Politically speaking, it may be a region of France but geography and history have conspired to create an entirely unique culture aboard these little island havens. Start with some French basics including laws and language, add in some African religion and customs, and finally stir in a whole heap of West Indian history, which has been as bright as it has been dark. Let it cook under the Caribbean sun and you begin to get some idea of what awaits you on this intriguing archipelago.Individual islands
Palm trees may feature throughout but don't be fooled into thinking these islands are all carbon copies. Of the two main islands, the easterly Grande-Terre plays host to the most popular beach resorts, and to the west, Basse-Terre lives to the rhythm of La Soufrière, its looming volcano. Head out to La Désirade and you'll find a remote desert island, whilst a welcome dose of peace and quiet awaits you on the islands of Marie-Galante and Les Saintes.For nature lovers
Those with a passion for the outdoors should consider a base on Basse-Terre, the volcano-dominated western isle. Combining incredible beaches, notably Grande Anse and Deshaies, with the Carbet waterfalls in Capesterre-Belle-Eau and stunning mountain vistas from La Soufrière, this island surrounds you with nature from dawn till dusk. The immediate vicinity of the volcano is home to the archipelago's national park, with its ambling walking trails, endemic plant species and hidden hot springs.For sand seekers
If it's great beaches you're looking for, Grande Terre has the main hotels and resorts along the beautiful beaches at Sainte Anne, Gosier and Saint François. Here you'll find tourists in large quantities and all the services to go with a buzzing industry. Its calm surrounding waters also harbour an intensely populated underwater world for diving and snorkelling enthusiasts. Otherwise grab a board or some sails and take to the open sea.For escapists
But if the mass tourism vibe isn't for you, Marie-Galante could be the place for you. Though it is slowly opening its doors to tourism, the island still lives on its production of cane sugar and on fishing. Laze on tranquil beaches, tour its distilleries and abandoned mills and stumble upon beauty in its detailed churches and never-ending sugar plantations.
Bear in mind that the beaches along the Atlantic are windier than those on the Caribbean coast, great for surfers and sailors but not ideal if you're after a more sheltered spot with calm waters. For those interested in water sports, check out the Marina-du-Fort on the outskirts of Pointe-à-Pitre.
When talking about the islands' best beaches, one name crops up time and time again. Situated on Marie-Galante, la Feuillère - near to Capesterre - is a small slice of paradise of lagoons and white sand. To the north, the path which leads towards Caye Plate offers spectacular views of the cove at Bois d'Inde and Piton.
No visit to Guadeloupe is complete without learning a little more of its history. Again on Marie-Galante you'll find dozens of old sugar mills, steeped in the history of the slave trade, whilst le chateau Murat is one of the last surviving creole plantations on the island and offers a chance to explore the winding path of Guadeloupian history.
If you're looking for a good restaurant, shop or hotel, get yourself a Ti Gourmet - a small pocket-sized magazine available from tourist offices with lots of useful information about the island.
Humour, simplicity and patience are amongst the many charms of Guadeloupe's population. People are unfailingly friendly and will happily answer questions or provide assistance where they can. You'll find life slows down under the Caribbean sun and nothing, not one single thing, is to be rushed.
The majority of the population is Roman Catholic, though Evangelical Protestantism is also commonly followed, with songs and prayers emanating from the islands' many churches. It goes without saying that visitors should be respectful of locals' beliefs, even if they are not shared.
Though the daytime dress code is strictly casual, don't be afraid of dressing to the nines when you got out on the town. You'll find you're in great company in the beach-side restaurants and buzzing bars. Prepare for a creole blend of music, including la biguine, zouk and gwoka, especially on the streets and in clubs.
One of Guadeloupe's strongest fortés is its cuisine, often considered one of the best in the Caribbean. With a unique blend of African and Indian flavours, as well as a heavy reliance on local produce, you'll find plenty of creole-style seafood, fresh vegetables, hot curries served with generous helpings of rice and, of course, ever-present exotic fruits.
The locals have a great taste for fruit punches, made with locally distilled rum. Be sure to try a glass or two (or three, or four) of ti punch, always fruity and with an extra strong kick.
If you venture out of the large tourist resorts and you're willing to conduct a little local research, you'll find some incredible small restaurants serving taste-packed food at great prices. Start by looking along the Marie-Galantais coast, where several eateries serve seafood with stunning views across the water.