14 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Martinique
Distinctly French, Martinique offers a seductive mix of magnificent beaches, lush mountains, fascinating history, and flamboyant tropical gardens. Fort-de-France is the main city and capital of this enticing island in the French West Indies. Visitors can explore architectural sites here and learn about the island's pre-Columbian and colonial past at the city's museums. For a poignant reminder of nature's power, head to Saint-Pierre, a city built among the ruins of Martinique's former capital, which was destroyed by the 1902 eruption of Mount Pelée. The volcano's soaring peak provides a dramatic backdrop to the surrounding towns and beaches.
Adventures abound on this beguiling island. Martinique has an extensive system of hiking trails leading through tropical forests, past waterfalls, and rugged coastal scenery, and visitors can horseback ride along sweeping stretches of palm-fringed beach. Diving and snorkeling are also popular. Saint-Pierre's harbor has become a popular scuba site, scattered with wrecks from the tidal wave following Mount Pelée's eruption. However, many people simply come to bask on the fabulous beaches, feast on fine French and Creole cuisine, and savor a luscious taste of France in the tropics.
With dramatic views of volcanic Mount Pelée, Saint-Pierre is built among the ruins of old Saint-Pierre. The town was once Martinique's main city and port until Mount Pelée erupted in 1902. The volcanic blast destroyed the town and killed all 30,000 residents with the exception of a prisoner, who was protected by his thick cell walls. Today tourists visiting Saint-Pierre can view some of the ruins, including the survivor's prison cell, the old theatre, "cachot de Cyparis", and the ruins of Le Figuier - a group of single story houses. On the hillside above Le Figuier, the Volcanological Museum (Musée Vulcanologique) displays the charred remains of items salvaged from the old town and harbor and a provides a tangible reminder of the tragedy. All but one of the boats anchored in the harbor sank in the tidal wave that followed the eruption. The area is now popular with scuba divers who come to dive the wrecks.
2 Balata Botanical Gardens
Owned by a passionate horticulturalist, the Balata Botanical Gardens (Jardin de Balata) near Fort-de-France, feature more than 3,000 species of tropical plants and flowers as well as ponds punctuated with water lilies and lotus blossoms. Raised wooden rope bridges suspended amid the treetops give visitors an aerial view over the lush gardens while hummingbirds buzz in the fragrant air. Visitors will find plenty of benches tucked amid the foliage to relax and admire the beautiful mountain and garden views.
3 Mount Pelée
An active volcano, Mount Pelée erupted on May 8, 1902, destroying the nearby city of Saint-Pierre and killing thousands of people. The volcano is currently in a quiet phase and visitors can hike to the summit and enjoy spectacular views of the Atlantic and the surrounding mountains on clear days. A paved road leads from Morne Rouge for two kilometers to the trailhead. Early hikes are usually rewarded with less cloud cover to obscure the views.
Bustling Fort-de-France is the capital of Martinique, the main port, and a launching point for island adventures. The city is laid out around Place de la Savane, a central park punctuated with palms, pathways, and statues, including one of Empress Josephine. Architectural attractions of the city include Fort Royal (Fort Saint Louis), dating from 1638; the Palais de Justice, and the Cathédrale Saint-Louis with its distinctive spire. The intricate Romanesque Bibliothèque Schoelcher is a highlight. Named for Victor Schoelcher, an activist for the abolition of slavery in the French colonies, the building was dismantled and shipped to Martinique from Paris in 1893. The Musée Départemental d'Archéologie in Fort-de-France displays the island's pre-Columbian history while the Musée Regional d'Histoire et d'Ethnographie features Creole furnishings, clothing, jewelry, and musical instruments.
5 Route de la Trace
Scenic Route de la Trace (highway N3) runs north from Fort-de-France through the lush interior rainforest to Mount Pelée. Cut by the Jesuits in the 1600s, the road winds along the volcanic Pitons du Carbet with sign-posted hiking trails radiating off the main route to their peaks. Just north of Fort-de-France, on a hillside, Balata Church is a small size replica of Sacré-Coeur Basilica in France with beautiful views over the city and surrounds. The popular Balata Botanical Gardens (Jardin de Balata) are also near here. Continuing north, the route passes through Morne Rouge, the highest town in Martinique near Mount Pelée. On August 30, 1902 a large pyroclastic flow buried Morne Rouge killing almost 1,500 people only months after the volcanic blast at Saint-Pierre. Named for its red-hued volcanic soil, Morne Rouge is now a pilgrimage site. Once at Mount Pelée, visitors can hike a rocky trail to its summit.
6 Musée de la Pagerie
A former sugar estate, the Musée de la Pagerie was the birthplace of Marie Joseph Rose Tascher de la Pagerie who would later become Napoleon's Empress Josephine. The quaint stone cottage has been partially restored and contains some of Josephine's personal items including a marriage certificate and love letters from Napoleon. Guides speak French and English and divulge some fascinating stories about Josephine's childhood and her arranged marriage to the famous French Emperor.
7 Pointe Du Bout
On a promontory south of Fort-de-France, Pointe du Bout is one of Martinique's main resort areas. Boutiques, ice-cream parlors, and restaurants sprout along the streets of this tourist hotspot, and the waterfront resorts patrol their own patches of replenished beach. A ferry service operates from the marina, whisking visitors across the bay to Fort-de-France. West of Pointe du Bout, tourists flock to the creamy sands of Anse Mitan, one of the best beaches on the island, with snorkeling opportunities just offshore.
8 Sainte-Anne, Martinique
Sprinkled with palm-fringed coves, Sainte-Anne has the distinction of being the island's southernmost village and one of its prettiest. Visitors will find shops, restaurants, and a craft market here, but the main attractions are the beaches. Nearby Les Salines is one of the most heavenly stretches of sand and sea in Martinique.
9 Les Salines
A short distance south of Sainte-Anne, Les Salines is one of the most popular beaches on Martinique. Named for the nearby salt pond, this one-kilometer stretch of coast at the southern tip of Martinique boasts classic Caribbean scenery with calm waters and soft, white sand. Arching coconut palms frame views of the sea and provide perfect patches of shade for beach lovers to plonk down a towel and bask in all the beauty. Les Saline can be crowded with families on the weekend, but tends to be a little more tranquil during the week. Vendors sell lunch and drinks behind the beach.
Ajoupa-Bouillon, at the base of Mount Pelee, is known for the colorful flowers adorning the little village and its river crayfish farming. Near the village, visitors will find a few worthwhile attractions including Les Ombrages, a botanical trail through tropical forest along a lush ravine, and Gorges de la Falaise, a series of small gorges along the Falaise River, which lead to a beautiful waterfall.
11 Caravelle Peninsula
Nature lovers will find many things to see and do at the Caravelle Peninsula in eastern Martinique. La Caravelle Nature Trail near la Trinite is a one-hour hike through mangrove forest with views over the rugged eastern coastline. Near the entrance to the hike are the ruins of Dubuc Castle (Château Dubuc), the former home of the wealthy Dubuc family who owned the peninsula during the 18th century. Guides share the family's fascinating history. After the hike, sightseers can stroll down to Tartane Beach for a refreshing swim. Surfers will find some of Martinique's best swells nearby.
12 Diamond Rock
Lying 3 kilometers from mainland Martinique, Diamond Rock is the site of an unusual slice of naval history. In 1804 the British dropped sailors on the volcanic island and registered the rock as a ship, the HMS Diamond Rock. After 17 months of unsuccessful attacks, the French used a creative strategy to overpower the sailors and take back the rock. Today this volcanic mound marks one of the island's best dive sites. Visitors can learn all about its intriguing history at the nearby town of Le Diamant.
13 Le Carbet
Le Carbet, which became a parish as early as 1645, is the supposed landing site of Christopher Columbus on June 15, 1502 and the town where Gauguin lived and painted in 1887. The Butterfly Garden, at Father Jean Baptiste du Tertre in La Carbet, is a popular attraction here and also serves as a venue for local artists, musicians, and other entertainers. Also in Le Carbet, Latouche's Creek Garden lies on the site of a former sugar factory, which was destroyed with the eruption of Mt. Pelée. Some of the ruins still stand, but the gardens are the highlight with more than 200 species of tropical plants and flowers.
14 Grand-Riviere, Martinique
Charming Grand-Rivière is a small and sleepy fishing village on the northern tip of Martinique. At the waterfront, visitors will find a fish market and black sand beach while to the north, Dominica is visible in the distance. Creole restaurants in town serve fresh seafood, and visitors looking for things to do can arrange trips in town such as hiking and water sports.
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The French island of Martinique offers a mixture of dark and golden sand beaches, lush mountains, quaint towns, and historic ruins. It attracts large numbers of tourists from both North America and Europe, who frequent beach side resorts during the winter months. The main city and capital is Fort-de-France, where most visitors will arrive on the island, either by air or by boat. The beaches, resorts, and various attractions are spread around the island.
Fort-de-France has a few points of interest but is not one of the prime tourist destinations on the island. Fort St Louis, the Bibliothèque Schoelcher, the Cathédrale Saint-Louis, and the Palais de Justice are some of the main architectural highlights for sightseers. Place de la Savane is a pleasant park with shady trees, gardens, and vendors selling goods, much of it targeted towards tourists. Beyond the city limits but not far from town is the Balata Church, a smaller size replica of Sacré-Coeur Basilica in Paris.
For a truly interesting excursion head to Saint-Pierre, a city built among the ruins of a town destroyed by the eruption of Mt Pelee in 1902. Mt Pelee, the volcano that has wreaked much havoc on the island throughout the ages, provides a dramatic backdrop to the surrounding towns and beaches and this is a particularly good vantage point to see the mountain in its full glory. The harbor has become a popular scuba diving site, with several wrecks from the tidal wave that followed the eruption.
Trois Ilet is a small town south of Fort-de-France, known for being the birthplace of Empress Josephine, the wife of Napoléon Bonaparte. Visitors can learn more about her at the Musée de la Pagerie which is located in the home where she was born. Le Carbet, said to be where Christopher Columbus landed, maintains some beautiful gardens and the ruins of a sugar factory. In the far south of Martinique is the town of Sainte-Anne, with shops, restaurants, and some surrounding beaches with good snorkeling grounds. Another particularly scenic area is around the town of Le Diamant, known for the offshore island of Diamond Rock, once registered by the British as a ship and occupied by sailors.
Martinique has an extensive system of hiking trails leading through lush forests, past waterfalls and coastal scenery. Diving and snorkeling are also popular, either for wreck diving or to see aquatic life. However, many people simply come to enjoy the fabulous beaches and there is no shortage of great locations.