The Pigeon Islands (often nicknamed “Réserve Cousteau”) are two tiny islets laying only 1 kilometer from Bouillante and Malendure beach, on the west side of Guadeloupe. This protected area, part of the Guadeloupe National Park since 2009, and accessible only by the sea, provides a unique concentration of marine life. The islets are famous for the magnificent elkhorn and staghorn corals covering the seabed, where snorkelers can spot a large number of colorful reef fish species (angelfish, parrotfish, butterflyfish), as well as sea turtles.

Whitespotted filefish at Pigeon Islands
The whitespotted filefish is a pretty common sight at Pigeon Islands.

How to get to Pigeon Islands for snorkeling?

A large number of local tour operators organize guided tours to the Reserve, including 1 to 3 snorkeling stops. Main departure point for tours are the village of Bouillante, Malendure beach, Plage Caraibes (Pointe-Noire) or the village of Deshaies. Prices ranges from 20 to 30 euros per person for a standard tour (1:30 to 2 hours), including snorkeling gear.

If you prefer to reach the Pigeon Islands by yourself, you can rent a kayak on Malendure beach (from 25 euro for 3 hours). The distance between the beach and the islets is approximately 1.3 kilometer. Keep in mind that paddling to the islands, sometimes with headwind, can be exhausting. If you choose this option, leave your kayak on the tiny white-sand beach marked on the map below.

Pigeon Islands snorkeling map, Guadeloupe

How to get into the water?

Water entrance depends of the option you choose. If you reach the islands by kayak, you can enter the water from the tiny sandy beaches to snorkel the Coral Garden (the best spot in the islets) and the Pool. To snorkel the Aquarium, walk on the small path to reach the northern side of the islet (5 minutes). Tf you are participating to a snorkeling tour, you’ll generally enter the water from your boat mooring near the reef.

Pigeon Islands snorkeling tips

The best snorkeling area in the Pigeon Islands is the Coral Garden, which covers the coral reef fringing the eastern side of the islets.

The northern part of the Coral Garden is probably the more spectacular. Sheltered from the swell, the seabed is covered by healthy and good-sized staghorn and elkhorn corals. These reef-building corals are vital to life in the Caribbean reefs. It is fragile and can be broken by a passing swimfin, so do not touch it and snorkel carefully.

Snorkeler above elkhorn coral in the Pigeon Islands
A snorkeler above elkhorn coral (acropora palmata) in the Coral Garden.

The central part of the little bay is shallow, with a rocky seabed. Around ten meters from the beach, the first coral clusters appear and grow denser as you move away from the shore and reach the deepest areas. The outcrops are the most abundant in fish, as parrotfish and surgeonfish.

At last, on the southern part of the spot, swim along Petit Ilet to explore the rocky drop off (0-12m). If you leave the drop-off to the west, you’ll find (approximately 30 meters from the shore) the bronze bust of Captain Jacques-Yves Cousteau, which have been immersed in 1998 by 12-meters deep on a sandy area.

A juvenile barracuda (sphyraena barracuda) photographed in the Aquarium, a few meters from the shore.
A juvenile barracuda (sphyraena barracuda) photographed in the Pool, a few meters from the shore.

The Coral Garden is the best area for snorkeling in the Pigeon Islands, but two more areas can be explored:

  • The Pool, which is located between the two islets. Here, the water is shallow and sheltered, perfect for beginners and kids. The seabed is mostly rocky, with few corals, but you can still see and approach many fish species.
  • The Aquarium, which designates the northern side of Grand Ilet. The seabed is in great condition here, with many corals, especially around the rocky point. This area is more exposed to waves and currents, don’t enter the water if the sea is too rough.

The Pigeon Islands have some of the most fishy seabeds in Guadeloupe, due to the currents: several species of forage fish, bluefin trevally, damselfish… You’ll find on the area large and magnificent parrotfish, almost impossible to spot outside of protected areas, as well as most of the Caribbean reef fish species (butterflyfish, trumpetfish, trunkfish, angelfish… etc.). Don’t forget that you are in a National Park. Do not touch anything and don’t put your feet on the seabed.

Restaurants & accommodation nearby

There are no restaurants and no water supply on the islets. The excursion organizers may provide you with snacks and drinks.

 

  • Level required Intermediary
  • Protected areaGuadeloupe National Park
  • Maximum depth12m/40ft
  • Water entranceFrom a boat or a sandy beach
  • Potential DangersMany dive boats sailing in the area
  • LifeguardNo
  • Visitor numbersMedium to high
  • Access costsExcursion price or kayak rental
  • Restaurants nearbyNo
  • Public toilets & showersNo

MAP Spot

These spots are accessible to anyone with basic snorkeling skills, and feeling comfortable in the water and with his snorkeling gear. You will enter the water from the shore (beach, pontoon, ladder, rocks) or from a boat. The water height in the sea entrance area is reasonable, but you will not necessarily be within your depth. Moderate currents can occur in the area, even when the sea conditions are good. The distance to swim to reach the most interesting snorkeling areas of the spot does not exceed 200 meters.

This level only apply when the spot experiences optimal sea and/or weather conditions. It is not applicable if the sea and/or weather conditions deteriorate, in particular in the presence of rough sea, rain, strong wind, unusual current, large tides, waves and/or swell. You can find more details about the definition of our snorkeling levels on our snorkeling safety page.