I’m stoked to share that in just under a week, I’ll be in Guadeloupe Islands, a gorgeous archipelago in the French Caribbean. I’ve never shared a bucket list on my blog—I prefer to think of it as an “inspiration list”—but like every traveler, I have one in my mind for places I must experience and capture in my lifetime.
Guadeloupe is on that list.
I’ll be exploring as a guest of Guadeloupe Islands’ Tourist Board and ATOUT France, France’s Tourism Board, who have crafted an itinerary that blends culture and the outdoors. I’m thrilled that I’ll be experiencing it all with a small (operative word) number of journalists.
I’ve had dreams of La Guadeloupe since I was 12 or 13. So far back, I can’t recall.
It’s an official department of France, and for many years, a popular Caribbean escape for the French. As such, it used to be a relatively off the beaten path for North Americans. No direct flights, no English, no US dollar.
I looked into visiting in 2009, but flying from the US was at that time a conundrum of multiple connections and costly airfare (well over US$1,000 round trip). Coupled with civil unrest that year, I decided to postpone. I would get to Guadeloupe when the time was >>right.
Last Fall, Guadeloupe Islands launched a new campaign—”Five Islands, One Paradise.” There are now direct American Airlines flights from Miami, among other hubs (more on that later). As soon as I found out, I resolved to plan a trip for 2014. And then, opportunity knocked.
Here’s a quick look at why I’ve been dreaming of Guadeloupe for so long and what I’m looking forward to seeing and experiencing.
1. Zouk music
I grew up listening and dancing to zouk music, and Guadeloupe is its birthplace.
Zouk is an intoxicating blend of traditional Antillean sounds with modern beats and drums. The lyrics are in French Creole (and French), and the dance is unlike any other. Slower than salsa, faster than tango.
The genre is worldwide and found in all French-speaking countries, including those with a sizable population of French-speaking expats. From the nightclubs of West Africa (where I was raised), North Africa or East, all the way to Paris’ music stores, zouk is a favorite sound.
If Reggae fans dream of Jamaica, then zouk lovers yearn for Guadeloupe.
I found this great beginner’s zouk instruction video below. Skip to 0:41 seconds to listen to the music and watch the couple’s movements.
And below is a live clip of Kassav, the inventors of zouk and Guadeloupe’s (if not the Caribbean’s) greatest musical group. I watched them live in Washington DC (and screamed my lungs out in the front row) many years ago, and to this day they top all concerts I have ever attended.
As they say in French, c’est chaud! It’s hot stuff. If you’re not swaying, check your pulse.
2. Island hopping
Guadeloupe is an archipelago made up of five islands.
Hopping on ferries, sailing one of the least visited parts of the Caribbean? Sign me up.
3. Stunning beaches
White. Black. Golden. Pink. That’s rose in French. Need I say more? I will, after the trip.
4. Nature and marine reserves
Guadeloupe is an eco-tourist’s dream. I can’t wait to hike in Guadeloupe National Park and photograph those views. Hopefully I will also get to explore the protected marine reserves.
From St. Lucia to Grenada, my favorite memories are from trekking through preserved rainforests and cooling off in streams or waterfalls. And breathing that fresh Caribbean air, away from the masses.
5. French Creole food and Guadeloupe rum
I tend to luck out and end up in destinations that are a foodie haven–Belize, Jamaica and now Guadeloupe.
But I think this one may top them all.
The best of French cuisine in the Caribbean and deliciously spiced Creole cooking.
Fresh, real croissants and patisseries like in France?
Award-winning aged Guadeloupe rum and French wines.
Nope, I don’t care about the impending weight gain.
6. Maryse Condé
Guadeloupe is the birthplace of one of my favorite authors and literary heroes: Maryse Condé.
As a teenager growing up in Côte d’Ivoire, I loved to read, from French literature to modern fiction. Maryse Condé‘s gripping stories and fantastic writing transported me into worlds I knew little about: to Mali, in the award-winning Segou, or to Guadeloupe in “Crossing the Mangroves.” Another favorite was “Moi, Tituba Sorciere” (I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem).
Condé went on to live in Paris and teach in the U.S. at respected universities like Columbia. Going to her birthplace is special indeed.
7. A cultural melting pot
Aside from zouk music, I’m looking forward to experiencing Guadeloupe Islands’ French, African and South Asian cultures, spread across the islands.
I look forward to learning a bit of French Creole, and noticing the similarities or differences in culture with English-speaking Caribbean countries like Belize or Jamaica.
Perhaps there will even be some colorful festival or event when we arrive? I’m putting it out there into the universe.
I’ll be sharing a few postcards of Guadeloupe Islands and post snapshots on Instagram and Facebook, starting next weekend. Look for the hashtag #VisitGuadeloupe. My trip is fully sponsored by Guadeloupe Islands and ATOUT France – and as always, all opinions shared will be my own.
All photos above courtesy of Guadeloupe Islands.