Arrival Briefing

The roads here are generally quite good.

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Area: Two separate islands divided by a channel, the Riviere Salee. The two islands cover 1510 square km; Basse-Terre, the larger, is 777 square km.

Population: About 150,000 in the Basse-Terre region; 190,000 on Grand-Terre.

Language: French and Creole; English is spoken only in larger hotels and tourist areas.

Time Zone: Atlantic Standard Time, one hour ahead of Eastern Standard Time.

Rainy Season: July to November are the wettest months, with most of the rain falling between September and November. January to April is the official dry season.

Documents: American and Canadian citizens staying less than 90 days do not need a passport, only an official birth certificate copy, driver's license photo ID and an ongoing ticket. A valid passport is needed for stays over 90 days. All others need passports; residents of some countries require visas.

Currency: The French franc (F) is the coin of the realm. The rate of exchange varies considerably, around US$1=5.90F. Banks and exchange houses have the best exchange rates, although they may also charge a 1% commission and a 4% filing fee. Money exchange is handled only in the morning. Bank hours are 8 a.m. to noon and 2-4 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Taxes & Tips: Checks will often come marked "Service Compris," in which case no tip is necessary. Otherwise 10-15% is standard. Taxes are included in hotel room rates and airfares.

Electrical Current: 220 volts, 50 cycles. U.S. and Canadian appliances need both a French plug converter and a transformer.

Getting There: American Eagle ( from San Juan has good connections with American Airline flights from the States. Air Canada ( flies directly from Montreal . Inter-island service is available on LIAT ( if you're hopping over from a neighboring island. Air France ( ) also flies direct from Paris, with other flights by way of Miami. The airport is on the Grand Terre side at Point-a-Pitre, which is only a few minutes' drive from Basse-Terre. A 3.5-hour ferry trip between Martinique and Guadeloupe runs once or twice a day, costing between US$60-US$90 round trip. Call Expres des Iles, 0590-83-12-45.   

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