Guadeloupe became a French colony in 1635 and is now an Overseas Department of France, hence its enchanting French and Creole culture. The eastern Caribbean destination is comprised of two main islands linked by a bridge, Grande Terre and Basse Terre, which form the shape of a butterfly, as well as five outer islands.
Time your stay to coincide with All Saints Day. Cemeteries are packed with people placing flowers and candles on the graves. On the eve of the celebration, the thousands of candles are lit at once, creating a hauntingly magical scene. One popular cemetery is Morne a l’eau on Grande Terre, which is already impressive with its massive black and white checkered tile graves rising in tiers on the hillside.
On the eastern side is Grand Terre, with its vast, white sand beaches and lively port capital, Pointe a Pitre, the islands economic hub. Here, visitors can sip some rum punch and learn to dance to the joyful rhythms of biguine, zouk and mazurka, or in January see the elaborate Carnival procession.
Basse Terre to the west is a French colonial town on the outskirts of the 74,000 acre National Park of Guadeloupe, a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve. The park is at the base of La Soufriere active volcano and has 188 miles of marked trails leading into the rainforest to see raccoons, agoutis (huge rodents), waterfalls and bubbling hot springs.
Go diving in Cousteau Underwater Park from offshore Pigeon Island to spot peculiar types of sea turtles, sea urchins and parrotfish. Five other less developed islands belong to the Guadeloupe archipelago, including Marie-Galante, with small hotels and a restored, 17th century sugar plantation.
Be sure to protect yourself from Guadeloupe’s swarms of aggressive mosquitoes.