Guadeloupe

Guadeloupe is yet another destination in the Caribbean with strong ties to Europe. Like Martinique, the refinement and sophistication of rich Parisian streets remain on Guadeloupe Island, even if most of the French seemed to have deserted the island years ago. Now with most of the island"s people descended from African slaves, the combination of these cultures creates one of the most popular island getaways in the Caribbean.

Though Guadeloupe technically refers to a handful of French islands in the West Indies (including St. Barts and St. Martin, amongst others), Guadeloupe island is the sleepy center of them all, where beaches and culture collide in the most developed and modern location in the entire Caribbean Sea. Guadeloupe revolves around its center port, Pointe-a-Pitre, and spreads haphazardly from the city. To the west is Grand Terre and to the east is Basse-Terre, the two main islands of the country separated by a narrow channel that splits Pointe-a-Pitre in two.

Basse-Terre is the less inhabited of the two, with its main draw being the national park located in its center. Here you'll pass miles of banana trees, rain forests and gnashing waterfalls as you hike up La Sofriere, a towering volcano that allows visitors to walk right up to its mouth. The park grounds begin merely 30 minutes away from Pointe-a-Pitre and tours are plentiful, though strenuous. Though many of these are run through nearby hotels in Guadeloupe, visitors are free to tour the park as they please, with trails available for both novices and highly experienced hikers.

The beaches that surround the national park are miles of copper sand. The most popular Guadeloupe beach in this area is the Plage de Grande Anse, on the north coast of Basse Terre nearby the burgeoning town of Deshaies. South you'll find Pigeon island, where hundreds of snorkelers and scuba divers have flocked to take part in the most famous of Guadeloupe sports.

On the other side of Guadeloupe Island, the simple beaches on Grande Terre are soft and white, stretching along the island's southern coast. Most of the popular beaches here are near Pointe-a-Pitre – man-made, but many of them are still wonderfully sparse, and all within close proximity of most of the hotels in Guadeloupe. The cities of Gosier and Les Bas du Fort are well-known for their expansive resorts, along with a scattering of beach side villas for travelers looking to splurge. The Guadeloupe beaches on the northeast side of Grande Terre will find the surf adventurous, to say the least. Where the gentle waves of the Caribbean meet the anger of the Atlantic on the shores of La Pointe des Chateaux and Plaga Tarare. But the backdrop of limestone cliffs and swirling waters keep the former the most scenic Guadeloupe beach and the latter is more of the same with a few less people.

But the heart and soul of the archipelago is still Pointe-a-Pitre, where French culture seeps into the Caribbean atmosphere with surprising ease. Still technically dependent on France for much of its funding, the island has benefited greatly from France's strong economy, which is good news for many travelers who seek the comfort and relaxation offered – but not always delivered – in the Caribbean.

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