Volcanic in origin, Martinique is a mountainous stunner crowned by the still-smoldering Mont Pelée, the volcano that wiped out the former capital of St-Pierre in 1902. Offering a striking diversity of landscapes and atmospheres, Martinique is a cosmopolitan and sophisticated island that boasts stunning beaches, superb hiking, top-notch culinary experiences, an enormous array of activities and rich cultural life.
While it suffers from overcrowding and urban sprawl in some places, particularly in and around the busy capital, Fort-de-France, life – and travel – becomes more sedate as one heads north or south through some of the island's alluring scenery. The rainforested, mountainous northern part is the most spectacular, but the south has its fair share of natural wonders, including lovely bays and miles of gorgeous beaches. Add to this a dash of Gallic joie de vivre and you'll understand why so many people love Martinique.
Best Months to Visit
The best time to visit Martinique is either May. Temperatures stay consistent in the 80s throughout the year, but there is a chance of hurricanes in summer and fall. Planning a trip for late spring will ensure you squeeze your vacation in before the worst storms hit, and that you also avoid the crowds and marked-up prices of the island's peak season, from December to April.
What to Eat
Visitors staying in all-inclusive resorts won't have to worry about finding a restaurant, but if you're on your own, you'll find the most popular restaurants in Fort-de-France. Food on Martinique is some of the best of the Caribbean, but it can be very expensive. Many restaurants offer a prix fixe tourist menu, which often includes several courses and a drink for about the price of one entrée off the regular menu.
Martinique's cuisine is a rich fusion of French, African and Creole flavors with seafood taking the spotlight. Fishy favorites, such as conch, crab and lobster, have been given a French edge in creamy sauces and crispy gratins, accompanied by local sweet potatoes and plantain-like tubers. Travelers with a spicy palate should try a dash of chien sauce, made from onions, hot peppers, shallots, oil and vinegar.
What to Do in Martinique
Learn about the history of slavery in Martinique at La Savane des Esclaves, in Les Trois Ilets, which considers how slaves contributed uniquely to Martinican and French culture. Wander among sculptures in the botanical gardens of the distillery Habitation Clément, the birthplace of rhum agricole. Save time to tour the new contemporary art gallery Fondation Clément, which showcases modern artwork from artists throughout the Caribbean as well as ancient west African art and artifacts. And of course, there are rum tastings.
For uniquely Martinican crafts sold by the artisans who made them, head toLe Village de la Poterie. Located on a historical site established in 1783, you can purchase beautiful works, or even take pottery classes to make your own.
Where to Beach in Martinique
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 beachesof Cap Chevalier and Plage de Salines, two of the loveliest beaches on the island.
Martinique 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.
Martinique 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.
Getting Around Martinique
The best way to get around Martinique is in a car (either your rental or a cab). Even if you intend to spend most of your trip on the beach, you'll at least need to take a cab from Martinique Aimé Césaire International Airport (FDF) to either downtown Fort-de-France or the island's resort areas. Using a taxi for sightseeing, however, is a true budget crusher. Instead, rent a vehicle and begin exploring on your own. For a break from the driving, consider taking a pleasant vedette(ferry) ride between the east coast's marinas.