When first coming to Guadeloupe, one of the top things on my bucket list was none other than diving in the Jacques Cousteau Reserve (Réserve Cousteau). I had heard and seen incredible reports about the abundant coral reef and marine life here that I literally couldn’t wait to dive in and see it all for myself.
After all, what diver wouldn’t want to explore a location named after Captain Cousteau himself? You can even visit his underwater bronze statue on the seafloor just off the Pigeon Islands (but more on that below!).
I’m happy to now say that the Cousteau Reserve is a phenomenal place to go diving and/or snorkeling. On two occasions, I have been able to dive at Pointe Lézarde and also snorkel the dive sites at Pigeon Island.
In this guide, I will share the best dive sites in the Cousteau Reserve, which dive shops are available, prices/tarifs, and more.
Huge shout out and thanks to Guillaume (@wilhelm_te_artist) who kindly shared his GoPro Hero 9 photos of our diving excursion to the Pointe Lézarde dive site. All photo credit goes to Guillaume unless otherwise stated. Photos edited/color graded by me. Merci!
Diving in Jacques Cousteau Reserve
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Where & What Is the Réserve Jacques Cousteau?
The Cousteau Reserve is located just off the town of Bouillante on Basse-Terre island in Guadeloupe.
It inherits its name from the famous Commander Jacques-Yves Cousteau who pioneered the global scuba diving culture and underwater exploration that we know today.
According to this site, Captain Cousteau and his team aboard the CALYPSO came to the Pigeon Islands off the west coast of Guadeloupe in 1959 to perform a series of tests on the diving saucer—SP-350 nicknamed “Denise”—the first vehicle at the time to explore the depths of the sea.
While the saucer was getting fixed, Cousteau and friends dove the sites of the Îlets Pigeon. Cousteau later wrote a formal letter to the Director of the INRA requesting that the area become a protected marine reserve due to its exceptional conditions.
The name “Cousteau Reserve” had already been in colloquial use by the local dive shops, so it was a no-brainer once the request had been accepted.
After 1996, the activity around the Pigeon Islands, including fishing, became regulated, but it wasn’t until 2009 that the area officially was declared “the heart of the Guadeloupe National Park.”
In 2004, a bronze statue of Captain Jacques Cousteau with his signature red beanie, sculpted by Albert Fage, was ceremonially immersed 12m deep at the “Coral Garden” dive site and attended by Cousteau’s son and former members of the CALYPSO.
Today, the Cousteau Reserve stretches from the south of Bouillante to the north of Pointe Noire.
How to Experience the Jacques Cousteau Underwater Reserve
Scuba diving is by far the best way to explore the Cousteau Reserve!
There are 13 sites to explore, each with abundant coral reefs and marine life. There are a handful of dive shops that offer affordable group excursions (plongée d’exploration), first-time discoveries for beginners (baptêmes), or entire certification courses to get your PADI or SSI (formations).
🌟 Prices may vary slightly, but you can expect to pay around €46+ for a single dive with a group. Present your PADI Certification (or equivalent) to join one of the group excursions to the dive sites.
While you can choose to join a shipwreck site or a night dive, you can’t really choose which daytime dive site you visit as there are so many and they’re planned in advance. (If you have a specific site in mind, just ask when those are scheduled to go out and if there’s any availability.)
Read about each dive site description below! You can also watch this short clip of the sea turtle that came to visit us during our dive at Pointe Lézarde.
If you aren’t a fan of whole-body underwater immersion, but still want to enjoy the beauty of the marine park, then go snorkeling around the Pigeon Islands.
Glass-Bottom Boat Tour
Finally, if you don’t want to get your feet at all, then you also have the chance to board the Nautilus glass-bottom boat and tour around the Pigeon Islands and Cousteau Reserve.
Popular Dive Sites of the Cousteau Reserve
There are an incredible amount of dive sites speckled around the Cousteau Reserve—13 or more, I think! Here is a quick snapshot of the most popular sites.
- The Coral Garden, The Pool, and The Aquarium (Pigeon Islands)
- Pointe Mahault
- The Japanese Garden
- 3 shipwreck sites — plongée épaves
- Pointe Malendure
- Pointe Lézarde — the dive site we did!
Pigeon Islands: The three dive sites off the Pigeon Islands—Coral Garden, the Pool, and the Aquarium—all have beautiful colorful reefs. Spot trumpetfish, blue tang, barracudas, sea turtles, angelfish, and more tropical Caribbean fish. If you dive the Coral Garden, you’ll also get the chance to salute Captain Cousteau!
Pointe Mahault: Fairly shallow, rocky dive (15–45 ft deep) with an abundance of fish.
Japanese Garden: This site has gained recognition as one of the most beautiful dive sites in the reserve with sea sponges. I initially signed up for this dive site, but due to the buoy breaking the morning of, our excursion was rerouted to Pointe Lézarde instead. Dommage!
Shipwreck Dives: There are three shipwreck sites you can explore diving in the Cousteau Reserve—The Gustavia, The Franjack, and the Augustin Fresnel II. Two of the three may require advanced diving certification (niveau 2).
Pointe Lézarde: This is one of the southernmost dive sites in the Cousteau Reserve. It also offers a different type of site, seeing as the thermal activity from nearby Bouillante is present here. As such, you can spot geothermal vents in the seabed as you dive. Hover your hand over one, and you will feel hot water coming from the underground hot springs! (Careful not to get burned!) In addition to the hot springs, we saw two turtles and lots of colorful reef fish plus a rare frogfish, angelfish, lobster, eel, and more.
Preparing for Your Diving Excursion
It had been a whole year since I last went scuba diving in Tulum, Mexico. So, I was a bit nervous to join a dive group like this. It served as a good reminder of all those diving techniques I learned. Here are some tips to keep in mind when heading out diving:
- Hydrate — drink plenty of water days in advance to help you regulate and decompress your sinuses!
- Show up 30 minutes before your dive time.
- Bring a spare change of clothes.
- Use the restroom before wiggling into your wetsuit!
- I like to use my own dive bask — this one by Beuchat — but all dive shops include the gear in their prices.
- ALWAYS ask if you have a doubt!
- Triple-check all your gear is working properly before you get in the water
- Make sure your underwater action camera has a proper-fitted underwater housing case for dives deeper than 10m.
My curiosity begs me to go back to the reserve and dive at ALL the sites. My bank account begs otherwise, however!
If you have the chance to dive in the Cousteau Reserve during your time in Guadeloupe—do it! You won’t regret it.
I can only imagine what it must’ve looked like when Captain Cousteau dove here 70 years ago. I expect he would be rather broken-hearted at the state of the reef today and the loss of abundant marine life.
Is diving in the Jacques Cousteau Reserve on your dive bucket list? Add your comments and dive experiences below!