Marie-Galante is a small island in an out of the way corner of the world. Hidden a day trip away from Guadeloupe which is a days travel from most places, it delivers on what you imagine the Caribbean was like before it is now. There are no large hospitality companies playing on the island, only local hotels and restaurants with expanses of postcard ready beaches that you'll have mostly to yourself. The tourists I encountered the day I was there were mostly people escaping from other islands, with the highest concentration being made up of those that live and work on St. Barths, but can't afford to relax there. They come to Marie-Galante for holiday. The island is part of the French overseas department of Guadeloupe and it's about as calm and chill as you can get this close to the USA.
I was lucky enough to have a local to guide me around. Eric Luc Bade was a perfect host. He's lived abroad but also knows everyone on the island, and half of them are his cousins. We explored all day, stopping at various sites and meeting many makers. Yes there are still makers of things on this island. Sugar and rhum are the primary focus. Pere Labat was my favorite distillery, we toured the in's and out's of the buildings and the distilling and packaging processes. Then we topped it off with a shot of gorgeous aged rhum and a Panache at 10am. Onward into the rest of the day where we popped in and out of sugar syrup makers, beekeepers and a wood carver who all impressed upon me the idea of using what is near. They have no choice due to geography and they're doing an amazing job of making top quality products that are personal. One great example of this is that by the time we left the sugar syrup stand there was a line of locals outside the make-shift storefront waiting for it to open so they could clean out the days stock in less than an hour just like they do everyday.
I pushed Eric to giving me the local tour in addition to the tourist tour and it paid off. We stopped at one of the most beautiful beaches I've ever seen and then turned the opposite direction away from the beach which lead to us climbing up a small hill and down into the mouth of a cave. BATS..lots and lots and lots of them. It was really exciting and something I wouldn't have seen otherwise. We drove down unpaved roads to see vistas and sites, sped thru the mountains, along the way spotting historical slave homes from long ago, we sat at the mouth of the massive river that flows from the mountains and watched as kayakers took off for th e day and then made our way further afield to Capesterre the second "city" of Marie-Galante where we relaxed sipped beer and hung out with a few French ex-pat's that mind a great beach bar called La Galette. As we departed for the ferry back to Guadeloupe I promised I'd find a week of my time on this planet to make it back to this patch of peaceful paradise.
- Catch a ferry from L'Express des iles or book a private charter from Charter World Guadeloupe or Dominica and land in Grande-Bourge.
- Hire a great guide. Contact the Board of Tourism for advise. I usually don't want a tour but in this case it's the key to seeing the magic of the island.
- Speaking French is a big plus, I spoke and heard very little english in my time in Guadeloupe and the surrounding islands. It was refreshing!