Ahhh . . . Les Saintes! A truly remarkable little archipelago. It’s a cluster of eight small islands with some of the most beautiful bays in the world. Its off-grid Caribbean charm instantly won us over. Along with all the fresh baguettes, beignets, and gelato.
The sail from mainland Guadeloupe over to Les Saintes was only a few hours from the anchorage in Basse-Terre, but can be a bit “sporty” due to the island acceleration zones. Higher volcanic islands are known to cause these violet gust. We attempted to go with one of our buddy boats then heard their passage was a bit rough. So we waited, went early the next morning and it wasn’t so bad.
Our time in Les Saintes was extra special because we were reunited with some familiar faces. As well as finally meeting up with other cruisers we’d been following and chatting with over Instagram the past year. The power of social media!
THE most picture-perfect seaside village featuring colorful houses, incredible scenery, sidewalk cafes, and small boutiques overlooking the bay. Even though tourism is its focus on the island, it’s quite possibly the loveliest place in all of Guadeloupe…when the ferries are gone. Hurricane Maria hit Les Saintes pretty badly and although most of the houses held the impact, you’ll notice that the vegetation was destroyed.
It is free to anchor here, however you must do so outside of the clear yellow markers in deeper water further from shore. Strongly suggest arriving as early in the day as possible as most moorings are occupied by midday. If you decided to pay for a mooring, one of the benefits is Les Saintes Multiservices (LSM). They maintain the moorings and provide services like laundry, customs and Immigration, wifi, and arrange technical services for yachts.
Scooter rental – Electric bikes, golf carts, or scooters serve as the main source of transportation on Terre-de-haut. Several locations near the ferry dock offer daily rentals. We chose to rent a scooter (cheapest & fastest – $25 Euro), and we had a blast cruising around the town and seeing all the sites. Go early to make sure you secure a rental. However, if you don’t get a scooter, don’t panic. It is all walk-able, though you might want to skip the hike up to the fort in the peak sun or choose to take a taxi van.
Fort Napoléon – Located 374 ft above sea level overlooking the bay of Les Saintes. It was destroyed by British forces in 1809, rebuilt in 1867, and named after Napoleon III, but never saw use in battle, and was instead used as a prison. It has now been turned into a museum dedicated to the Saintes’ history and culture.
Le Chameau – Highest point on this tiny island (1,014 ft) and the views from up top are amazing!! This is a fairly strenuous hike with steep incline/decline. Note: you’re not allowed to use scooters to get up here, so prepare to hike!
Les Pieds dans l’Eau – Fairly basic/small restaurant with friendly service, right next to the sea, great view across the bay. We only stopped in for a drink, and killed some time while waiting for our dinner reservation at Au bon Vivre.
Au bon Vivre – The ambiance in this restaurant is very charming, a touch of Paris or New York in Terre-de-Haut. We treated ourselves to a special meal/date night one evening during our stay in Les Saintes. Delightful food, wine list, serene setting, and excellent service.
Boone Vacances – Its a bungalow vacation rental that’s off the beaten path. We were told about a little restaurant on-site that provides lunch every day, and dinners on request (booked in advance). It’s about a 5-minute hike down to a little beach (which is popular) then on the right. Very tasty! Staff were so nice and spoke perfect English.
Hôtel Bois Joli – Newest seafront hotel, featuring a pool overlooking the Caribbean Sea. After a few hours on the scooter, we stopped in for a drink at the bar. Then enjoyed the view and shade.
Le Mambo – Located on the main strip of town. The pizza was excellent, one of the best we have had in the Caribbean. Inexpensive too. Also, one of the only places that didn’t really require reservations but didn’t open for dinner until after 7pm.
Cesibon – If you appreciate good gelato, then this is the place. A tasty selection just a few steps away from the ferry pier. Make sure you try the coffee milkshake!
Robbe Steack – Offers fresh products, cold cuts, cheese, ready meals, a wine cellar, champagne. We came here several times and had one of the simplest but most delicious sandwiches.
Ilet à Cabrit
Uninhabited with good snorkeling, a hiking trail, and small camp site. Easily accessible by dinghy. I’m actually bummed that we didn’t take the time to explore more of this area. Terre-de-Haut kind of stole us away with its charm.
We spent one evening here at a cruisers beach BBQ. After cruising solo for the past month it was so nice to meet up with friends – old and new. We drank large cans of Leffe Blonde (oddly enough very popular in Guadeloupe), grilled up some delicious sausages, peppers, then filled them up inside a fresh warm baguette. Everyone contributed appetizers and sides. So much fun! Times like these where you’re reminded of how great boat life can be.
After a few days of scooter exploring Terre-de-haut, sail friends Kevin & Cheryl of SV Leefnu invited us over to Marie-Galante. Sadly, Nick & Sara of SV Borealis were making their way north for the season. So for now, it was ‘see ya later’.
Flat as a pancake (600 ft. is its highest point) and best known for beaches, rum, and windmills. Having just come from the bustling town of Terre-de-Haut, the vibe here is the complete opposite. There are no fancy hotels or lively night life. Its extremely laid-back and unpretentious, basically the ideal Caribbean escape. Per usual, we were excited for food and without tourism being the main focus we found more traditional French and Creole.
Saint-Louis is the oldest town in Marie-Galante. Located on the edge of a pretty bay that’s lined with semi-colorful wooden houses and a few restaurants. It’s the main anchorage in Marie-Galante. It’s huge, and shallow/sandy enough for easy anchoring. It’s also a good base for exploring the island.
Again, the sail over from Terre-de-Haut was an easy few hours with a little bit of chop. We originally planned to anchor near the town of Saint-Louis. However, since the weather was just right we ended up anchoring in the next bay over for two nights. Then two nights in Saint-Louis.
Plage de Moustique is absolutely stunning and the 3 of us (SV Leefnu, Sarabi, Sea duction) had the entire anchorage to ourselves. The guys finally got to do some spearfishing, while the girls got a much needed beach day and lounging.
Yamaha wave runner competition – This race is known as the most difficult race in the world, spread out over 4 days of racing in some harsh conditions. We found ourselves literally in the middle of it as we made our way over to Saint-Louis. At lightening speed these guys were flying past the boat. Later that day we made our way into town and got to see the Day 2 festivities and finishers. Total coincidence that we just happen to be here for it. Kinda like in Puerto Rico when we stumbled upon the Corona Pro Surf.
Rental car – Magauto gave us a pretty nice rental, a brand new Dacia Duster! Super comfy for two couples. We grabbed a map and took off for an entire day of island exploring. You can get around the entire island in about an hour.
Distillery Poisson (Père Labat) – The most popular white rhum from Marie Galante. Great tour of the entire area where the sugar cane is crushed to collect its juice, then cooked down and fermented. I mean we were walking through the factory, right over the conveyor where sugar cane was being fed into a grinder, then up to a second level where we could peek into the tanks as they filled with cane juice!
Note: The island’s two other distilleries are Bellevue and Bielle. Unfortunately we missed these because they close early (1pm). It was nearly impossible to make it to all 3 in one day. But Im happy that we prioritized Père Labat.
l’Habitation Roussel-Trianon – Marie Galante is known as the “island of 100 windmills”. And we saw a lot of them while driving through the countryside. However, this one was my favorite. Its a huge place. They made sugar cane in the 17th century.
Chez Henri – Right on the beach, so the tables and chairs are in the sand. Theres live music and a good view for sunset. We sat with our toes in the sand sipping Ti punch and red wine. Can’t comment on the food, but if you want to have dinner. You must have a reservation – we didn’t.
Bokit – With no Friday night dinner reservations, we stumbled upon this unmarked white van with an awning and one table outside. The best decision you could ever make is stopping at this van. Bokit is amazing! Large pita-style bread made to order and served hot, stuffed with egg, cheese, fish, chicken, pork, and then topped with sauces, lettuce, and tomato. It was so good we back for seconds, just so we could eat them the next morning.
Note: the van moves around the island, not sure of a schedule, and no one spoke English. However, the man and women taking the orders and cooking were so friendly. Don’t skip on the Bokit!
U Express – Good supermarket, they pack in a lot of stock. The produce is standard. We bought a few items since we had the car but we were already well stocked.
Grand-Bourg & Capesterre
We didn’t spend much time here, just long enough for a good lunch and a free rum shot.
To our surprise there were pre-carnival festivities happening, and we wound up walking through a large crowd/end of a parade. We checked out the center of town and discovered a nearby covered market with tables of fresh picked produce, straw hats, clothing, etc. There’s a beautiful yellow church (built in 1845) facing the sea and a port serving most of ferries arriving from mainland Guadeloupe. We didn’t find Grand-Borge to be that interesting.
Along the Southeastern tip near the town of Capesterre is a series of good beaches with palms and small cozy bays. These came highly recommended to us and we noticed quickly that they are some of the busiest beaches and popular for windsurfing. If you turn inland from here and drive through the center of the island you’ll discover lots of livestock and sugar cane fields. The countryside is just as beautiful.
Plague de la Feuillère – Very beautiful, with tall palm trees, silky white sand, and sheltered tables for picnicking. Beaches on the northern coast are much better for swimming due to the rough water and waves. We saw 3 small restaurants on the beach, stopped at one for a beer and view.
Gueule Grand Gouffre – A large eroded hole in the coastline, where the turquoise blue ocean comes crashing through. There’s a great pathway leading from the small parking area to the lookout platform, and some signs explaining the ecosystem fauna and flora in the area. Worth the stop!
Rivers du cieux fort – Short, one hour kayak or paddleboat ride up the river. Quite pretty and tranquil. You can only go so far as the mangroves get too thick for you to proceed further.
There you have it, French charisma and flair in the Caribbean islands. There’s so much to do in Guadeloupe, your problem will be cramming it all in.
Cheers from the Caribbean!