A Little History First
During his second trip to America, seeking fresh water in November 1493, Christopher Columbus became the first European to land on Guadeloupe. He called it Santa María de Guadalupe de Extremadura, after the image of the Virgin Mary venerated at the Spanish monastery of Villuercas, in Guadalupe, Extremadura. The expedition set ashore just south of Capesterre but did not leave any settlers ashore.
Named ‘The Island of Beautiful Waters’ by the Carib Indians who inhabited it at the time of its discovery, Guadeloupe’s ‘beautiful waters’ are now the island’s major attraction for overseas visitors. Whether you want to relax on the beach, enjoy a swim in the warm Caribbean, or test your surfing skills on one of the island’s first-rate surfing spots, you should basically count on spending most of your time in, on, or next to the water. Of course, a hiking excursion to the summit of La Soufrière, Guadeloupe’s active volcano, is a must. And Guadeloupe’s interesting mix of cultures (the people are a hybrid of French, African and East Indian) makes for a varied and unique people group. But nothing beats the Caribbean attraction.
After a successful settlement on the island of St Christophe (Saint Kitts), the French Company of the American Islands delegated Charles Lienard and Jean Duplessis, Lord of Ossonville to colonize one or any of the region’s islands, Guadeloupe, Martinique or Dominica. Due to Martinique’s inhospitable nature, the duo resolved to settle in Guadeloupe in 1635, took possession of the island and wiped out many of the Carib Amerindians. It was annexed to the kingdom of France in 1674. Over the next century, the island was seized several times by the British. The economy benefited from the hugely lucrative sugar trade introduced during the closing decades of the seventeenth century: one indication of Guadeloupe’s prosperity at this time is that in the Treaty of Paris (1763), France, defeated in war, agreed to abandon its territorial claims in Canada in return for British return of Guadeloupe which was captured in 1759.
On 4 February 1810 the British once again seized the island and continued to occupy it until 1816. By the Anglo-Swedish alliance of 3 March 1813, it was ceded to Sweden for a brief period of 15 months. The British administration continued in place and British governors continued to govern the Island. By the Treaty of Paris of 1814 Sweden ceded Guadeloupe once more to France.
In 1946 the colony of Guadeloupe became an overseas department of France, and in 1974 it became an administrative center. Its deputies sit in the French National Assembly in Paris. On 15 July 2007 the island communes of Saint Martin and Saint Barthélemy were officially detached from Guadeloupe and became two separate French overseas collectivities with their own local administration, henceforth separated from Guadeloupe.
The Geography Of The Islands
Located as the southernmost of the Leeward Islands in the eastern Caribbean Sea, Guadeloupe comprises two main islands: Basse-Terre Island, Grande-Terre (separated from Basse-Terre by a narrow sea channel called Salt River) forming Guadeloupe proper. The adjacent French islands of La Désirade, Les Saintes and Marie-Galante come under jurisdiction of Guadeloupe. Basse-Terre has a rough volcanic relief whilst Grande-Terre features rolling hills and flat plains. Guadeloupe was formed from multiple volcanoes, of which only Basse-Terre is not extinct.
Guadeloupe has a hot and humid tropical climate with average daytime temperatures throughout the year of 30 °C and average nights around 23 °C. Most rain falls between June and October with a change of hurricanes from August onwards. Therefore, the drier (and slightly cooler) December to April period is the best time to visit weather wise. Unfortunately prices rise sharply during this period and the months of November and May still have good weather. So budget wise these latter months may be a good option as well.
- Basse Terre – green and lush vegetation, mountainous with a sulphuric volcano.
- Grande Terre – flat and dry with a lot of beaches, some of them very touristic.
- Marie Galante – the biggest island out of mainland Guadeloupe.
- Les Saintes – composed of Terre de Haut and Terre de Bas, one of the most beautiful bays.
- La Désirade – dry and cliffy.
- Petite Terre – uninhabited and untamed.