Photograph by Cedric Frixon
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Sainte-Ann, Guadeloupe
Photograph by Cedric Frixon

Top 10 Reasons to Visit the French Caribbean Now

With its authentic mix of Caribbean and French culture and dreamy coral reefs, the French Caribbean serves as the perfect getaway destination.

The idyllic French islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique remain best-kept secrets among North American travelers. Since both destinations were untouched by Hurricanes Irma and Maria, now is the perfect time to discover why mountainous Martinique and the Guadeloupe archipelago are considered jewels of the Caribbean. Here are 10 reasons to add one or both islands to your 2018 travel plans.

EASY AND AFFORDABLE ISLAND GETAWAY

Non-stop flights to Martinique and Guadeloupe begin at just $59 (one way) on Norwegian Air. Named the best low-cost airline (fifth year in a row), Norwegian Air ramped up its seasonal (October 30 to late March) service to the French Caribbean in 2017. New routes, additional flights on existing routes, and new planes make taking a Caribbean vacation easier and cheaper than ever before.

VISIT FRANCE WITHOUT FLYING TO EUROPE

Guadeloupe and Martinique are part of France, yet are closer to New York (1,845 miles away northwest of Guadeloupe) than Paris (4,194 miles northeast of Guadeloupe). Experience authentic French joie de vivre and culture without venturing too far from home. Pick up freshly baked baguettes in the local boulangeries (bakeries). Buy groceries in French supermarket chains like Carrefour. Stroll Martinique’s straight-out-of-Paris Rue Victor-Hugo to shop for designer perfumes, artisanal chocolates, and French luxury brands. Embrace your inner Francophile by taking French language lessons.

CAREFREE ISLAND HOPPING

The Guadeloupe archipelago is an island-hopper’s dream destination. Butterfly-shaped Guadeloupe, the largest of the archipelago’s islands, is split in two by a narrow channel. Drive or ride between the beachy and bustling Grande Terre to the east and the green and mountainous Basse-Terre to the west. Hop a ferry to spend the day on one of the smaller, outer islands: Marie-Galante, Les Saintes, and La Desirade. If a daytrip isn’t long enough, spend the night. Lodging is available on all of Guadeloupe’s inhabited islands.

WORLD-CLASS DIVING AND SNORKLING

The Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea waters surrounding Martinique are teeming with tropical marine life. In the shallower bays, rocky outcrops, coral reefs, and seagrass beds, snorkelers can spot sponges, corals, sea fans, starfish, green sea turtles, and brilliantly colored fish like the sunshine yellow four-eyed butterfly. Divers are drawn to Martinique’s treasure trove of deep-water sunken ships, including 14 boats sunk by the 1902 eruption of Mt. Pele. Guadeloupe’s diving hotspot is the 988-acre Jacques Cousteau Reserve.

RICH ROOTS MUSIC HERITAGE

Guadeloupe, or “Gwada” moves to the mesmerizing beat of Gwo-Ka. The UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage art form blends African call-and-response singing, Guadeloupe-Creole lyrics, dancing, and traditional Ka drum rhythms, and dancing. Equally intoxicating is Martinique’s signature folk music: the up-tempo chouval bwa (Creole for “wooden horse”). Originally created as the soundtrack for a merry-go-round-like dance, the galloping sound is a merry mix of drumming, dancing, accordion music, and chacha (rattle) shaking.

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Spices in Guadeloupe

TASTE-TEMPTING CUISINE

Foodie’s flock to the French Caribbean to sample the islands’ spicy Afro-Indian, Afro-French, and Afro-Caribbean smorgasbord. Fresh seafood is a mainstay on most menus, as are local Creole specialties such as boudin créole (blood sausage), accras (cod fritters), and lambi (conch). Savor gourmet dishes—such as foie gras or smoked duck breast—at elegant French restaurants like Le Belem at Martinique’s Cap Est Lagoon Resort & Spa or Le Grand Bleu at La Toubana Hotel & Spa on Grand-Terre.

WORLD'S FIRST SLAVE TRADE MEMORIAL AND MUSEUM

Guadeloupe’s new (opened 2015) Mémorial ACTe (the Caribbean Center for Expressions and Memory of the Slave Trade and Slavery) is the first museum of its kind in the world. Built on the site of a former sugar factory, the striking 77,000-square-foot black granite complex uses interactive exhibits and live performances to share the compelling stories of slaves, slave owners, abolitionists.

PICTURE-POSTCARD BEACHES

It’s easy to find your perfect beach on Guadeloupe or Martinique. Both islands boast sugar-white and volcanic-black sand beaches, secluded coves, and calm turquoise waters for swimming. Some of Guadeloupe’s best spots to chill on the sand—such as Datcha and Bois Jolan—are on Grand-Terre. In Martinique, arrive early to stake out a spot under a shady palm tree at popular Las Salines, a family friendly sun-and-swim beach.

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The trekking path to Volcan La Soufriere in Basse Terre, Guadeloupe, French Caribbean.

AWE-INSPIRING NATURAL WONDERS

The Guadeloupe Archipelago UNESCO Biosphere Reserve (comprised of Guadeloupe National Park and Grand Cul-de-Sac Marin Nature Reserve) is considered one of the planet’s top biodiversity hotspots. Unplug, relax, and recharge by exploring the reserve—unspoiled paradise of lagoons, mangroves, swamp forest, rugged mountains, and more than 100 waterfalls—on a guided adventure excursion. For the ultimate eco adventure, hike the lower slopes or (if you’re up to the challenge) climb to the top of an active volcano: Guadeloupe’s La Soufriere (elevation 4,813 feet) on Basse-Terre or Martinique’s Mount Pelee (elevation 4,583 feet).

LEAVE WINTER BEHIND

November to March in the French Caribbean is shorts-and-sandals weather. Daily high temperatures hover in the mid-80s, and there’s clear skies and little chance of rain. Instead of shoveling snow and shivering in the cold back home, spend your days soaking in the sun and sipping Ti’Punch, signature cocktail of the French Caribbean. As the name implies, the concoction—a blend of sugarcane syrup, rhum agricole (cane juice rum), and fresh-squeezed lime—packs quite a punch. Sample some of the best at the Ti’Punch Cup World Final, March 12 to 16, at Habitation Clément, Martinique’s colonial-era sugarcane plantation and rum distillery.

With Norwegian Air, you can experience all that the French Caribbean has to offer. Non-stop flights start at $59 one-way from New York, Providence/Boston and Ft. Lauderdale.

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