Traveling to Martinique is highly recommended if you’d like your dream island vacation to come with a French accent. This is the Caribbean with French panache, beautiful white-sand beaches, interesting cultural attractions, world-class sailing, a mountainous landscape with plenty of hiking opportunities, and, naturellement, delicious food and unique local rum.
Basic Travel Information
- Location: Martinique’s western shore faces the Caribbean Sea and the eastern faces the Atlantic Ocean. It’s between Dominica and St. Lucia.
- Size: 424 square miles
- Capital: Fort-de-France
- Language: French (official), Creole patois
- Religions: Mostly Roman Catholic, some Protestant
- Currency: Euro
- Area Code: 596
- Tipping: 10 to 15 percent
- Weather: The hurricane season runs June to November. Temperatures range from 75 to 85 degrees but are lower in the mountains.
Activities and Attractions
The hiking is excellent on Martinique, with options including coastal rainforest trails between Grand Rivière and Le Prêcheur, and a steep climb up the volcanic peak of Mount Pelee. Martinique also boasts a golf course, tennis courts, excellent sailing, and good windsurfing. If you’re craving culture, make sure to explore Fort-de-France, which has some interesting cathedrals, the historic Fort Saint Louis, and a couple of museums examining the island’s history. St-Pierre has a volcano museum dedicated to the 1902 eruption that buried this small city, killing all but one of its 30,000 inhabitants.
Pointe du Bout, where most of the island’s biggest resorts are located, has some small beaches that are popular with visitors. A better bet, however, is to head south to Diamond Beach, which has glossy rows of palm trees and lots of space for sunbathing and water sports. Southeast of Diamond Beach, the fishing village of Ste. Luce is known for its white-sand beaches, and at Martinique’s extreme southern tip is the town of Ste. Anne, where you’ll find the white sand beaches of Cap Chevalier and Plage de Salines, two of the loveliest beaches on the island.
Hotels and Resorts
Fort-de-France has a number of hotels, but if you want to be near the beach, strike out for the resort areas of Pointe du Bout or Les Trois Ilets. One of the island’s top hotels, the historic Habitation LaGrange, is a former plantation located about 30 minutes from the beach. Good family choices on the beach include Hotel Carayou and Karibea Sainte Luce Resort.
Restaurants and Cuisine
A happy marriage of French technique, African influences, and Caribbean ingredients has produced a widely varying cuisine. You can find everything from fresh croissant and foie gras to Creole specialties like boudin, or blood sausage. Seafood is a common ingredient, including conch, lobster, and escargot, while the island’s native produce, bananas, guava, soursop and passion fruit, is also widely used. For fine contemporary French food, try La Belle Epoque in Fort-de-France. The local Rhum Agricole is made from pressed sugar cane juice, not molasses, imparting a unique flavor.
Culture and History
When Christopher Columbus discovered Martinique in 1493, the island was inhabited by Arawak and Carib Indians. Martinique has been under French control since colonies were established in 1635. In 1974, France granted Martinique some local political and economic autonomy, which was increased in 1982 and 1983. Today, the island controls most of its affairs, with the exception of defense and security.
Martinique, also known as Paris in the tropics, has a unique blend of French, African, Creole, and West Indian influences.
Events and Festivals
Given Martinique’s fame as a sailing destination, it’s no surprise that one of its most notable events is a strikingly beautiful boat race called the Tour des Yoles Rondes. The race features wooden canoe-like vessels called yawls, which sail around the island. Other annual events include an island version of the Tour de France, a rum festival, and guitar and jazz festivals held in alternating years.
Nightlife and Performing Arts
For live music, try Cotton Club on the beach at Anse Mitan, featuring jazz and traditional island music. If you’re in the mood to dance, hit the Le Zénith in Fort-de-France or Top 50 in Trinité. For performing arts, including classical music and dance performances, Centre Martiniquais d'Action Culturelle and L’Atrium, both in Fort-de-France, are the places to check out.