Martinique Travel Guide
Stunning beaches border tropical rainforests and towering cathedrals share skyline with an imposing volcano. Tourists and residents crowd the store-lined streets and restaurant-filled back alleys of Fort-de-France, while a few miles north, foliage dampens the sounds of bird tweets and hikers. In a word: Martinique. If you want to hit the beach one day then get the adrenaline pumping the next, you'll find that this island offers both -- and does both -- well. continue»
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The best time to visit Martinique is either May or June. Temperatures stay consistent in the 80s for all of the year, but there is a chance of hurricanes in summer. 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.Best Times to Visit Martinique»
At 425 square miles, Martinique is the largest of the Windward Islands, or the southern islands in the Lesser Antilles archipelago. It's located approximately 25 miles south of Dominica and 25 miles north of St. Lucia. Martinique's western coast overlooks the Caribbean Sea while its eastern coast faces the Atlantic Ocean.
Located on the island's west coast, the capital of Fort-de-France is the largest city, as well as the business and administrative hub and home to nearly a third of Martinique's population. You'll also find several tourists attractions in the area, including Place de la Savane public garden (La Savane des Esclaves) and the St. Louis Cathedral. Historic sites include Fort St-Louis, Fort Tartenson and Fort Desaix, as well as the Schoelcher Library, which was constructed in Paris for the Exposition of 1889.
Pointe du Bout and Les Trois-Ilets
Martinique's main resort areas, Pointe du Bout and Les Trois-Ilets, sit across from Fort-de-France on Fort-de-France Bay. This region is, according to travel writers, the most developed section of the island and is home to several of Martinique's largest hotels, as well as dozens of sporting facilities, such as tennis courts and watersports centers. But this region is not only famous for being a tourist haven: Les Trois-Ilets was the birthplace of Joséphine, the first wife of Napoleon Bonaparte.
The North Loop refers to the section of the island north of Fort-de France. Its most prominent feature is Mont Pelée, a volcano whose summit reaches about 4,500 feet above sea level.
Located along the west coast of Martinique -- several miles north of Fort-de-France -- is the town of Le Carbet. Le Carbet hosted Christopher Columbus in 1502, the first French settlers in 1635 and famous painter Paul Gauguin in 1887. Much of Gauguin's work is now on display at the Centre d'Art Musée Paul-Gauguin, which occupies the artist's former home near the beach. Le Carbet is also a popular area among families because it's home to the Aqualand Martinique water park.
Farther north along the coast on the southern slopes of Mont Pelée is St. Pierre, known as the "Little Paris of the West Indies." Formerly the cultural and commercial capital of Martinique, St. Pierre witnessed the wrath of Mont Pelée in 1902 when the southern side of the mountain poured lava. Visitors can now stroll through the ruins of a once prominent city and learn about the eruption at St. Pierre's Musée Volcanologique.
Le Precheur is the last northern village along the northwest coast of Martinique. Formerly home to King Louis XIV's mistress, Madame de Maintenon, experts say that Le Precheur offers breathtaking views of Mont Pelée.
Le Marigot & Ste-Marie
On the northeast side of the island, Le Marigot does not offer much in the way of attractions, but is home to one of the finest hotels on the island, the Habitation LaGrange. South of Le Marigot, the tiny town of Ste-Marie is home to the traveler-recommended Musée du Rhum. Here, visitors can learn about the history of sugar cane harvesting and rum distilling, thanks to artifacts dating back to 1765.
Trinité & Le François
Several miles south of Ste-Marie is Trinité, a gateway to the Caravelle peninsula and the Caravelle Nature Preserve. Trinité is also the site of the historic Château Dubuc. Farther south is the town of Le François, home to the Clement House, housed in an old distillery in the basement of an 18th-century mansion.
The South Loop refers to the portion of Martinique south of Fort-de-France. According to some, it's here you'll find the island's most beautiful scenery. The area's calm Caribbean waters make it a popular place for swimmers, fishers and boaters.
Sitting south of Fort-de-France along Martinique's southwest shore is the small village of Anses-D'Arlets. The area is a favorite among scuba divers attracted by the region's wide variety of tropical fish and colorful coral. Described as charming and folkloric, the town itself features a small church and a handful of traditional restaurants serving fresh seafood and other Martiniquaise specialties.
South of Anses-D'Arlets is Le Diamant, home to the popular Diamond Beach (Le Rocher du Diamant) and a small scattering of resort hotels.
Ste-Luce & Le Marin
Although often overlooked by visitors, Ste-Luce is home to the Ecomusée de Martinique, which displays artifacts left behind by the island's Carib and Arawak Indians. Farther east is the better-known town of Le Marin, the yachting capital of Martinique.
Sitting on the southernmost tip of the island, Ste-Anne is home to the beaches of Les Salines. Many of the travel sites say Les Salines are the finest beaches in Martinique as well as a popular destination for gay travelers.
Mont Pelée doesn't erupt often (the last time reported was 1929), but when it does, the aftermath can be devastating. National Geographic warns that travelers visiting an area with an active volcano should wear long pants and sleeves when in the vicinity, and avoid rivers or low-lying regions in the immediate area. Extremely brave tourists sometimes visit the village of Le Morne Rouge to climb the sides of Mont Pelée, but experts strongly recommend you take a guided tour instead. In the case of emergency, evacuate as guided by authorities.
The best way to get around Martinique is in a car (either your rental or a taxicab). Even if you intend to spend most of your trip on the beach, you'll at least need to take a cab from Airport Martinique Aimé Césaire (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.Getting Around Martinique»