The French overseas department of Guadeloupe, situated among the Lesser Antilles, extends 15° 52′ to 18° 7′ N , and 61° to 63° 5′ W . The length of Guadeloupe proper is 67 km (42 mi) E–W , and its width is 60 km (37 mi) N–S ; its total coastline amounts to 656 km (408 mi). A narrow channel, RivièreSalée, divides Guadeloupe proper into two islands: Basse-Terre (848 sq km/327 sq mi) and Grande-Terre (585 sq km/226 sq mi). Outlying islands include Marie-Galante and La Désirade, and the Les Saintes and Petite Terre island groups, near the main islands; St. Barthélémy, about 120 km (75 mi) to the NW ; and St. Martin, about 175 km (110 mi) to the NW , the northern two-thirds of it French, the southern third Dutch. Total area, including the outlying islands, is 1,780 sq km (687 sq mi). Basse-Terre is volcanic; its highest peak, La Soufrière (1,484 m/4,869 ft), erupted in the 18th and 19th centuries, and is still active. Annual rainfall ranges from 99 cm (39 in) on La Désirade to between 500 and 1,000 cm (200–400 in) on the mountains of Basse-Terre. Ferns, bamboo, mangrove, and tropical hardwoods are abundant. Endangered species include the Guadeloupe wren, green sea turtle, and leatherback turtle.
The estimated population in mid-2002 was 435,739. About 90% of the inhabitants are blacks or a mixture of blacks and descendants of Normans and Bretons who first settled the island in the 17th century. Some 95% of the people are Roman Catholic. French is the official language, but a Creole dialect is widely spoken.
Guadeloupe was first settled by Arawak Indians from Venezuela about AD 200. Carib Indians, also from Venezuela, overran this agricultural and fishing community around AD 1000. Discovered by Columbus in 1493 and occupied by the French in 1635, Guadeloupe has, except for short periods during the Napoleonic wars, been French ever since. In 1648, St. Martin was shared with the Dutch. Guadeloupe became an overseas department in 1946. It is represented in the French parliament by three deputies and two senators. Local administration is similar to that of regions and departments in metropolitan France. The appointed commissioner is assisted by a 41-member general council, elected by universal suffrage, and by a newly created regional council.
There are about 2,082 km (1,300 mi) of highways, of which about 1,752 km (1,089 mi) are paved. There are no railways except for privately owned plantation lines. Marine traffic is concentrated at Pointe-à-Pitre and Basse-Terre. Steamships connect Guadeloupe with other West Indian islands, with Nort and South America, and with France. Air France and other airlines serve the international airport at Pointe-à-Pitre.
Sugar has been replaced by bananas as the principal agricultural product. Other products include other tropical fruits. About 63% of import and 60% or export trade is with France. In 1997, exports yielded US $140 million; imports totaled US $1.7 billion. Sugar refining and rum distilling are the traditional industries.
About 90% of the population is literate. Two teaching and research units—one for law and economics, the other for liberal arts and the sciences—provide higher education at the Université Antilles-Guyane in Pointe-à-Pitre. Several hundred scholarship holders study in French universities. The infant mortality rate was an estimated 9.3 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2002, up from8.54 per 1,000 live births in 1999, but down from 17 in 1985.