lovely atmosphere and could not have been better positioned – we should have stayed longer…

Jardin Malanga
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Down South just outside Trois-Rivières (the car equivalent of the Bermuda Triangle – however hard we tried to avoid it, the gravitational pull was too much for us), is the beautiful Jardin Malanga. Styled as a colonial house with cottages around it in beautiful gardens, we revelled in the air conditioning and made best use of the spacious veranda.

The manager was lovely, sorting everything out when it transpired that Fred’s baby brain had succeeded in booking us a room for one (not quite beating my baby brain’s triumph on Grande-Terre, but you’ll have to wait for that…).

If you want to explore the waterfalls and volcanoes then this is the place to do it, and it’s also a great place to while away the rainy days of Basse-Terre – the only disadvantage to the presence of rainforests being a reasonable amount of rain!

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