Spending the holidays in the Caribbean? Lucky you. While the rest of us deal with gift returns and snowy weather reports, you’re soaking up the sun and the French culture in Guadeloupe. We’re jealous. But not green-eyed enough to send you off without a tip for your time on Butterfly Island: spend a day on Marie-Galante, as well.
Marie-Galante is the largest island off the main island of Guadeloupe. It’s located 19 miles south of Grand-Terre, in between Guadeloupe and Dominica in the Caribbean Sea. The 61-square-mile island is divided into three communes: Grand-Bourg, Capesterre-de-Marie-Galante, and Saint-Louis. High cliffs line the northern side of the island. Deserted beaches and mangroves run along the Caribbean east coast. A plateau descends to coastal plains and a barrier coral reef on the western coast. While the interior is dotted with sugar plantation ruins and old windmills. This is what Guadeloupe looked like 40 years ago.
After a 45-minute boat ride, you arrive in Saint-Louis on the northern side of the island. Anchored yachts sit in Anse de Mays. A market is set up at the end of the dock. Zouk music flows through the streets. You’ll be back to explore this hip little town, but first, you’re heading south to see the rest of the island.
Grand-Bourg, the capital, sits along the southwestern coast. The quiet town is home to Notre Dame de Marie Galante. The pretty, 19th-century church has a bright-blue vaulted wooden ceiling and a marble altar. Outside of town, you find some of the 72 windmills still standing on the island—there were more than 100 in the early 1800s—and Château Murat. The sugar plantation, now in ruins, had marble floors and more than 300 slaves. The sea view is still pretty spectacular.
On the east coast, you run into white-sand beaches and swarms of yellow butterflies. Petite Anse, Les Galets and Anse Feuillard are all deserted. Farther inland, you find ox-drawn carts and the rum distilleries: Bellevue, Bielle, and Poisson. Their aged liquors are some of the Caribbean’s finest rums. While the northern coast is home to a dramatic coastline. Gueule Grand Gouffre is an open chasm in the cliffs. Le Trou à Diable is an underground river. And Les Galleries is a sea-sculpted natural arcade. They’re worth a hike in the hot sun.
After touring the island, you return to Saint-Louis. With time to spare before your departure, you grab a table at Chez Henri along the waterfront. The drinks—freshly squeezed juice with rum—are simple but potent. Everything from the smoked fish to the Creole omelette to the grilled fish with Caribe sauce smells amazing. Sculptures and artwork fill the already crowded space. Plus, a band is starting to play African blues music. Marie-Galante was definitely worth the detour. You’re welcome.