Updated: Jun 10, 2020
Thanks to a flight deal (who does not love a good flight deal?!?), I got the opportunity to travel to this underrated island in February, 2019. Let's be real for a moment. How many of you have heard of this island (*a few hands*)? How many of you know where this island is on the map? (*no hands*). It's OK because even though I had heard of it, I myself did not know where it was located until it was almost time for the trip. At that point, I figured that it was a good time to actually pull up a map and see where it was situated with respect to the rest of the islands.
What should you know about Martinique?
Martinique is an overseas department of France. Basically, they are under French rule and are considered French citizens with all of the privileges that come with a French passport while being situated in the Caribbean. Some would say that it is "Paris in the Caribbean."
Martinique's current cultural influences is a combination of African, French and Creole.
Christopher Columbus, who landed in 1502, titled the island Martinique. Prior to Columbus, the island was named "Jouanacaëra-Matinino," a Taino name meaning 'mythical island'.
On two occasions, the island actually came under British rule: the first time during the Seven Years War and the second time during the Napoleonic wars.
TOP HIGHLIGHTS YOU MUST CHECK OUT IN MARTINIQUE:
1. Explore La Savanne des Esclaves (Savannah of Slaves): Located in Trois-Ilets, it is a massive park turned museum at the edge of the forest that presents a ton of information about the native inhabitants and history of slavery on the island. For example, I learned that the island was inhabited by the Carib and Arawak people, and that the Carib people may have exterminated the Arawaks. This open-air museum is a replica of a village during the post-slavery times in #Martinique and has everything from wooden houses to plants growing in the garden that reflect the time period. There are guide tours given on a regular basis as well. It is super helpful that everything is translated in French and English. The best part: it is black-owned!
2.Shop at Village de la Potterie (Pottery Village): This is a great spot to explore if you are looking for handcrafted souvenirs to purchase. Located since 1793 in a former Jesuit monastery in #TroisIlets, the first thing you notice is the rich color ground formed from natural clay. Interestingly enough, one shop sold many Haitian art pieces as well. That is the Creole connection! You can also watch how the pottery is made. Coming here is a great way to buy local and support the people on the island!
3. Experience the beaches: Who goes to the Caribbean without experiencing the beaches? Martinique definitely has its fair share of beaches to check out. For example, Anse d’Arlet is in a cute fishing village with a charming church and cute Creole houses. This area has many tourists because of its proximity to the Church of St. Henry, which is one of the most photographed sites in Martinique. Looking for a quieter #beach that is not in the center of the action? Check out Le Diamant, the island’s longest beach that is surrounded by Atlantic waters and has black sand. Another gray-black sand beach that I would recommend is in Le Carbet. The beaches here are particularly relaxing with calm waters, tall trees and Mount Pelee in the backdrop. Very picturesque!
4. Visit Cap 110 Memorial: This was one of the main sites that I wanted to see in Martinique, not just for the photo-op, but for the historical significance as well. Created by sculptor Laurent Valére, these statues were built at Anse Caffard during the 150th anniversary of the abolition of slavery on the island. It is a memorial dedicated to the tragic event involving a cargo ship carrying slaves (at the time slavery was illegal) that crashed into Martinique’s Diamond Rock Mountain near this beach due to a storm. Some bodies were recovered, but most were destroyed. The white concrete symbolizes mourning in the Caribbean. The triangular shape is the triangular trade between Europe, Africa, and the Americas. The statues all look towards the sea that took their lives.
5. Taste rum at Depaz distillery: When in the Caribbean, you must check a rum distillery. I mean, come on, rum was invented in the Caribbean! This particular distillery sits on a plantation in Saint-Pierre and dates back to 1651, before St. Pierre became the first capital of Martinique. This city was wiped out due to a volcano. Oddly enough, a member of the family was off the island, so he was the only one alive from the family. Years later, he returned to the island and rebuilt the estate. Today, it is still a well functioning rum distillery. You can see how the rum is produced and then head to the reception for free samples of different flavors of rum.
6. Visit Saute du Gendarme waterfall: I don’t know about you, but I love a good waterfall. I never follow TLC’s advice. I recommend checking out this waterfall not so much for the waterfall itself (as it probably won’t be the most impressive waterfall you have seen), but rather for the drive to it. You will drive through some lush rainforests on the way. You can also stop on the road to get some fresh coconut water while jamming to some Martinican tunes.
HIGHLIGHTS TO CHECK OUT IF YOU HAVE MORE TIME:
7. Take in views at Diamant Rock: This is one of the sites most known in Martinique. I think it is worth checking it out as a thing to check off, but it's not a necessity. Although seems like just another rock at plain sight, it makes more sense why people make such a big deal about it once you understand the history. Forced millions of years ago as a result of volcano activity, it is worth stopping by for at least 10 minutes in order to read the boards with information as well as take some pictures from an observation deck setup. Beware, however, that it is a windy area!
8. Stop for a photo-op at Sacre Coeur: If you like churches or Paris, you should come here. This church is a smaller replica (⅕ of the size) of the cathedral that sits on top of a hill in Montmarte (Paris, France). The church sits on top of a hill overlooking Martinique. The inside is an example of the more simplistic styles of Caribbean churches. From this hill, you can get great views of the city of Fort-de-France. Be sure to get photo-ops all around, whether you are interested in the views or the church.
9. Explore Downtown Fort-de-France: I would recommend doing this during the day as the area is practically a ghost town at night with the exception of by the park and a couple of food spots. Because we were there during the earlier part of the week, we also did not get to experience as much either. However, during my night time walk in search of food, many of the streets looked pretty as they were lit. There are some eye catching street murals as well as museums and a gorgeous library to check out during the day time.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS:
TRANSPORTATION: How do I get to and around Martinique?
When we took this trip, Norwegian Airlines had non-stop direct flights in the winter season from JFK to Fort-de-France, Martinique. We flew to Martinique, but then flew out of Guadeloupe as we wanted to see both islands. While CHEAP direct flights no longer exist since Norwegian airlines stopped their flights (which started at $98 each way), you can still get to Martinique fro February to April on a Monday, Wednesday, or Friday thanks to JetBlue! Just fly to Guadeloupe for under $500, then take a short flight on Air Caraibes, Air Antilles, or Air France for as low as $67 one way. That is a significant game changer as in the past, your only options to get to the French Caribbean were to either get a flight to Antigua or Barbados at which point you would have a very long layover before you could be able to fly to Martinique. You could have also taken flights that require at least 2-3 stops at various Caribbean islands. Unfortunately if you travel outside of the February-April window, you will still face these challenges. Traveling from NYC in this fashion would cost between $700-1,000 at bare minimum. Definitely plan accordingly!
Once you are in Martinique, it is best to hire a driver or rent a car. Almost every person who I talked to or almost every comment I read said to rent a car. However, since I do not drive, we hired a driver as the main attractions are not close to each other. Taxis are super expensive and inconvenient as well. For example, we wanted to check out this Haitian restaurant that is a 5 minute drive away, but is about a 20-30 min walk uphill. As a result, the taxi company wanted to charge us 30 euros each way with a 20-30 minute wait time. In terms of renting a car, many cars are stick shift. During my time in Martinique, I used Kalonji Tours and Taxi (IG: @kalonjitoursandtaxi)
LODGING: Where should I stay in Martinique?
I stayed at a hotel in Fort-de-France because it was a central area, was fairly close to the airport and was also very close to the pier where we took a ferry to get to Martinique. Fort-de-France was also a central place for our driver to pick us up each day for our excursions. In addition, looking at hotels, it was cheaper in that area. However, if you are wanting to stay in an area that gives you beach vibes, you should go to a different part. Fort-de-France was definitely city vibes all the way!