Before starting this Caribbean odyssey, I naively thought all the Leeward islands were more or less the same. Last week, I hopped from Montserrat to Guadeloupe. These two islands couldn’t be more different.

CurrencyEastern Caribbean dollarEuro
DrivingOn the leftOn the right
Area102 km21,628 km2
Population (2022)5,000404,000
Visitors (2019)10,400735,000

The main contrast between Montserrat and Guadeloupe is the number of people. While Montserrat has almost no tourists, Guadeloupe has plenty — mostly French. As soon as I stepped off my plane in Guadeloupe, I found myself standing in line … and listening carefully to instructions in a language I haven’t spoken for a while.

Harbor at Pointe-à-Pitre

Even with the crowds, Guadeloupe is a worthy vacation destination. Thanks to financial support from France and a healthy tourist economy, Guadeloupe has excellent infrastructure, i.e. good roads and the best public transit I’ve seen in the Caribbean. The cities and towns are clean and well-maintained. Guadeloupe’s business center and de facto capital is Pointe-à-Pitre. Although some parts of this town are a little seedy, this is a colorful port full of ships and shops, with people coming and going all day and long — resulting in rush hour traffic on weekday mornings and afternoons.

Pointe-à-Pitre’s central market early in the morning (before the crowds)
The morning’s catch for sale
Fisherman and his pelican

Walking around bustling Pointe-à-Pitre, there’s lots to see, smell and buy … or maybe just photograph.

Pointe-à-Pitre’s Slave Museum

One highlight for me was the Slave Museum which documents the institution and effects of slavery thru human history, with a focus on the Caribbean and the Americas. The museum’s dramatic use of art and technology tells a very personal and human experience.

Cathedral St.Pierre et St.Paul

Another impressive site is the cathedral in the center of town. Its structure uses the same style of metal frame construction as the huge open-air markets and the bus depots. The result is a light and airy building that’s resistant to hurricanes, earthquakes and termites.

At the edge of town are some of the most elaborate cemeteries I’ve seen in the Western Hemisphere. Each family owns a black and white tile house in which caskets of family members are interred. Every city, town and village I visited in Guadeloupe has a similar “neighborhood” for the deceased.

The Damoiseau distillery, since 1942
A cemetery near Pointe-à-Pitre

For centuries, sugar cane was the primary export of many of the Caribbean islands. Although sugar (and bananas) still comprise a third of Guadeloupe’s exports, more money is made from rum. I visited the Damoiseau distillery. Although I’m more of a wine and beer sort of guy, the samples served after the factory tour tasted pretty good to me.

Beyond Pointe-à-Pitre and the larger towns, Guadeloupe has high mountains, lush forests, sparkling waterfalls, dramatic coastlines, beautiful beaches, historic forts, charming villages, delicious food, French wines and, of course, baguettes. Click on any photo to zoom in.

The turquoise Grande Baie as seen from Fort Fleur D’épée
Deshaies village
Plage du Souffleur
Cascade aux Ecrevisses
Morne Petite Saline at sunset

There’s a particularly spectacular point of land at the extreme east end of Guadeloupe called Morne Petite Saline. Here, heavy Atlantic surf thunders against jagged limestone outcrops. At sunset, the rocky spires glow in the golden light.

Bart and yours truly

Although I usually travel alone, it’s fun to travel with a friend. On Guadeloupe, I had an excellent partner with whom to share this adventure, the cost of our rental car, and several planteurs.

Bart and I first met in 2015 on a North Korean tour. Bart, working for Air Belgium, has been to Guadeloupe at least a dozen times, so he was a natural guide. His French is also a lot better than mine. Bart and I share the same ambition to visit every country in the world. Bart has been to 170; I’ve been to only 163. Since there are a few central African countries that neither of us have been to yet, we’ll meet again in Chad or the CAR one of these days.

Guadaloupe has a rather relaxed Covid travel policy. On arrival, I was asked to present my vaccination card. Then, the immigration officer stamped my passport and waved me through. Easy! Outside the airport and throughout Guadeloupe, very few people wore masks. Contrasting Covid travel rules are one more way in which Montserrat and Guadeloupe are completely different. Travel is an excellent way to learn and experience how much variety there is on our planet.