Situated in the heart of the Caribbean archipelago, Martinique belongs to the “Windward Islands” of the Lesser Antilles. Its coasts are lapped in the east by the Atlantic Ocean and in the west by the Caribbean Sea. Martinique is 4,350 miles from Paris, 1,950 miles
from New York, and 275 miles from the coast of South America, its nearest neighbors to the north are Dominica (16 miles away) and Guadeloupe (75 miles), and its nearest neighbor to the south is Saint Lucia (23 miles). Martinique is equidistant between Venezuela and Haiti/Domincan Republic, at 497 miles from both.
Martinique is 425 square miles in size. It is 50 miles long at its longest, and just over 24 miles wide at its widest. The northern part of the island is geologically young and active, characterized by mountains (Mount Pelée is the highest at 4,483 feet), dense forests,
rivers, and cascades. In the center, the Lamentin Plain makes the transition from the mountainous north to the south’s gentler and geologically older landscape
of rolling hills. The southern coast is dotted with many lovely bays and coves. In the southernmost part of the island, a savanna of petrified trees is a true geological
The climate is relatively mild in Martinique. It never gets very hot. The average temperature of 79 degrees graces the island with an “eternal summer.” Breezes
from the east and northeast, the Alizés, constantly cool and refresh the island.
There are two climatic and three tourist seasons on Martinique. The high season is between December and the end of April, with soaring prices and great crowds of travellers. From May to the end of November, Europeans tend to go elsewhere, as the weather is fine back home and travel possibilities are numerous. Summer months (July and August) are a sort of intermediate season, as Martinique and Guadeloupe residents often take advantage of the good weather to visit the mainland. Prices and tourist services, as well as airplane tickets tend to be rather pricy, or even extremely expensive at this period, so be sure to book in advance to avoid paying double.
All in all, if you wish to avoid tourist masses but still take advantage of a pleasant temperature, we would advise you to visit the island between April and June, as the climate in this period of the year is rather dry with an acceptable level of humidity, and tariffs are still quite on the low side. July and August are hot and humid months, but don’t be discouraged by tourist clichés saying that the so-called “cyclone” period is a horrible one: it does rain rather often, but the weather is still rather pleasant especially if you are planning to sightsee. Don’t count on taking a cruise ship in September, though, as you have considerably higher chances of meeting up with a hurricane or a tropical thunderstorm in this season.
it was in 1502, on his fourth voyage to the New World, that Christopher Columbus landed in Martinique. At that time, the island was inhabited by the Carib Indians, who had earlier chased out the Arawak Indians. Like the Caribs, the Arawaks had originally come from the Orinoco River Valley, near the northern coast of South America. It was on Columbus’ arrival that Martinique was dubbed Madinina, « the island of flowers ».
Historical sites worth seeing include La Pagerie, where Napoléon’s Empress Joséphine was born in 1763 (the year that France relinquished rights to Canada in exchange for the French West Indies); Diamond Rock, a 600-ft. pinnacle in the sea manned by the British in 1804 and occupied by them as a sloop of war for 18 months, and St-Pierre, Martinique’s principal city until May 8, 1902, when Mt. Pelée Volcano erupted, wiping out the city and its 30,000 people in three minutes.
Since 1635, with the exception of two short periods British occupation, Martinique’s destiny was tied to France. Today, Martinique is simultaneously an official department of France (since 1946) and an official region of France (since 1982). The seat of the
prefectural government, Fort-de-France, is the main administrative and economic center of Martinique.
Martinique is divided into three sub-prefectures :
- Trinité, covering the northern Atlantic coast
- Saint-Pierre, covering the northern Caribbean coast
- Le Marin, covering the south
Flora and Fauna
Due to its tropical climate, Martinique is covered with a mantle of lush vegetation: sumptuous rainforests, bush, savannah, and innumerable species of trees, fruits,
plants and flowers… and don’t forget the mangroves. This ensemble makes Martinique an extraordinary garden.
The fauna is essentially composed of birds, fish and crustaceans, but there are also iguanas, small lizards galled mabouyas or anolis, and trigonocephale snakes unique to the island. The manicou, a kind of possum, one of the few mammals to have made the Antilles their home. The mongoose, on the other hand, was introduced by man to keep the snake population in check.
For stays up to three months, U.S. and Canadian citizens traveling as tourists must have a valid passport along with a medical insurance certificate covering their trip
For stays over three months, or for non-tourist visits, a valid passport with a visa is necessary. Resident aliens of the U.S. and Canada, and visitors from countries other than those of the European Union (E.U.) and Japan, must have a valid passport and visa. A return or onward ticket is also required of all visitors. No vaccination papers required unless arriving from an endemic area.
- From Paris: Air Caraïbes , Air France , CorsairFly  ~450+€ round trip
- From Venezuela: Avior Airlines  ~180€ each way.
- From Guadeloupe: Air Caraïbes  ~150€ round trip.
- From Germany, FRA (via Paris): Air France  ~700€ round trip.
- From USA, American Airlines (American Eagle) is offering flights to Martinique
- Air France is offering flights to Martinique out of Miami
From the surrounding islands, you can use these ferry companies:
* Express des Iles
* Brudey Frères
Public transport in Martinique is very limited, which could explain the reason why there are more cars registered in Martinique per person than anywhere else in France.
Despite the traffic, if you are going to make the most of your stay in Martinique, it is recommended that you hire a car. Without a car you will miss some of Martinique’s best landscapes and scenery.
Due to the Taxi Union demands, there is no public transport from the airport, which means that you can either hire a car or take a taxi.
Taxis: in Martinique are not cheap. The taxi fare from the airport to Fort-de-France is around 20 euros, 38 euros to Pointe du Bout and Le Francois and 55 euros to Sainte-Anne. Be warned that taxis operate an extortionate 40% surcharge between 8pm and 6am as well as on Sundays and public holidays. To call a taxi 24hrs dial 0596 63 10 10 or 0596 63 63 62.
Buses: There are very few buses in Martinique. Most bus services are mini buses marked “TC”, which stands for “Taxi Collectifs”. The destinations of the buses are marked on a board either on the front window or on the side door. Bus stops (arret autobus) are normally a square blue sign with a picture of a bus in white. Most Taxi Collectifs depart and arrive at the Taxi Collectif Terminal at Pointe Sinon in Fort-de-France. They cost approximately 5 euros to Saint-Pierre, Pointe du Bout and Diamant, 7 euros to Sainte-Anne and 9 euros to Grand-Rivière. There are no timetables and the service can be unreliable. Most services are finished by 6pm weekdays and 1pm on Saturday. There are no services on Sundays.
Shuttle Boats: There are shuttle boats every 30mins from Pointe du Bout and Trois Ilet to Fort-de-France. It is a very pleasant way of getting to Fort-de-France and also avoids the traffic. Services finish between 5:45 and 8pm depending upon the day.
Hitchhiking is very common in Martinique, although like anywhere in the world not recommended. If you are going to hitchhike, take lots of water and try to stay out of the sun. There are very few footpaths in Martinique, so be careful and take the usual precautions that you have to take when hitchhiking anywhere. If you are unsure about getting into a car, just keep walking or wait for another car.
Driving in Martinique will be a pleasure in comparison to other Caribbean islands. The majority of roads are of an excellent standard.
Your driving license from your home country is valid in Martinique. Driving laws are the same as in France and you have to drive on the right hand side of the road. Distances and speed limits are in Km and Km/h. There are several speed cameras on the island and the Gendarmerie are carrying out an increasing number of speed checks, so you should always watch your speed. Unless otherwise stated, the speed limit is generally 50km/h in towns, 90km/h on major roads and 110km/h on the autoroute between the airport and Fort-de-France.
When travelling to the airport during rush hours, allow plenty of time. The N5 and Lamentin can get very busy. It is particularly busy between 06:30 and 09:30 and between 15:30 and 18:30. Source: Discover Martinique
* Windward Islands – Windward Islands, one of the worlds largest yacht charter companies, can take care of all charter requirements, from bareboat to crewed in Martinique, Guadeloupe and St Martin. Operating from 8 international offices (USA, UK, Germany, France, Spain, Switzerland, Caribbean, Monaco).
French and Creole patois are spoken on the islands; English is spoken in most tourist and resort areas.
Sightseeing and Attractions
Martinique’s capital is wonderful to explore on foot. Among the sightseeing attractions is the city’s architectural masterpiece, the Bibliothèque Schoelcher, or Schoelcher Library, a Romanesque-Byzantine gem built more than 100 years ago for the Paris Exposition of 1889, then dismantled and shipped to Martinique mosaic by mosaic. Named for Victor Schoelcher, the French abolitionist whose work helped end slavery on the island in 1848, it sits just off La Savane, the city’s Central Park. La Savane’s gardens make for nice strolling and picture taking. The edge nearest the bay has a market for crafts, straw goods and souvenirs. The park boasts two impressive statues: one of Marie Josèphe Rose Tascher de la Pagerie, who was born in Trois-Ilets across the bay, and made history as Napoléon’s Empress Joséphine, the other of Pierre Belain d’Esnambuc, the French nobleman who claimed the island for France in 1635. Two years later the first settlers built a wooden fort on the small peninsula south of La Savane, which was enlarged in 1640 and became the very strategic Fort Saint-Louis. A French naval post today, it can be visited Monday to Saturday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
The capital’s narrow balconied streets, lined with shops and restaurants, each lead to a pleasant discovery: The Cathedral of Saint-Louis, built and rebuilt seven times over the centuries (most recently in 1895), topped with a 200-foot steeple and ad-mired for its iron framework, decorated transepts and magnificent organ; the Palais de Justice, whose four neoclassical buildings surround a statue of Schoelcher; Le Théatre Municipal, the former city hall, used now for theatrical productions and art shows; the Musée Départemental with archeological finds from prehistoric times; the Musée Régional d’Histoire et d’Ethnographie which retraces the history and the ethnography of Martinique.
The North Coast
The classic tour of Martinique travels north along the Caribbean coast to St-Pierre, the “Paris of the West Indies” until 1902 when Mont Pelée Volcano erupted and turned it into a New World Pompeii. A museum on the spot vividly portrays the tragedy. A nice way to visit this historic town is on the little train, the Cyparis Express.Take the time to visit the Centre de Découverte des Sciences de la Terre (Earth Sciences Discovery Center). In 1990, St-Pierre was designated a Ville d’Art et d’Histoire. The drive from Fort-de-France takes about an hour, but stops along the way are recommended, including the fishing villages of Case-Pilote, Bellefontaine, and especially Carbet.
Carbet, whose seaside houses a number of delightful seafood and lobster reseat-rants, is the last village before St-Pierre. This is where Columbus landed in 1502 and where Gauguin lived and painted in 1887. The exact spot at Anse Turin that was the famous artist’s home is now the Paul Gauguin Museum, open daily and well worth a visit.
Half an hour past St-Pierre is Habitation Céron, a 17th-century sugar estate re-stored by the Marraud des Grottes family, boasting impressive vegetation and huge, centuries-old trees. To the north is Le Prêcheur, the last village along this Caribbean coast, known for hot springs of volcanic origin and the Tomb of the Carib Indians. Inland is Morne Rouge, a pretty town with a cool climate and site of MacIntosh Plantation, which cultivates Martinique’s best-known flower, the anthurium, and houses the new Musée Amérindien, a wealth of ceramics, archeological pre-colombian artifacts, and Amerindian ethnological objects left by noted historian, Jacques Petitjean Roget. Nearby is La Trace, a dazzling route through the rain forest. .
Other noteworthy communities in the north include Ajoupa-Bouillon, an enchanting flower-lined town with a nature trail called Les Ombrages and, nearby, the Gorges de la Falaise, mini canyons along the Falaise River that lead to a waterfall; Grand’Rivière, a picturesque fishing village constantly braving the fierce Atlantic Ocean; Sainte-Marie and its Musée de la Banane, Trinité and the Caravelle Peninsula at whose tip stand the ruins of the Château Dubuc, a spot as intriguing as some of its family members who include Louis-François Dubuc, the man instrumental in preventing the spread of the French Revolution to Martinique, and Aimée Dubuc de Rivery who, like Joséphine, was destined for history. Returning home to Martinique after schooling in Nantes, she was captured by pirates, sold into slavery, then given as a present to the Sultan of Constantinople. Aimée became Sultana Validé, mother of Sultan Mahmoud II.
A stellar sightseeing attraction in the south is the historic offshore landmark, Diamond Rock, a sort of Caribbean Gibraltar rising 600 feet from the sea and used by the British in 1804 as a sloop of war. Well worth a visit is Le Diamant, its beachside market, and two interesting sites nearby, the often-photographed, colorful Maison du Bagnard (Convict’s House) and the Maison du Gaoulé, scene of the first Martinican insurrection, circa 1717, and its slave memorial at Anse Cafard Other noteworthy stops: Ste-Luce, a delightful fishing village; Le Marin, whose modern marina is the best of the best and whose ancient Jesuit-style church dates to 1766; Ste-Anne, as pretty as a postcard, dotted with coves and such nearby beaches as gorgeous Plage des Salines and Cap Chevalier.
French perfumes, crystal, 18-karat gold Creole jewelry, designer accessories, watches, liqueurs, spices, dolls, shell and straw work, patchwork tapestries, and island rums are all popular buys.
As an overseas region of France, Martinique uses the euro as currency. US dollars are rarely accepted in shops but you may pay by credit cards or travelers checks in most shops, hotels and restaurants (…).There is a 20% discount on luxury items paid for by travelers’ check or credit card. The airport offers duty-free shopping options as well.
Two types of cuisine predominate: traditional French and island Creole. Many restaurants combine the best from both. Seafood appears on all menus, sometimes prepared in Creole style with spices, sometimes in a more classic French manner with herbs. Martinique is renowned for the quality and variety of its restaurants, which number more than 150. Local rum drinks often precede a meal and imported French wines accompany a meal.
Martinique is unique in contrast to the majority of the other Caribbean islands in that it has a wide variety of dining options. The Ti Gourmet Martinique (2000) lists 456 cafés and/or restaurants on the island – not including the various bars some of which serve food as well as alcohol. The 1998 brochure produced and published by the ARDTM counts up to 500 food-service related establishments (this corresponds to over 3,000 jobs). Restaurants in Martinique range from the exclusive high-end gourmet restaurants to the crêpes, accras, boudin, fruit juices, and coconut milk one can purchase from food merchants on the beach or at snack stands/restaurants in town.
The abundance of both Créole and French restaurants reflects the predominance not only of French tourists in Martinique but also of the island’s status as a French DOM. There has been a growing interest in the traditional dishes of the island, and therefore, a more recent profusion of the number of Créole restaurants. Many of the restaurants tailor their menus to cater to both Créole and French tastes
In the 2000 edition of Délices de la Martinique (Delights of Martinique), the guide put together by the island’s restaurant union, the editorial given by the then Prefect and director of tourism, Philippe Boisadam, describes the contribution that ‘Martinique’s cuisine makes to the culinary arts.’ Olivier Besnard, the commercial director of the long-haul airline division of Air Liberté, wrote the preface to this same edition. He states that this Créole restaurant and recipe guide is ‘a tourist souvenir that you are welcome to take home with you.’ Francis Delage, a culinary consultant who assembled most of the recipes for this guide underlines the fact that the island’s restaurateurs are the gastronomic ambassadors of Martinique and that they in particular represent the ‘quality of the welcome,’ ‘the products’ and ‘the savoir-faire of Créole cuisine, which is truly part of France’s culinary heritage.’
The changes in tourist composition (behavior, interest) may very well account for the evolution in the culinary offerings in many of today’s restaurants. Restaurants in Martinique offer not only French and other International cuisines , but also the possibility of consuming the foods that the Other eats. In this case, the Other refers to the Martiniquans. Visitors can catch a glimpse of the behind the scenes reality regarding Martiniquan culinary practices through an ‘authentic’ Créole cuisine. An investigation of the new tourist, or “post-tourist” phenomenon (Poon 1999) venturing off the ‘eaten trail’ in search of something that is more authentic.
Restaurants, Créole cookbooks, public fairs and festivities, and the expensive dining rooms of foreign-owned luxury hotels where food is served, all present themselves as crucial staging grounds where ideas about Martiniquan cuisine, and therefore, identity, authenticity and place are continuously tested.
As in France, water is safe to drink from the tap, and restaurants will happily serve this at no extra charge (l’eau du robinet).
Fresh fruit juices are also very popular on the island along with jus de canne which is a delicious sugar cane drink which is often sold in vans in lay-bys off the main roads. This juice does not stay fresh for long, so ask for it to be made fresh while you wait and drink it as quickly as possible with some ice cubes and a squeeze of lime.
Martinique is famous for its world class rums and the island today still hosts a large number of distilleries inviting tourist to explore its history. Please see the rum page to view a guide to the local distilleries.
Although rum is far more popular, the local beer in Martinique is Bière Lorraine.
* Karaoke-Café, quartier Basse Gondeau 97232 Le Lamentin, 0596 50 07 71, bar/restaurant/nightclub, currently the trendiest place (but not the most typical). Live music, Karaoke, 80s, dance, techno, worldmusic. Entrance 20€ with a drink.
Stay safe and healthy
Bring lots of sunscreen!
Note: There are Metropole-style pharmacies which carry top of the line French sunscreen, often a higher quality than you could get at home, but with the strong Euro, these products can be expensive.
Also, keep hydrated, especially when hiking in the mountainous areas. A hat is often a good thing to have because the sun can feel really strong.
See the above mentioned section. Heat prostration and sunburns can be a real threat to those not used to the climate.
Mosquito repellent is a good thing to have if you are sensitive to bites. There is no malaria or other mosquito-born diseases on Martinique.
Polite manners will go very far in this jewel of the Caribbean. When entering a business establishment, always say, ‘Bonjour’ and ‘Merci, au revoir’ when departing. Also note that things often run a lot slower in warm climates, so patience is a must. Also, don’t expect kowtowing, smiling ‘natives’. The Martiniquais are a very proud, dignified people and are often wary of impatient tourists with manners.
Unaccompanied women in tourist and beach areas are likely to experience frequent cat-calling and similar attention from men. A popularly stated reason for this is that there are a greater number of women than men on the island. The best way to deal with unwanted attention is to ignore the attention or firmly state a lack of interest.