In the middle of the archipelago of the Caribbean lies the French Martinique, an island with just over 400,000 inhabitants spread over 1102 km². The island is part of the Lesser Antilles and is located about 700 km southeast of the Dominican Republic. The active volcano Mont Pelée forms the highest point on the island, with Fort-de-France, one of the largest cities in the Caribbean, as its capital. Columbus discovered the island in 1502, followed in 1635 by the French who founded the first town there. Since 1816, the island has definitively belonged to France. Logically, the official currency is the euro, and the official language is French. However, the local population will still speak a variant of Antillean Creole among friends and family. Originally the economy was mainly based on agriculture, with sugar cane production for rum, although tourism has become increasingly important. The culture is a striking mix between French and Antillean. Saint-Pierre, now devastated, was once called the “Paris of the Lesser Antilles”. Just like in France, many shops here also close around noon, so that you can have an extensive lunch. The close relationship with France is also reflected in daily flights between Paris and Victoria. You are in Martinique in barely 8 hours. Check topmbadirectory for how to get to Martinique.
Top 10 things to do in Martinique
#1. Les Salines
Along the south coast of Martinique you will find Les Salines, about a mile from the village of Ste-Anne. Les Salines is the most popular beach on the island, and rightly so. The water here is wonderfully calm, so you can swim safely with the whole family. Vendors and stalls of all kinds supply you with goodies and keep you hydrated as you laze on the snow-white sand to soak up the sun. Toilets and showers are also provided. Kilometers of palm trees and other swaying plants provide you with the necessary shade on this beautiful piece of nature in Martinique.
#2. Fort de France
With a population of over 100,000, this colorful city is one of the largest cities in the Caribbean. Fort-de-France only became the capital of Martinique after the destruction of Saint-Pierre in 1902. In 1918 the city really started to grow and the surrounding swamps were filled in to provide enough space. This also solved the yellow fever problem at the same time. The town is the island’s largest port, with ferries to the surrounding major islands. The city is also home to a French naval base, Fort Saint Louis. In addition, it is definitely worth a visit to the Shoelcher Library. Not necessarily because of the collection, but because of the rich history. This library was originally built in Paris for the 1889 world expo, and then later shipped to Martinique. The Cathedral of St. Louis has also been rebuilt, no fewer than six times, albeit in the same place. Today the cathedral has an iron skeleton instead of the former wood.
#3. Le Jardin de Balata
This botanical garden was created in 1982 just outside Fort-de-France by horticulturist Jean-Philippe Thoze around the Creole house of his grandparents. When you walk around here, you immediately understand why Martinique is also called the island of flowers. You can walk between the mahogany trees on a path of suspension bridges, fully secured with safety nets. This way you get a phenomenal view of the entire garden and its more than 300 different types of palm trees, begonias, bamboo and much more. As a nice extra, you can have flowers delivered from the garden to take home. They then provide a special package that can be taken on the plane.
#4. The underwater world
The water around the French island of Martinique also has a lot to offer. Divers’ favorite spot is the Rocher du Diamant in the south. With its deep caves, arches and troughs, diving there is quite an adventure. In Anses d’Arlet you can swim among fish in all colors of the rainbow and at Pointe Burgos you can dive down a steep cliff. Even more impressive are the shipwrecks that lie around the coast: Nahoon near Cape Salomon, or the coast off Saint-Pierre. Since the volcanic eruption of 1902, there has been a true cemetery of ships. The water around Martinique has a pleasant temperature all year round, although you have to be careful during the cyclone season from February to April.
Saint-Pierre was founded in 1635 by merchant and adventurer Pierre Belain d’Esnabuc. It was the first real colonization of the island and Saint-Pierre was the capital until the Mont Pelée volcano erupted in 1902. The city was never completely rebuilt, although several small villages have taken its place. Where there once lived 30,000 people, about 4,500 now live here. Hardly anyone survived the disaster. People stayed in Saint-Pierre because they didn’t know the danger of the destructive glow clouds and thought the valleys would stop the lava. A Volcanological Museum and historical remains are a reminder of what once was.
#6. Memorial de l’Anse Caffard
In 1830, a slave ship was wrecked in a bay off the southwest coast of Martinique, France. All the slaves chained in the hold, as well as most of the crew and passengers, perished when the ship failed to anchor safely and slammed into Diamond Rock. On top of that rocky hill, just off Diamond Beach, 20 stone statues overlook the bay to commemorate the shipwreck, the Memorial de l’Anse Caffard. Many tourists stop here to take a photo of this sobering image and reflect on the price of its colonial past.
#7. La Savane des Esclaves
Gilbert Larose built the historical museum La Savane des Esclaves because he wanted people to share in his black heritage. He recreated a village in the traditional way, based on villages that built runaway slaves, to show the life of the black slaves during the colonial era in Martinique. During a tour of the gardens you can see how local products are made. There is also a beheaded and defaced marble statue of Empress Joséphine, Napoleon’s first wife. Local residents are said to have damaged the statue because she perpetuated slavery.
#8. Mont Pelee
This active volcano of 1397 m high is the highest point in Martinique and formed about 400,000 years ago in the north of the island. The last eruption dates back to 1929, but when it erupted in 1902 it was the biggest volcanic disaster of the 20th century. Today there are still small volcanic earthquakes every year, but they are closely monitored by specialists. A real eruption is predicted months in advance. At the foot of the mountain, in Le Morne-Rouge, you will find the Regional Volcanic House for information and documentation on volcanic activity. There are plenty of different hiking trails on Mont Pelée, with varying difficulty.
#9. Gorges de la Falaise
The Gorges de la Falaise are waterfalls on the Falaise river. They cut a path 120m deep through the lava rocks. Visitors can descend a steep staircase to the valley where the guide will be waiting for you. It takes you between the rock walls and through the river to the spectacular waterfalls. There you can enjoy a peaceful swim in the lagoon. The walk sometimes seems to take place at dusk because you can’t see much of the sky 120 m above your head. The falls are located in the north of Martinique, near Ajoupa-Bouillon.
#10. Baignoire de Joséphine
Joséphine, the first wife of Napoleon Bonaparte, was born on 23 June 1763 to French settlers in Les Trois-Îlets, a coastal commune in southwestern Martinique. Legend has it that she liked to go swimming in the sea nearby before she left for Paris. And so the “Baignoire de Joséphine” was born, a spectacular piece of sea that is in fact a sandbank near Le François in the east of the island, between l’Îlet Thierry and l’Îlet Oscar. However, there is little chance that the fashionable Joséphine actually swam here. Nevertheless, it is a popular tourist attraction.