Guadeloupe, a French Caribbean archipelago made of several idyllic islands, is the perfect playground to try the cruising lifestyle. It’s a hotspot for boating enthusiasts, seasoned seafarers and newcomers alike; the steady trade winds and warm Caribbean waters have lured sailors for centuries. The deep blue waters and lush green hills accommodate some of the best anchorages in the Caribbean, and with modern infrastructure, French cuisine, rhum agricole and a rich history to discover, it’s an ideal location for your next sailing adventure. Here’s how to spend seven days sailing around this heavenly spot.
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The two main islands in Guadeloupe – western Basse-Terre and eastern Grande-Terre – form a butterfly shape that’s a little too big to see in a week. So begin in Marina Bas du Forte in Pointe-a-Pitre, on Grande-Terre, and motor a short distance southeast to Ilet du Gosier. This tiny island provides protection to anchor for the night, with little but a restaurant, sand, palm trees and iguanas to enjoy. The shallow waters on the lee of the island are clear and great for swimming. Head to the windward side and scramble over the jagged rocks to watch the waves crash in as they have done for millennia. Try the local mahi mahi cooked over a wood fire on the beach. If you’re lucky, there may even be a stall selling sorbet. There’s also a lighthouse you can climb for views among the treetops.
Head to Marie-Galante, a large island about 30km (19mi) south of Ilet du Gosier, and anchor at Baie de Saint-Louis in about 5m (16ft) of water. Anchorages partly protected by coral reef systems ensure the water is clear and calm. Leave the dinghy at the dock in front of the restaurants and enjoy a drink at any of the small bars with your feet in the water.
Sugar cane fields, distilleries and old windmills give the island an authentic feel, as rum production is a big part of the history here. Hire a scooter and ride to any of the historic ruins on the island. You can visit Roussel-Trianon House, an old sugar refinery north of Grand-Bourg, to learn about cane production and the abolition of slavery in 1848. Information panels on the slave trade and routes are provided. See where the freed people dumped rum into Punch Pond and celebrated the abolition of slavery. You could also head to La Feuillere beach, where easterly trade winds and smooth waters are ideal for kite surfers.
An easy 29km (18mi) sail from Marie-Galante sees you motoring through the cut that brings you to Terre-de-Haut island – part of Les Saintes islands – and the anchorage of Anse du Bourg. It is possible to anchor behind the mooring field for free, however, the swell can creep in and for €13 a mooring ball will get you closer to shore.
Traditional French fare, such as crepes, croissants and baguettes, awaits, and as you wander through the village, you will notice a distinctly European vibe. Hitchhiking is popular on the island and a common way to explore the beaches further afield. The absence of cars in the village makes souvenir shopping or street-side dining enjoyable; locals ride mopeds and golf carts or enjoy the town on foot. Symmetrical wooden cottages are painted in bright colours and covered in pink hibiscus – complete with hummingbirds – and the streets are filled with elderly women selling French pastries from handmade wicker baskets. Wander up the hill to Fort Louis to share an amazing view of the bay with the many iguanas – visit the fort museum for a look into the maritime history of the island.
While leaving Les Saintes will be difficult, there is more to see, so set sail for Riviere-Sens, a quiet little anchorage on the mainland, with lush green volcanic hills. Once you have anchored in about 6m (19ft) of water, take the dinghy to the nearby marina and walk or bus a few kilometres to the Rum Distillery Bologne. The third-largest distillery in Guadeloupe, this property has a long history and produces top-rate, cane juice-made rum. The entire production process is explained (with tastings) along the way. Enjoy learning about rum production in the Caribbean and, if you’re feeling up to it, try a ti’ punch. This white rum drink mixed with cane sugar and lime is arguably the most popular drink in the French West Indies. It’s said the drink is the same as the island: bold, simple and beautiful.
From Riviere-Sens, head northeast for about 16km (10mi) to Anse a la Barque, a small fishing port with Napoleonic war relics – four cannons from French ships sunk in 1806 lie about 60m (200ft) from the shore. You should take the dinghy to Petite Anse to look for conch shells in the clear waters and enjoy a rum punch sundowner with the locals at the beach bar.
You could also visit Carbet Falls on the lower slopes of La Soufriere volcano – the waterfalls are so mesmerizing that, in 1493, Christopher Columbus described their beauty in his ship’s log. Three separate cascades form this tropical jungle phenomenon, with the highest reaching 115m (377ft). The third, a four to five-hour trek away, is not for the faint hearted but rewards visitors with a magnificent circular basin in which you can swim in cool waters.
From Anse la Barque, sail halfway up the western side of Guadeloupe to the Reserve Cousteau, where you’ll find Pigeon Island. It is forbidden to anchor on the shore here, but there is a safe bay called Plage de Malendure off the mainland (around a kilometre away) where you can access Pigeon Island with ease. Head for the northern end of this bay and drop anchor in 5m (18ft) of water. The short dinghy ride will transport you to a snorkelling paradise, arguably one of the best in the area. When you arrive, tie up to one of the dive boat’s mooring balls or drag the dinghy ashore. With fins, mask and snorkel, dive beneath the water to find a spectacular scene of turtles, angelfish, parrotfish, butterflyfish and elkhorn plus staghorn corals. Schools of blue tang come within touching distance. Huge boulders and open caves make up the interior of the island, where it’s possible to explore and see massive multicoloured iguanas lazing in the trees, soaking up the sun’s rays.
It’s time to return to Pointe-a-Pitre. After a week of living on a yacht, you may begin to understand why people sell everything to sail into the sunset. There is a real difference between living near the water, and living on it. It’s impossible not to gain a deep respect for the ocean, and Guadeloupe provides a taste of what the Caribbean islands have to offer, you will no doubt have plenty of stories to share about your time in the waters here.
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