Stunningly beautiful gardens
Ruins of a 17the century plantation that used to be a sugar plant and dyeing factory
Destroyed by Montagne Pelée eruption in 1902
Transformed into a beautiful parc by the same designer who planned the Balata Gardens near Fort de France (Jean Philippe Thoze) http://www.jardindebalata.fr/
Beautiful exotic plants, reflections in water, water fall on dam, canal
Absolutely charming, gorgeous, peaceful
Open every day 9:30 am - 5 pm
Plan for a one hour visit
A town still bearing the scars of the devastating volcano eruption that killed 26,000 people in 1902, Saint Pierre is a quaint Martinique town that is well worth visiting. You can stroll through the streets, enjoying the somewhat dilapidated but charming buildings, do some people watching, and enjoy the nice Caribbean atmosphere, especially during market time (every morning) on the main square (Place Bertin).
The main interest of Saint Pierre, however, are the many ruins left over from the destruction by the Montagne Pelée nuée ardente, a clouds of hot ash and gas (geological term defined here and then!), that flattened the city in 1902. Ever heard of a "Pelean eruption"? Well, that term was also defined here! St Pierre used to be the main town of Martinique, favored for its geographical setting in terms of beauty and sanitation over Fort de France, which reputation was to be too hot and built on a flat mosquito infested mangrove plain. The other charm of St Pierre beyond the romantic ruins, are the numerous beautiful views on the bay of St Pierre and the volcano looming over the city.
Do not miss (broadly from South to Northern districts):
- view from Notre Dame du Port (see photo, better to drive up there)
- cemetery (Martinique cemeteries are worth a visit with their tiled mausoleums and plastic flowers)
- cathedral (rebuilt)
- bourse building: reconstructed business exchange building
- ruins of the port storage buildings
- musée volcanologique: objects mangled by eruption, photos then & now (3 euros)
- ruins of the theater and jail (including the cell of Cyparis, one of 2 survivors of the eruption)
- Roxelane river (with stone bridge that survived the eruption)
- ruins of the fort church
- rue Mont-au-Ciel: a steep street that survived the eruption
- Centre de Découverte des Sciences de la Terre: museum to learn about volcanoes and Earth sciences (5 euros)
- Distillerie Depaz: working rum distillery (drive 5 mn from town)
The one downside of the city is that the 2 main streets (North South) are constantly traffic jammed, and there are big quarry trucks driving through all the time (to and from gravel quarries North of town).
Count about a day to visit it all at a leisurely pace.
This lovely trail takes you along the Atlantic coast, in coastal forests, high dry plateau, and through deserted scenic beaches lined with coconut trees. Watch not to step on the scurrying hermit crabs in the forest!
Relatively flat and easy trail.
The trail is ~ 7 km long. Plan on 4 hours, + beach and swimming stops.
Awsome views on the coast, secluded beaches and cliffs
Tropical himid forest
narrow muddy and slick trail
Lovely beach Anse Couleuvre (short hike from parking lot)
Ruins of plantation: Habitation of Anse Couleuvre
I only hiked the very beginning from Anse Couleuvre
The whole trail (Anse Couleuvre-Grand Rivière) is 16 km long. Plan more than 6 hours one way.
Le Diamant is along the Route des Anses.
Famous rock island off-shore, Rocher du Diamant
Lovelu church, beach, and streets.
nice market in the morning
Good place for souvenir shopping
Be careful if you decide to swim on Le Diamant beach because there is a strong undertoe. Not the best beach to swim!
"Route" is road in French, and "anse" means bay in local French (in standard French it means jug handle). Like all Martinique roads, this one twists and turn, goes up and down, but offers amazing view on this beautiful part of the Caribbean coast.
Beautiful views on Caribbean sea
Lovely villages: Trois Islet, Anses d'Arlet, Le Diamant
Lovely secluded beaches: Anse Noire and Anse Dufour
Hike Morne Larcher
Cliffs and beautiful beaches
View point on Rocher du Diamant
Plan at least 1/2 day. A full day if you stop at every village and do a beach stop.
Fantastic view from coast to coast and on Montagne Pelée
Exhibition on Earth Sciences and the Volcano Observatory's purpose and history
Volcano, Earth quakes, and land slide monitoring. Scientists on call for natural disasters in Martinique and other Caribbean islands.
Count 1 hour.
Set in beautifully landscaped park, Habitation Clément dates from the 18th century. The museum comprises a working distillery, the equipment of the old distillery, the renovated buildings of the plantation owner (18-19th century furniture) and main other buildings, and a rum shop. It also doubles as a contemporary art museum, exhibiting Caribbean artists paintings and sculptures. You learn about plantation life, Martinique flora, creole traditions. slavery, the economy of sugar cane and rum throughout times (very well done), and how rum is made. A must-see when you come to Martinique!
Plan a 2 hour visit
Open every day 9 am - 5:30 pm
7 euros per adult, 4 euros for 7-18 year olds, free for less than 7 year-olds
Fantastic outdoor museum with reconstructed slave huts set in beautiful lush tropical vegetation. You take a one-hour tour with a guide (in French, but she knew English too, so I am sure she would obliged if necessary). You learn a lot about the use of local plants now and in the old days, and about life of the slaves during the plantation times. There are several types of huts, the style and make-up depending on the use and the region of Martinique. This is a must-see to learn about history and flora. And it is located in a beautiful little valley!
Count one hour. It costs 5 euros per person.
Open every day 10-12 am and 2-5:30 pm.
Presqu'le de la Caravelle juts out 10 km in the Atlantic and is a peninsula located about the middle of the island's eastern coast. There are a couple villages, the one worth seeing being Tartane and its beach.
But the real attraction of this area are the wild landscapes protected by the "Parc Naturel Régional" of Martinique. Well marked trails take you to amazing sea battered cliffs made of volcanic rocks, wonderful view points (the best from the lighthouse), beaches and coves, tropical coastal forests, dry plateaus, and mangrove. The hikes are easy, being relatively flat. The only steep part is if you climb up to the lighthouse. There are two main trails. The short one (1 h) tours the mangrove in Baie du Trésor, a bay famous for its ship wrecks. The other trail (4 h at a leisurely pace) goes around the entire tip of the peninsula. Gorgeous landscapes, do not miss this hike! My favorite part was to see the sea battering the rocks and cliffs and making temporary water falls.
Finally there are the museum and ruins of a plantation to see, Chateau Dubuc (entry 3 euros). Lots of piracy and unofficial good trading done in this place in the 17-18th century!
Watch for the numerous poisonous Mancenillier trees (see Warning and danger tips) around Baie du Trésor!
An active volcano and the highest point in Martinique (1395 m), Montagne Pelée is looming over the Northern part of Martinique. Climbing Montagne Pelée is a must if you come to Martinique, except that it is a arduous hike, so, not for everybody, and the summit is often shrouded in clouds, so, so much for the view. Pelée means bald or hairless in French reflecting the lack of (tall, tropical) vegetation on the summit; it is still green up to the top! After the famous 1902 eruption that destroyed Saint Pierre, the volcano had another burst in 1929-32, and has been quiet since.
The view is already fantastic from the parking lot at the base of the "aileron" trail (North of the town of Morne Rouge, see directions below), encompassing from the Atlantic, through the other high mountains of Martinique, les Pitons du Carbet (1196 m), to the Caribbean Sea (see panoramic picture). The trail is very steep and generally slick and muddy because of the rain and humidity. It starts from the parking lot with nice steps, but then it becomes at times almost sheer steep rock cliffs. If you are up to it, you will be rewarded with the caldeira (explosion crater), volcanic cones, and supposedly superb views (We were in fog when we went!).
This hike takes a whole day. Bring water, rain gear, good walking shoes (with traction on the soles!), sun cream, hat, a picnic. You cannot stay overnight up there. Start early to avoid the heat (7 am), and come back before sundown which is quite sudden at 6 pm at these latitudes.
On the Atlantic side, off-shore the towns of Le François and Le Robert, are a series of small islands that are only accessible by boat. They are called Ilets du François and Ilets du Robert. In the same area are submerged reefs and sandbars. The first are perfect for snorkelling, offering beautiful colorful fishes, corals, sea stars, sea cucumbers. The second, locally called "fonds blancs" are famous for dipping leisurely in pristine clear waters in the middle of the sea. The most famous of these is called "la baignoire de Joséphine" (i.e., Joséphine's bathtub), where supposedly the Martiniquan wife of Napoléon went swimming. Given that this is a major tourist trap, you may as well go any other fond blanc, which are as beautiful and less crowded. To reach these areas, you will need to take a boat tour for a least half a day, or rent kayaks, from Le François or Le Robert.
We toured the Ilets du Robert with the catamaran of Christian whose tour agency, called Ty-Domino, I highly recommend. It is perfect if you want to avoid the crowds and be close to scenic nature. He takes a maximum of 10 people on his boats, and including lunch, it costs 68 euros per person for a day. Lunch was polenta and punch. We did:
- Ilet Chancel: endemic iguanas and ruins of a 19th century brick factory
- Sailing with a catamaran in Baie du Robert
- A fond blanc (submerged sand bar)
- Snorkeling on a reef
- Ilet Madame, nice beach
- Snorkeling in mangrove of Pointe de la Rose
The hike of the Savane des Pétrifications offers original landscapes ranging from a salt lake (étang des Salines), cactus bearing dry desert, sea battered cliffs, to lovely empty beaches. It is an easy hike, mostly flat, maybe about 12 km one way if you go from Anse à Prunes to Anse Trabaud. Count 4 hours at a leisurely pace, plus maybe a stop at one of the beaches to take a dip. You pass through dry coastal forest where hermit crabs crawl around (watch not to step on one!), to beaches with sand or coral or basalt chunks, to a dry landscape where you could think you are in a Mexican high plateau. The color of the geological formation are mostly in the reds, in particular with veins of jaspe, and lava dikes.
The name 'pétrifications' comes from the petrified trees that used to be found there. They are all gone now, picked up by collectors and early visitors. The salt lake at the beginning of the hike, l'étang des Salines, used to be exploited for its salt.
Start early to do most of the hike before 10 am when it becomes too hot. Put on sun cream, wear a hat, tennis shoes ok, take lots of water.
Grande Anse des Salines is the most popular beach of Martinique because it looks like any dream tropical beach you could ever imagine: white sand, clear turquoise water, palm trees, lovely view of hills across the bay. It is picture perfect. The down side is that it is the most crowded. Still go see it, or go swim there once. There are a few drink and food vendors there, as well as snorkeling gear vendors. It is lovely to stretch under the palm trees and look at the pristine waters.
Warnings: 1) put a lot of suncream whether you plan on lying on the sun or not, the sun is very harsh in Martinique. 2) do not leave between 4 and 5 pm if you do not want to be stuck in the traffic jam leaving the beach on the single narrow road.
Best time to go there: at sunrise (6-7 am), or at sunset (5:30-6 pm); less crowded and less hot!
Following the advice of a worker at the tourist information center in Fort-de-France, I spent most of my available time on Martinique in the town of St. Pierre. The town has an interesting history (Mont Pelee erupted at the beginning of the 20th century, destroying the town), and there are some interesting things to see. But I was bored by it within a couple hours and looking for an escape to the beach. For those with limited time, I would suggest visiting early in the morning or late in the day (outside the prime beach hours) and budgeting only a couple hours.