Martinique

IMG_2387 From exotic and rare fruits to black sand beaches, volcanic lava-preserved cities and stunning sunset silhouettes, Martinique is more than a tropical paradise.

After spending the past week exploring the tree-lined beaches and indulging in the lively and authentic culture of the hospitable Martiniquais, I wasn’t sure what to focus on for my first blog post. So, I’ll focus on the most important thing: What you should expect when you visit. Because you should visit.

Martinique is unique.

All Caribbean islands are different, but Martinique is really different.  It’s the perfect mélange of relaxed Caribbean and sophisticated French. You’ll find friendly folks with laid-back, breezy attitudes speaking French and greeting each other in the most French way with the “bisous” (a kiss on each cheek). You’ll even find boulangeries next to colorful churches and creole homes, next to fishermen selling their morning’s catch.

A colorful home in Petit Anse d'Arlet, just feet from the beach

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The colorful church along the shore at Petit Anse d'Arlet

Martinique, c’est magnifique !

Martinique boasts beautiful tropical beaches where the palm trees provide shade right up to the shoreline. There are two coasts—the Caribbean coast and the Atlantic coast. The beaches studded along the Northern, Caribbean side of the island have black sand, thanks to Mont Pelée, the majestic volcano that graces the island’s skyline. But unlike flat coral islands, Martinique also has a rain forest, complete with spectacular waterfalls, small and winding streams, and even hiking and trails like the Canal des Esclaves that goes straight through the middle of the rain forest.

Petit Anse d'Arlet

Enjoying the Riviere Alma

A daring trek along the Canal des Esclaves--in the rain! The very narrow path of about 16 inches twists and winds through a mountain, offering a small water canal on one side and a steep ravine on the other.

Playing in the sand at Le Carbet, one of the numerous black sand beaches on the Northern part of the island.

More than a tropical paradise

The people, beaches and waterfalls are enough of a reason to visit Martinique. But, there are also a number of notable historical sites to visit, like St. Pierre, the previous capitol of the island.  St. Pierre was completely destroyed in 1902 when Mont Pelée erupted, killing all 30,000 inhabitants except one---a prisoner in solitary confinement whose cement cell entombed and protected him from the flowing lava.

At the ruins of the older theatre at St. Pierre, gazing at the majestic Mont Pelee

In addition to the ruins that still stand in St. Pierre and the northern part of the island, history buffs will enjoy the Anse Cafard Slave Memorial near Le Diamant on the southern edge of the island. The impressive 20 stone effigies provide a somber contrast to the fierce beauty of Le Diamant beach, which their sullen stone bodies and slumped shoulders face. Also, keep a look out for the beheaded statues of Josephine Bonaparte, first wife to Napoleon and the Empress of France.  Despite being of mixed-race heritage “metisse,” she was against the abolition of slavery, earning this native Martiniquais special disdain and an infamous place in Martinique history.

Slave Memorial at Anse Cafard

View of Le Diamant (the small island on the left) at dusk

Freshly-caught fish and lobster smothered in Creole sauces… rum cocktails and rare fruit.. your stay in Martinique will be a delicious one. And I’ll be providing more delectable details in the coming days, so stay tuned!

Assortment of tropical fruit

Enjoying the classic rum cocktail, Ti Punch.

Know Before You Go...

Martinique is a department of France, which means a visit there is a visit to France, and consequently, the European Union. The Euro is the currency, and although people speak some English, brush up on your high school French by downloading an app and practicing before you go!

In a lovely garden near the marina in Trois Islets

There are a number of hotels, but the best deals—especially if you want an authentic experience—are staying in the homes of locals. We rented a typical apartment through AirBnB. Like most lodging in the area, it basically had 3 walls so that the breeze could easily come through, and we had an unobstructed view of the sunset. Key words to look for when finding lodging are “chez l’habitant,” which generally suggests that there will be a local to guide you and maybe even cook for you.

Admiring the sunset from the home we rented

Renting a car is essential if you want to experience all that the island has to offer without steep taxi fares.  Although nothing is that far away, not much is walking distance.  Even neighboring beaches are often not walking distance.  Manual transmissions are the most common, so if you need to rent an automatic, do so as far in advance as possible (although, we were able to rent an automatic at the last minute).  Also, be prepared to drive in the round-abouts. Apparently, there are rules for when to enter and exit. And it’s best to do a little research to avoid learning these rules the hard way!

Homemade sorbet for sale: coconut, peanut, guava, passion fruit, melon, ginger, sugar apple... all amazing!

There’s no shortage of mosquitoes in Martinique, which is unsurprising given the tropical climate. There are also ants, and tiny geckos.  In fact, the pests were spot on similar to the types of pests that I grew up with in Louisiana.  Birds are even pest-like, as they will swoop into your kitchen and eat your fruit if you don’t keep it covered.

Since I have so much more to say, especially about the food, fruit, beaches, and people, expect a few more blog posts!

In the meantime, book your ticket!  You can still catch a crazy good fare from Norwegian Airlines (around $200 round trip) if you fly from NYC, Boston, or Baltimore. Tourist season runs November 1-April 30, and so do these great deals.