Island hopping in the Caribbean: Tips for travelling by ferry L’Express des îles

Ferry Express des Iles Caribbean

Some of the islands in the eastern part of the Caribbean are connected by ferry. This is ideal for exploring more than one island on a trip and not always having to resort to the small, often unreliable Caribbean airlines. In this blog post, I’ll tell you what it’s like to hop from island to island by ferry, what to look out for and many other tips.

While planning my trip to Dominica, I not only wanted to explore the island itself, but also take advantage of its geographical proximity to other islands to get to know them. Many islands in the Caribbean are simply too far apart for ferries to be practical. Even the ABC islands off the coast of Venezuela are currently only connected by plane.

That said, there is a ferry company in the Eastern Caribbean that connects some of the islands with regular ferry services. There are hardly any reports of experiences on the Internet and as the website is mostly only in French and only little information is available in English, I would like to share my experiences and tips from my trips on the ferry L’Express des îles with you.

Tips for travelling with L’Express des îles

In February 2024, I travelled three times with L’Express des îles. Each trip had a different route and a different starting point, which involved different entry and departure procedures.

Why travel by ferry in the Eastern Caribbean at all?

Some of you out there might be wondering why not just fly? Yes, there are flights between the various islands. However, these small Caribbean airlines are not always particularly reliable and every few years they tend to go bankrupt. After I was very, very lucky a few years ago and travelled to Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao with the then Insel Air, which then ceased operations two weeks after our last flight between the islands, I didn’t want to risk it again.

Another reason why I decided to take the ferry is quite simple: I wanted to feel the distance between the islands and get an understanding of the distance. By plane, you can be practically anywhere in 1-2 hours and I wanted to travel at a slower pace.

Equally important: as I was visiting the islands mainly for scuba diving, I had quite a lot of luggage with me, and taking this on the plane is often very expensive and sometimes not even possible with small airlines. On the ferry, however, it’s no problem with a small surcharge.

Ferry connections with L’Express des îles

The ferry company L’Express des îles travels to four larger islands in the Eastern Caribbean. These are:

  • Saint Lucia serving the port in Castries
  • Martinique serving the port in Fort-de-France
  • Dominica serving the port Roseau
  • Guadeloupe serving the port Pointe-à-Pitre

From Guadeloupe there are two more connections to the smaller islands that belong to it:

  • Les Saintes
  • Marie-Galante

While there are two connections a day to Marie-Galante, making a day trip to the island possible, there is currently only one connection to Les Saintes on Sundays.

Note: there is another ferry company that operates its own routes and also organises some of L’Express des îles’ trips – comparable to code share flights. I haven’t travelled with Jeans for freedom myself, but I have seen their ferries.

Tip: It is also possible to take a car on the ferry. Be sure to check with the rental car provider in advance whether this is even permitted.

Travel planning

The islands of Saint Lucia, Martinique, Dominica and Guadeloupe are connected by several ferry connections per week thanks to L’Express des îles. However, these are not the same every week. There are usually two to six connections per week.

Important: Before you book your flights to the Caribbean, make sure you check the ferry connections between the islands, as they don’t run every day.

For my trip, I booked my international flights so that they coincided well with the ferries and I would still have enough time if my luggage was delayed.

Important: The website of L’Express des îles is only partly available in English and keeps switching between English and French.

Buying tickets online

I bought the tickets a good two months before my trip. The ferry wasn’t full either, but that could change quickly. Especially when it gets towards high season. You never know when larger groups will book, and unfortunately you can’t see online how many tickets are still available.

Depending on which tickets are still available and whether you are only travelling one way or return, there are different prices. There are offers for €99 for round trips. Otherwise, the cheapest tickets start at €59 each way. Although these can be rebooked for certain days for a fee of currently €3, they are non-refundable. More expensive tickets from €79 can be rebooked for all days and are even refundable from €89.

Book additional luggage

The ticket includes one piece of hand luggage and one piece of checked luggage. As I was travelling with a backpack, a shoulder bag, a large suitcase and a smaller suitcase, I paid for a second suitcase when booking. The price for additional checked suitcases is currently €30 each way.

In reality, there was probably a mistake when booking and my second suitcase was only confirmed on one of the three routes. However, as my second suitcase was also classed as hand luggage, I didn’t have to pay any extra.

The ferry company is generally very accommodating when it comes to the number of items of hand luggage. Massive suitcases do not go through, but I have seen small to medium-sized suitcases in the passenger areas on all three of my ferry journeys.

If you are unsure, you can also simply pay for additional baggage at check-in. That’s how I would handle it in future.

Check-in and departure

The ferry company recommends being at the terminal around two hours before departure. That may sound like a lot, but don’t forget that you have to go through a few checkpoints when you get there:

  • Check in with ticket control and drop off your luggage
  • Pay the departure tax (only due in Saint Lucia and Dominica; this can be paid by card or cash)
  • Security check
  • Departure and passport control

In Saint Lucia, I was there just over two hours before departure and didn’t have any long queues in front of me. The lounge was also by far the most pleasant in comparison to the other ones and even the WLAN worked there.

In Guadeloupe, I was there a good 1.5 hours earlier and should have arrived a little earlier because the ferry was probably very well booked that day and a lot of people wanted to check in.

Please note: The ferry terminal in Guadeloupe is quite long and divided into two sections. The ferries to the other islands of Guadeloupe depart from the right-hand, front section and the international ferries to Dominica, Martinique and Saint Lucia depart from the left-hand, rear section. I waited at the wrong counter at first.

In Dominica, I was clearly too late – as were some others. One hour before departure is not enough time and the security and passport control took much longer than expected. There were a lot of travellers and not enough staff to handle us. So, let this be a lesson to you: be there two hours before departure, especially in Dominica, and don’t let yourself get stressed. I was actually lucky because the ferry was a little late.

The ferry

The ferry itself is nothing special: a little outdated, but the seats are comfortable and it is generally clean. However, there is no WLAN.

There are three areas where you can spend time:

  • Air-conditioned cabin downstairs
  • Non-air-conditioned cabin upstairs
  • Open deck upstairs in the rear area

There is a snack and drinks vending machine on board, but it did not work. The small bistro sells drinks and sandwiches on certain sections of the journey. There is not much choice and I would advise you to bring your own snacks and drinks. However, make sure that you don’t take too much food with you, as there may be problems with customs when you enter the country.

The journey

If you tend to get seasick, here are some tips:

  • Sit in the lower, rear section of the ferry in a window seat. This is where the ship moves the least.
  • Direct your gaze to the horizon or beyond. Do not look down.
  • Don’t drink coffee, black tea or alcohol and avoid greasy food before the journey.
  • Carry pills with you.
  • Wear Sea-bands or massage a point under your inner hand luggage. This has helped me for years.
  • If the waves get stronger, the crew will hand out plastic bags.

In February, the swell wasn’t too wild, but you still notice a big difference when the ferry is travelling in the shelter of the islands and when it is travelling between the islands without protection. Nevertheless, it was definitely bearable, I’ve had worse (but also calmer) crossings.

Entry, visas & customs

If you want to save time, you should be quick when getting off the ferry. The queues to enter the country were quite long in Saint Lucia and Dominica. Only in Guadeloupe did things go quickly, as there is a separate counter for EU citizens. That makes things a lot easier, of course.

I didn’t apply for a visa in advance on any of the islands – not for Guadeloupe anyway, as it is part of France. There is an online registration system for Saint Lucia to speed up the entry process, but this only applies if you are travelling by plane and not by sea. Entry forms for Saint Lucia and Dominica are distributed on the ferry, which you simply have to fill out and that’s it.

However, you should check this before travelling, as these regulations can of course change.

What all islands have in common: Customs control is very thorough. So don’t take any fresh fruit or other food with you that you don’t eat on the ferry. In the simplest case, the food will simply be taken from you; in the worst case, you will be fined.

More tips for travelling by ferry in the Caribbean

  • Some of the journeys take quite a long time – especially if you are travelling from Saint Lucia to Guadeloupe. For this reason, take something to read with you or download a series or audio book.
  • A neck pillow like the Ostrichpillow Go can also make the journey more comfortable.
  • It can also get a little chilly in the air-conditioned part of the ferry. A scarf or a thin jumper should be sufficient in any case.
Viktoria Urbanek Travel Blog Chronic Wanderlust

Grüß dich, I'm Viki!

At Chronic Wanderlust, I write about my two great passions: travelling and diving – and have been doing so since 2013.

I usually spend a solid majority of the year travelling to experience extraordinary underwater adventures, taking road trips through countries I don’t know (yet) or exploring my home country of Austria.

As a certified divemaster, passionate underwater & travel photographer, road trip enthusiast and individual traveller, I collect unique moments all over the world.

I don’t believe that severe cases of wanderlust – aka chronic wanderlust – can be cured, only treated. On this blog, I want to show you how this can best be realised.

Curious to get to know me better?