Guadeloupe Travel notes

2016-12-02

So — you’ve just found some cheap tickets on Norwegian Air for a direct flight to Guadeloupe. Who doesn’t want some time in Caribbean paradise? You know a bit about the usual suspects: The Bahamas, Aruba, St. Lucia, Barbados, Jamaica, The Virgin Islands… but you know almost nothing about Guadeloupe. Is it worthwhile to visit?

I just returned from a week in Guadeloupe and can answer that last question with a resounding YES.

Guadeloupe is actually a chain of islands, with two main islands connected by a short bridge. The first is the lush and wild, volcanic island of Basse Terre. The second is the sunny and coral, more developed island of Grande Terre. We decided to split our itinerary and get the best of both worlds: we spent our first night fairly close to the airport in Le Gosier, then spent three nights in the sleepy village of Deshaies in Basse Terre, and spent the final three nights in the campy beach town of Sainte Anne on Grande Terre.

While I was in Guadeloupe I kept a short list of observations to write about back home, particularly of things that weren’t in the usual guide books and online.

Guadeloupe is very, very French

After being there for a few days, I decided that Guadeloupe is like France’s Hawaii. It is full “Department” of France. The overwhelming majority of tourists we encountered were from France. The infrastructure, laws, and major cultural influence is French.

Do not go to Guadeloupe assuming that it’ll be like other Caribbean islands where the locals are accustomed to American tourists. If someone says “bon jour,” don’t respond “hello” expecting an accommodating switch to English. Not only will it expose you as a culturally tone-deaf American, but it probably won’t work anyway. Very few locals speak English — if someone told me English was more understood in mainland France than in Guadeloupe, I wouldn’t be surprised. A translation book, a handful of phrases, and a lot of gesturing will get you a long way. Everyone was very kind and helpful despite the language barrier. I enjoyed this challenge, but it won’t be for everyone.

Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité. Vive la Revolution!

Interestingly, whenever we told the locals we were American, they would respond “Oh, Norwegian Airlines?” Apparently the fact that Norwegian is now running direct flights to Guadeloupe is a big deal to them.

Driving

We rented a car while we were there. Our “mid size” car was a Fiat 500. Your default choice will be with a manual transmission. An automatic will be difficult to find and will cost you more. When we were at the reservation desk in the airport, a gentleman at the adjacent desk was furiously arguing (in English) that he shouldn’t have to pay extra for an automatic because he couldn’t drive stick.