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Guadeloupe is a lively center of Creole culture, boasting a spirited blend of French and African influences. As well known for its sugar and rum as for its dive sites and resorts, the archipelago offers an interesting mix of modern cities, rural hamlets, rainforests and secluded beaches. One of the most urbanized of the region's islands, you'll need to scratch beneath the French polish to get a grip on Guadeloupe's Creole core. Away from the tourist hub, the buzz of insects in the banana groves and the whiff of coconut rum will put you firmly back on Caribbean time.

Guadeloupe is pleasant to visit at any time of the year, with a warm climate year-round. During winter (December to February), evenings are gorgeously mild and temperatures linger between 19-28ÁC (67-83ÁF). The driest months are between February and April, with rain falling an average of seven days a month and the humidity staying in the realm of the tolerable. This temperate period is also the peak tourist season. The wettest months are July to November, which is also hurricane season, so keep an eye on weather reports. Most cultural events take place in the spring and summer. The Fete des Cuisinieres (Festival of Women Cooks) is a colorful event held in early August where women in Creole dress parade through the streets to the cathedral, where they are blessed by the bishop.

Guadeloupe was among the islands charted by Columbus in 1493. French colonies were established in 1635 and, in 1946, the islands were given the status of Overseas Departments.

Guadeloupe still retains that enchanting mixture of French and Creole influence, apparent even down to the mix of flavours and ingredients in its cuisine. This Caribbean paradise comprises Basse-Terre, Grande-Terre and five smaller islands, all of which vary quite substantially in scenery.

Those considering Guadeloupe to merely possess a few pretty beaches may be surprised to learn that it also boats a wildlife-infested rainforest and the highest waterfall in the Caribbean. Basse-Terre has a rough volcanic relief whilst Grande Terre features rolling hills and flat plains. There are also many lush mountainous areas with stunning and unspoiled tropical scenery. The beautiful beaches vary too, from the white palm-fringed to the volcanic-created black sand.

As might be deemed more typical of the Caribbean, Guadeloupe boasts plenty of restaurants, bars and discos, with displays of local dancing and music. The famous dance of the island is called the biguine, where colourful and ornate Creole costumes are still worn. Biguine is a form of clarinet and trombone music with nasal vocals and improvised instrumental solos, and roots in West African dance. It has long since evolved into embracing more wide-reaching genres such as jazz and pop.

If you do not feel your toes tapping, then rest assured that one or two of Guadeloupe's renowned rum punch cocktails (a brew of rum, lime, bitter and syrup) will almost certainly get you up and dancing beneath the stars.

Yet Guadeloupe is a fantastic destination because there is also extreme quietude available, from St Barthélemy to the outlying islands of Marie-Galante, La Désirade and Les Saintes, undeveloped and attractive, with old and crumbling mills offering frequent reminders of Guadeloupe's historical connections as a major sugar plantation. Snorkellers and divers won't be disappointed - Jacques Cousteau considered Guadeloupe to be among the top 10 dive sites in the world.