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Martinique is one of the Caribbean's most breathtaking islands, both for its beauty and its blend ofFrench and Caribbean cultures. When Columbus visited the island in the late 1400s, the inhabitants at the time, the Carib Indians, called the island Madinina, or "island of flowers."
Martinique is an overseas department of France. The north part of island lures hikers who seek to climb the mountains and explore the rain forests while the southern portions offer shopping and beaches for those who choose to just relax.
The people of Martinique (the locals call it “Madinina”) are mainly of African descent. Their colorful culture unique to the island includes a Mardi Gras celebration to rival that of New Orleans. At the same time, the island has begun to embrace the tourism industry, with beautiful resorts dotting the white sand beaches of Martinique's southern coast.
Martinique is particularly interesting because it sits at the confluence of two major bodies of water. The Atlantic Ocean slams into its northern and eastern shores, while the much calmer Caribbean Sea borders Martinique's southern and western shores. Fort-de-France is on the Caribbean; therefore you will find tranquil seas perfect for swimming.
The best beaches are found on the southern tip of the island. Sainte Anne is where you will find picturesque white-sand beaches and palm trees. Diamant, Plage des Salines and Anse Mitan are also here, and you will definitely not be disappointed.
French imports are fabulously inexpensive on Martinique, especially compared to prices back in the United States. So feel free to load up on Chanel perfume.
La Galleria, on Route de Lamentin, is very chic. Over 50 vendors peddle their wares here, and you will have no trouble finding exquisite clothes or souvenirs. There is also a fine collection of restaurants nearby if you need a break from the shopping.
Fort de France is the island’s business center and administrative capital, and also features many tourist attractions, most grouped together around the city’s lushly landscaped town square, called La Savane (Savanna). Le Lamentin features Martinique’s airport and racetrack, as well as industrial zones. The region features fields of sugar cane stretching out across the Lamentin plain, visible all the way to the horizon.
When the sun sets over this beautiful tropical island, head to La Bodega (596/60-48-48). Here you will find a festive atmosphere and a wonderful assortment of drinks, with the occasional live band performing.
The island is dominated by Mount Pelee, the highest of Martinique’s many mountains, at 4,583 feet. Martinique’s north side features four groups of pitons (volcanoes) and mornes (mountains): the Piton Conil on the extreme north, which dominates the Dominica Channel; Mount Pelée; the Morne Jacob; and the Pitons du Carbet, a group of five extinct volcanoes covered with rainforest and dominating the Bay of Fort de France at 3,924 feet high.
Museums are always a great family option, combining culture and history that can't be found elsewhere. In Martinique, there are several museums to visit.
Les Trois-Ilets can be reached by ferry from Fort-de-France. The Pagerie Museum is in this town, set on the spot where Empress Josephine was born. A number of musical and cultural events are organized in the Park of the Trois-Ilets close to the island's magnificent golf club. Not to be missed is the Market or the Sugar Cane Museum. The pottery center, where objects are handmade by local craft artists, is also popular among tourists.
Museum lovers will delight at the Musée Departemental de la Martinique, at 9 Rue de la Liberté (596/71-57-05), which has artifacts that date back centuries. The museum is adjacent to La Savane and offers relics from the Arawaks and Caribs, Martinique's original settlers. The museum is open every day except Sunday.
Martinique's cuisine combines the best of France's highly refined tastes with the Caribbean's flair for the exotic, making this island one of the best places to eat in the world.
La Plantation Leyritz is a perfect example. A varied French menu that rivals anything you might find on the Champs-Elysèes, coupled with herbs and spices you will only find in the Antilles. If you have but one meal here, make sure it's the lobster. Le Dôme also follows this trend to perfection, offering intriguing combinations of the continent and the Caribbean.
The best time to visit Martinique is either May or June. Temperatures stay fairly consistent in the 80s for most of the year, but in the summer there may be hurricanes. Visiting in late spring will ensure you don't experience storms, and it will also help you avoid the island's peak season, which is from December to April. But really, Martinique's weather is temperate year-round.
Cruise ships dock at the Passenger Terminal or the new pier at Pointe Simon. The Passenger Terminal is a 5-minute drive to Fort-de-France and Pointe Simon Pier is in the heart of town. If your ship tenders, you will be dropped at the wharf in the heart of Fort-de-France.
You can traverse Martinique's diverse geography by any number of vehicles. Taxis are a popular and easy choice, but be advised that they are expensive. What's more, they aren't metered, so it's better to settle on a price before you step into the cab.
Buses come in two sizes on the island. There are the grands busses, which hold around forty people at a time and travel all through the capital city of Fort-de France. Then there are taxis collectifs, which handle the longer trips beyond the city limits. These taxis collectifs are privately owned, and you can recognize them by their "TC" sign.
Ferry transportation between Fort-de-France and Pointe du Bout is inexpensive and convenient. A one-way ticket costs fewer than $4, while the round trip ticket runs about $6.
Bicycles and motor scooters are another popular way around Martinique. In Fort-de-France, Locabike (596/71-95-72) is a good place to rent them.
Passport: U.S. and Canadian citizens need a valid passport.
Language: The official language is French, and almost everyone speaks Antillean Creole, a mix of French, Spanish and African languages. In tourist areas you'll find lots of people who speak some English.
Currency: The euro
Store hours: Stores are usually open 8:30 am to 6 pm Monday to Friday, and on Saturday mornings. Some shops will close for a traditional 2-hour break around 1 pm.
Tipping: Restaurants generally add a 15% service charge to all bills, so check before you leave any tip.
Safety: It is always advisable to be aware of your surroundings when traveling, especially in Fort-de-France and in the tourist-hotel belt of Pointe du Bout. As always, it is best to leave your valuables on ship.
ShoreFox contributed to this guide.
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“The ride north is beautiful. The crowded coastal plain rises into Tahitian-style mornes, jungle-draped mountains lost in the clouds. Houses in small villages are all in that lovely state of colonial decay — water-stained stucco walls and tiled roofs furred with ferns.”
“The traditional covered Grande Market downtown features stalls with everything imaginable when it comes to island fruits, herbs, crafts, and food."
“Pointe Simon in Fort-de-France is easy walking distance of the city center and main sights. Visit the spice market and the beautiful Bibliotheque Schoelcher when you arrive. Be sure to wander past La Savane, a large central park, to Fort St-Louis for a dose of history.”
“Take a day trip and head up to Saint-Pierre on the Caribbean coast to see the ruins of the Mont Pelée eruption; venture to Saint-Joseph to spend the afternoon at the river and see wild plants you’ve only seen in botanic gardens; or make your way to La Trinité to surf or do the circuitous Presqu’île de Caravelle hike.”
“Saint James - In addition to tasking white, aged, and limited edition rums, you can walk through the nearly 250-year history of the spirit in the Musee du Rhum located on the distillery grounds.”