1. Don’t… assume people speak English
As an overseas French department, Guadeloupe’s official language is French, but don’t think this makes visiting the island like traveling in Europe.
Although it’s a common stereotype that the French resist speaking English, getting by in Paris without too much of a grasp of French is definitely doable. On Guadeloupe, English is much harder to find.
Do… learn some key French phrases before you go
The locals will give you a genuine smile if you make an effort to speak French. With a simple “bonjour,” “merci,” some survival phrases like “how much does this cost?” and the obligatory traveler’s hand gestures, you’ll do just fine.
2. Don’t… book a flight to surrounding islands
Although Caribbean islands are in close geographic proximity, traveling between them isn’t always cheap.
Do… go by boat
You can easily get to Dominica, St. Lucia, and Martinique on a quick boat ride. Plus you’ll get to spend your time on Caribbean waters, an experience that shouldn’t be missed.
3. Don’t… go food shopping at major grocery stores
Although Guadeloupe is home to plentiful bananas, pineapples, melons, and other tropical delights, large grocery stores often carry imported goods, meaning your avocados just might be from Spain.
Do… browse the Pointe-à-Pitre market
The market in Guadeloupe’s largest city is where it’s at. You’ll find fresh-picked fruits and tons of seafood straight from the surrounding waters.
Expect a lot of market women trying to attract you towards their stalls with their warmhearted “Venez voir ici cheri!” — “Come look over here dear!”
4. Don’t… stick to tourist-filled beaches
Guadeloupe is small and its beautiful beaches fill up fast. The shores of the southern Grande Terre (near Pointe-à-Pitre) are packed with resorts and all-inclusive hotels, and therefore the beaches are dirty, teem with tourists, and feature overpriced, generic restaurants.
Do… spend time on Basse Terre
Basse Terre is the large southern island of Guadeloupe, and although slightly less popular with tourists than Grande Terre, it’s got pristine beaches, excellent hikes, and moments of solitude.
For some quality beach time, check out la Grande Anse de Deshaies. For trekking, be sure to try one of the numerous hikes that explore local waterfalls. And if you’re big on marine life, go for the Jacques Cousteau Underwater Reserve.
5. Don’t… expect “Paris with beaches”
A lot of tourists that visit Guadeloupe expect it to be a slightly warmer version of France. Yes there are boulangeries and excellent baguettes, but much of what gives Guadeloupe its charm is the Caribbean and Creole side of its culture.
Do… enjoy the afternoon tradition of drinking a Ti-Punch
Like many other islands of the Caribbean, Guadeloupe has several rum distilleries and the local drink of choice is Ti-Punch (short for “petit punch”), a blend of simple syrup, lime juice, and rum.
6. Don’t… depend on public transportation
Buses in Guadeloupe run on their own schedule, which is fine if you’re feeling adventurous. If you have a jam-packed schedule, on the other hand, consider renting a car for a few days to do some island exploring.
Do… make your way to the tip of Basse Terre and hike up the volcano
La Soufrière is located at the southern tip of Basse Terre.
Although it’s a drive to get there, the hike is steep, it’s usually raining, and the view from the top is rarely clear, the mere experience of hiking up a volcano is definitely worth the effort.
If you have any French friends, you’ll get mad respect when you tell them you made the summit. Not to mention the altitude-cooled temperature at the top is a great way to escape the Caribbean heat.
7. Don’t… forget that Guadeloupe uses the euro
Because it’s a French overseas department, Guadeloupe uses European currency, and that means all prices are in euros. Also, much of what’s sold in Guadeloupe is imported from France, so prices are more European than Caribbean. Plan accordingly.
Do… shop at weekly markets, visit hole-in-the-wall restaurants, and chat with fisherman
Spend your time visiting the places frequented by locals. You’ll come across good food, generous people, and get a true taste of the island’s culture. You’ll probably even walk away from the experience knowing some Creole phrases.