Guadeloupe’s tropical forest is a source of wonder for every visitor due to its splendor and enormity. When the fog dissipates in a hole of the luxurious vegetation cathedral, it reveals a breathtaking sight of the mysterious wild summits marbled by vertiginous waterfalls.
Basse-Terre contrary to what its name suggests is the mountainous part of the island. Vegetation surprisingly hangs on the side of its hillocks and mountains. Over 250 m in altitude, opens the domain of tropical forest and its luxurious flora. Over 300 tree and shrub species, no less than 270 fern species and close to 100 orchid species make for the extreme diversity of this exceptional biotope. Frangipani trees, coffee shrub, vanilla lianas, heliconias and alpinias, mapous, acomats, trumpet-trees, bombax, white gum-trees, etc., a disconcerting tingling and abundance of canopy soil dotted with many kinds of epiphytes plants like ananas-bois, philodendron giganteum and majestic orchid flowers. The humid closed forest stretches on the high section of the massif, transforming into shrubby savannah at 900 m of altitude and lower forms of vegetation we find close to the summits lost in the clouds. These mountain buttresses are the only barriers to clouds crossing the Atlantic. They gather and often cause rainfalls as you approach the relief.
Water is omnipresent in this environment. From drops to impetuous torrents, Basse-Terre’s mountain is furrowed with rivers and waterfalls, wild water and an abundant flow which led the Caribbean Indians to name it “Karukéra”, which means the “island of beautiful waters”.
Water is omnipresent and flows everywhere on the mountainside, in drops or in an impetuous torrent. In each meander, little waterfalls or saults, in Creole, they surprise the hiker. Natural toboggans (or slides) with transparent basins make for an aquatic paradise and an appreciated and valued spot for wild water lovers but also for hikers who must walk by rivers and gorges one at a time, following the path. Bathing in a river is very pleasant and although the water feels cold at first, it is particularly reinvigorating. However, this pleasure comes with risks and necessitates a few precautions such as checking the weather since the water course can swell very quickly. Before diving in a basin, you must first make sure how deep the water is and avoid falls which cause dangerous water movement. Even if wild water is never polluted in the forest, it’s better to keep from drinking it or to swim nearby cultivated fields and buildings. It’s absolutely inadvisable to bathe in stagnated water, lakes and ponds as well as in hot water basins.
Over 17,000 hectares of forest forms the heart of the mountain under the supervision of the Guadeloupe Natural Park, whose primary vision includes the continuation of plant and animal species within the park. Thus, it is prohibited to pick flowers or plants, hunt or fish. The Park’s authority also informs the public and makes them aware of the respect and fragility of this environment. Many indications posted at the most visited sites’ entrance expose in detail the richness of the local ecosystem.
Park employees also ensure the visitors’ comfort with carbets for picnics in the midst of nature and path signs. Basse-Terre Mountain is a valued playground for hikers and about 300 kilometres of paths enable complete immersion in the forest. The campsite is not necessary, camping is prohibited and there are no rest houses on the Park’s ground. A mountain guide's presence is advised if you step off the trails. The tourism office or the National Park authorities are there to hand out information to the public as well as adapted itineraries.
During rain season (July to November) you have to be very careful with flooding rivers swelling with mud. Outside of this period, it is still safe to bring rain clothes, dry change clothes and even a pullover or a jacket, especially if you’re going up in high altitude where clouds bring down the temperature. It’s also better to start the hike in the morning and make sure of not getting caught by the night falling very early in this place of the world.
The main forest sites of the Guadeloupe National Park:
Most of the National Park’s large sites are very easy to access by anyone on set paths. Be careful these can be slippery in times of rain.
The Forest House presents an exposition on Guadeloupe’s forest but also launches both the young and old visitors on a journey of discoveries.
Access: by Traversée road, from Petit-Bourg towards Deshaies.
Crayfish waterfalls are one of the most visited sites since it’s very accessible. It takes about 10 minutes of walk to reach the waterfalls. Be careful, rocks are slippery. Don’t waste time looking for crayfishes, they were driven away a long time ago by the crowds of visitors. Carbets offers picnic areas for outdoor breakfast.
Access: take Traversée road from Petit-Bourg to Deshaies nearby the House of the forest.
In the middle of rich vegetation, Grand Etang is the home of a great range of aquatic plants. Displays under a carbet detail the pond’s fauna and flora characteristics. Bathing is strictly prohibited.
Access: Take the Carbet falls road from Saint Sauveur
Carbet falls are one of Guadeloupe’s gems. These spectacular falls already filled Christopher Columbus with wonder and pretty much remained in the same state to this day. The second falls are the most important and the most visited due to a perfectly set and easy-access path. The forest’s charms impress with the gigantism of vegetation. Carbet river starts at the top of La Soufrière’s volcano and crash into very resistant volcanic rocks altering its course to create high falls. On a sunny day visitors can see the two main falls down from the parking area. The second falls is more accessible, more frequently visited and the most impressive of the two. It takes about an hour to walk to and from the site on a very nice access path. After crossing on the suspended bridge, you’ll be impressed upon reaching the 110 meter-high falls. The water rumbles in a large area filled with epiphytes. Water sprays lost in the wind refresh the visitors. On your left, a soft slide provide gentle massages to those sitting in the groove. Downward, hot water flows from between the rocks and fill the shallow basins where bathers are prohibited because of the stagnating waters.
The first falls can be reached by intermediate hikers within 90 minutes to two hours. Once again the sight is spectacular as the water falls from 115 meters high
The third falls do not catch the eye by its height (only 20 meters) but by the important discharge. It takes about four to five hours to intermediate hikers to go to and return from the site.
Access: The road is well indicated once past Capesterre close to Saint Sauveur. It’s better to be certain of the vehicle since you’ll be facing steep hills, needing good breaks and a good knowledge of starting uphill. Once you’re up there, a parking area welcome the visitors. The third falls is accessible from Capesterre.
If the Guadeloupe’s Natural Park’s main sites are well visited, it’s better not to leave valued possessions in sight within vehicles to prevent unlawful acts.