Martinique is a little bit of France in the Caribbean. The island, part of the Lesser Antilles, is a port of call for numerous popular cruise lines but can easily be a destination onto itself. There is so much to see and do! Here are a few tips if you plan to visit the “Isle of Flowers”.
Know Before You Go
- Citizens of the U.S., Canada, Japan, the EU or EEA countries can stay up to three months without a visa; however, citizens of the first three countries require a valid passport.
- The currency is the Euro but the US dollar is accepted by many vendors.
- The languages spoken are French and a Creole dialect.
- The culture is a lovely mixture of French and Caribbean West Indies.
- It is a comparatively expensive place to visit in high season (winter).
- The best time to visit to avoid higher prices, crowds, and the hurricane season is May.
The Capital, Fort-de-France
- This town is situated on one of the largest bays in the world.
- Martinique’s first capital, Saint-Pierre, was destroyed and thirty thousand citizens killed, when the volcano, Mount Pelée, erupted May 8, 1902. It last erupted in 1929 through 1932 but is continually monitored today by the Morne des Cadets observatory.
- It is a “safe” town with common sense behaviour, eg. an inebriated stroll down a back alley at midnight could pose a problem in any town. Strolling the streets sightseeing and shopping here should be trouble-free.
- There is a new Malecon waterfront, and the Martinique Cruise Village with shops and entertainment has been purpose-built for those visiting by ship. Ships dock at Pointe Simon and you can easily walk downtown.
- Fort-de-France employs uniformed, multi-lingual guides located throughout the town to answer questions, give directions, etc. to visitors.
- Besides the shopping (local artistry, crafts, Parisian fashions, jewelry, perfumes), you must try the dining: classic French or Creole, and lots of seafood!
- Two points of interest in town (both free) are La Savane des Enclaves and the Schoelcher Library. The former is a beautiful park complete with colorful street vendors and a statue of Empress Josephine, wife of Napoleon Bonaparte, who was born here on the island. The statue was vandalized a long time ago and remains, unfortunately, headless, but is still a photo-op with tourists. Next to the park is the Schoeler Library interesting due to its unique architecture but popular due to the free WiFi on its premises. The building was designed and constructed in Paris for a 19th century exhibition, dismantled, and re-assembled here.
Activities & Sights on Martinique
- Martinique has over 365 restaurants so you could, if you wished, visit a different one every day of the year. There are 27 different hiking trails. It also has approximately two dozen plus museums. Visit the Franck Perret museum in Saint-Pierre for a history of the island’s volcanic eruptions and more seismic information. For those who wish to gamble, Martinique also sports two casinos outside of Fort-de-France.
- Journey to Mount Pelée and, if you are adventurous, climb to the summit. Do your research on the best approaches: some paths are more treacherous and less traveled than others. And you may have to get off quickly in the event of an eruption. Visit on a clear day as the face of the volcano has wonderful views of the water, the coastline and Saint-Pierre. Hike a different direction and you get to see the vast differences in landscape of the island: plantations, grasslands, and tropical trees. Another option is to hike around the base to experience its waterfalls and vegetation.
- Visit a distillery to learn about Martinique’s twelve brands of rum – and the free rum tasting! The island’s rums have earned the Appelation d’Origine Contrôlée designation – quite a feat as this designation was once reserved only for the finest of wines. A popular distillery (also a museum and a plantation too) is the Habitation Clement where you can visit the main house and its outbuildings, gardens, the distillery, and its rum shop.
- If you love gardens, Martinique is a garden itself. Over two-thirds of the island is protected parkland. The Balata Gardens near the capital features three hundred different kinds of palm trees as well as beautiful flowers.
- Most towns and villages sport markets where you can buy a wide variety of delicious foods locally produced. But you may have to barter in French or Creole!
- History buffs might enjoy the Anse Cafard Slave Memorial. Twenty white figures stand still gazing out to sea where in 1830 a slave ship slipped anchor and crashed into Diamond Rock killing all aboard. The slaves chained in the hold did not stand a chance.
- Diamond Rock is the destination for divers as it has a huge undersea cave for exploring. It is a tiny islet off nearby Diamond Beach which is a great sun-bathing destination. Being an island there are many swimming and water sports beaches. Those in the vicinity of Mount Pelée are black sand beaches.
Whether you come to Martinique as a day visitor from a cruise ship or on an extended vacation at a resort or hotel, Martinique has a unique flavor and culture from other Caribbean islands so you will always be entertained. Here you can enjoy the Caribbean way of life with that touch of French joie de vive mixed with West Indian traditions. Ask your travel professional about exploring this sunshine destination.
MSC Cruise Ship in Martinique (Image: Pixabay)