Places to Visit and Things to Do in Martinique

Martinique, Diamond Rock in the South of the island
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Luc OLIVIER/Getty Images

Martinique is one of the unique destinations in the Caribbean thanks to its French Creole culture and near-total absence of American visitors (though the latter may be changing). Martinique's capital city, Fort de France, is vibrant and inviting, while Trois Ilets serves as home base for many tourists and is one of the top places to visit on the island. St. Pierre was Martinique's capital until it was wiped off the map by a deadly volcano in 1902, and the ruins there are well worth a stop. A drive around the island will yield vistas of mountains, banana plantations, and sugarcane fields, the latter providing the raw material for the islands many rum distilleries.

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    Fort de France

    Fort de France, Martinique
    ••• Bruno De Hogues/Photolibrary/Getty Images

    Martinique's lively capital city is safe and friendly for a walking tour, and must-see stops include the Schoelcher Library (designed by Henri Picq and shipped in pieces from France in 1893). Shops and restaurants -- including French boutiques and bread shops -- are fun to explore. The town's namesake fort still looms imposingly, but it's an active military base and closed to tours. An ancient savanna marks the heart of the city. The highlight of any visit is a stop at the bustling Covered Market, full of vendors selling unusual tropical produce, local handicrafts, and folk tonics, including at least one herbal answer to Viagra.

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    Trois Ilets

    Marina in Trois Ilets, Martinique
    ••• Bob Curley

    If you're looking for bars, casino action, golf, decent dining and watersports all in one location, head to the tiny marina village of Trois Ilets. The Hotel Bakoua and others resorts are located here, making it a great base for walking to the local shops or taking the cheap ferry across to Fort de France. Restaurants serve till about 11 p.m., and you can dine by the marina or in old Creole houses. Other offerings include ice cream shops, clothing boutiques, and pizza joints. The Casino de Trois Ilets, one of Martinique's three gaming facilities, is just down the road.

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    St. Pierre

    volcano-blasted ruins of the once-grand theater in St. Pierre, Martinique
    ••• Bob Curley

    Once described as the "Paris of the Caribbean," Martinique's former capital is now the Pompeii of the Caribbean. A 1902 eruption of nearby Mount Pele killed all but one of the 20,000 residents of St. Pierre and obliterated the town. The sole survivor was an inmate in a prison cell, still visible today. Other ruins include the shell of the town's once-grand theater, and in many places, ​you can see where modern structures were built atop the stone remnants of the old town. The small seaside Musee Vulcanologique helps explain the glorious rise and tragic fall of the town.

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    Rum Distilleries

    Steam-powered machinery and barrels at Neisson rum distillery, Martinique
    ••• Bob Curley

    Rum is the agricultural lifeblood of Martinique, and there is a dozen operating rum distilleries operating on the island. Martinique is known for its agricultural rum made directly from cane, not molasses. Rum tour guide available, and there's even a special rum map that will guide you around the island. The Neisson distillery is a real working facility, soup to nuts, whereas Clement is as polished as any Napa Valley winery, with a tour that includes a botanical garden and art museum as well as a former distilling plant, aging rooms, and of course a rum tasting at the end.

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    Birthplace of Empress Josephine (Musee de la Pagarie)

    Statue of Empress Josephine from the gardens of the Musee de la Pagarie in Martinique
    ••• Bob Curley

    A controversial daughter of Martinique, Marie Josèphe Rose Tascher de La Pagerie was the child of a Trois Ilets plantation owner who married Napoleon Bonaparte but was blamed by the people of the island when slavery was reintroduced on Martinique in 1802. The house where the future empress was destroyed by a hurricane, but the kitchen survived and now houses a museum that includes some of Josephine's childhood furniture and other artifacts. The grounds also feature beautiful flower gardens and the ruins of the family sugar mill.