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Random Thoughts on Guadeloupe

I explained in an earlier post why I chose Guadeloupe for my sabbatical travels, but apart from that decision, I didn’t know much about the place.

  • I knew that it was French: not just that it’s a former French colony but that it’s still part of France. They even use the euro as their currency.
  • I knew that Guadeloupians speak French and Creole.
  • I knew there was a volcano.

That was about it. And it was a fun way to discover the place. I didn’t have many preconceptions and was able to just take it as it came, enjoying each new impression.

I expected, or perhaps I should say I hoped for, all the tropical clichés: palm trees, lush vegetation, bougainvillea plants, delicious fresh tropical fruit, and picture-postcard views.

sunset view framed by palm trees on Guadeloupe

A sunset seen from Malendure Beach

All of the tropical clichés were indeed true in Guadeloupe, but there were other details that surprised me.

Driving in Guadeloupe

I had read that the bus system is quite limited in Guadeloupe, so I rented a car for the whole ten days I’d be staying there. The roads were relatively poor if you compare them to France, except for the most-used highways, which were well-paved. Even the minor roads winding up the volcano were paved, but some were in need of repair.

view of a road seen from a car in Guadeloupe

The national routes in Guadeloupe were in good shape.

The street signs aren’t just in French; they are French. What I mean is that they were obviously produced in whatever factory the French government uses to produce its signage: the same fonts and layouts and colors and so on. It was odd to see those familiar patterns in such an unfamiliar place.

At the same time, I was pleasantly surprised by how well everyone drives there, which was very unlike French drivers. They were courteous, letting drivers merge when they needed to merge, for example. They didn’t honk. And, in general, they drove below the speed limit! There are not many places in the world where I’ve witnessed that.

Is Guadeloupe in the developing or developed world?

I saw evidence of both. In some places, people were living in what looked like shacks built from bits and pieces of corrugated iron. My Airbnb host told me that he thought those were the homes of immigrants from places like Haiti, who were there illegally. I don’t know to what extent that is true.

a hut made out of pieces of corrugated iron on Guadeloupe

This was on the west coast of Guadeloupe. It looked like someone was living there (remains of a fire, clothing hanging on a line), but I don’t know if it was their home or a temporary shelter.

view of a row of wooden houses in Guadeloupe, in very bad condition, looking like there might have been a fire.

some houses in the capital city, Point-a-Pitre. There were people visible through the open doorways of that middle house.

At the same time, most people have working plumbing with safe drinking water. The electricity seems reliable. I was surprised at how efficient the public works must be when I heard announcements on the radio giving a specific date and time for when certain roadworks would be finished.

The supermarkets have a mix of imported (almost exclusively from France) and local foods: “local” meaning from within the Caribbean. The imported foods are more expensive, but they wouldn’t be there if no one was able to buy them, would they?

And they have boulangeries producing proper French bread. I don’t mean bread shaped like a baguette; I mean French bread indistinguishable from what you’d find in France. It’s also subsidized just like it is in France.

a market stall with a variety of fruit and vegetables in Guadeloupe

There was plenty of local and imported produce available.

People

Of course, the key to any travel destination is the people, and I didn’t meet anyone in Guadeloupe who wasn’t friendly and helpful. For example, when I stopped to ask directions, which I had to do a number of times, people went out of their way to make sure I understood. One drew me a detailed map. One led me in his car to the place I needed to turn. People were unfailingly patient with my stuttering attempts to speak French.

Everyone says “Bonjour” or “Bonsoir” as you pass on the street. The only place I didn’t experience this was on the south coast of Grand-Terre, the big eastern half of Guadeloupe, where most of the French tourists go. On the western side, where I spent most of my time, even the French tourists said “Bonjour.” I could tell if they were from France or Guadeloupe after 12 noon because at that point Guadeloupians switch to “Bonsoir” while the French still say “Bonjour.”

There’s clearly still a racial divide, however. I’m not sure how deep it goes. I did hear that because of the system of government used in France, in which people are transferred around within their departments, the top levels of any government agency are usually white, which leads to resentment by the Guadeloupians. In some shops, I spotted situations in which the boss was white or Asian and the workers were black, but also some where the boss was black.

One day I went to the beach, following directions from my Airbnb host to a hotel outside of Point-à-Pitre, the capital city. No one is allowed to own a beach there, so anyone can go and use a hotel’s beach. Not realizing that the hotel had provided an entrance next to the hotel for the public to use, I entered the hotel’s lobby and walked through it, past the pool, to the beach on the other side. There, I realized there was no public restroom in which to change into my bathing suit, so I went back into the lobby and changed in the hotel’s restroom.

As I did this, I wondered whether I’d be stopped. There was a clear delineation between the hotel’s territory, where the beach was well-tended and had lounge chairs, and the public’s territory, which was just uncared-for sand with no services. Clearly the public was not meant to use the lobby or the hotel’s bathrooms, but no one stopped me. Was it because I am white? It seemed likely to me.

Tourism

The whole time I was in Guadeloupe, I was surprised at the lack of tourists or tourist facilities. There are some, of course: hotels, diving clubs, tours, etc. But they’re clearly not exploiting their potential for tourism as much as they could. Most of their tourists come from France, and all the tourism-related facilities I visited were oriented toward them. Signage was almost exclusively in French, for example, in museums and other tourist destinations.

sillhouetted boots moored in Guadeloupe

a sunset in Guadeloupe

Yet I know that the Dutch, for example, would love it there. It has just the right combination of beach relaxation and active travel that they like. They could go diving or hiking or boating to their heart’s content. It’s off-the-beaten-track and could be a relatively inexpensive destination as well. And most Dutch people speak a smattering of French, so that would be no problem.

beach view in Guadeloupe: palm trees, tourists lying in the sun

Malendure Beach is frequented by tourists.

Perhaps that’s the idea. Perhaps the Guadeloupians don’t particularly want more tourists. Perhaps the French government wants to keep Guadeloupe a secret from the rest of Europe. I don’t know. I’m just glad I happened upon it, because it was exquisite.

Have you been to Guadeloupe or another Caribbean island? Do these observations match yours? Leave a comment below!

This image is perfect for Pinterest!

This image is perfect for Pinterest!

This post links with Travel Photo Thursday.

If you’re interested in reading more about Guadeloupe, here is a list of all my posts from there:

22 Comments

  • Julia

    June 9, 2015 at 9:37 am

    Oh wow I never heard about Guadeloupe! They really don’t seem to want more tourists and that makes it a true gem! The nature is so beautiful. I don’t know why but I like volcanos!

    Reply
    • Rachel

      June 9, 2015 at 4:48 pm

      I was there for ten days and it wasn’t enough: so beautiful! I’m not sure I’d climb the volcano again, but it makes for a beautiful landscape, that’s for sure! Thanks for commenting!

      Reply
      • Karolina

        February 15, 2017 at 2:40 am

        Thanks for the info which was not really practical but rather your impressions that is also useful 🙂 We are travelling there in April, 2017.

        Reply
        • Rachel

          February 15, 2017 at 12:17 pm

          I did a number of other posts about Guadeloupe: they’re all listed at the bottom of this post and tell about various things to see and do there. I’m so jealous; I’d like to go back!

          Reply
  • Natalie Deduck

    June 9, 2015 at 10:12 am

    Happy to know that you had to share Guadeloupe just with few tourists!
    I never thought about visiting the island, but sounds quite interesting the mix of Caribbean and french, especially with good bread! 🙂
    Happy travels,
    Nat

    Reply
  • The Educational Tourist

    June 9, 2015 at 1:16 pm

    What an interesting post! Thanks for sharing your secret find! I’ve not visited this wonderful island, but need to add it to the list! *sigh* you have me thinking of french bread now….. 😉
    Natalie, The Educational Tourist

    Reply
  • Phoebe @ Lou Messugo

    June 11, 2015 at 10:50 am

    Hi Rachel, it’s been a while since I’ve been on your blog….happy to be back though and really happy to have found this post through Nancie’s #TravelPhotoThursday because it would be perfect for my series on “far-flung France”. I’ve been running a series of guest posts about the French Dom-Toms and as you point out, they’re relatively unknown in the English speaking world. Funnily enough I published the 4th in the series today…about Guadeloupe and until now I’d never come across another blog post about it in English. If you take a look at my blog today you’ll see it. I’m going to contact you privately to see if you might like to be involved in the series.

    Reply
    • Rachel

      June 11, 2015 at 11:35 am

      Good to “see” you again, Phoebe! There really isn’t much out there about Guadeloupe in English or in Dutch, which is why my Guadeloupe posts are the ones I’m translating into Dutch first!

      Reply
  • Chris

    June 13, 2015 at 3:24 am

    Some interesting observations.

    I’ve still never visited France (but we had hoped to visit French Guiana on this trip, a plan now shelved) so I’m amazed how noticeable some things were!

    Reply
  • Sufia

    September 19, 2015 at 5:18 am

    Hey Rachel 🙂 I came across your blog and its been so helpful. I’m still a little nervous because this is my first solo trip. I currently have a drivers permit not a license would I still be able to rent a car out there? Also if not is there a good way to sight see without driving ? What towns would you most recommend to vist?

    Reply
    • Rachel

      September 19, 2015 at 5:44 am

      I doubt you’d be able to rent a car with just a permit. There is a bus system, but I didn’t have to figure that out, since I had a car. I suspect you’d have to start in Pointe-a-Pitre, the biggest city, if you want to be able to explore the country by bus. As far as where I recommend to visit, I liked the western island, Basse-Terre, most, because of the hilly terrain and rainforest vegetation. The main roads go around the edge of the island, so maybe you could just move from one town to the next in a slow circle around, staying at each town a night or more. That way you wouldn’t spend too much time on busses. The distance wouldn’t be very long for each leg of the trip, and you could also do some of them by taxi. People are very friendly and helpful, but nevertheless, if you’re female, as I would guess from your name, don’t hitchhike!

      Reply
  • S Myambala

    June 26, 2017 at 1:33 am

    Your posts have really helped! All this time I assumed Guadeloupe was Spanish territory until today. You’ve given me an interesting insight into the country which has leaked my desire to travel there.

    Reply
  • theworldonmynecklace

    August 30, 2017 at 9:21 pm

    We spent 2.5 weeks there over Christmas and New Years and had pretty much the same thoughts as you. We only rented a car for three days and used public transport and walked the rest of the time. The buses suck big time, I loved all the legit French food, and people were friendly. We did struggle though with the language barrier – my French is basic and so many people didn’t speak a word of English so it was hard. We stayed in three different places during our time there – 1 week in Deshaies on Basse Terre, 1 week near the beach in Le Gosier and 4 days in Les Saintes. This gave us a great overview of the differences of each island – Les Saintes was definitely my favorite.

    Reply
  • Mariana De Albuquerque Simoes

    September 11, 2017 at 6:00 pm

    Hi Rachel,

    I might be going to Guadeloupe for vacation in a few weeks, and I am wondering how much poverty there is there. I’m just wondering if it is like Jamaica and other developing countries, even though it is part of France.

    Because if so, I’d love to bring toys and related to children at an orphanage, preschool, etc. I work with educational programs in developing countries, and I could do some fundraising of materials to bring. Do you know anything about it, or could tell me someone who could give me some information?

    Thank you,
    Mariana

    Reply
    • Rachel

      September 11, 2017 at 6:11 pm

      It did not seem as poor to me as Jamaica or Haiti; since it’s part of France I suspect there’s more government money coming in for the poor. I would suggest, before you start collecting stuff, that you contact a Guadeloupe charity and ask what they actually want and need. Often the materials people bring miss the mark, and it would be better to give money than bring stuff to hand out. But no, I don’t know any particular organizations. Sorry!

      Reply

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