Guadeloupe: a paradise subsidized by France
March 13, 2017
Guadeloupe (pop. 400,000), often twinned with nearby Martinique, is a French-Caribbean archipelago with five inhabited islands. It is to mainland France what Hawaii is to the United States of America. As one of France’s two Caribbean ‘overseas departments’ (DOMs), the euro is the only currency, and most citizens, a blend of Europeans, Africans and East Indians, speak only the mother tongue, Antillean Creole, and French.
It is a popular vacation destination among French tourists. More than 80% of visitor arrivals come from metropolitan France. It used to be virtually unvisited by American and other non-French tourists. But this might change with the introduction of non-stop flights from New York, Baltimore and Boston airports by low-cost carrier Norwegian Airlines. The island is so buzzy that Conde Nast Traveler named it one of the top 16 places to visit in 2016.
Attractions include lush rain forests, dramatic volcano, spectacular cascading waterfalls, crystal clear turquoise waters, charming villages, and French-Caribbean influenced culture and exquisite cuisine.
The territory remains far less crowded and more affordable than most Caribbean islands and real estate in Guadeloupe remains a bargain compared to other Caribbean states. In fact, according to the Caribbean Real Estate Observatory, the average price of residential property decreased 10% to EUR 164,795 in the first half of 2016 compared to the same period in 2015:
- the average price for apartments declined 10% to EUR 115,541 with average selling time of 28.7 weeks.
- the average price for houses increased 4% to EUR 283,591 with average selling time of 24.3 weeks.
- the average price for land fell by 26% to EUR 90,300 with average selling time of 34 weeks.
In the Baie Mahault and Petit Bourg sector, apartments range from EUR 2,069 to 3,553 per sq.m., while houses range from EUR 1,652 to 3,940 per sq.m.
From Goyave to the tip of Malendure on the Basse-Terre’s West Coast, homebuyers can buy apartments for EUR 467 to 2,060 per sq.m. while houses sell for EUR 613 to 2,450 per sq.m..
No data is available for apartments in the Basse Terre Nord Sector (from Mahaut to Sainte-Rose), but houses there sell for EUR 1,303 to 3,644 per sq.m.
In the South Grande Terre, apartments range from EUR 1,774 to 3,581 per sq.m. while houses range from EUR 1,970 to 3,545 per sq.m..
In North Grande Terre, apartments range from EUR 729 to 2,297 per sq.m., and houses range from EUR 820 to 2,704 per sq.m..
As in France, there are no restrictions on foreign ownership of properties in Guadeloupe.
A total of 3,400 housing units were approved for construction in November 2016, 36% higher than in November 2015 and a noticeable increase from the first half of 2016, according to the INSEE. Mortgage registrations have also steadily increased since the start of 2016. In November 2016, a total of EUR 186.8 million worth of mortgages were registered year-to-date, 12% higher than in YTD November 2015, according to Conseil General De L’Environment Et Du Development Durable.
France’s overseas department with several dependencies
Guadeloupe effectively became French in 1635, well before Nice, Alsace or Corsica. It has several ‘dependencies’: La Désirade to the east, Les Saintes to the south and Marie-Galante to the southeast. Guadeloupe used to include the half-island of St. Martin and St. Berthelemy, but the two became overseas territorial collectivities in February 2007, after they seceded.
Guadeloupe is known as the Butterfly Island because of the shape of two of its major islands—Basse-Terre to the west and Grande-Terre to the east—which are separated by a narrow channel, the Rivière-Salée. Grande-Terre is flat and has a dry climate, and is popular for its stunning resorts and for the main city Pointes-a-Pitres. On the other hand, Basse-Terre is mountainous and humid, and has an active volcano. Guadeloupe has good beaches, and tourism is increasingly important.
Departments are integral parts of the French Republic. French taxes apply, and French citizenship rights are given. But welfare benefits and a minimum wage have not evened everything out. The Departments send representatives to the National Assembly, the Senate, and elect a member of the European Parliament (Guadeloupe is now represented in the French parliament by four deputies and three senators).
Saint-Barthelemy (St Bart´s), now no longer part of Guadeloupe, lies 150 km east of Puerto Rico, near the islands of St Martin, Saba and Anguilla. It is a kind of Monaco in the French Caribbean, and many film-stars and jet-setters own homes there. Tourism explains in a large measure the very high standard of living on the island.
Guadeloupe’s top tourist attractions
- Guadeloupe National Park, Basse-Terre Island – a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve, the park has about 300 kilometers of hiking trails, plus the La Soufrière volcano at 1,467 meters, Col de la Matéliane at 1,298 meters, Cascade aux Ecrevisses waterfall and a wide range of flora and fauna.
- La Grande Soufrière, Basse-Terre Island – the highest peak in the lesser Antilles, this active volcano has erupted eight times since 1660. Hikers can ascend the volcano along the Chemin des Dames trail. Hot springs, mud pools, fumaroles and waterfalls also add to its enchanting beauty.
- Terre-de-Bas Island, the western island of Les Saintes – has small fishing villages, charming beaches and hiking trails. Popular activities include swimming, snorkeling and hiking.
- Terre-de-Haut Island, eastern island of Les Saintes – has European-inspired pastel-coloured houses and brightly-painted fishing boats, a 17th-century for (Fort Napoléon) with a museum, and an Exotic Garden.
- Zoological and Botanical Park, Basse-Terre – a popular hilltop garden and nature reserve located on the banks of the Rivière aux Hérbes. Visitors love the animals, which include tortoises, raccoons, monkeys, jaguars, and parrots, among others.
- Sainte-Anne, Grand-Terre – Sainte Anne boasts one of the finest beaches in Guadeloupe, with its white sand and seaside promenade which invites tourists to stroll under the palms.
- La Désirade – once a leper colony, this peaceful island is ringed with beautiful palm-fringed beaches and protected by long coral reefs. Snorkeling, swimming, diving and hiking are all popular activities.
- La Pointe des Châteaux, Grande-Terre – a picturesque peninsula at the easternmost point of Grande Terre, the island exudes rugged beauty with its castle-like rock formations.
- Plage du Souffleur, Port-Louis, Grande-Terre – considered one of Guadeloupe´s most beautiful beaches because of its wide-open stretch of beautiful white sand fringed with flame trees.
- Jacques Cousteau´s Underwater Reserve, Pigeon Island – some of the territory´s best sub-aquatic scenery where turtles, large schools of fish, parrotfish, trumpet fish, and barracuda can be seen. Popular activities include snorkeling, scuba diving, wreck diving, and kayaking.
Social unrest has hit property prices
High unemployment is a long-standing problem in Guadeloupe, currently standing at 23.7%, one of the highest in the world, according to the International Labour Organization (ILO). This leads to political and inter-racial tension. In fact, rising crime in Guadeloupe has prompted France to send in police reinforcement – a total of 70 police officers has already reached the territory in late 2016. They are mainly stationed in Pointe-á-Pitre, Abymes and Baie-Mahault.
“The perception of difficulties is higher than in Martinique,” says Douglas Rapier of Atout Immobilier. “Guadeloupe has had more of an independence movement. They are more cognizant of the history of slavery, so social unrest is higher.”
The economy is dependent on tourism and agriculture. In addition, Guadeloupe relies very substantially on French subsidies. Almost all local housing built in the DOMs is subsidized under the Loi Girardin, which allows 40% of a DOM-located property purchase cost to be written off against future tax payments (the parallel incentive in metropolitan France is the Loi De Robien). Such incentives have spurred an entire industry of financial consultants advising on ‘defiscalisation’.