Two-Wheel Territory: The Tops in Mountain Biking
Guadeloupe, a French oasis with a Creole sensibility, lies halfway down the Eastern Caribbean chain. The butterfly-shaped country is dotted with fishing villages and red-tile-roofed country homes. On Basse-Terre, the western side, jagged mountains and the cool canopy of the rainforest represent some of the best of the 74,000-acre reserve system, the lush Parc National de la Guadeloupe. This is the spot for a challenging, and rewarding, biking experience. The park, open since 1989, is uniquethere are no gates and no admission fees, although visitor and nature centers are open to aid travelers. Roads through the park are in good shape, and park authorities maintain some 200 miles of well-marked hiking trails. The Route de la Traversie is the main biking road, a sometimes hilly 16-mile thoroughfare that crosses the park and midpoint of Basse-Terre from east to west. From it you'll have access to all roads and park facilities. Take a break and cool off at the Cascade aux Ecrevisses (Crayfish Falls), or explore ripe rainforest flora in the Parc Zoologique et Botanique. (Not to mention the fauna: brilliant parrots, the occasional raccoon, the agouti (small rodent resembling an overgrown gerbil with glandular distress.) Or, drop off the bike and hike up the island's active volcano, La Soufrihre, where you'll see whirling fumaroles and pungent steam escaping cracks in the earth as if from the vent of a pressure cooker. On Basse-Terre you'll be huffing up steep hills and the roads have no shoulders, but biking is well-regarded, drivers are accommodating, and you're likely to encounter other riders along the waythe French have the biking fever.
The first and best contact for bikers is the Association Guadelopeene de VTT, tel. (590) 82-82-67. (The "VTT" is vilo tout terrain, or "all-terrain bike.") They can arrange guided tours of the park and other parts of the island, and can help with accommodations. They'll also have information on the annual "Tour de la Guadeloupe" a popular island-wide race held every August.
Accommodations on Basse-Terre are mostly small inns, and, if you've got the means to carry your gear, biking from one to the next is a great way to see the park over a few days. Or, stay at one of the Gmtes de France. Gmtes are defined as small inns, apartments, or rooms in private homes, and are creative alternative accommodations as well as good ways to get to know people. On Guadeloupe and its smaller islands, more than 500 accommodations are designated as Gites de France, and they can be inexpensive. Unit rates average $180-$360 per week. For additional information, contact Gmtes de France, BP 759, 97171 Pointe-`-Pitre, Guadeloupe, French West Indies, phone 590-91-64-33; fax 590-91-45-40, or the Office Dipartmental du Tourisme, phone 590-82-09-30; fax 590-83-89-22.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication