With many bays, marinas, and anchorages, snorkeling and diving spots, small and big cities offering relaxing atmosphere, good shopping, restaurants and boulangeries (bakeries) with French and Creole delicacies, and lots of unique and exciting natural sites, Guadeloupe, one of the biggest island groups in the region and territory of France, is a main destination for the Caribbean cruiser.
If you start at daybreak sailing in moderate tradewinds on starboard tack from English Harbour, Antigua, 40 nautical miles to the north, you will reach the first anchorage on the northwest side of Basse-Terre, the western island of Guadeloupe, by early afternoon and grab one of a few free mooring balls in front of the charming fishing village of Deshaies.
From Monday to Friday you can clear customs at the Pelican souvenir shop by filing in a custom’s form on the computer there, for which small service you have to pay a small fee of 3 euro per boat. Otherwise, there are no customs or any other fees, and, it appears, you can remain in Guadeloupe indefinitely.
If you like hiking and waterfalls, you can walk from Deshaies along a shallow river, jumping over rocks and fallen trees, up to a small waterfall. The one-hour hike can be challenging and you will need good shoes, best if waterproof. You can also visit the Jardin Botanique de Desahaies, a kilometer and a half from the village, for 15 Eu per person (10 Eu for kids).
For more detailed account of our experience at the Deshaies waterfall read Island of Beautiful Waters.
If you continue sailing south from Deshaies for about 10 nautical miles, which can be slow as you are behind tall mountains acting as wind-stoppers on the lee side of Basse-Terre, you will get to another small bay home of hundreds of sea turtles, Pigeon Island.
You can anchor there in front of the beach and take your dinghy or kayak across to the tiny Pigeon Island where mooring balls for diver are available. This used to be one of Jacque Cousteau’s favorite underwater exploration sites, and today it is a national park, Cousteau Underwater Park, with some excellent scuba diving and snorkeling sites, like The Aquarium on the north side of Pigeon Island.
If snorkeling makes you hungry, you can enjoy a grilled lobster or another excellent fish-dish at the waterfront restaurant La Tuna, a place with cozy atmosphere, friendly service, free Wi Fi, and reasonable prices. When you order a rum punch there, as I did, do not be surprised when they bring you a full 1.5-litre bottle of rum…(Also, do not bring your computer charger if it is not 220 volts.)
Further south, there are a few more options to drop anchor, including in front of the capital of Guadeloupe, Basse-Terre, from where you are the closest to La Soufriere volcano. It is an active volcano with craters still steaming and bubbling, emitting deep industrial sounds and heavy poisonous sulfuric gases. The hike there is about 1.5 hours starting in rainforest and then steep climbing up the barren slopes of the mountain. The view from the top is spectacular, and the nature up there is out of this world. La Soufriere is the best and most popular tourist destination in Guadeloupe. For the hike, bring sandwiches, water, good shoes, and a small jacket.
For more detailed account of our experience at Soufriere Volcano read Mountain of Magic.
Next, you can sail south-southeast to Îles des Saintes, 20 nautical miles across the channel where you might have to tack against tradewinds and current in order to get to one of the world’s most beautiful bays in front of Terre-de-Haut. The mooring balls here are not free, 9-10 Eu per boat per night (for 38-40 feet boats). But you can also anchor on the other side of the island in Baie du Marigot, for free, and walk 10 minutes to the main village. For 4 Eu per person you can visit Fort Napoleon, or you can just walk or rent a scooter to the top of the hill and from there enjoy the free-million-dollar view of the bay and adjacent islands.
For more detailed account of our experience in Îles des Saintes, read Îles des Saintes, Guadeloupe
From Îles des Saintes you can sail back north to Pointe-a-Pitre, the biggest city on the Grande Terre island, as there is a lot more to see and do in Guadeloupe. It is another 20 nautical miles, and in east to southeast winds you should get there on a port tack in 4-5 hours. There you have many options for anchoring, off Ilet a Cochons or on the other side off the town docks, or you can go to the marina in the Lagon Bleu, but be ready for extremely dirty stinking waters there.
From Pointe-a-Pitre you can rent a car for about 35 Eu per day and drive to some of the island’s many waterfalls. The Ecrevisses Falls is a popular destination with easy access from the road, no entrance fee, where locals and tourists come in great numbers to chill in the small shallow natural pools formed between the rocks of the river. A more hard-to-get-to and secluded falls are the Cabret Falls, a series of 3 waterfalls, 3 Eu per person entrance fee, and about 1 to 1.5 hours hike to the second and most spectacular waterfall with a 110 meters drop descending from the Soufriere volcano.
For more detailed account of our experience at the waterfalls, read Island of Beautiful Waters.
If you start early in the morning and rent a car from Pointe-a-Pitre, you will have time to visit the Cabret Falls on the island of Basse Terre, and then drive back and visit Sainte Anne in the afternoon, if you are not planning sailing there. Saint Anne is a picturesque little town, very touristy, with a nice beach and fun shopping.
If you are sailing to Dominica next, you can check out in Pointe-a-Pitre and get going, or you can sail to Marie Galante first, another small island 20 nautical miles south-southeast of Pointe-a-Pitre, part of Guadeloupe. You can check out from Grand Bourg anchoring in the tiny anchorage in front of the docks if there is any space. The custom’s officer there is very friendly.
Named after one of Columbus’s boats, Marie Galante is a quiet unspoiled island with a few rural fishing and agricultural communities, not a popular tourist destination. Here you can relax and enjoy the island-time atmosphere, visit the old windmill Le Moulin de Bezard, or just go for a walk or a scooter ride among cottages and pastures where you will encounter an occasional cow or a pig staring at you.