On the other wing of the island, Basse-Terre is the administrative capital of Guadeloupe and the entire Department. There are some very pretty and authentic old buildings of the colonial period in the city. It is a charming port town of narrow streets and well-laid-out squares with palm and tamarind trees, in a lovely setting between the sea and the great volcano La Soufrière. Market day is Saturday.
There is an interesting 17th-century cathedral, and nearby are the ruins of Fort Louis Delgrès, well-preserved and full of interesting ramparts and bastions (original building 1667, considerably enlarged in the 18th century. The British occupied the fort in 1759-1763 and again in 1810-1816 when it was known as Fort Mathilde. It was fought over and renamed many times, being given its present name in 1989 in memory of the man who escaped the forces of Bonaparte after the reimposition of slavery in 1802. (Daily 0900-1200, 1400-1700, free). The Grande Caverne, formerly the billet of the non-commissioned officers, is now a cultural museum, with an exhibition of clothes and photographs of the area. In the cemetery is the tomb of Admiral Gourbeyre. The date of his tomb is not that of his death (he disappeared in 1845) but of 8 February 1843 when there was a huge earthquake; the Admiral was instrumental in disaster relief.
Saint-Claude, a wealthy suburb and summer resort six kilometres into the hills, is surrounded by coffee trees and tropical gardens. Matouba, above Saint-Claude, is an East Indian village in lovely surroundings (waterfall and springs) with a good restaurant. On the outskirts of the village is a monument to Louis Delgrès on the spot where he and his companions were caught and killed by Napoléon’s troops. There are hot springs a good walk above the village (1,281 metres) and the bottling plant for the local mineral water.
On Basse-Terre island one of the main sights is the volcano La Soufrière, reached through a primeval rain forest. A narrow, twisty road leads up from Basse-Terre town to a car park at Savane à Mulets (1,142 metres) from where the crater, 300 metres higher, is a one and a half hour climb up the Chemin des Dames, a fascinating trail with changing flora, but becoming eroded through overuse. Buses go to Saint-Claude from where it is a six-kilometre walk to Savane à Mulets. (The best clothing for the climb is the least; jackets worn against the dampness merely compound the problem; but take a sweater, it can get quite chilly. Leave some spare clothes in the car.) From the top there is a spectacular view (if you are not enveloped in clouds, which is usually the case, observe the mountain for a few days to see whether early morning or midday is clearest, above the lush jungle foliage on the east slopes and sulphurous fumes spurting over yellow and orange rock. The summit is quite flat; the main vent is to the south (the view is more interesting than the Soufrière) and there are discs in the ground to help you find it in the fog.
It is possible to come down on the Trace Micael, along a forest path, to the Chutes de Carbet waterfalls where the water becomes cool and clear. Carry on down, past more waterfalls, until you get to a car park (often full, parking can be a problem).
If starting from the bottom, take a bus from Capesterre to Routhiers, 10F, then walk along the D3 road until it ends. Follow a trail and within 50 minutes you will reach the third waterfall of 20 metres. Go back 100 metres and follow the trail upwards again until you reach the 110-metre, second waterfall, 711 metres above sea level. The path is stony and you have to cross the Carbet on a rope bridge. You can swim in the warm, sulphuric pool below the fall but if you visit when there is rain higher up, beware of flash floods. From here you can continue climbing to the first waterfall, at 125 metres, or turn southeast to the picnic place, Aire d’Arrivée, 15 minutes, where there are barbecue stalls (good chicken). The D4 road starts here and descends to St-Sauveur.
La Citerne, a neighbouring volcano, has a completely round crater. There is a trail but part requires climbing ladders straight up the wall. There are more leisurely trails to other craters, fumaroles and lakes.
Also on this side are Grand Etang and Etang Zombi. You can drive, hitchhike or walk down the D4 road from the Chutes de Carbet to the edge of Grand Etang and walk around it, about one hour through lush vegetation. Do not swim in the lake because of bilharzia. There are also marked trails to Etang de l’As de Pique, high above Grand Etang to the south on the slope of la Madeleine (two hours) and the Trace de Moscou which leads southwest to the Plateau du Palmiste (two and a half hours), from where a road leads down to Gourbeyre. Walk down to St-Sauveur for fine views over banana plantations, the coast and Les Saintes. Allow at least five hours to walk from Capesterre to St-Sauveur via the waterfalls and Grand Etang and wear good hiking shoes.
You can walk the Trace Victor Hugues, along the main ridge of Basse-Terre (a 29-kilometre hike), and a number of other Traces. The River Quiock trail has been recommended but take the Serie Bleu map; despite being well-marked originally, storm damage has made it difficult to find all the markers. It can be very muddy, wear good boots. You can start from the car park at the Cascade aux Ecrevisses (see Flora & Fauna) on the D23. Walk 300 metres along the road and take a path to the right (follow the sign to the Pathfinders camp) to Piolet, near the entrance to the Bras-David-Tropical-Parc on the other side of the road. The trail leads down to where the River Quiock meets the larger river Bras-David, carefully cross the river, then the trail heads west along the Quiock until returning to the D23. Hitchhike back to your car (if you have one). The walk will take you 3-4 hours depending on the state of the trail. Other features of the Natural Park are described under Flora & Fauna.
With a population of 18,000, Capesterre-Belle-Eau is the third largest town and is an important agricultural centre with lots of shops, restaurants and a market. Above the town is the garden of Paul Lacavé, which can be visited. North of the town is the Allée de Flamboyants, a spectacular avenue of flame trees which flower May-September. South of the town is the Allée Dunmanoir, a magnificent one-kilometre avenue of royal palms.
At Sainte-Marie, a statue erected in 1916 commemorates the site of Columbus’ landing in 1493. It has now been defaced by nationalists. South of Sainte-Marie, near Carangaise, there is a Hindu temple, built in 1974 by René Komla, richly decorated with statues of Vishnu and Ganesh outside.
Besides the Maisons du Volcan and de la Fôret (see Flora & Fauna), there are on Basse-Terre Maisons du Café at La Grivelière, Vieux Habitants (T984842), du Bois at Bourg, Pointe Noire (a cabinet-making and woodworking centre with a permanent exhibition of household implements, furniture and other things made of wood, daily, 0915-1700, 5F) and a Centre de Broderie, Fort l’Olive, Vieux-Fort (daily 0830-1800). Vieux-Fort is on the island’s southwest tip, the other side of the Monts Caraïbes from the main Basse-Terre to Pointe-à-Pitre road. There are nice gardens surrounding the lighthouse, with good views. One or two cannon can be seen from the old battery. Good créole restaurant with dance hall attached.
Also visit the ancient Amerindian rock carvings dating from around 300-400 AD, at the Parc Archéologique des Roches Gravées, near Trois Rivières, on Basse-Terre’s south coast; the most important is a drawing of the head of a Carib chief inside a cave where he is presumably buried. The site is now in a garden setting, with wardens (it’s a good idea to consult the leaflet which comes with the 4F entry fee, children free, because some of the engravings on the stones are hard to decipher; many are badly eroded; the pamphlet also explains the garden’s trees). The Parc is a 10- minute walk down from the church in Trois Rivières where the buses stop. Five minutes further down the hill is the boat dock for Les Saintes (paying car park).
Between Basse-Terre town and the Route de la Traversée on the west coast are Vieux-Habitants, with a restored 17th-century church, and the underwater reserve (see Diving & Marine Life ). Contact the Syndicat d’Initiative de Bouillante, T987348, for information on the Bouillante area, which considers itself the capital of diving, including gîtes, restaurants and dive operators.
A good hike is the Trace des Contrebandiers, three hours, from the Maison du Bois, Pointe Noire. A long but beautiful road takes you to the Trace. When you leave the trail on the other side you need to hitchhike because there are no buses.
North of the Traversée, on the Côte-Sous-Le-Vent are the calm, clean beaches at Ferry and Grand-Anse and the rougher ones at Deshaies. Deshaies is attractive, strung out along the beach with cliffs at each end; there are hotels, restaurants (Le Madras and the more expensive Le Mouillage, offering local food such as fish, créole chicken), basketball and tennis courts. There is an information (unmanned) centre at Batterie de Deshaies overlooking the town, with information on the vegetation of the area. All that remains of the old fort are some rusty cannons and the outline of various buildings but it is a popular, shady picnic spot and there are barbecue places.
Round the north of Basse-Terre is the town of Sainte-Rose where you can visit the rum museum, Distillerie Reimonencq, Bellevue Ste-Rose. In addition to the exhibitions on sugar and rum making, there is a display of butterflies and other insects in the Galerie des Plus Beaux Insectes du Monde and 30 model sailing ships from the earliest to the present day. T287004, F288255, open 0900-1700 Monday-Saturday, adults 40F, children 20-25F. The road continues south to Lamentin (visit the Domaine de Séverin distillery at La Boucan, still using a paddle wheel, T289196, F283666, open 0800-1300, 1400-1800, Sunday 0900-1200, with restaurant open for lunch Tuesday-Sunday, and dinner Thursday, Friday, Saturday, accommodation available, recommended; also the Grosse-Montagne distillery for guided tours and tastings) and the hot springs at Ravine Chaude (Thermal Station T257829).