In the last few years, Martinique has been piquing the interest of American tourists and travelers. But what isn’t particularly accessible is a one-stop, traveler’s guide for your Martinique vacation. So here it is: Your comprehensive Martinique travel guide on things to do in Martinique, Martinique hotels and where to stay, Martinique food, and other tips to better your travels to this unique and exotic country.
Island Overview-Planning a Trip to Martinique
Most of you probably already know that Martinique is an island in the southern Caribbean. But did you know that it is not just a French territory, but that it is actually considered part of France? Meaning it is not like the British crown or commonwealth–where the countries are protected by Great Britain but have their own independence– but actually that Martinique has seats in France’s parliament, votes on leadership and more. This is certainly more than just a French-speaking municipality; the people of Martinique have a hands-on influence in French affairs.
Martinique’s capital and commercial center is Fort de France. Another popular area for visitors to stay is in the Trois Illets area, just across the bay from Fort de France. The island is extremely scenic, with gorgeous views from all parts of the island, especially the southern portion.
The weather is warm and the rainy season is December through February. It isn’t particularly humid during that time but it there will be tropical showers. The island is also home to the famous Mt. Pelee volcano, and because of it, black sand beaches.
Martinique uses the Euro and generally does not accept U.S. dollars. This this not all bad, given the amazing lows that the Euro is suffering from right now. Presently the value of 1 Euro is about $1.10 in USD, and with such a favorable exchange rate, it doesn’t hurt to stock up on Euro to make your trip easier. This is also good for paying for accommodations, as the rate will be charged in Euro and converted at the same low rate.
Martinique’s sister island is the French island of Guadalupe. But in addition, I didn’t realize until on the island just how close it is to neighboring Caribbean islands. From the southern part of the island, you can actually see St. Lucia in the distance, and a ferry runs from Fort de France to St. Lucia, so you could take a day trip to St. Lucia. From further north, in Sainte-Pierre town, you can see the island of Dominica, and ferries run from Sainte-Pierre to that neighboring country as well. If you have enough time, this is a perfect island to do a day trip to St. Lucia.
Timing and Food
If you think you are going to go to Martinique, sit by the pool or beach and eat and drink all day, think again. This island is not ready (nor does it cater to) tourists. There are set hours for meals, so between three and six or seven, you may find yourself hungry with no options. It happened more than once. Also, after 10 pm in many places, the restaurants shut down (unless it’s a lounge or perhaps some of the restaurants that stay open late on weekends). Prepare yourself… and bring snacks accordingly.
There are a number of hotels scattered across the island. What is questionable–and what you have to research–is whether those hotels fit your quality needs. Many people opt to stay in extremely inexpensive AirBNB rentals. Fort de France has a large number of properties (both hotels and AirBNBs) and so does Trois Illets.
In Trois Illets, we stayed at a cute, centrally located hotel called LaPagerie. It is a little on the higher side for hotels (and definitely more expensive than AirBNBs) but it was an absolutely beautiful property. And it’s on-site restaurant served a great dinner.
The key for securing accommodations is balancing the price point, quality level, and whether you will have some means of transportation on the island. Check out some other hotel ideas in Martinique.
Speaking of which, this can be a doozy. There are a lot of factors when it comes to transportation on the island.
Transportation in General: Martinique is actually a really big/long island. Some sort of vehicular transportation is necessary to get around.
Ferry: There is a ferry that operates between Fort de France and Trois Illets out of Pont du Bout. It takes about 20 minutes to get to Fort de France and it is only 7 Euro roundtrip. Note: But make sure you hop on the correct ferry and not the one that takes you further up the coast.
Taxis: Taxis on the island are EXORBITANT. It is absolutely ridiculous. A ride from the airport to our resort, which was about 30 minutes cost us 55 Euro. This is because taxis on the island charge something like a 40% surcharge for any pickups between 8 pm and 6 am. While you may need them to and from the airport, I would avoid taxis at all costs for anything else.
Renting a Car: If you don’t know how to drive stick, you need to have rented your automatic car on Martinique yesterday. Automatics are hard to come by on the island and given the hilly nature of the island, if that is your only option you need to track one down post haste. For either type of car, however, make sure to check your car as you drive away from the rental. While I was there alone, there were a few instances of cars having to be returned or breaking down on the side of the road because they weren’t functional. Be safe out there.
Driving on the Island: Drivers in Martinique are extremely skilled. They have to be, given the way they drive. To call it aggressive is an understatement, and sometimes it is just downright nerve wracking. If you do drive, do the best you can, take your time, and be safe.
Hiring a Driver: This is actually what many people (including myself) did. We had an all-day tour one day that allowed us to see the island and not have to drive or rent a car ourselves. This alleviates the stress of driving and you get the benefit of learning about the island from a local.
Must Have Food Choices
The food most prevalent on the island is fresh seafood (of course). A local gave us a list of things we had to try while on the island.
Some of the best highlights were:
Accras de morue: Cod fish (shrimp) fritters
Lambis grillée: Grilled conch
Langouste grillée: Grilled lobster
Poulet boucané: Smoked grilled chicken
Punch coco: Coconut rum drink
Ti Punch: Rum shot with lime and syrup
Poisson grillée: Grilled fish
We had the accras, grilled fish and conch, smoked grilled chicken, amazing grilled lobster, and all of the rhum drinks available. You just have to know the great foodie spots. The market in Fort de France (see below) is a great spot to hit, along with Le Marley’s in Sainte-Luce.
BarrisTourista has already featured a number of must-do activities while on the Caribbean island, but let’s add a few more.
The Beaches: There are many stunning beaches in Martinique scattered across the island. There are a couple of beautiful ones in the Trois Illets area, along with the southern portion of the island. And in the northern portion near Mt. Pelee, you can find beautiful black (and grey) sand beaches as well. There are no shortage of stunning beaches, with the gorgeous turquoise waters, so you will not be disappointed with your pickings.
Visit a Distillery: Rhum (spelled with an ‘H’) is the drink of choice in Martinique. And you can visit an amazing rhum distillery while on the island. As part of our tour with Karambole Tours, we visited the DePaz Distillery, where we were able to check out the surrounding property, do a rhum tasting, and buy some rhum to take back to the states with us. There are other distilleries on the island, so drink up!
Shop for Souvenirs in Fort de France: Do not shop at the little mini market right at the marina in Fort de France. Instead, shop in the market that is a few blocks inland. They have traditional prints, spices, rhums, clothing, and other souvenirs. We also had an awesome meal in the market at a seafood joint. It was fresh and delicious, and we met some cool other American travelers there that we connected with later on our trip.
Take in the Natural Beauty: Martinique is a lush island with rainforests, and waterfalls and beaches. Take in the beauty of the island.
Overall Island Vibe
All in all, Martinique is a fantastic island with a lot to do, beautiful beaches, and fresh seafood. It is definitely a unique Caribbean spot to visit. But it is definitely not an island that is ready for a huge influx of tourists (well, at least not American ones, LOL). When we arrived on the island, there was no customs form; there were no computers. They looked at our passports, said ‘Bonjour!’, stamped it, and we were on our way. The automatic cars are scarce and some of them don’t run well. If you hope to grab a meal at any time of day, you will be sorely disappointed.
So I guess the more appropriate description is that Martinique doesn’t overly cater to tourists. It is decidedly French in this respect. But it is magical and charming and a great place to visit. Just don’t forget to BYO snacks!