La Désirade is an attractive but rather arid island of 20 sq km, with 1,610 inhabitants, who occupy themselves in fishing, sheep-rearing and cultivating cotton and maize. A road 10 km long runs along the S coast to the E end of the island, where a giant cactus plantation can be seen. Also at the E end of the island is Pointe du Mombin where there is an outstanding view of the coastline.
There are excellent beaches, such as at Souffleur. Perhaps the nicest is in the E at a village called Baie-Mahault, enhanced by a good restaurant/bar, Chez Céce, where you can sample dozens of different rum punches.
Columbus named the island La Desiderada as it was the first land he saw on his second voyage in 1493. Archaeological research has shown evidence of Amerindian settlement but it was uninhabited when Columbus passed by.
La Désirade was occupied by the French for the first time in 1725, when all the lepers on Guadeloupe were deported there during an epidemic. In 1930 a leper hospital was built, but it was closed in 1954.
The lack of fresh water has always hampered economic activity. In 1991, however, La Désirade was linked to Grande-Terre underwater with a fresh water supply.