Coastal scenery, Guadeloupe © J Armand
The islands of Guadeloupe are radiant gems of the Caribbean, offering travellers a unique combination of Creole culture, incredible beaches, and simply fantastic French food. Guadeloupe is shaped rather like a butterfly, with Basse-Terre and Grand Terre as each of its wings. Better developed Grand Terre has exceptional beach towns and plenty of fun nightlife along its shores. Basse Terre is more wild, home to Parc National de la Guadeloupe and topped by the spectacular La Soufriere volcano.
First discovered by Columbus in 1493, the islands were known to the local Caribs as Karukera: 'the islands of beautiful waters'. In the 20th century Guadeloupe become an overseas department of France, enjoying French protection and economic support. Guadeloupe is less well known than Antigua, its neighbour to the north, so it enjoys a somewhat laid-back atmosphere and less developed infrastructure by comparison. The beaches are quite magnificent and remain the main draw card for the steady stream of tourists, the majority of whom are French. Unusually for a tropical island, there are many other attractions such as tropical forests, towering waterfalls and a hard-hitting museum of slavery. The diving is also excellent, particularly on the 15 mile (25km) long coral wall of Grand Cul-de-Sac Marin just off the coast of Grand Terre.
Getting around the islands is a breeze, with a decent public bus network and plenty of bicycle rental spots presenting better options than the rather expensive taxis.