By the time Columbus sailed into Marie Galante he had run out of saints, so he named this island after one of his boats. From afar, Marie Galante looks as flat as a pancake, but when you get close you realize that, as pancakes go, it is quite substantial; over 300 feet in many places and over 600 feet at its highest point. The soil includes much clay, so the land retains the rain and is thickly wooded and green, with many palm trees along the coast. It is a quiet backwater, an unspoiled haven, an ideal place to wind down, eat good Creole meals, take quiet walks, and have a good chunk of perfect Caribbean beach to yourself.
Marie Galante is a great for touring by car or scooter. It is an island of dense dry forests, lots of fruit trees and big areas of sugar cane. The traffic is light so you do not fear for your life on a scooter and these have the advantage of being able to amble along the tiny farm roads that would challenge a car.
Sugar cane is the most important crop. Ox-drawn carts are still in use and some 73 windmills remain in various states of repair, down from an original 600. The windmills are no longer commercially used, but Le Moulin de Bezard has been completely restored to working order. The sails are in storage, but it is one of the few places to see a windmill in working condition in the islands.
Nowadays, some 50 high-tech windmills on the east coast produce a substantial amount of electricity for Marie Galante.
Look out for an exceptional beach at Capesterre, and a couple more to its south. A barrier reef lies quite close to shore along these beaches, creating beautiful turquoise shallow lagoons with good snorkeling just a short swim away. If this makes you hungry, Capesterre has several restaurants for your midday meal.
In the northeast of the island, you can visit Gueule Grand Gouffre, a round sinkhole with a rim about 200 feet high, smooth sides, and an arch at the bottom open to the sea. There are majestic cliffs around the east coast and a short walk in the area of Caye Plate will show you the best.
From a yachting perspective, the beach at Anse Canot and those to the south of St. Louis will be major attractions. Hikers will be pleased to know that hiking trails have been laid out all over the island. If you speak French you can go the tourist office and buy a good little booklet on these trails (including maps) put out by the forestry department.
St. Louis is the main yacht anchorage in Marie Galante. It is huge, shallow enough for easy anchoring, with an excellent sand and weed bottom. It is a good base for exploring the island; several places rent cars and scooters. The tourist office, which is combined with a craft shop, is on the dock, helpful, and sometimes open.
Grand Bourg is the main town in Marie Galante. Two large walls create a moderate-sized harbor, which is partially complete, about half the planned docks having been built. The final plan includes another ferry dock, and three more yacht docks.
Grand Bourg is a typical country town, with a church, several pharmacies, banks, ATMs, card phones, and some fair supermarkets. Among the new houses are quaint old ones left from another era. A good reason to come here is to visit Maria Galanda, a magical little courtyard restaurant on Rue Etzol. You eat beside old stone walls, amidst plants and fish ponds, to the sound of tree frogs. They open for dinner at 1900 every day except Thursday. The food is good and the set menu is exceptional value, but they do not take credit cards.