If you have time for only one French island, should it be Martinique or Guadeloupe? The question's a tough one. Martinique is more sophisticated, with more culture, but Guadeloupe has more diversity and calmer leeward bathing beaches. You can also visit Guadeloupe's dependencies, the nearby islands of Marie Galante, Iles des Saintes, and La Désirade.

Beaches -- Guadeloupe is riddled with sandy beaches. Unwind at Salako Beach, with its lush backdrop of palms. Sunbathers and snorkelers gravitate to Plage Caravelle, filled with heaps of white sand and reef-protected waters. In Basse-Terre, La Grande-Anse offers powdery sands, tranquil waters, and palm trees.

Things to Do -- Climb to the 18th-century ruins of Fort Fleur-d'Epée to see its dungeons and battlements. Walk the ramparts of Basse-Terre, where panoramic vistas unfold in all directions. Don scuba gear and explore the colorful underwater world in the calm waters La Réserve Cousteau.

Eating & Dining -- Creole cuisine on Guadeloupe is like nowhere else in the world, including land crab with hot peppers and fresh coconut, freshwater crayfish, and mashed bananas and breadfruit. The island's French heritage can be best sampled in the restaurants of Pointe-à-Pitre, St-François, and to Basse-Terre.

Nature -- Guadeloupe's mountains are covered with tropical forests, impenetrable in many places. Hike Parc Naturel de Guadeloupe, passing waterfalls and cool mountain pools, hot springs, and rugged gorges along the way. The big attraction of Basse-Terre is the famous sulfur-puffing La Soufrière volcano, which towers to a height of some 1,444m (4,737 ft.).