St Lucia to Martinique was the start of my ‘island hopping’ using the excellent ferry service operated by L’Express des isles. A much cheaper option than flying, and probably quicker as well – all things considered.
Arriving in Martinique was a reverse culture shock – it’s an extremely developed country when compared to St Lucia, and very French.
Volcanic in origin, Martinique is a mountainous stunner crowned by the still-smoldering Mont Pelée, the volcano that famously wiped out the former capital of St-Pierre in 1902. Offering a striking diversity of landscapes and atmospheres, Martinique is a cosmopolitan and sophisticated island that boasts world-class beaches, top-notch hiking, great culinary experiences, an enormous array of activities and some colourful cultural life.Lonely Planet’s Caribbean Islands.
Fort St-Louis: The hulking fortress, that gave the city its name, dates from 1640, although most of what stands today is the result of subsequent additions. It’s easily the top sight in town, and my guided tour, thankfully in English, was extremely informative and great fun. Tickets need to be purchased, in advance, from the tourist information centre.
Jardín de Balata: Just 10km north of Fort-de-France, easily accessible by local bus, the beautiful botanical garden, in a rainforest setting, is one of Martinique’s top attractions and will please anyone with even a passing interest in the island’s plant life. The hour-long walk around the garden is clearly marked, and a tree walk and fish ponds will keep kids interested. Otherwise (unless you encounter a cruise tour), this is a tranquil place of rattling bamboo, humming birds, dramatic views down to the sea and rustling tropical leaves.
St-Pierre: The most impressive ruins are those of the town’s 18th-century theatre. While most of it was destroyed in the 1902 eruption of Mont Pelée, enough remains to give a sense of the building’s former grandeur. It once seated 800 and hosted theatre troupes from mainland France. On the ruins’ northeastern side you can peer down into the tiny, thick-walled jail cell that housed Louis-Auguste Cyparis, one of the town’s three survivors. There is also a very interesting museum nearby that gives a glimpse of the devastating 1902 eruption of Mont Pelée.
I’m glad I visited Martinique, especially after the rather underwhelming experience that was St Lucia. However, staying in the capital, Forte de France, was a lonely experience – made worse by the language barrier. Reminder to self: always try and stay in accommodation where you will have the potential to meet fellow travellers.
Martinique backpacking possibility rating: challenging. Finding cheap accommodation is difficult. Beer and wine expensive. Supermarket food higher than UK prices. Local transportation and museums are expensive. Country score: 7 out of 10. Hassle factor – not an issue.
Next stage: Dominica.