Planning a Caribbean holiday with older kids? Lynsey Devon discovers Guadeloupe, Saint Lucia and Martinique, a trio of islands with starry connections and plenty of teen appeal.
Floating the idea of a Caribbean holiday to Guadeloupe post-GCSEs earned me blank stares from my teenage sons. But when I explained that the Caribbean island was also the setting for BBC crime drama, ‘Death In Paradise’, that got their attention!
So in July, we spread our wings and followed in the footsteps of DI Neville Parker (Ralf Little) to the sun-soaked southern Caribbean and, as promised, the French island of Guadeloupe.
We chose to stay with Pierre & Vacances at the lively Creole Holiday Village Sainte-Anne, right next to the beach. Our comfortable two-bedroom apartment was also near the water-sports centre. It was here our teenage boys met with Jex, the former professional surfer who runs a dedicated surf school out of the Bay of Helleux. Charming and devoted to both nature and people, Jex encouraged the boys to catch wave after wave until we practically had to drag them out of the sea, exhausted and exhilarated.
Hiring a car is a plan on a Caribbean holiday
Hiring a car to explore the island is a plan. Driving from beachy Grande-Terre to dramatic, mountainous Basse-Terre we tackled nine miles of hair pin bends as we drove through the lush peaks of the Parc national de la Guadeloupe marvelling at giant ferns, waterfalls and wildlife along the way.
Of course we stopped off in the fishing village of Deshaies, on the west coast of Basse-Terre. This is the location better known as the paradise part of ‘Death In Paradise’. Imagine a vibrant village full of colourful cafés and boutiques. Then just add a whitewashed church, bakery and a pontoon scattered with Pelicans next to clear Caribbean seas. Naturally we spent a bit of time spotting places usually seen on TV, like the fictional St Honoré police station and Catherine’s Bar. In real life, it’s called the Madras Bar.
Guadeloupe has some of the best diving in the world
As well as its minor stardom, Deshaies is also gateway to one of the largest French dive sites. The 400 hectares around Pigeon Islets, part of the National Park of Guadeloupe Archipelago, is known as La Reserve Cousteau. Jacques Cousteau filmed Le Monde du Silence here in 1955 and rated the diving as some of the best in the world. And in the 1990s it became a protected National Park. However, we didn’t dive. Instead we chose to take a snorkel trip in a glass-bottomed boat filled with jubilant French families celebrating Bastille Day. Our main cause for celebration? Eyeful after eyeful of sea turtles, seahorses, sponges and parrot fish, plus, a giant underwater statue of Cousteau.
Add the thrills of Saint Lucia to your Caribbean holiday
Set in a former plantation estate, the Pink Plantation House in Saint Lucia is lovingly cared for by artist and owner, Michelle Elliot. It comprises a charming restaurant, sweeping gallery, and three bedrooms and sits on a hill overlooking the bay of Castries: the views of Martinique are incredible. The tropical surrounding and arty decor definitely add a whimsical air, and general manager, Andre, insisted we dined on the veranda. The Creole influenced menu was packed with local produce and prepared by Chef Simon, who was very happy to share some of his knowledge with the boys who enjoyed the banter and learned how to make Tamarind juice.
Although we threw in a few Caribbean holiday thrills too by visiting Rainforest Adventure, just inland from the capital, Castries. With hair nets, helmets, and harnesses attached, a gondola took us deep into the jungle, where a series of treetop platforms and ziplines awaited.
Floating bars, snorkelling and the secret of youth (maybe)
After all that excitement, we headed to mile long Reduit Beach to cool down. Located beside the tourist town of Rodney Bay, it’s the biggest, and most popular beach on the island and home to Splash Island Water Park and ‘Flooting Bar’: a small fishing boat with a blender, alcohol and fruit. Unsurprisingly, the misspelt name causing the boys no end of mirth. Spinnakers restaurant close by was another great find and where we saw our first Caribbean sunset.
Continuing the adventure, we headed to Pigeon Island, a national landmark and nature reserve attached to the mainland and home to incredible views of Rodney Bay and historic walking trails. We also tried out a family SNUBA session. A cross between scuba and snorkelling, it turned out to be a dazzling experience thanks to sightings of trumpetfish, shoals of little squid and even slippery moray eels lurking in the coral.
On the western fringes of Saint Lucia, the Pitons soar and our charismatic driver, Francois, told us it was a local rite of passage for all 16 year old boys to climb the more technical Petit Piton. Instead we headed for Soufriere and the world’s only drive-in volcano, for a dip in the bubbling pools famed for their rejuvenating properties. Eager to look younger, we stripped to our swimwear, accepted two buckets of steaming volcanic mud, and were told to unleash our inner artist. We then washed the mud away in the soothing hot springs and headed to the Toraille Waterfall to cleanse. Sadly, none of us looked 10 years younger.
Martinique brings eco-awareness to our Caribbean holiday
Catching the 90 minutes Express des Isles high speed ferry, from St Lucia to Martinique, was wonderful. The boat was empty at 5.30 am and, despite the early start, we felt like we’d gained a whole day!
In Sainte-Luce, we were booked into the completely renovated Holiday Village Sainte-Luce, again with Pierre & Vacances. Located in a quiet area of the village, the residence is surrounded by lush vegetation and coconut palms and only a short walk from a superb white sandy beach where we learnt to dance zouk, scuba dive and pound the waves on a jet ski.
The nearby town of Sainte-Luce offered everything from authentic French cuisine to traditional beach bars where you order lobster and the chef gets his buddy to jump into the sea and fetch the lobster trap – zero food miles!
Home to over 80 types of Orchid, Martinique is the ‘Flower Island’
Originally named ‘Madinina’, meaning ‘flower island’ in local Creole, Martinique boasts exotic flora in all colours, black and golden beaches, rich rain forests and mangrove lagoons. Stunning Jardin de Balata Botanical Gardens alone contains thousands of tropical plants like remarkable wild orchids, linked by miles of paths – Martinique is actually home to 80 different types of orchid, making it the third richest orchid destination in the world.
Since we were keen to learn more about the island’s eco system, we booked a trip with Marc and his marine biologist partner, Christophe. Although both were trained in Canada they’d returned to Martinique to study its environment. Our Fleurdo Eco-Excursion started from Pointe Chaudière on the east side of the island. From here we paddled in transparent canoes to Pointe Faula, a white bottomed sand bank protected by a colourful coral reef. Marc and Christophe’s passion for the marine environment was evident. They shared their knowledge and showed us ‘Lambi’ live conch living in shells and looking like dinosaur snails. Explaining the pecking order of different fish, the duo also expanded on the intricate nuances of waving seagrasses.
However, current environmental issues affecting the Caribbean were most enlightening of all. A mass arrival of brown seaweed has been consistently disfiguring the islands. It’s possibly the result of increased nutrient flows from deforestation in the Amazon. Although it could also be fertiliser runoff. Either way the weed is believed to have caused the recent deaths of thousands of fish in Martinique and other Caribbean islands.
Once Christophe explained this to us, we realised we’d seen great brown swathes in the sea when moving between the islands. But obviously we had no idea what danger they presented to the fragile eco-system of these precious places.
The perfect end to another perfect day on our Caribbean holiday
We finished the day with a dip in the mangrove lagoon before feasting on a meal of homemade accras (shrimp and cod), chicken, fish, and fruit juice made by Marc. Above us, we could see an impressive lone house perched on a hill, which we were told was a location in The Thomas Crown Affair remake starring Piers Brosnan – a fitting final scene for a holiday originally inspired by a TV show.
Immersing ourselves in the Caribbean we managed to tackle three islands. Some suit beachgoers, while others are made for adventure. There are islands for history fans, naturalists, honeymooners, and lovers of luxury. We found the French Caribbean islands to be the best value and easiest to navigate, although Saint Lucia is quite simply stunning. Combining the three gave our GCSE boys a real taste of Caribbean life as well as a new insight into the legacies of slavery and colonialism.
Planning a Caribbean holiday with teenagers
How to get there
Flights from London to Guadeloupe, via Paris, take from 11 hours, 35 minutes.
Where to stay
Holiday Village Sainte-Anne, Guadeloupe, 7-night stay in a studio apartment (sleeps 3) from £523 per apartment, including leisure facilities.
The Pink Plantation House, Saint Lucia, 1-night B&B (sleeps 2) from £161 per room.
Holiday Village Sainte-Luce, Martinique, 7-night stay in a studio apartment (sleeps 3) from £700 per apartment, including leisure facilities.
What to know
Three days surfing with Jex Surf School, from £155pp.
Rainforest Adventures ziplining from £48pp.
SNUBA with Sealife Paradise from £80pp.
Eco-Kayaking with Fleurdo-Eco-Excursion from £52pp