Known to its one-time Carib Indian population as "karukera", or "island of beautiful waters", the butterfly-shaped French territory of Guadeloupe is a centre of Caribbean Creole culture.
French, African and Caribbean influences infuse its music, dance, food and widely-spoken patois.
Guadeloupe's economy is kept afloat by public salaries and credits from Paris. Unemployment has been a long-running malaise, although its effects are tempered by France's generous social security system.
Agriculture revolves around sugar cane and bananas; the latter is troubled by regional competition and the phasing out of preferential European quotas.
Tourism is also a key earner with visitors, mostly from the US, drawn to Guadeloupe's resorts, beaches, waterfalls and forests.
Overseas department of France
Area 1,705 sq km (658 sq miles)
Major languages French (official), Creole dialect
Major religion Christianity
Life expectancy: 76 years (men); 84 years (women)
Head of state: The President of France
Guadeloupe is administered as a part of the French mainland.
Paris is represented by a prefect, appointed by the French president. Regional and general councils, elected by popular votes, oversee legislative and day-to-day affairs. Guadeloupe sends representatives to the National Assembly and to the Senate in Paris.
Commercial broadcasters operate alongside services provided by public broadcaster Reseau France Outre-mer (RFO).
700 BC - First inhabited by the Amerindian Arawak people who are displaced by Carib Indians in 1000 AD.
1493 - Visited by explorer Christopher Columbus but the Carib Indian inhabitants resist Spanish attempts to settle.
1635 - French colonialists establish a settlement, wiping out the Carib population and bringing in African slaves to work on sugar plantations.
1700-1800s - Several British occupations and a brief period of nominal Swedish rule before the territory is restored to France in 1816.
1946 - Becomes a French overseas department
1958 - Guadeloupeens choose to remain a French possession over independence
1976 - La Soufriere volcano erupts causing half the island to be evacuated
1980 - Becomes a French administrative region
1980s - Campaign for secession flares up when pro-independence groups bomb hotels and government buildings
2009 - Violent protests follow a general strike over the cost of living. France offers Guadeloupe hundreds of millions of euros in new subsidies.