Martinique Island in French Antilles is a kind of postcard island, a tropical paradise with beautiful beaches of white sand and palm trees, sun and blue sky and fruit juices and Rum everywhere. But apart from the Martinique beaches, the so-named Ile aux Fleurs (Flower Island) is also an island of endless sugarcane fields, volcanoes, and exuberant vegetation, with very cool hikes. History, culture, and traditions also have a special place on any Martinique vacation.
Indeed, the richness of the Martinique heritage comes from the influence of various cultures with Creole, African, French and Indian influences. The Martinican heritage is rich in vestiges and survivals of the past, extraordinary sites, protected and highlighted. Many museums, distilleries, gardens, Creole houses will tell visitors about its rich and fascinating history.
Ecotourism is gaining ground in Martinique, with a general preference for tours and activities conducted responsibly to conserve the environment and sustain the well-being of local people. Martinique tourism is perfect for a romantic getaway for two but also for families and groups of friends looking for a relaxing holiday with a good choice of outdoor activities.
We visited Martinique a couple of years ago during Christmas – New Years and we loved it because our Martinique holidays were a mix of relaxing and active trip. We are not that fans of beaches but we also had our dose of hiking plus we learned many interesting things about a France which was more or less unknown to us. We did not regret not having that “dose of exotism” (after all, this is France!) we usually look for during our winter breaks: the warmth and generosity of Martinican people and their “joie de vivre” was well worth the trip.
About Martinique Island in French Antilles
La Martinique is an island located in the Caribbean Sea which is part of the French Antilles, also known as Little Antilles. Martinique Island is a French Region with a special status, more precisely one of France’s Départements d’Outre Mer (France’s Overseas Departments), also called DOM. As such, it depends on the French State, the official language is French (plus créole Martiniquais) and the currency is the euro.
OUR TIP: Overseas France consists of all the French-administered territories outside the European continent, mostly relics of the French colonial empire.
Best Things to do in Martinique, French Caribbean
What to do in Martinique for one week or two? This is our list of best things to do in Martinique, in the French Caribbean.
Saint Pierre was Martinique’s main harbor until the eruption of Montagne Pelée in 1902 which destroyed all the city and its inhabitants. Current Saint Pierre is built on the ruins of the former city and it is worth the stop for some relaxing days under the sun. Come to picturesque Saint Pierre to enjoy the beach but also to learn about the terrible eruption at Musée Vulcanologique Franck Perret and see some of its ruins (we recommend the visit to the ruins of the Old Theater). Divers eager to explore shipwrecks will find a paradise in Saint Pierre while calmer activities include the visit of Distillery Depaz to learn about the Rhum process making.
Hike the Montagne Pelée (Mount Pelee)
Montagne Pelée (1.397 m) is the active volcano which caused the destruction of Saint-Pierre, located at its foot, on 8 May 1902. Today Montagne Pelée is sleeping and it is possible to walk up to its summit, with great views over Saint-Pierre bay and the Atlantic Ocean. Montage Pelée was our favorite hike in Martinique (2km one way), starting from Le Morne-Rouge. The summit tends to be covered by clouds so we recommend starting very early in the morning for better views. If you prefer to have views of the mountain instead of views from the mountain, you just need to go for a stroll at Saint Pierre bay.
In Martinique, you are never far from beautiful beaches. Martinique beaches are for most of us Martinique’s main attraction and the main reason to travel to this beautiful island, especially when it is cold in Europe. Sainte Anne is the village with the best beaches in Martinique but we recommend exploring other parts of the island for a different atmosphere.
This is the list of the best Beaches in Martinique, according to most Martinique Travel Guides:
1. Grande Anse des Salines (Saint-Anne)
2. Anse Dufour (Les Anses d’Arlet)
3. Les Salines Beach (Saint-Anne)
4. Anse Couleuvre (Le Precheur)
5. Anse Noire (Les Anses d’Arlet)
6. La Pointe Marin (Saint-Anne)
7. Petit Anse (Les Anses d’Arlet)
8. Anse Mabouya (Sainte-Luce)
9. Baie d’Anse Mitan (Les Trois Ilets)
10. Ilet Chevalier (Saint-Anne)
The famous Grande Anse des Salines is always voted as the most beautiful Martinique beach, perhaps because it represents the beach we all have in mind when we think about the French Caribbean Island: white sand, corals, palm trees… The beach is indeed very popular with tourists and locals so if you want to avoid the crowds we recommend going during weekdays.
Personally, we preferred Anse Noire beach, near Les Anses Arlet. This is a more secluded and wild beach, surrounded by exuberant vegetation, and it takes its name from its black sand. When we picture the Paradise, it is not that different than Anse Noire : -)
OUR TIP: ‘Anse’ means in Martinique ‘little bay with not very deep waters’ (crique in French, creek in English)
Enjoy a great day out on a catamaran and see the Martinique beaches (and the Diamond Rock) from another point of view, from the water. Catamaran tours include local lunch and drinks onboard plus there are always a couple of stops to enjoy refreshing baths on the turquoise sea and snorkeling (snorkeling masks provided). In Martinique, there are different catamaran cruise options, starting from different points of the island. We tried the catamaran tour starting Trois-Ilets, from Marina de la Pointe du Bout. We visited many beautiful beaches and a grotto inhabited by small bats. We were lucky to spot some dolphins and on the way to the Diamond Rock, which played with our catamaran for a while.
Visit l’Habitation Clément (Rum Distillery)
Amongst the top things to do in Martinique, there is the visit of a Rum distillery. L’Habitation Clément, located at Le François, is a former Rum distillery converted into a museum. The setting of this domain is very beautiful, with the main house (maison de maître) surrounded by an exuberant park. During the visit, we learned the importance of the sugar cane in Martinique, and the process to transform it to obtain the famous Rum. Of course, the visit finishes with a Rum tasting and there’s the possibility to buy some Rum Clément. For information about l’Habitation Clément and Rum Clément’s history here
Hike the Presque Ile de la Caravelle
The Caravelle is the peninsula which gives Martinique Island its characteristic shape. There are many easy hikes along the Presque Ile de la Caravelle, being Le Gran Sentier (7km, around 3.5 hours) the most popular one. Starting at Trinité, Le Grand Sentier takes hikers through the forest, mangrove, cliffs, and the savannah so visitors can get a global overview of Martinique’s most beautiful landscapes in just one hike. On the way, there’s also the ruins of Dubuc Castle which can be visited for a small fee. Like for Montagne Pelée, we recommend starting early in the morning to avoid the hikes and the hottest hours. There’s no water along the way so be sure to carry enough water for all the hike.
Get Lost at Balata Garden
The Amazing Balata Garden, located in the hills of Fort-de-France, it is a must of any trip to Martinique. In this botanical garden, we can see more than 3000 species of tropical plants and flowers, it is a feast for the eyes! Balata Garden is the perfect place for a relaxing stroll in nature, with ponds topped with lotus flowers and water lilies. It is also possible to enjoy a fabulous bird view from the rope bridges installed between the biggest trees.
Explore Picturesque Small Towns
Fort-de-France is the entrance gate to Martinique and it is a very good base for many cool day tours around. However, if you really want to know Martinique, take the car and explore the island’s picturesque towns. Martinique’s pretty small towns offer visitors colorful facades, little squares, and colonial mansions while the beach with the fishermen’s boats is never far. Don’t miss the colorful markets and the souvenir stalls with interesting handicrafts. Sainte Anne was our favorite village, where we decided to stop some days for a relaxing break but of course, there are many beautiful small towns waiting to be discovered.
Cap 110 Memorial Park
Cap 110 is the name of a memorial to slavery erected on Anse Caffard beach on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the abolition of slavery, in 1998. This memorial is the work of the local artist Laurent Valère. This work pays tribute to the victims of the sinking of a clandestine slave ship carrying 300 slaves that occurred in 1830 when the traffic was already declared illegal. The work consists of 15 statues of white stone deposited on the ground. The characters look afflicted at the sea horizon. You can find more information about this work and its artist (in French) here
We could not finish this article without mentioning the créole cuisine. Martinique cuisine is another of the best things to do in Martinique, it’s a very important part of the island’s culture and traditions. The French Caribbean Islands gastronomy is mainly based on seafood, but chicken-based dishes are also very common. French Antilles’ dishes often use macerated meat and fish with a tasty seasoning to improve the flavor. Typical dishes include stuffed crabs, poulet boucané and the colombo (chicken curry most of the times), without forgetting the famous assiette créole (local blood sausage, cod fritters, salad).
Fruits and vegetables are also an important part of Martinique Cuisine. The bananas of French Antilles (Martinique and Guadeloupe) are well known for its quality and taste plus they always give an extra energy boost (don’t miss the Banana Museum in the village of Sainte Marie!). In addition to this fantastic fruit, there are many other exotic fruits, some of them (carambole, corossol) we discovered for the first time on site.
We hope that you liked our list of the best things to do in Martinique. Actually, this is only a glimpse of what the island has to offer, other places like the Diamond Rock, Sainte Anne, or Saut du Gendarme waterfall would also deserve a place on this list. But we hope that, at least, you got the inspiration to go to see it by yourself ; -)
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