Relaxing in Les Îles de Guadeloupe

By Seth Sherman
This article appears on page 45 of the July 2017 issue.
Overlooking our anchorage during a visit to Îles des Saintes.
A wall mural in Grand-Bourg, Marie-Galante.
The main church in Bourg des Saintes.

Guadeloupe, in the southern Leeward Islands, is an overseas region of France that has all that one could hope to find on a Caribbean island: beautiful beaches, coral reefs galore, waterfalls, mountains, tropical rainforests, great food, friendly people and French culture. 

So where do the Guadeloupians go when they want to take a vacation? The neighboring island groups of Îles des Saintes and Marie-Galante are good choices for a day, a weekend or more. 

Îles des Saintes

Ten years ago, I landed my airplane at the tiny airport on Îles des Saintes and immediately fell in love with the islands. I vowed to return by sea to explore the islands in greater detail, and in February of this year I returned by yacht to do just that.

Whether arriving by plane or yacht or public ferry, one is immediately impressed by the small-town atmosphere that the islands provide. The town of Bourg des Saintes, located on the main island of Terre-de-Haut, has beautiful, winding streets lined with fine restaurants, souvenir shops, boulangerie, ice cream shops and open markets selling fresh fish and produce. 

Visitors can walk around the island or rent a bicycle, scooter or car. Most proprietors speak at least a smattering of English, so being able to speak French, while extremely useful, is not absolutely necessary.

Snorkeling (referred to as PMT on the islands) is excellent on the southern side of the main island at Pain de Sucre, a 15-minute walk from town. There, many types of fish, sea urchins, anemones and the occasional turtle or dolphin can be seen.

While I didn’t stay in a hotel on this visit, I did experience some of the island’s fantastic restaurants. 

La Saladerie, run by an artist named Edouard, was tastefully decorated with his artwork, constructed from objects he’d found on the island’s beaches. 

Located just off of the northern part of the main street, this restaurant serves light dishes, including fresh fish and salads. It is open daily for lunch from Wednesday through Sunday and for dinner on Saturday. Prices average 15 to 20 ($17-$23). 

It offers a wonderful view through the tropical foliage, replete with small birds and iguanas. 

Edouard was a charming host, and he is happy to discuss the island and his artwork with guests.

La Fringale, on the main street south of the main square and just opposite the dinghy dock, specializes in seafood and creole dishes. A couple of my friends and I had fresh fish and lambi (conch), which were excellent. (Prices are in the 15-20 range.) They are open for lunch and dinner.

Le Débarcadère is on the south side of the main square and overlooks the ferry dock from its second- floor location. This is a family-run restaurant, with grandparents, parents and their cute little children on site. I had a local fish dish with excellent, homemade French fries. Lunch begins at 11:30 and dinner at 6.

For a light breakfast or lunch, I would recommend Chez les filles, on the north side of the main square. Prices are in the 5-15 range, and they have excellent Wi-Fi, which they apparently don’t mind your using after your meal. They specialize in salads, breakfasts and delicious tropical fruit drinks. 

It’s open 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. (closed Fridays).

The other large island in Les Saintes is Terre-de-Bas, which is much less populated and has no significant infrastructure but is equally beautiful. One can get there via the various hiking or snorkeling tours available through the local tourist agencies. 

There are several smaller, more remote islands, but they are more difficult to access.

Les Saintes can be reached from the main island of Guadeloupe by taking any of the ferries that make the 30-minute trip several times a day. The main arrival point is Trois Rivières, on the western half, which is about an hour from the capital, Pointe-à-Pitre, and the airport.

If there is a downside to this charming Gallic getaway, it’s the throngs of French tourists who visit, primarily due to its proximity to Guadeloupe, and the larger cruise ships that bring in Americans and Brits. For a less-congested destination, consider Marie-Galante.


Marie-Galante is larger than Îles des Saintes and is about the same distance from Guadeloupe. It is equally served by its ferry system, with several trips each day operated by two companies. There are also commercial flights to the island. 

Most of the passengers on the ferries are commuters going back and forth to work, but there are some tourists.

As compared to Les Saintes, Marie-Galante is a working island, with fishing and the production of rum being the dominant industries. By reputation, the rum produced there is among the best in the world.

The two main settlements are Grand-Bourg, the capital, and Saint-Louis. Both have a small-town feel, with Saint-Louis appearing slightly less developed. The hotels and restaurants are priced similarly to those on Îles des Saintes.

In Saint-Louis, I would recommend Chez Henri, located on the beach, which, in addition to being open for lunch and dinner, has live jazz several evenings a week. They are open at 11:00 for lunch and 7:30 for dinner but are closed on Mondays. Entrées each cost about $25.

In Grand-Bourg, there is an excellent restaurant, Le Maria-Galanda on rue du Docteur Etzol, which is open for dinner only (beginning at 7:00); it is closed Sundays. The restaurant is built around an old courtyard, where I found myself dining amidst plants, stone walls and fish ponds, serenaded by the chirping of tree frogs. Prices there are a little more, in the $30-$35 range.

The beaches of Marie-Galante are spectacular, as they are almost everywhere in the Caribbean. 

No visit would be complete without a tour of one of the working rum factories, complete with tastings at the end. 

Cars and scooters are inexpensive to rent and are an efficient way to see the island. There are also organized tours for those who don’t wish to drive.

If you find Marie-Galante to be too touristy and congested for you, there is an extremely small island, La Désirade, nearby, with weekly ferry service to Guadeloupe. There are a few small restaurants and no significant tourist population, and the scuba diving, beaches and seafood there are spectacular.

If you’ve been to many of the Caribbean’s beautiful islands and are looking for a more out-of-the-way destination with fewer tourists and, subsequently, less infrastructure, I would highly recommend one of Les Îles de Guadeloupe. F