It has been so long since I’ve sat down to blog. I’m sorry. I meant to take a little mini-break and then the weeks went by and I had to plan some last minute travel to Martinique (poor me!). You see, Norwegian had these phenomenal flight deals, and I just had to take advantage of it. I mean, $180 round trip from Boston! That good! Try to understand, k? New year, new leaf (maybe).
So you want to know about things to do in Martinique, right? Well, let’s start off with what this little island is all about. In a nutshell: it’s Caribbean, it’s French, a little rough around the edges yet beautiful, tropical, and (mostly) non-touristy. Martinique is in the French Antilles in the Caribbean, sandwiched between Saint Lucia and Dominica. Only 420 square miles, Martinique is made of volcanic rock, and still has an active volcano. Waterfalls, hiking, beaches and great food are all on this list of things to do in Martinique. Brace yourselves, this Martinique travel guide is a little lengthy.
Martinique Travel Guide
Hike a Volcano
Mount Pelée is an active volcano on the north end of Martinique. It last erupted in 1902, killing over 30,000 people and virtually wiping out the former capital of Saint-Pierre. For now, the volcano sleeps, but geologists are keeping a watchful eye. There are three trails that take you to the summit of Mount Pelée, which range in length and intensity. One thing is for sure: do it on a clear day. This elusive volcano is often shrouded in clouds, which only thicken as you reach higher altitudes. Check out the routes to the top here.
Hiking on Martinique
Not up for a steep climb to the top of an active volcano? There is still plenty to do for hiking around the island. With it’s 30+ trails and 80+ miles of hiking, there is something to suit everyone traveling to Martinique. In the north end, you’ll find heavily forested hikes that include towering trees, waterfalls and creeks. The trees provide a cooler environment and some protection from the sun, but don’t afford great views. The south part of the island is drier where you’ll find cactus and low-lying shrubs.
Most of the hiking on Caravelle Peninsula, on the east coast of Martinique, is at the very tip of the peninsula, and part of it is (sort of) still paved. You can hike all the way to the top, as well as up to an old lighthouse with fabulous views (on a clear day), or you can hike to the ruins of an old rum distillery.
A hike to Anse Couleuvre, a beach on the north end of the island, includes a forest, a waterfall, a creek crossing, ruins of an old distillery (are you sensing a trend?) and finally dumps you off at a gorgeous black sand beach. Definitely worth a trip, especially combined with a visit to Anse Ceron and Saint-Pierre.
There are several more hikes, such as those from Basse Pointe along the forested coast line as well the “Trace des Caps” trail on the south end that stops at a petrified savannah. For more information on these and other hikes, check out this site.
Go Beach Hopping
So many beaches, so little time is a cliche I said often while on Martinique (I love a little corniness from time to time, it’s good for my nerdy soul). The beaches on the south side of island are arguably the most “Caribbean” looking, with their palm tree lined white sand beaches. These included Salines, Saint-Anne, Le Diamant and (my personal favorite) Petite Anse.
The beaches on the north side are rugged and untouched, with black sand. We just adored Anse Ceron, where our footprints were the only ones for quite some time.
On the east end of Martinique, we really enjoyed visiting the beaches on Presqu’Île de la Caravelle, a nature preserve on a peninsula. You’ll find several coves with beaches, and there are several more you can hike to as well.
Eat Local Food
The food in Martinique was delicious and surprisingly not all that heavy, although the portions were quite large. What to try: Pork Colombo, is slow cooked in a curry type seasoning, so. freaking. good. Pork skewers grilled with spices and peppers. Boudin sausage was out of this world. Accras, which the island is famous for, are seasoned and fried balls of fish and flour. Any fresh grilled fish will be delicious. Mashed lentils (mousselline) were slightly sweet and served with fried onions on top. Christophine au gratin is cheesy and creamy squash baked in it’s own shell. French pastries are amazing on Martinique, this is tropical France! The list really does go on. Food was fresh, relatively inexpensive, and portions were huge. Be sure to try a few planteurs (rum and fresh juice) while you’re there!
Take a step back in time
Admittedly, we did not spend any time in Fort-de-France. I really would have liked to see the market and the Schoelcher Library. I don’t really have a thing for libraries, but Victor Schoelcher shipped it in pieces from France in 1889. That’s pretty impressive. Fort Saint-Louis, built in 1640 is also on any history buff’s Martinique itinerary. If you’re into churches, Fort-de-France has a pretty impressive one at St. Louis Cathedral, but nearly every village has a small and quaint one as well.
There are also several ruins you can hike to that were pretty cool. One near Anse Couleuvre and another near Presqu’Île de la Caravelle (see hiking above). Both hikes are easy, especially if done in the morning. My favorite thing about both of these were that we were nearly the only ones there. I guess most people just stick to Fort de France and Trois Îlets.
Saint-Pierre offers a look back into the 1902 eruption of Mount Pelée, as a few structures withstood the eruption. On your list should be: Cachot Cyparis (the dungeon where the lone survivor was imprisoned during the eruption), behind which is the old theater and the Volcanological Museum which houses other artifacts.
Just off the road after you drive through Le Diamant village is the memorial of Anse Cafard. On April 30, 1830 a ship carrying a group of Africans meant to be brought to Martinique for slavery, sank off the coast of Le Diamant. Over 40 prisoners, shackled together in the hull of the ship, drowned. The memorial looks out over the site where the ship sank. You can walk right up the statues, sit with them even, and just soak in the history of that tragic night and what those people must have gone through. It is extremely moving.
Tour rum distilleries
There are 14 distilleries in Martinique. FOURTEEN. That seems like a lot, and it is. This is part of the claim to fame of Martinique! Visiting them all will take up your whole vacation, and we much preferred to sample them at the local hole-in-wall bar down the street from our apartment. We even made our own at our apartment with some fresh “jus de canne” (sugar cane juice) we bought from a guy on the side of the road. We did manage to go to one rum distillery in Martinique (Habitacion Clement) the tour cost about 12Euro, included a tasting, and was a waste on us in French. So we just spent our money on actual rum and left.
Spend time underwater
Diving is a fabulous past time in Martinique, and it’s surprisingly affordable. There are several great dive spots surrounding the island, but for some reason I just couldn’t force myself on a dive boat this trip. We chose to spend most of our time above water (I was feeling SUPER lazy), and I opted for snorkeling at Petite Anse (also my favorite beach spot) several times. We saw a school of squid (so cool when they swim backwards in unison), loads of fish and lobster. The fish were so inquisitive, almost scarily so, swimming right up to my mask and following me around. Some people even spot sea turtles, but I wasn’t so lucky. Check out the video of snorkeling around Petite Anse below.
Live like a local
Since Martinique is a French island, you’ll find apartments much easier to rent for a week than you will a good and affordable hotel to stay in. Try looking for something on HomeAway, and get a kitchen so you can self-cater your own meals when you want (which I chose to mostly not, as I said – lazy).
Logistics of traveling to Martinique
I’m a total dunce and knew no French before this trip. Ok, I still don’t know any French. It was very frustrating. Most visitors to Martinique are French and not that many people on the island speak English. People tried, and we laughed a lot, and used a lot of pointing, and man – they were just so damn nice to this American dumbass. A little French would have made a huge difference. At the VERY least, invest in a French phrasebook. I used it often! At a minimum, it shows you are willing to make a meager attempt to butcher French.
The currency in Martinique is the Euro, which were very easy to obtain from any ATM on the island. For credit cards, (if places even accept them) your best bet is a Visa with a chip in it. We paid cash for almost everything while there. Americans will also need an adapter, as the plugs in Martinique are European style. Wifi was nearly non-existent, so we chose to mostly unplug (except for a few posts on Instagram, of course!).
Renting a car in Martinique
Renting a car was easy and (mostly) painless. I have no idea why, but everyone seemed to rent through Avis, so the lines were really long. We rented from JumboCar and were behind one other group (and we were second to last getting off the plane). We had an early flight out, and nearly missed it because no one told us to drop the car off at the airport the day of departure. You just park the car right behind the Burger King in the parking lot and hand the keys to the lady at the desk. Trust me, it’s much easier than waiting too long at the return for no one to show up, then asking some random guy in a version-of-French-no-one-knows-but-me to use their phone, and then running full sprint to the plane. Exercise!
Most cars are manual transmission. The roads are easy to navigate and there are turnabouts EVERYWHERE. We found the drivers typical of city driving in the US, slightly impatient and a little heavy footed. We loved driving around the island and the flexibility it provided. We arrived at night and had no issues finding our apartment.
We found ample parking all over the island at various beaches and villages. It is vital to get the smallest car you possibly can, especially if you aren’t used to parking/driving in tight spaces. We loved the little Renault we got! As always, pack light, the trunks on these things are teensy. I took a couple short videos of driving through the villages. The main roads are just like main roads anywhere else.
Where to stay in Martinique
We rented an apartment using HomeAway and we loved it. We stayed in Le Diamant, which was a lovely spot. The beach was great for walking, but only good for swimming if you like being pummeled by waves (woot!). We LOVED the food at Soup & Cie right behind the market. There were a few bakeries in the village where we ate too many chocolate croissants, and we could walk to the beach from our place. Le Diamant was also only a 30 minute drive from the airport. The downside is that it was a 2 hour+ drive to Saint Pierre, and 1+ to Trinite. While I loved Petite Anse, it was even further from everything, adding 20 minutes to your drive. I would consider renting a place in Tartane next time as well.
Can you believe there are even more things to do in Martinique than I listed here?! Our week there only allowed us to do such a small portion (my lazy mood didn’t help it, either). We drank planteurs on the beach, laughing and talking about life, reading when we felt like it, hiking if we felt like it. Then we’d drive to another beach, and repeat. It was relaxing and perfect. Get there soon, before all these new flights ruin it.
P.S. In between beaches, I manages to finally read The Martian while we were in Martinique, it’s soo good (if you like sci-fi, which I DO), right?!
What would be on your perfect Martinique Itinerary? What did I leave out?
Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. If you click on one and make a purchase, I may make a few dollars at no extra cost to you. As always, these opinions are my own and we have found these products/services useful during our travels and only recommend them because we think they will benefit you too. You can read more here.