Martinique, a rugged Caribbean island that’s part of the Lesser Antilles and an overseas region of France, reflects a distinctive blend of French and West Indian cultures. Its largest town, Fort-de-France, features steep hills, narrow streets and La Savane, a garden bordered by shops and cafes, with a statue of island native Joséphine de Beauharnais, first wife of Napoleon Bonaparte, at its center.
Martinique is truly a little bit of France in the Caribbean. It exudes a distinctly French feeling in the excellence of its cuisine, the chic of its women, and the beauty of its language. Yet Martinique has a cachet all its own, an endearing West Indian warmth and friendliness in its personality, a special spice in its music and dance, its local dishes, and its way of life. It is an island with style.
Water sports abound all around the coastline and superb hiking trails can be found inland. Those looking to enrich themselves about the island's culture will be enthralled by the many ruins and historical monuments, museums and old plantations. And of course there are plenty of beaches to spend a lazy afternoon on. An array of hotels, resorts and inns can be found. The Créole and French dishes promise wonderful gastronomical discoveries. Throw in great shopping and a lively nightlife and you are sure to have the vacation of a lifetime.
Fort-de-France Currency : Euro Driver's License : International license recommended. Must be 21 years old and have a credit card. Electricity : 220V, 50Hz Entry Requirements : A passport, valid 3 months beyond intended stay, and an ongoing or return ticket are required. It is the traveller's responsibility to check with the country’s Embassy for up-to-date information. GMT Time : -4hr. Daylight savings time is not applied. Government : Overseas department of France Land size : 1,060 km2 Language : French, Creole National Airlines : Air Martinique Population : 432,900 approx Religion : 90% Roman Catholic, Protestant , Jewish, Hindu Required Vaccines : None Tourist Season : November through May
Two types of cuisine predominate: traditional French and island Creole. Sometimes the fish is prepared in traditional Creole fashion using piquant spices and herbs, at other times it is served in the more lightly seasoned French style, and often it is a marriage of the two. Visitors should pick up a complimentary copy of Ti Gourmet, an illustrated guide in English and French to some 100 restaurants, with details on types of food served, location, telephone, price ranges, etc.
On every menu, fish and seafood is king, with daily specialties varying according to the morning's catch. Typical are red snapper, kingfish, sunfish, soudons (small clams), z'habitants or cribiches (fresh water crayfish), lambi (conch), oursin (sea urchin) and langouste (clawless Caribbean lobster). Sweets include Amour Caché (a traditional pastry made of coconut jam), blanc mangé and coconut sorbet.
If you are thirsty, freshly squeezed sugarcane juice is always a delicious and refreshing choice. The local beer is Lorraine. Imported French wines usually accompany a meal. The connoisseurs say that the rum from Martinique is the best in the world. There's white rum, old rum, and many fine liqueurs, such as coconut punch, passion fruit punch, orange punch. Local cocktails include Ti Punch and Planter's punch. In December it's time for the Shrubb liqueur, made from the dried peels of oranges and tangerines, sugarcane syrup, and white rum.
Culture Martinique is one of the few islands which celebrate the abolition of slavery. May 22 is indeed a holiday and the occasion for celebrations throughout the island. Slavery was abolished in 1848, and May is the local black history month in Martinique.
Martinicans devote much interest to music. Live concerts at bars, jazz clubs, piano bars and festivals are a great place to enjoy the island's rhythms. Traditional sounds and dance include Beguine, Zouk, Bel air and Laghia (traditional dances inherited from Africa). Christmas carols fill the air during the holiday season. The annual Festival of Sacred, Popular and Profane music in December is unique.
Paintings and sculpture by native-born Martiniquais or artists who have moved to the island can be found at galleries. Paul Gaugin lived and painted in Carbet before moving to Tahiti.
Geography Martinique lies in the heart of the Caribbean Archipelago and is one of the many islands which make up the group of Lesser Antilles. The waters lapping at its shores are those of the Atlantic Ocean to the east, and the Caribbean Sea to the west. The closest two neighbouring islands are Dominica and Saint Lucia.
The island measures 80 km by 35 km, respectively. The land rises gradually from the coast toward the center and northern parts of the island. It is in the north that we find the two peaks of the Carbet and Mont Pelée, a dormant volcano that is the highest mountain on the island at 1,398 m. This part of Martinique is also a legendary tropical rainforest. In the center of the island, the Lamentin Plain, made up of small, rounded hills and enclosed valleys, slopes down toward the south.
Its administrative and political structures have been identical to those of the French Departments. Fort-de-France is the administrative and commercial capital of the island.
History When Columbus landed in 1502, the island to which he gave the name Martinique was peopled by the Carib Indians who called it Matinino or Madinina. They had driven away the Arawaks who, like themselves, had come to the island from South America. The island was claimed by France in 1635 and officially annexed by the King of France in 1674. France and Britain fought over the island until 1815, when it was restored to France. An important date in Martinique's history occurred 150 years ago on May 22, 1848, when slavery was abolished. In 1946, Martinique became a Department of France and in 1974 a Region of France.
Historical sites worth seeing include La Pagerie, where Napoléon's Empress Joséphine was born in 1763 (the year that France relinquished rights to Canada in exchange for the French West Indies); Diamond Rock, a 600-ft. pinnacle in the sea manned by the British in 1804 and occupied by them as a sloop of war for 18 months, and St-Pierre, Martinique's principal city until May 8, 1902, when Mt. Pelée Volcano erupted, wiping out the city and its 30,000 people in three minutes.
Nature Many centuries ago, the Carib Indians called the island Madinina, Isle of Flowers. And so it is even today, a land of hibiscus, frangipani, bougainvillea, anthuriums, poinsettias and orchids. There are fields rich in guava, mango and papaya, and vast plantations of bananas, pineapple, sugar cane, cinnamon and coffee. In the tropical rainforests, ferns (1,000 varieties in Martinique) grow tall as trees and green comes in a hundred different shades.
Not many kinds of animals inhabit the island. The mongoose was introduced in the 19th century. It was unsuccessful it its mission to eliminate the rat-tailed viper. Manicon (a type of opossum), wild rabbit, wild pigeon, turtledove, and Ortolan (a member of bird family) make up most of the rest of the fauna.
Sports Martinique is a paradise for sailing, whether on boats rented at hotels by the hour, or on yachts, bareboat or crewed, chartered by the day, week or month at the marinas of Le Marin, Le François, Pointe du Bout, Le Robert or Ste-Anne. Deep-sea fishing excursions offer you the opportunity to catch dolphin, kingfish, bonito, barracuda and tuna.
All resorts and some public beaches offer a variety of water sports for you to practise. Popular ones include canoeing, kayaking, windsurfing, jet skiing, water-skiing, swimming, and many more. Many fascinating dive and snorkel sites can be explored. An abundant marine life and incredible shipwrecks make scuba an ideal island sport. Fish, coral and ferns thrive in the waters near Pointe du Bout and Anse Mitan, and the small bays around Anses d'Arlet and Ste-Anne.
A magnificent 18-hole Robert Trent Jones Sr. course, the Golf de l'Impératrice Joséphine, is at Trois Ilets, 1.6 km from the Pointe du Bout resort, 32 km from Fort-de-France.
Of all sports on Martinique, one of the best organized is hiking, and with so many natural treasures - a tropical rain forest, a world-famous volcano, alpine peaks (or pitons) and rocky hills (or mornes), and wide stretches of virgin beach. Mountain biking, horseback riding are other ways of exploring the land. Many tennis courts, most lighted for night play, can be found all over the island.
Banks & Money
In Martinique, the legal tender is the Euro. Although prices are listed with the national currency, US and Canadian dollars are accepted almost everywhere, but generally at a less favourable rate.
Dollars can be exchanged in the many banks and change offices. Banks ATMs are available throughout the more populated areas of the islands. All major credit cards and traveller's cheques are accepted in the capital. Smaller shops in towns don't always accept them so it is a good idea to always have a certain amount of cash on hand.
Climate The mean temperature averages 26C. Two regular alternating tradewinds, called les alizés, cool the atmosphere. There is only about a 3 degrees difference between summer and winter temperatures.
For monthly average temperatures please refer to your destination of choice.
Communication Martinique offers modern telecommunications services including direct dialling. The country code for Martinique is 596. To call from Canada, dial 011-596-596 and the 6 digit telephone number.
Internet and e-mail is available in most hotels or Internet cafes. There are 11 local stations and most large hotels offer cable tv.
Health Although tap water is relatively safe, it is best to drink only bottled water. The most common ilsness is travelers' diarrhea. Recent health concerns about dengue fever have risen during the winter months.
There are no required vaccines to enter the country, unless arriving from an endemic area. The following vaccines are recommended for any tropical destination: hepatitis A and B, rabies, typhoid, tetanus and yellow fever. Mosquitos or other insect bites can be bothersome during wet conditions.
Official Holidays January 1 - New Year February - Mardis Gras March/April - Good Friday, Easter Monday May 1 - Labor Day May 8 - Victory 1945 May 22 - Abolition of Slavery Day July 14 - Bastille Day Jul 21 - Schoelcher Day August - Assumption Day November 1 - All Saints Day November 11 - Armistice Day December 25 - Christmas
Safety Even thought Martinique boast a low crime rate, as a tourist you are more likely to be a target of petty crime. Transportation systems are the favourite haunt of thieves.
Use good judgement, take advantage of the safety deposit boxes provided by the hotels, avoid wearing expensive jewellery and carry your wallet or camera discreetly. Hotel rooms and rental cars should be locked. Avoid walking alone at night.
Shopping French perfumes, crystal, 18-karat gold, Creole jewellery, designer accessories, watches, liqueurs, spices, dolls, shell and straw work, patchwork tapestries, and Madras clothes (the material to make Creole costumes). Martinique is fashion conscious and many top designers are represented in boutiques and shops. Paintings and sculpture by native-born Martinicans or artists who have moved to the island can be found at galleries in Fort-de-France and at some hotels
Creole jewellery consists of coral and bamboo trinkets, the Collier Chou (a traditional-style necklace), Chaine Forcat bracelet, broaches and earrings. Shaped by our craftsmen jewellers, gold is a souvenir laden with history.
Candied fruit, coco bars, douce-lettes (a speciality made from coconut, milk and sugar) all make great treats to give as gifts or enjoy by yourselves. One must bring back a bottle of Martinican white or old rum, or one of the fine liqueurs (coconut punch, passion fruit punch, orange punch).The Shrubb is a delicious and very fine liqueur, made from the dried peels of oranges and tangerines, sugarcane syrup, and white rum.
Taxes & Tips Hotels and resorts add a tax ranging from EUR .76 to EUR 2.25, per person per day, depending on the region. Hotels usually add a 10% service charge. Restaurants also normally include a 15% service charge to the bill but you may leave a bit more change at your discretion. Taxi drivers may be tipped 10% and porters should receive $1 per bag.
Transportation Martinique has the ultramodern Lamentin International Airport near Fort-de-France. Catamarans and ferry services are available between Guadeloupe, St. Lucia, Dominica and Les Saintes. From Fort-de-France you can hop on ferryboats heading to Trois-Ilets and Sainte-Anne.
Car, bike and motorbike rentals are available at the airport or in town. Martinique taxis stands are located at the airport, in downtown Fort-de-France, and at major hotels. All cabs are metered. While public buses are inexpensive, much public transport is by collective taxis, bearing the sign TC.