The island of Martinique is part of the French Republic. The Arawak people were the original inhabitants of the island. They were joined by the Caribs, people who migrated to the islands from the mainland in approximately 1201. Martinique is one of the Windward Islands and is located north of St. Lucia, northwest of Barbados and south of Dominica. Columbus mapped the island in 1493 and landed there in 1502. The island was colonized by France and is currently an overseas département of France, featuring a mix of French and Caribbean cultures. It is considered an Outermost Region (OMR) of the European Union and uses the euro currency. The official language of Martinique is French, but a version of Creole is also spoken there. The island has a high standard of living, and French products and brands are widely available there. As a tourist destination, the island has long attracted visitors from around the world. Here are the top 10 Attractions on Martinique
1. The Balata Botanical Garden
This garden is located near Fort-de-France and features over 3,000 species of tropical plants. Its flowers and other greenery cascade downhill past ponds displaying water lilies and lotus blooms. Visitors can walk on raised wooden rope bridges that hang in the treetops to gain an aerial view of the lush tropical environment. There are many benches located throughout the gardens where visitors can sit and watch hummingbirds and enjoy the expansive mountain views.
2. Les Salines
Located south of Sainte-Anne, this beach has been described as the most beautiful and popular on the island. It was named for a neighboring salt pond and extends for one kilometer along the southern coast of Martinique. It features calm waters and white sand, coconut palms that provide an exotic frame for views of the Caribbean Sea, and patches of shade where visitors can bask in a perfect example of a tropical paradise. While crowded on weekends, week days offer a calm and relaxing environment. There are vendors behind the beach that offer food and drinks.
3. Musée de la Pagerie
This former sugar estate was the birthplace of Marie Joseph Rose Tascher de la Pagerie,, the woman who would become the Empress Josephine, wife of Napoleon. The partly restored stone construction includes exhibits of personal items belonging to Josephine, including love letters from Napoleon and a marriage certificate. The museum provides tour guides who talk about Josephine’s childhood and her arranged marriage to France’s emperor. The site also features a kitchen house and garden that can be visited. The tour offers a view of life on Martinique for the island’s colonizers.
4. La Savane des Esclavese
For a view of what live was like for Martinique’s enslaved population, visitors can tour this reconstructed slave village near the Musée de la Pagerie. The reconstruction displays traditional huts with earthen floors and roofs made from sugarcane leaves. The story of slavery on the island is told through mahogany sculptures that illustrate the lives of the enslaved people, their attempts to escape, and their ultimate liberation. There are also exhibits displaying the traditional skills of the people and their foods. It includes a garden in which the fruits and vegetables and medicinal plants on which these people depended are growing.
This city is the capital of Martinique, its main port, and the starting point for travelers visiting the island. The city features the colorful Bibliothèque Schoelcher, a building that was constructed in Paris and shown at the 1889 World Exposition. After which it was taken apart and shipped to Martinique where it was reassembled. Its other architectural attractions include Fort Royal, the Palais de Justice, and the Cathédrale Saint-Louis . there is also an archeological museum that displays the pre-Columbian history of the island and a regional history museum that exhibits Creole furnishings, jewelry, and musical instruments. Visitors can also enjoy locally grown fruits, nuts, and spices along with a craft market.
6. Hiking on Mount Pelée
Mount Pelée is an active volcano. Its eruption on May 8, 1902, destroyed the city of Saint-Pierre, which had been known as “The Paris of the Caribbean” in its heyday. Visitors who hike to the top of the mountain can experience amazing views of the Atlantic Ocean, neighboring mountain peaks, and the island nation of Dominica. There are hiking trails of different levels of difficulty so the adventure can be enjoyed by everyone. The most popular hike runs from Aloupa Bouillon. All the trails are considered hazardous in the rain so weather conditions should be monitored before embarking on the activity.
7. Diamond Rock
This geological feature rises straight up out of the sea off the southern coast of the island. It is the location of a unique piece of naval history as in 1804, the British dropped off a number of sailors here and registered the rock as the ship HMS Diamond Rock. After more than a year, the British on the rock were defeated by the French who took possession of the site. Today, Diamond Rock marks one of the best diving sites off Martinique. It is located near the town of Le Diamant. On the hill overlooking the rock is a memorial to victims of an 1830s shipwreck that killed many of its passengers including 20 enslaved people who were chained to the boat. Twenty statues facing the sea now commemorate the turbulent history of Martinique at this site.
8. Les Trois-Ilets
This site is popular with tourists and features a variety of hotels, restaurants, and other attractions that tell the story of the island’s history and culture. Two of the attractions focus on the former sugarcane and pottery industries of Martinique. The area is also home to boutique clothing stores, local jewelry makers, and ceramic artists. The Maison de la Canne, or the House of Sugar, offers exhibits relating to the sugarcane days in what had been a sugar factory. Visitors can learn about sugar production and history, from the slave trade to industrialization. Nearby is one of the best beaches on Martinique, Anse Milan.
The modern town of Saint-Pierre is built among the ruins of the old city, which was destroyed by the volcanic eruption of Mount Pelée in 1902. Visitors can tour stone ruins, including the prison cell of the lone survivor of the disaster, a prisoner protected by the cell’s thick walls. The Musée Volcanologique offers displays of the remains of items saved from the old town and harbor after the eruption. As all but one of the boats in the harbor at the time of the disaster sank due to the tidal wave that resulted, the area is favored by scuba enthusiastic who can dive down to the wrecks.
10. Château Dubuc and the Caravelle Peninsula
The chateau is the former home of the Dubuc family, wealthy sugar growers who owned the entire peninsula in the 18th century. The ruins of the site can be toured, and the location offers the best place to learn about the history of the sugarcane industry that was so important to the economy of Martinique. Exhibits explain each part of the site and the activities that occurred there, including the grinding of the raw sugar cane to the shipping of molasses from the dock of the estate. Lovers of nature will enjoy the Caravelle Peninsula’s nature trail that goes through a mangrove forest and provides excellent views of the island’s coastline. A nature preserve features examples of over 150 species of local plants and indigenous birds.
Photo by Teddy Charti on Unsplash