Geographically part of the Leeward Islands and politically part of France, Guadeloupe is situated in the Eastern Caribbean, with Dominica to the south, Antigua to the north and Montserrat to the northeast. The territory is big compared to its neighbors and consists of many different islands. Basse Terre and Grande Terre are separated by a river and make up the “mainland”, while La Desirade, Marie Galante and the Saintes are lying in a semi-circle around the bottom. Even more islands are scattered about the mainland, making this area very attractive to sailors and cruisers.
Deshaies anchorage © Liesbet Collaert
The most popular and easy route for sailors going up and down the Eastern Caribbean island chain is by way of Guadeloupe’s west coast. They check into Deshaies in the northwest and check out in the Saintes during the southbound voyage or vice versa when cruising northbound. Deshaies is a quiet fishing village with a few stores and restaurants, relaxed authorities (when the offices are open) and a beautiful, rocky walk up the river. When in season, delicious mangos are found by the dozens along the trail. The anchorage is pretty deep and the winds can get fluky or incredibly strong upon approach.
Lighthouse on Ilet à Gosier © Liesbet Collaert
Further south along the coast, one can anchor near Malendure Beach, where another good hike can be had, or pick up a free mooring ball at Pigeon Island which offers less protection. Either way, a stop at Pigeon Island is worthwhile to visit the Cousteau Underwater Park for excellent snorkeling. Anse à la Barque is another small, protected area and Basseterre, six miles south of it, is Guadeloupe’s capital. The anchorage here is not very comfortable.
Northern Guadeloupe © Liesbet Collaert
The less traveled route north or south is by cutting the mainland in half and following the Rivière Salée, which involves a very early start to make the before dawn bridge openings. Even though the distance may be shorter, the same amount of time is involved. A good reason to explore this area is its peacefulness and beauty. The northern region consists of mangrove islands, many reefs and calm water (and many bugs), while the southern part includes Pointe à Pitre, Guadeloupe’s biggest city and place to shop and provision. Ilet à Cochons and especially picturesque Ilet à Gosier are relaxed and comfortable getaways nearby. There are a few places to stop by boat along the south coast of Grande de Terre, but we have never been there and they don’t sound too comfortable or interesting. Petite Terre is the idyllic exception, but the entrance is very tricky and weather restrictive.
Rural scene in Marie Galante © Liesbet Collaert
Marie Galante is a little visited island with a great charm. The pace is very slow, the atmosphere extremely relaxed, the countryside very rural, and tourism is just now starting to take off. The main anchorages lie along the west coast near St. Louis. The capital Ground Bourg sports a marina and has not much extra room in its harbor. The best way to explore the island is to base yourself in St. Louis, rent a scooter and drive full circle. Interesting sights include old windmills, rocky shore lines, a natural bridge, miles of (sugarcane) fields, beautiful palm fringed beaches, active and colorful kite surfers, rum distilleries and an old slave plantation.
Restored windmill on Marie Galante © Liesbet Collaert
To many sailors the charming Saintes are the highlight of Guadeloupe and a definite stop along the island chain. The main harbor Bourg de Saintes is extensive and deep and anchoring is no longer allowed. Boaters are subject to picking up a mooring ball and paying the fee. This town on Terre en Haut is very picturesque, with colorful cottages, decorated houses with gingerbread balconies and blossoming flowers. The public squares call for a moment of contemplation and taking in the village scene on one of the benches. The bakery produces some of the best fresh baguettes in the whole Caribbean and the entire island is navigable by foot. Beautiful walks include reaching the popular beach of Baie de Pompierre, the windward Grande Anse (airport) beach or Pain de Sucre or you can climb the hill to Fort Napoleon or Le Chameau, the lookout tower. Other, less busy anchorages are Ilet à Cabrit and Anse Fideling in Terre en Bas.
Anchorage of Bourg de Saintes © Liesbet Collaert