One of the main attractions to the seaside town of Bouillante, Guadeloupe is the chance to go snorkeling on the vibrant reef around the Pigeon Islands (Îlets Pigeon) in the famous Jacques Cousteau Underwater Reserve.
You can only visit the Pigeon Islands by the seat of your kayak!
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Yep — accessible only by sea, to visit the Pigeon Islands you need to first rent a kayak (€30/4 hours) and cross from the Malendure Beach (Plage de Malendure) lying just opposite about 1.5 kilometers or 0.9 miles away.
Discover more about the Pigeon Islands, the marine life you can see here, and more below!
Snorkeling & Kayaking the Pigeon Islands
Getting to the Pigeon Islands
The Pigeon Islands form two mini islets out in the Cousteau Reserve which is considered the heart of the Guadeloupe National Park.
You can visit the reserve in two ways: diving with a club or by glass-bottom boat tour.
But it’s only by kayak that you can actually reach, step foot onto and visit the Pigeon Islands.
No boats are allowed beyond the buoys that separate the boats from the kayakers and snorkelers around the islands.
Where to book your kayak? We booked with Gwada Pagaie — €30 pp for 4 hours — and were really happy with the service.
Also Read: Diving in the Jacques Cousteau Reserve
Caraibe Kayak, located directly on the beach, is another well-rated option. Both offer lifevests, a waterproof, hardshell bucket for storing your items, and gear including fins and a snorkel mask. After your return, a ti-punch or syrup water is offered.
Once in the water, it takes about 15–20 minutes to cross from the Malendure Beach to the Pigeon Islands. Account for 20–25 minutes for the return due to currents and wind!
🌟 Tip: Go early in the morning from 8/9 AM to 12/1 PM in order to avoid the crowds. Weekdays are better than Saturdays or Sundays, too.
Nearby Places to Stay
For the best views and proximity to Malendure Beach, stay at either one of these top-rated accommodation options:
Le Jardin des îlets — exceptional views and amenities, equipped with all you could need for a memorable stay (not to mention those sunsets!!).
Le Nid Tropical — adorable private bungalows with a lush garden overlooking the bay and Pigeon Islands from above Bouillante!
Tips for Kayaking to/from the Pigeon Islands
Before you head out to the Pigeon Islands, make sure to do a mental checklist of the below tips:
- Sunscreen — Wear only reef-safe sunscreen! Cover up skin to prevent burns (put sunscreen on your cheeks too if you plan to snorkel a lot 🍑 🥲).
- Take your underwater action camera
- Pack plenty of water and a snack — you’ll be gone for 4 hours
- Secure your belongings in the kayak
- Take a waterproof backpack cover or dry bag to shield your things from getting splashed from the paddles
You should also be careful of fellow snorkelers, who you may not see well as you approach land! The first beach is small and sandy/rocky. The current will take your kayak away if you don’t properly pull it out of the water up onto the rocks!
Where to Snorkel on Pigeon Islands — 3 Beaches
There are three places to snorkel once at the Pigeon Islands:
- The Coral Garden / Jardin corail
- The Pool / Piscine
- The Aquarium
Types of fish you may spot while snorkeling around Pigeon Islands:
- Green sea turtles
- Blue tang
- Angelfish (m/f)
As its name suggests, this area is abundant with coral reefs and marine life.
You can spot coral fringing, tube coral, and plenty of colorful fish such as the rainbow parrotfish, schools of adorable blue tang (“Dory” fish), barracudas, trumpetfish, among others.
Depth is gradual as is visibility into the deep blue.
If you snorkel off the Petit Îlet, facing Malendure Beach, you’ll see about 12 meters down rests the chest statue of Captain Jacques Cousteau.
You can see it at the bottom while snorkeling. It’s pretty neat!
This area between the two islands is rather shallow and rocky, but tropical fish, such as butterflyfish, colorful wrasses, angelfish, groupers, snappers, can be seen here.
Be careful with your flippers in this area, as lots of organ pipe coral and fringing are present.
Make sure not to touch any reef life, and watch out for fire coral which can result in an intense burning sensation when touched.
You will see dive boats anchored at the far end of the Pool.
Lying on the east side of the Grand Ilet of the Pigeon Islands is The Aquarium. Due to harsh, strong waves, we weren’t able to enter the Aquarium site from land.
You aren’t allowed to kayak around the island to reach this point either due to the currents. You just got to hope it’s calm and peaceful when you go!
Walking to the Pigeon Island Viewpoint
Other than snorkeling, you can hike a little bit on the Grand Islet of Pigeon Islands to a semi-panoramic viewpoint of Basse-Terre and the coastline.
It’s not an incredible view, but there is a cross at the top. The path to take you there starts from the second beach. You can also reach it from the first beach if you don’t want to move your kayak, but you’ll have to trample a bit through weeds and bushes to reach the clearing.
If you go, take water and cover up your skin with either clothing or a good SPF. Even though it’s a short trot, the volcanic rocks really heat up and add to the risk of heat exhaustion. There’s little shade.
🌟 On that note, if it is raining, don’t shelter under the poisonous Manchineel trees on the Pigeon Islands. This poisonous tree/plant—and their apple-like fruits—are toxic and the leaves can drip off their sap onto you which will cause intense burning, blisters, and may even require hospitalization.
Safety Tips & Responsible Tourism
The Pigeon Islands are a part of the protected Guadeloupe National Park. This is one reason why the Manchineel trees are not identified with a circle of red paint around their trunks, which is typically the case in populated areas.
That said, please practice the Leave No Trace principles when you visit. If you bring trash, make sure to pack it out. Avoid touching or disturbing any land or sea life and respect the environment by leaving it alone.
If you are prone to sunburn, dehydration, dizziness, etc, make sure to go prepared to visit the Pigeon Islands. If you need emergency help, a helicopter will need to come to pick you up. That’s also why it is strongly forbidden to circle the Pigeon Islands either by swimming/snorkeling or kayaking. There have been people in the past who’ve attempted it and needed to be airlifted out due to the dangerous tides and rocky conditions.
I hope you enjoy your kayak and snorkeling trip to the Pigeon Islands!
Even though kayak rentals go for 4 hours, we found that amount of time was plenty to cross, relax, snorkel for 1-2 hours, visit the viewpoint, and head back.
Pin this guide to the Îlets Pigeon to your Caribbean travel board!
Thanks for all the great information about Guadeloupe. We are going to be there in February. I have arranged for a rental car, but I cannot find personal liability insurance coverage. The car rental company offers physical damage insurance for the car but that’s all. How did you get personal liability insurance?
Hey Ken! If I’m not mistaken, my travel credit card takes care of that. We always decline rental car insurance for that purpose, unless it’s unavoidable! Have you been able to speak with an agent? You might be able to add this the day you pick up your car.