Cruising Guadeloupe

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Iles des Saintes, Guadeloupe

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.

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Sainte Anne, Guadeloupe

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.

Desaies

Desaies, Guadeloupe

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.

Fish Market, Pointe-a-Pitre, Guadeloupe

Fish Market, Pointe-a-Pitre, Guadeloupe

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.

Mira at Deshaie Waterfall

Mira at Deshaies Waterfall

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.

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The Aquarium, Cousteau Marine Park, Guadeloupe

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.

Scuba Divers at Pigeon Island, Guadeloupe

Scuba Divers at Pigeon Island, Guadeloupe

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.)

Shop at Sainte Anne, Guadeloupe

Shop at Sainte Anne, Guadeloupe

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.

.Io and Maya climbing up La Grande Soufriere

.Io and Maya climbing up La Grande Soufriere

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

Îles des Saintes, Guadeloupe

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.

Marina and bay, Pointe-a-Pitre, Guadeloupe

Marina and bay, Pointe-a-Pitre, Guadeloupe

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.

Cabret, First Cascade, Guadeloupe

Cabret, First Cascade, Guadeloupe

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.

Sainte Anne, Guadeloupe

Sainte Anne, Guadeloupe

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.

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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.

Fruit Market, Guadeloupe

Fruit Market, Pointe-a-Pitre, Guadeloupe

 

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Îles des Saintes, Guadeloupe

 

Iles-des-Saintes, Guadeloupe

Iles-des-Saintes, Guadeloupe

Îles des Saintes is a beautiful small archipelago consisting of two inhabited and seven smaller uninhabited islands south of Guadeloupe. Its territory is about 12 sq km (less than 5 sq mi).

Like Guadeloupe, it is a French overseas department, a part of France. The official language is French and English is rarely spoken, and the euro is the only currency accepted.

Iles-des-Saintes, Guadeloupe

Iles-des-Saintes, Guadeloupe

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We sail there after spending a week in Deshais, and a few more days anchored off Pigeon Island, just at the edge of Cousteau National Marine Park where we go for some great snorkeling.

Sailing south along Guadeloupe’s west coast can be challenging as the mountains create eddies of calm and with our luck we spend 7 hours drifting in becalmed waters with less than 1 knot speed. I know Ivo is a crazy purist and will not turn on the engines in such a no-wind situation, but I think he should at least have peace of mind and enjoy the slow ride. Instead he is freaking out, cursing the entire world, suffocating with rage, unable to do anything except deploying the kayak in front of the boat and paddle.

We even get completely stuck in a thick field of Sargasso weed. A terrible. terrible day of sailing for us.

Fata Morgana stuck in Sargasso weed

Fata Morgana stuck in Sargasso weed

Finally we exit the ‘deadcalm zone’ and the east winds fill the sails carrying us towards destination. 16 to 20 kt tradewinds. Ivo is happy as if nothing has happened.

Ivo, approaching Les Saintes

Ivo, approaching Les Saintes

Just after dark, after 14 hours of torturous sailing (distance of 25 NM with a few tacks in the Les Saintes channel), we enter the north anchorage of Iles-des-Saintes, Baie du Marigot, where we are happy to find our good friends, s/v Passages already settled and waiting for us.

The next morning we wake up in a little enchanted fisherman’s bay. We are in Iles des Saintes.

Baie du Marigot, Iles des Saintes

Baie du Marigot, Iles des Saintes

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Iles-des-Saintes are surrounded by corral reefs and its turquoise waters are teaming with fish. The main industry here has always been fishing.

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But since a few decades now tourists and especially cruisers have made Terre du Haut one of their favorite spot contributing greatly to the local economy.

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The bay of Les Saintes is one of the most beautiful bays in the world attracting luxury yachts, cruise ships and sailboats. The locals have realized the importance of tourism and in recent times new hotels, holiday homes, and charming guest houses have sprouted without disturbing the archipelago’s wild natural allure.

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Crystal waters with coral gardens surrounded by green hills, colorful fishing boats and charming little houses and restaurants, a delightful French atmosphere…It doesn’t get better than that.

Terre du Haut and its bay is also one of the most photogenic places I have ever been to. You can take pictures like post cards in every direction with your eyes closed.

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The most popular anchorage is the one to the west of Terre-de-Haut under Pain-de-Sucre (Sugar Bread) hill. There are many mooring balls available the per foot per night, about 10 EU for our size boat (38feet), and anchoring is not permitted.

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But, for those of us who avoid paid mooring balls there is a wonderful free-of-charge option across, on the other side of the island. Baie du Marigot.

 

Baie du Marigot, Iles des Saintes

Baie du Marigot, Iles des Saintes

Almost no one knows about this anchorage, some charts don’t even show it, and most cruisers don’t consider it, but it is a well protected deep enough anchorage with easy free of reefs access and good holding, and we approached it and dropped anchor at night.

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It is a small bay in front of a tiny fishermen village, secluded and quiet. A short dinghy or kayak ride from the boat to the shore and then 10 minutes walk will take you to the main village on the other side of the island, Terre du Haut. Another 20 minutes up hill and you will visit the old Fort Napoleon des Saintes. Moreover, the best seafood restaurant featured in Chris Doyle’s cruising guide is right on the shore on this side.

You can stay in this anchorage for as long as you like, for free. Here, near the beach, you may even meet the sexiest goat alive.

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Mountain of Magic

-by Mira

For our good friend Nikolay Tzanevski

 

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In august of 1976 there were indications that La Grande Soufrière volcano in Guadeloupe will erupt with an expected explosion the size of 6 atomic bombs.

In August 1976 all inhabitants of the island’s capital and biggest city Basse-Terre situated right at the foot of the western slope of the mountain were evacuated, for, the scientists agreed, a catastrophe of great magnitude was inevitable.

 

La Grande Soufrière, Guadeloupe

La Grande Soufrière, Guadeloupe

A filmmaker and his crew were allowed to fly to Guadeloupe and film the final moments of its deserted capital. That filmmaker was Werner Herzog who found an eerie ghost town full of starving dogs, a bay full of dead snakes who have fled the mountain only to drown in the sea, and a homeless person who has refused to leave.

There were tremors and shock waves, 1257 earthquakes recorded, dense poisonous sulfuric clouds gushing from the mountain craters, yet, magically, nothing happened. Never before seismologists had measured signs of eruption of such magnitude, yet an eruption never occurred. The people who thought they would never again see their homes in Basse-Terre returned. La Grande Soufrière went back to slumber.

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In August 1976, back in Bulgaria, my mother gave birth to a baby-girl. That baby was me. I am a Leo.

This year, to celebrate my 38th birthday and the 38th anniversary of the active volcano’s failed eruption, we climb La Grande Soufrière in Guadeloupe.

The Life Nomadik family at La Grande Soufrière volcano, Guadeloupe

The Life Nomadik family at La Grande Soufrière volcano, Guadeloupe

The top of the volcano is also the highest point on the island rising 1,467 m (4,813 ft) above the sea.

The hike starts from a road east of Basse-Terre. There are no entry fees to the park and tons of visitors swarm the mountain slopes, especially on sunny cloudless days.

We start early in the morning sharing a car from Deshaies with our Australian mates Mel and Caryn. We have a long steep walk ahead of us.

Our volcano-climbing shoes. We are ready!

Our volcano-climbing shoes. We are ready!

The climb to the top is about two hours starting with an easy walk in the rainforest on almost flat terrain. The path is paved and shady. We pass by a small stone pool with hot volcanic spring water. Many people come here just for the hot springs and don’t go hiking further.

Hot volcanic springs in the forest.

Hot volcanic springs in the forest.

As soon as we are out of the forest we see the volcano, heavy and silent, standing before us, with a mantle of thin grey cloud. It’s all very strange and mysterious. It’s also a lot colder.

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The nature here is out of this world: low vegetation, damp orange moss over huge boulders adorned with small purple flowers.

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From the slopes, when the clouds clear, we can see Basse-Terre, the sea and Iles des Saintes in the distance.

 

Free Million Dollar View

Free Million Dollar View

But most of the time it’s foggy and the landscape is mysterious. Giant rocks are sticking out of the ground vertically, like teeth in the the low clouds, the result of some terrific Jurassic event millions of years ago.

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The walk up is now steep and narrow, at places difficult, but pleasant all the way to the top.

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We pass by deep shafts, ancient cracks on the slopes of the mountain, the result of seismic tremors and earthquakes.

Lava shafts

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We reach the summit, the highest point in Guadeloupe. We are now standing on top of a volcano.

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The smell of sulfur near the craters is so strong it burns the eyes and sticks to the throat.

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There are a few craters and a maize of small paths among jagged boulders, and in the mist of the fog we become disoriented and restless.

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Evo heads for one of the craters gushing dense yellow steam of sulfur with horrific industrial noise. The sound is deep and muffled coming from the underearth, like suffering. I start after Evo but Maya is left behind, she doesn’t want to breathe the intense poisonous gas.

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She is worried and I hear her voice calling us. Evo cannot hear her anymore, so I go back. We lose each other for a moment, each one of us looking for the others in a dense cloud of sulfuric smoke and mist, on an unfamiliar strange, unstable volcano.

Crater

Crater

I find Maya, Evo finds us, everything is OK. We are just a bit cold and bit scared.

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We are also awe-stricken like never before. The place, the entire experience is sublime, beyond explanation.

Picture A Volcano: La Grande Soufrière

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Maya

Maya

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Volcano Paintings

 

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Island of Beautiful Waters

Guadeloupe

River in Guadeloupe

River in Guadeloupe

Guadeloupe, one of the biggest and most populated islands of the Lesser Antilles island chain, is an overseas region and an integral department of France. French language only is spoken here, and the euro is its currency. Like pretty much every other Caribbean island, the main industry is tourism, but agriculture is also well developed, with vast banana plantations on fertile volcanic soil.

Guadeloupe consists of two islands in the shape of, most people say a butterfly, but to me they look more like human lungs. Basse-Terre to the west and Grange-Terre to the east are joined, almost like Siamese twins, separated by a narrow strait crossed by bridges. There are two smaller islands also part of Guadeloupe: Marie-Galante and Iles des Saintes.

Evo with dorado

Evo with dorado

Guadeloupe is our next stop after visiting the sovereign state of Antigua and Barbuda. Sailing there on a beam reach in moderate tradewinds from English Harbour is a sheer pleasure, and we even catch a small dorado. Evo has been hoping to catch a dorado for months now and it’s funny that his first one is so tiny and doesn’t fight at all. Small, but fish, one of the tastiest out there, and it feeds us all that evening.

Deshaies

We arrive in Deshaies, a main port of entry to Guadeloupe on the northwest side of Basse-Terre and a charming little fishermen village, and are happy to find s/v Passages already moored in the bay there (mooring balls in the bay are available free of charge, for now).

Desaies

Desaies

We met Caryn and Mel briefly when we were checking out from Nevis, and then again in Montserrat. With them and with the crews of two other boats in the Deshaies anchorage: Bev aboard s/v Aseka and Mark and Tina aboard s/v Rainbow, we organize our first waterfall expedition.

Deshaies Waterfall

Guadeloupe was once named Kerukera, The Island of Beautiful Waters, by its first known inhabitants, the Arawak Indians, for its abundance of rivers, lakes, and waterfalls.

River near Deshaies, Guadeloupe

River near Deshaies, Guadeloupe

Not far from the Deshaies anchorage there is a small river flowing through the forest, and a waterfall. But to reach the waterfall, which has no name (or maybe it does but we don’t know it) we have to walk beside and inside the river, over boulders and fallen trees for what seems an eternity.

Cruisers on a waterfall expedition

Cruisers on a waterfall expedition

Maya

Maya

Evo

Evo

We stop for a short refreshing splash-around in a small pond up river. Everyone is happy to chill before heading up and up again until we reach the place.

Maya and Evo in the river pool

Maya and Evo in the river pool

Cruisiers in the pond

Cruisers in a pond

It’s a beautiful miniature canyon with dark mossy walls dripping with water, a green pool and a small waterfall hidden in the dark behind a huge rock.

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We are really glad we have finally reached it, it was not an easy walk-in-the-park kind of hike. On the way back we pick up a few coconuts and lots of mangoes from the forest.

Mira

Mira

Ecrevisses Waterfall

A few days later we hire a car with our new best friends Caryn and Mel s/v Passages, very sweet people form Australia, and visit another waterfall, this one really popular and very close to the road, Ecrevisse Waterfall. You can park your car on the side of the road, get your towel, enter the forest, and walk 2 minutes to the place.

Ecrevisse Fall

Ecrevisse Fall

It’s full of people even at 6 in the evening, and everyone is cooling down in the pool under the cascade and in the small ponds formed here and there in the shallow wide river.

Maya having fun at the river, Ecrevisse Fall

Maya having fun at the river, Ecrevisse Fall

Most visitors are locals enjoying the refreshing waters in the afternoon, and we join them for a dip.

 

Cabret Falls

Days later we share a rental car again with Caryn and Mel and drive to the Cabret Falls for another expedition. The Cabret Falls are a series of waterfalls in a national park and one of the most popular tourist destinations in Guadeloupe. There is an entrance fee to the park of about 3 euros per person which is well worth the excellent trails with wooden paths and steps in some parts of the path.

Maya

Maya

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Maya on the trail

Maya on the trail

The first cascade is about two hours of uphill walking from the visitor’s center and descends from the Soufriere Volcano’s slopes dropping 125 meters (410 ft) in a deep pool of green waters surrounded by yellow and red rocks.

Cabret First Cascade

Cabret First Cascade

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Mira

Mira

Mel and Caryn

Mel and Caryn

It is not an easy hike to the first cascade and not too many visitors go there. Most people are content with the 15-minute walk from the visitor’s center on a paved wheelchair-accessible path to the second cascade which has a 110 meters (360 ft) drop.

Cabret Second Cascade

Cabret Second Cascade

Evo and Maya

Evo and Maya

The access to the third cascade, the one with most water volume, is currently restricted after an earthquake in 2004 and heavy rains caused landslides and cut off the trail.

Maya

Maya

We spend the day walking up and down the slopes of Soufriere volcano amidst the intense green vegetation of the tropical rainforest, going from one waterfall to another, eating sandwiches, singing and dancing among giant trees, enjoying Guadeloupe’s beautiful nature.

Maya

Maya

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Maya

Maya

Mel and Caryn

Mel and Caryn

Maya

Maya

Maya-elephant

Maya-elephant

Evo

Evo

Mira

Mira

Maya sleeping on a rock

Maya sleeping on a rock

Evo's blond-forest hairstyle

Evo’s blond-forest hairstyle

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Maya dancing and singing: I Will Survive!

Maya dancing and singing: I Will Survive!

The Life Nomadik family in Guadeloupe

The Life Nomadik family in Guadeloupe

 

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