Caribbean islands are best known for their palm-tree clad beaches, white sand lapped by brilliant turquoise water, and almost constant sunshine. Inland there are many surprises: forests, botanical gardens, zoological gardens, zipline adventures, hiking trails, waterfalls, all the wonders that a tropical paradise has to offer.
The French islands of Guadeloupehave all of the above.Situated between Antigua and Dominica in the Leeward Islands, Guadeloupe consists of the almost Siamese twin islands of Basse-Terre and Grande-Terre, plus three smaller isles. About 20 miles west of the main airport at Basse-Terre one finds the Guadeloupe Zoo and Botanical Garden, known as the Jardin des Mamelles. The most enchanting of the mammals in the Zoo are the raccoons.
The Guadeloupe Raccoon has been recognized as a separate species, but one would not know it to look at them. They look and behave exactly as their North American cousins do. The Zoo has a sizable nursery (the collective name) of raccoons who entertain visitors with their antics. At feeding time the masked bandits show off the dexterity of their long-clawed hands. Food is held up for inspection, turned this way and that, and carefully examined before being devoured.
High above the raccoon enclosure is the real reason people stop here. That’s not really true, because from the road there is little indication that snaking through the tree tops, 60 feet above the ground is an extensive canopy walkway. Safety is ensured by means of an obligatory harness with two clips so that one can change levels or direction but still be attached to at least one railing. Nevertheless it can be quite an adrenaline rush.
Back on the ground, possibly with shaky knees, there is still a lot to see. Insects, birds, a black jaguar, iguanas and other species native to the Antilles are waiting to be inspected by the whole family. There’s something for everyone.