Le joyau caché - Martinique
Don’t be surprised if you haven’t heard of the small island of Martinique or its nearby sister island, Guadeloupe. They are a part of the Lesser Antilles and owned by France, while most of the tourist that visit for vacation are from Canada and Europe. These islands aren’t a part of the mass US tourism scene, as of yet at least, but this is what gives Martinique its charm. It’s like a hidden gem with a rich history and where nature shows off in its best form. I learned about Martinique in the last year and was able to visit about a month ago, at the end of January when the weather is perfect like most islands in the Caribbean. Flights from NYC to Martinique are usually relatively inexpensive. I was able to find my flights for under $200 round trip through Norwegian Airlines which is who I flew with to Rome last year. Martinique is great for a long weekend trip (especially when Norwegian has their $69 fares) and only a 4 hour flight from NYC. Still unsure about Martinique? Imagine a similar climate as Hawaii along with the same types of activities but without the crowds and without the high price tags!
Martinique is small enough that you can drive all over the island in three days. Renting a car is highly recommended and you will want to make sure you either bring your own GPS or have an International plan on your phone for getting around as GPS devices are very scarce at the car rental companies (we learned the hard way). We booked our car through Hertz and you will definitely need to book your car before you get there because rental cars are limited on the island and be prepared to wait in line to get your car outside of the airport. It’s not as bad as it sounds and is worth the hassle because it’s smooth sailing once you get the keys! Our hotel was located in Fort de France, which is the main town and close to the airport and cruise terminal. We stayed at La Maison de Clementine and it was gorgeous! It is a small bed & breakfast run by an amazing couple that couldn’t have been more helpful with assisting to book our boat tour and making dinner reservations for us. I will have a dedicated post just for our hotel on here soon and I highly recommend staying here! We stayed in the Barbuda Suite that had a view of the lush mountains from the bed… need I say more.
We only spent three full days in Martinique which was enough but if you have time to stay at least four full days, I would. The weather wasn’t as perfect as I’d imagined while we were there but it ended up being an amazing trip. The first day was a very sunny mid-eighties day (perfect), the following day had constant rain showers until the early afternoon but you could still explore, and our last day was in the eighties and overcast but we still managed to get a sunburn somehow.
Day 1: We started our day by enjoying breakfast on the patio of our hotel then headed out for the day. We first stopped at Habitation Clément, one of the oldest rum distilleries on the island. You can tour the gardens where they have displayed tons of art installations from local artists (see above image of the die). Once you walk the gardens, you then tour the historic distillery and end in a gift shop where you can taste their varieties of rum and purchase your own bottle. After trying out a few rums and buying our bottles, we were back on the road. We wanted to take advantage of the beautiful sunny day and spend the rest of the day beach hopping on the Southwest and Southern parts of the island. We made a pit stop at Boulangerie-Pâtisserie La Guérande and grabbed some french sandwiches to enjoy on the beach. With snorkel gear in hand, we went to the neighboring beaches Anse Dufour and Anse Noire and both were beyond beautiful. Anse Dufour is known for their snorkeling and sea life although the water was cloudy the day we were there. After soaking up the sun and swimming at Anse Dufour, we walked up the steps and went to the neighboring beach, Anse Noire (main photo), which has a long pier you can jump into the water from. Here, we sat on the pier, ate macarons, and watched a sea turtle glide through the water around us. Next, we drove Southeast to the Memorial Anse Caffard to see the statues that face the ocean to remember the slaves who died on the slave ship during the crash that took place there in 1830. We then parked for the rest of the day at Grande Anse du Diamant, one of the larger beaches on the island that has a view of two large rocks in the ocean and is a great place to watch the sunset. After sunset, we ate dinner at Oceanou, which is at the east end of the main road on the beach. The food was delicious and fresh, and the back of the restaurant opens up to the beach so you can hear the crashing waves while you enjoy your meal.
Day 2: Our second day had steady rain showers but we made the best of it by spending most of the day exploring Fort de France and venturing to the Northwest part of the island. Our first stop was the Jardin de Balata, Martinique’s prized and very lush botanical garden. Getting there is quite the adventure itself though. There are very steep roads that wind up and down the mountains of Martinique. Even though it was raining, we were able to enjoy all that the garden had to offer which included walking across rope bridges that are suspended in the air from the trees! The gardens are a must-see when visiting and would be fun for families. After the gardens, we drove up the West coastline to have lunch at Habitation Ceron, which was a sugar mill that now has a cocoa bean farm and creates delicious chocolate infused dishes. We ate outside under a covered dining area and relaxed while watching the rain. We decided to skip our planned visit to Mount Pelee since it was raining so we headed back to Fort de France but stopped in to get homemade ice cream from Ziouka Glaces. Now, this is not your typical ice cream shop. This is known as Martinique’s best ice cream and the owner uses 100% natural ingredients and has his own test kitchen inside where he comes up with his very unique flavor combinations. Ziouka Glaces is only open for 3 hours each day but it’s well worth waiting for! I ended up ordering the Corn flavor and Chocolate Ginger ice creams and they were both pure perfection! I’m still craving more Corn ice cream!
Day 3: This was our last day in Martinique and we spent it on a catamaran… doesn’t get better than that! Our hotel helped us book a last minute reservation with The Delphis Ballads. We did a day tour that was about 6 hours long and included drinks, snacks, and lunch. We visited Iguana Island and a couple of really beautiful sandbars. The crew was fantastic and did a great job of giving history on the places we stopped and making us laugh the entire time. This was a really great tour (affordable too!) and an amazing way to spend a day in Martinique! After our day on the boat, we headed to our hotel to freshen up and we had our last dinner at Lili’s in Fort de France. The food and overall vibe was the perfect way to end our vacation! This restaurant and bar is located on its’ own private beach and would be a great place to have lunch as well or to watch the sun go down.
Martinique was an unforgettable experience and the people there were extremely welcoming and nice. I would love to go back to hike Mount Pelee and visit the Southeast part of the island and also visit Guadeloupe!
Here’s a quick list of places to visit during your stay here:
Anse Dufour & Anse Noire - neighboring beaches that are great for snorkeling
Grande Anse du Diamant - one of the larger beaches of the island & one of the best places to watch the sunset
Memorial Anse Caffard - historical slave memorial
Habitation Clement - one of the oldest rum distilleries
Jardin de Balata - Martinique’s very popular botanical gardens
Mount Pelee - one of the largest mountains on the island that is actually a volcano that is still active but has gorgeous views while hiking
Bath of Josephine - one of the most popular sandbars on the East side of the island
Savanna of Petrifications - a wildlife park on the Southeast tip of the island