Most people see the stamp on their airline ticket as their destination. Not you. It’s more of a starting point in your mind. And that doesn’t change when you’re thinking about a beach trip to the Caribbean. You use Nassau to get to the Abacos, the Biminis, and the Exumas in the Bahamas. Antigua is just an excuse to go back to Barbuda. While St. Vincent plays second fiddle to the Grenadines.
That’s how you ended up on a boat heading toward the Îles des Saintes south of Guadeloupe. The archipelago’s two inhabited islands, plus seven uninhabited islets, are known as the “Pearl of the Antilles.” They’re volcanic, filled with dense forests, and encircled by shallow reefs. They’re worth the extra travel time.
Your destination is Terre-de-Haut, the largest and easternmost of the Îles des Saintes. The island was considered too dry and mountainous when the French first arrived, so slavery and agriculture failed to expand on the island. Normans established picturesque fishing villages instead. One of them, Bourg des Saintes, is ahead of you. Whitewashed houses with red roofs, shuttered windows, and fuchsia bougainvillea are just beyond the pier. Narrow streets lead to the town square, the town hall, and an old stone church. But the little village quickly gives way to the hills.
After exploring Bourg des Saintes, you decide to hike one of those hills. At 1,000 feet, Le Chameau (the Camel) is not only the highest peak on the island, but the entire archipelago. Follow the coastal road from the pier, turn inland near a little seafood restaurant, and then begin the trek up the mountain. Iguanas scurry off the cement path when your footsteps create vibrations. Mountain goats munch on scrub off to the side. The incline, which seemed easy at first, is beginning to get steeper. Stop for a quick water break before starting your final ascent to the top. An old watchtower and, more importantly, an incredible view over the Îles des Saintes await you.
By the time you start to walk down Le Chameau, it’s getting hot and sticky, as most Caribbean islands do this time of day. Your water bottle is almost empty, but your mind is on other water now, anyway. Turn left at the end of the path, instead of returning to Bourg des Saintes. Anse Crawen is a small beach on the western side of the island. It may be narrow and a little rocky, but it’s also serene and gorgeous. A dog is walking his owner along the edge of the sand. La Redonde, an uninhabited island, sits in the Grand-Îlet Passage. Plus a little snack bar serves ice-cold drinks. You chug your juice, swim in the bath-like water, and enjoy your nearly private beach. Hopefully, you’ll miss the last boat back to Guadeloupe.