Updated: Jun 10, 2020
Around Valentine's Day, I took a trip to two islands of the French Caribbean: Martinique and Guadeloupe with my fiancé and another couple. Any time I mentioned it to a person, someone would go, "Where is that?" or "Never heard of it." When I arrived, it was clear that Europeans (and not just the French) have been traveling there for years. However, it is definitely a less traveled part of the Caribbean for Americans. These two islands have been more on my radar thanks to my more well-traveled Instagram friends and Travel Noire, promoting that Norwegian Airlines has great deals from JFK during the winter months.
I took the final leap of faith to travel to both islands when a fellow traveler had nothing but good things to say about her trip to #Guadeloupe when I met her for the first time. As I saw the plane ticket prices increasing since this is a popular time to travel for Americans (President's Day weekend!), I decided to go for it.
After spending an entire week in this lesser traveled tropical paradise, I gained greater appreciation for the differences of the #Caribbean but especially the #FrenchCaribbean: delicious #FrenchCreole cuisine, a range of beaches, lush mountain scenery and various nature activities. I also realized that is less traveled (by Americans at least) not only because of normal costs but also because it takes a lot more work to plan a trip than it would to Mexico or Jamaica. However, I think the unique experience paid off!
Day 1: Arrive into Martinique
Taking Norwegian Airlines, we landed into #Martinique after a 4.5 hour flight. Once we landed in Martinique, we were picked up by an arranged taxi service who would be our driver for the week. I used Kalonji Taxi tours. Since we landed on a Sunday night, not many things were open. Staying in downtown Fort-de-France, it was a ghost town except for one corner where everyone seemed to be eating. We decided to check out "Hasta La Pizza" for dinner, where they served salads and pizzas. Nothing special but we were hungry!
TIP: I would recommend hiring a driver to get around Martinique. There is not really any reliable modes of transportation. There is no online Uber app. There are numbers you can call for taxi. However, they are very expensive and also require you to wait a long time. For example, we wanted to check out this Haitian restaurant that is a 5 minute drive but about a 20-30 min walk uphill and the taxi company wanted to charge us 30 euros each way and we had to wait at least 20-30 minutes. We decided to have our guide drop us off the next day.
Day 2: Exploring Martinique, Part 1 (Arts & Snorkeling Tour)
This started our first day of exploring. We booked an Arts & Snorkeling Tour with Kalonji Tours and Taxi (IG: @kalonjitoursandtaxi) Picking us up right from our hotel room in a van, we first drove to a spot to eat a typical homecooked creole breakfast of boiled green and yellow plantain, a slaw and sailfish. We also tried some very strong rum punch.
We then drove to explore Savanne des Esclaves, a massive park turned museum that presents aa ton of information about the native inhabitants and history of slavery on the island of Martinique. We then drove to a pottery village where of course I purchased some handmade items! Then we had our well anticipated beach time! Our first beach spot was Anse d'Arlet, which is one of the most well known beaches in Martinique. You would recognize it by the well photographed church overlooking the pier nearby, which of course had to take some flicks. We then drove to a spot for some views of Rocher du Diamant (aka Diamond Rock). Once of my favorite spots was our then stop to the Cap 110 Memorial for a photo-op. This really makes you feel like your ancestors' spirit is with you. To wrap up the tour, we made one more stop to a beach: Le Diamant, a black sand beach. Loved that it was less crowded here.
Later on in the evening, we decided to walk around to explore Downtown Fort-de-France and grab something to eat. Similarly to Sunday, it was a ghost town in the evening. There were lots of cute street murals we came across. Most of the restaurants were closed so we decided to try one that was open. Just out of curiosity, I tried KFC after. It did not taste particularly different from back home but definitely was more money.
TIP: If you are looking to explore or eat in Fort-de-France, be sure to do it during the day time as most places are closed in the evening.
Day 3: Exploring Martinique, Part 2 (Rainforest & Caribbean Tour)
This was our second and last full day in Martinique. We booked a Rainforest and Caribbean Tour with Kalonji Taxi Tours. Our first stop was driving up some winding hills to get to Sacre-Coeur de Balata, which is actually a smaller replica (1/5 of the size) of the cathedral that sits on the top of a hill in Montmarte in Paris, France. From here you can get nice views of Martinique, making it great for photo-ops, both of the church and its views. From there, we drove through the rainforest, which was extremely lush. We stopped at Cascade de Saut Gendarme, a nice waterfall, and had a a creole lunch. From there we drove into Saint Pierre, which was the first capital of Martinique. There is a a part called Le Morne-Rouge, which really celebrates Martinique's freedom from slavery evident by its many monuments. Following our mini city tour, we spent some time exploring and indulging in rum samples from Depaz Distillery. What better way to finish off the afternoon than to have more beach time at Le Carbet beach, a black-sand beach in Martinique. I loved this beach simply because it was less crowded. Before heading to the hotel, we stopped at a Haitian restaurant, which I am always down for!
TIP: If you are short on time in Martinique, I would recommend booking the Rainforest & Caribbean tour as that gives you all aspects people typically come for the Caribbean: beach, waterfall, rum distillery and views!
Day 4: Arrive into Guadeloupe
Day 4 was our transition day. We opted into a ferry service to get to Guadeloupe as the port was walking distance from our hotel. I also was thinking it would be a more scenic route. One the way to port, we stopped at a boulangerie to grab some baguettes to eat. For the ferry, you need a passport as you would get stamped as you would at the airport.
The ferry ride itself was a rough 5 hours. That is because the ferry was very bumpy and fast. It felt like we were literally riding the waves of the ocean. Motion sickness kicked in fully. I could not understand how people were so calm and unbothered. The only good part of the ferry is that you got to see the ports of Dominica, as that island is located in between Martinique and Guadeloupe.
When we arrived to Guadeloupe (which was an hour later than we anticipated), we were eventually greeted by our tour guide, Taïna, for our time in Guadeloupe. I arranged services with Guadeloupe Explor (Facebook: Guadeloupe Explor). She was extremely nice and professional, highly recommended! One thing I noticed as we drove to the hotel is that Guadeloupe is bigger than Martinique, and also has a lot more reliable bus service as a mode of public transportation. Our guide recommended we try L’Ourisan Blanc for dinner, which was walking distance from our hotel. Very tasty French food, but also for French prices (aka expensive!).
TIP: I would next time take a plane to go from one island to another. Yes, it would cost a little more money and be less convenient to get to the airport. However, it would save time in the long run and avoid severe motion sickness.
Day 5: Exploring Guadeloupe, Part 1 (Basse Terre Island Day Tour)
We started our morning off driving to Cascade aux écrevisses, a picturesque and refreshing waterfall. That water was surely cold! From there, we rushed to make it to The Cousteau Underwater Marine Reserve, which was essentially a ride on a glass bottom boat. I had never experienced anything like that before but it was truly amazing to look under the sea (yes, like the Little Mermaid). From there we stopped at La Maison du Cacao, where we got a tour and demonstration of chocolate production. If you love chocolate, I highly recommend coming to this spot. From there, we had lunch near Deshaies Beach. It was one of the best tasting meals with an epic view of the water. From there, very close by, we explored the Botanical Gardens, Jardin Botanique de Deshaies. This was probably one of my highlights of the entire trip. The gardens itself was extremely organized and it was the first time seeing such a range of tropical flowers in one spot. Based from my photos, we were so tired that we did not actually end up eating dinner, haha!
Day 6: Exploring Guadeloupe, Part 2 (Grande Terre Island Day Tour)
Considering how my first day in Guadeloupe had me falling in love with the country, I was excited for day 2. The day commenced stopping at a boulangerie and picking up some tasty, fresh baked good before driving to Saint-François for a small hike to Pointe des Châteaux. This led to very scenic views of a gorgeous coastline of the Atlantic ocean.
After the hike, we enjoyed some delicious and fresh homemade sorbet. From here, we drove to Distillerie Damoiseau for some rum tasting. This place is a lot larger than the distillery in Martinique, and our guide provided us a very comprehensive overview on the rum production. From here we ate a local Creole restaurant. The accra was delish! From here, we stopped at two points for great views from above: Grande-Vigie and Porte d'enfer Anse Bertrand. We then made our way to Anse du Souffleur Beach. Unfortunately the weather was not the best for a beach day so we just walked around stuck our feet in the water. From here, we visited Morne-à-L'eau cimetery which is known for its black and white tiles. This was something I never seen before. In the night time on our own, we checked out La Datcha night Market (Marché nocturne) in Le Gosier. Here I was able to buy some handcrafted wooden jewelry. To end the lovely day, we checked out live music at the hotel La Creole.
Day 7: Exploring Guadeloupe, Part 3 (Pointe-à-Pitre Day Tour)
This was sadly our last full day in Guadeloupe. With some advice and arrangements from our guide, we explored the capital, Pointe-à-Pitre. Taking a local bus from Le Gosier to Pointe-à-Pitre was super easy. From there, we met our city guide, who took us on an electrical Pousse-Pousse for an hour and a half ride around the city. Making several stops for us to see different monuments up close, he gave a thorough explanation of the less spoken history of Guadeloupe. For example, we stopped at Fort Fleur d'Epée and saw where slaves were enclosed in small spaces and even burned to death. From there we wandered the Marché Saint-Antoine (main market in Pointe-à-Pitre), shopping around and taking in the vibes. I had the best time chatting with locals as I made several purchases including a head wrap, jewelry, art work and a couple of dresses. The last stop in Pointe-à-Pitre was visiting the Memorial Acte Museum, a museum dedicated to the history of slavery. This museum was one of my main reasons for wanting to visit Guadeloupe, and it was definitely one of the most impactful parts of my trip. The permanent exhibit on display traces the history of slavery from the slave trade to the enslavement and abolition of slavery of Africans and then looking at celebratory milestones of the African diaspora around the world.
Day 8: Depart Guadeloupe
On the last day, since our flight was very early, we did not do anything but head straight to the airport. Our guide picked us up from the hotel and dropped us off. This was truly a memorable trip.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs):
HOW TO GET TO THE FRENCH CARIBBEAN?
When we took this trip, Norwegian Airlines had non-stop direct flights in the winter season from JFK to both Fort-de-France, Martinique and Pointe-a-Pitre, Guadeloupe. We flew to Martinique, but then flew out of Guadeloupe. To get to Guadeloupe, we took a 5 hour ferry. Although it was cool to see different ports such as Dominica, the motion sickness from the ferry literally bouncing on ocean waves was not worth it! In the future, I would probably fly to the island. While CHEAP direct flights no longer exist since Norwegian airlines stopped their flights (which started at $98 each way), you can still get to Guadeloupe directly from February to April on a Monday, Wednesday, or Friday thanks to JetBlue! I recently checked and found that they have round trip flights for under $500. There is not a direct flight to Martinique. However, from Guadeloupe, you can 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 Guadeloupe and 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!
WHAT TO KEEP IN MIND WHEN PLANNING A TRIP TO THE FRENCH CARIBBEAN?
Know some French or download Google translate. Everyone pretty much speaks French since it is still a territory of France.
The currency used is the euro. As a result, compared to other Caribbean islands, things are not as cheap here.
It is best to hire a driver as main attractions are not close to each other. Taxis are super expensive. In terms of renting a car, I have read about bad experiences with that online. Also, many cars are stick shift. Guadeloupe it is easier to get around by bus than Martinique but I am unsure if it will take you close to the nature attractions.
If you want more detailed information for planning your trip to Martinique or Guadeloupe, I would recommend staying tuned for upcoming posts. I will write a guide for each island, providing more in depth information in terms of where to stay, what eat, what to do, and other FAQs specific to each island. I will also write a specific guide on how to travel to experience the Black Caribbean history and culture of both islands.