Pointe-à-Pitre on Grande-Terre at the S end of the Rivière Salée, is the chief commercial centre, near the airport of Le Raizet and the port of entry for shipping.
The city lies to the S of the Route Nacional N1 (the ring road) and any of the intercepts will take you to the city centre, which is quite compact, lying to the S of Boulevard Chanzy (a short stretch of dual carriageway). It is a functional city, variously described as characterless, or colourful and bustling. Its early colonial buildings were largely destroyed by an earthquake in 1843; nowadays it is an odd mixture of parts which could have been transplanted from provincial France and parts which are Caribbean, surrounded by low-cost housing blocks.
The central Place de la Victoire was once the site of a guillotine, and the streets adjacent to it contain the oldest buildings. Having been refurbished in 1989 it lost several of its large trees in Hurricane Hugo but there are still some flame trees at the N end and pleasant gardens. In the middle is a statue to Félix Eboue (1884-1944), a Governor General. There is a bandstand and lots of cafés surrounding the park with tables outside, very pleasant but crowded with office workers at lunch time. The buildings around the park are a mixture of coloured tin roofs and concrete. At its S end is La Darse, where the inter-island ferries tie up. When the boats arrive/depart there is plenty of activity and chaotic scenes with buses and taxis fighting for space. At the SW corner of the Place is a war memorial dedicated to La Guadeloupe et ses enfants, morts pour La France 1914-18, flanked by two First World War guns. Behind it is the Tourist Office (quite helpful, some English spoken). On the E side of the Square is the Renaissance Cinema.
The Place de l’Eglise lies NW of the Place de la Victoire behind the Hotel Normandie and contains the ochre-coloured Basilique de St Pierre et St Paul, an 1830s structure held up by unusual metal columns supporting a gallery running around the top of the church with some elaborate gingerbread-style metal work. Outside there is a bubbling fountain and a statue of Admiral Gourbeyre who helped the people of Pointe-à-Pitre after the huge 1843 earthquake (see Fort Louis Delgrès, Basse-Terre). The square is flanked by the 1930s art deco Palais de Justice and looks quite attractive with florists on the street.
The colourful red-roofed central market place (between rues Peynier, Fréboult, St-John Perse and Schoelcher) is indeed bustling, with the nearest thing to local hustlers, women (some wearing the traditional Madras cotton hats) who try to sell you spices, fruit, vegetables or hats. There are other markets on the dockside in Place de la Victoire, between Blvd Chanzy and the docks and between Blvd Légitimus and the cemetery. Local handicrafts, particularly Madras cotton (from which the traditional costumes of the doudous, or local women, are made), are good buys. Such items are in great contrast to the French fashions, wines and perfumes available at normal French domestic prices in the shops.
There are two museums: Musée Schoelcher, 24 rue Peynier, which celebrates the liberator of the slaves (open Mon-Tues 0900-1230, 1400-1730, Thur-Fri 0900-1230, 1400-1830, Sat 0900-1230, entry 10 F), and Musée Saint-John Perse, in a lovely colonial-style house, rues Nozières et A R Boisneuf, dedicated to the poet and diplomat who was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1960 (open 0900-1700, closed Sun, entry 10F, children half price). On AR Boisneuf is the old town hall, being restored. It has a stone/brick ground floor and a fine wooden first floor with an intricately carved gutter.
Just outside Pointe-à-Pitre on the N4 towards Gosier is Bas du Fort, the site of the large new marina, said to be the biggest in the Caribbean. The aquarium is also here, at Place Créole, T 90 92 38, open daily 0900-1900 (entrance 35F, children under 12 20F). At the next turning off the main road to Gosier (follow the signs to the CORA hypermarket) are the ruins of the 18th-century fortress, Fort Fleur d’Epée (open daily 0800-1800, free) which once guarded the E approaches to Pointe-à-Pitre. There are now pleasant, shady gardens within the ramparts. Art exhibitions are regularly held either in the officers’ quarters or in the underground rooms. Also note the pre-war graffiti with pictures of old sailing ships. Excellent views of Pointe-à-Pitre and across Petit Cul-de-Sac Marin towards the mountains of Basse-Terre.
Gosier itself is the holiday centre of Guadeloupe, with hotels, restaurants, night clubs. There has been lots of building in this area, even up into the hills above the coast road. Nevertheless, Gosier is a pleasant place with a marvellous picnic spot overlooking a small beach (Plage de l’Anse Canot), a little island about 100m offshore (Ilet du Gosier) and lighthouse. You could swim to it, there is a channel marked by buoys, but watch out for speed boats. There are a few old wooden houses up the hill from the church, where one or two are restaurants. The modern resort with the large hotels has been built on reclaimed mangrove marshes but the beach is nice with the usual watersports facilities. Gosier is quite sleepy but wakes up at night when the restaurants open.
The S coast between Gosier and Sainte-Anne is hilly with cliffs, making it particularly suited to development and on most headlands there are huge condominium developments looking across the sea to Marie-Galante as well as to the S tip of Basse-Terre. Sainte-Anne is a small, pleasant town and has a small church with a slightly crooked spire overlooking the square. Here you will find the Plage de la Caravelle, rated by some as the best on the island. The land gradually subsides towards St-François, originally a fishing village but now home to Méridien, Hamak, La Cocoteraie and Plantation Ste-Marthe which are all luxury hotels. There is a light aircraft landing strip and 18-hole par 71 golf course designed by Robert Trent Jones. You can catch the ferry to La Désirade from here. Watersports equipment can be hired from several companies at the marina.
The rugged Pointe des Châteaux at the easternmost tip of the island is part of the national park. From the car park, there is a small, self-guided walk to the cross (Pointe des Colibris) erected in 1951, on the point where there are two ‘compass’ tables showing distances to various landmarks. The limestone outcrop is quite steep in places but the view over the inshore island of La Roche (housing a colony of sooty terns, sterna fuscata) to La Désirade in the distance, is spectacular especially on a windy day when the sea whips over the rocks. It is worth taking the slightly longer return path around the headland as you get good views of the completely flat Petite Terre with its lighthouse and on clear days Marie-Galante (30 km), Les Saintes (60 km) and Dominica (75 km). Note the Grandes Salines (salt lagoons) where flamingoes were once common. There are signs on the walk pointing out particular plants and describing features. There is a restaurant selling welcome cold drinks and exotic icecream. NB the beach between the two points is dangerous.
Between Saint-François and Le Moule, a colonial mansion at Zévallos can be visited. Le Moule was the original capital of Guadeloupe and there are still some cannon from the fortifications against English attack. A precolumbian Arawak village, called Morel, has recently been uncovered on the beautiful sandy beaches N of the town; the Musée d’Archéologie Précolombienne Edgar Clerc is at La Rosette (open Mon-Tues 0900-1230, 1400-1700, Thur-Sat 0900-1230, 1400-1800, free). On the Abymes road (D101) from Le Moule is the Distillerie Bellevue, makers of Rhum Damoiseau, which can be toured Mon-Fri 0800-1400. From Le Moule you can either return to Point-à-Pitre through Les Grands Fonds, or continue up the rugged, rough Atlantic coast to Pointe de la Grande Vigie in the extreme N. Take a good map as it is easy to get lost on the little roads in the sugar cane fields. After travelling through the small towns of La Rosette, Gros Cap and Campèche (small restaurant/bar), the countryside becomes more barren. At Porte d’Enfer (Hell’s Gate) there are a number of barbecue places and little huts at the mouth of an inlet. You can camp here. There is not much sand and the sea can be dangerous, do not go too far out. The coastline from here is very rocky with cliffs and spectacular views.
Grande-Terre’s leeward coast has beaches at Port-Louis and Petit-Canal which are the usual concrete towns with restaurant and filling station. N of Anse Bertrand there is a fine clean, sandy beach, Anse Laborde, which has plenty of shade, a restaurant, and a reef close to the beach, good for snorkelling. Inland, at Morne-à-l’Eau, there is a remarkable terraced cemetery built around a natural amphitheatre, very attractive on All Saints Day when lit by thousands of candles. Beware of large crowds.