The small city of Pointe-à-Pitre in Guadeloupe is a beautiful, brightly coloured riot of colour, filled with amazing smells and sounds to match. As an overseas territory of France, the culture here is a mixture of French and Caribbean, and when I began tentatively winding my way up and down the quiet streets of the city on my first morning here, I was fully overjoyed to realise that it hugely reminded me of the city of New Orleans. And, oh Lordy do I love New Orleans. Built on top of what was once a patch of very swampy land, the city’s history has been fraught with disasters, from earthquakes, hurricanes and fires, to a few cholera epidemics for good measure, but these copious amounts of calamities haven’t affected the beating heart of the city, which is relatively un-touristy in comparison to other neighbouring Caribbean islands.
Check out the street art
The street art that adorns the walls throughout the streets is absolutely amazing. I know some people are fully against the idea of painting buildings- particularly when there are so many buildings in the centre of Pointe-à-Pitre which have been standing since the turn of the 19th century- but personally I think that the artwork on display here does nothing but enhance the aesthetic of the whole place. Streets are lined with French colonial houses with wrought iron gates and balconies, vines wrestling for freedom from within cracks in the crumbling walls, and every now and then all of a sudden a huge brightly coloured and highly detailed mural of a face, a creature, or some other absolutely downright fantastical scene.
Eat crepes, because you’re technically in France after all
Honestly, the novelty of tucking into a plate of Nutella crepes that felt genuinely French, in the middle of the Caribbean, never wore off, nor did it even wear mildly thin. Every two weeks my pal Marc and me would finish up whatever we’d been doing on the island that day and head to our favourite creperie to order this absolute TREAT. In fact, even if we had merely an hour in which to escape the ship for a breath of fresh air- we would head out simply in order to eat crepes, and then turn around and head right back on board again.
Follow your nose to the spice market
Oh my goodness me, the smells emanating from this place, you guys!!! From a whole block away I could already smell those Creole spices wafting towards me as if I was in some kind of Tom and Jerry-style cartoon. I basically FLOATED towards the spices.
The Saint-Antoine market, as it’s officially known, is a listed historical monument built in the 19th century, underneath the roof of which are rows of stalls run by ‘doudous’- women in traditional brightly coloured plaid dresses and headscarves, selling rainbow-heaps of spices to match. Vanilla, curry, ginger, cinnamon, saffron…the list is endless and I could have sat there all day long just simply inhaling. If you’re lucky you might also run into a group of musicians performing the island’s traditional Gwo Ka music, so you can follow your ears as well as your nose.
Learn about the past!
Like almost every island within the Caribbean, slavery is a gigantic part of the history of Guadeloupe. Back in the late 1700s when the sugar cane industry was still highly lucrative, the French governor of Guadeloupe emancipated the island’s slaves; however Napoleon effectively un-emancipated them all again in 1802. Pretty out of order if you ask me, to put it lightly. A massive uprising occurred, and eventually indentured servants were brought over from India to work the fields instead. (FYI, in case you weren’t sure: indentured servitude is still pretty bad, and is still free and often forced labour. The key difference between this and slavery is that indentured servants work for no pay for a fixed amount of time, often in exchange for food, shelter, and travel to whichever far-off land they’d be working in. I’m using the present tense because let’s face it people, slavery of all sorts is still prevalent across the entire world today.)
The Mémorial ACTe- Guadeloupe’s museum of slavery- is located on the site of an old sugar factory- and is part of a UNESCO initiative to preserve the memory of those who were enslaved, and to stop these atrocities from happening again. A few months after I visited Guadeloupe and the nearby French island of Martinique, I found myself in a museum in the city of Bordeaux- reading about these very same islands, and the fact that Bordeaux profited massively from the slave trade and the plantations of those French Caribbean settlements. I’m not gonna lie pals, the fact that the history of these two places on opposite sides of a gigantic ocean is so intertwined makes for a very humbling if nonetheless intriguing lesson. (If you fancy a more in-depth read about Bordeaux and the beaut things I saw and learnt there, go here!)
Get out of the city and see the beauty of the island
There’s no denying that you’ll be met with awe-inspiring beauty on any island that you head to within the Caribbean. It’s just one of those places. And the nature of Guadeloupe is obviously no exception. La Grande Sufrière is the tallest mountain peak in the Lesser Antilles, and not only that but it’s still a 100% fully active volcano, located within the island’s national park. The park is also filled with hot springs and mud baths which you can come across all the way to the top of the volcano.
And pals, it goes without saying really that the beaches are absolutely incredible. The commune of Le Gosier with its tiny Îlet du Gosier just off the coast isn’t too far from Pointe-á-Pitre, and the beach at St Anne was another paradise-style location that I full on loved. And talking of paradise, just in case you’re a Brit who’s a fan of Death in Paradise (I’m not ashamed to admit that I very much am), the series is filmed in the town of Deshaies which is just under an hour away from Pointe-à-Pitre by road.
Pointe-à-Pitre, and Guadeloupe as a whole, felt so much like a hidden gem that I almost don’t want to tell people about it! The amazing French Caribbean culture, combined with beautiful towns and areas of natural beauty which are very much possible to explore under your own steam or with the help of locals who are eager to show you around, meant that every day I spent here felt like a really genuine experience, and not some kind of ‘product’ packaged and sold to tourists like in some towns and cities in Europe.
This island is EXQUISITE.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW BEFORE YOU VISIT POINTE-Á-PITRE
- As it’s part of France, flights between Guadeloupe and Paris are actually pretty full on affordable, as far as flights to the Caribbean go. (It’s sometimes a lot cheaper to search for individual flights on skyscanner via a major international airport like Paris Charles de Gaulle, instead of booking direct London to Guadeloupe)
- Similarly- if you’re from an EU country, you will not be needing a visa to travel here.
- Currency is the Euro, and the main language is French. Ooh la la.
- If arriving by ship, the port is literally 5 minutes walk from the city centre. You won’t be needing a taxi, pals, so don’t even bother.