Best things to do in martinique

The Best Things to Do in Martinique, French Caribbean

Martinique has it all, from the white sand beaches of the south of the island to the volcanic dome of Mount Pelee in the north.  This French Overseas territory is part of the European Union, carries the euro as currency and French as its principal language, yet she throbs with a colourful Caribbean vibe.     In Martinique, you’ll find a delicious combination of Creole culture and lifestyle with French je ne said quoi.   On this Windward island, set in the eastern Caribbean Sea, you’ll find rain forests, banana plantations and rum distilleries.  There’s huge history here in Martinique, endless watersports, hiking and fantastic food.  Here are all the best things to do in Martinique.

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Our guides for travelling to Martinique do NOT contain Coronavirus updates. You should always read the French Government’s Travel Advisory – you can find that here

All the Top Things to Do in Martinique

Our guide to the top things to do in Martinique imagines that you’ll have at least a week here (although we recommend two weeks in Martinique).  If you’re visiting Martinique on a cruise, then you’ll want to check out our guide to visiting Martinique on a cruise – and what to do in Martinique in a day.

Visit Fort de France

Martinique’s current capital, Fort de France, has enough attractions to keep you occupied for a full day or longer depending on your interests.  Fort de France became Martinique’s capital following the destruction of the old capital, Saint Pierre in the volcanic eruption of Mount Pelee in 1902. The port city of Fort de France is where cruise ships dock, but most cruise visitors will head out on day tours of Martinique.  If you plan on spending time in Fort de France, read our guide on things to do in Fort de France here.

Fort de France attractions include the bustling Grand Marche – a large market full of arts, crafts, clothing and most importantly spices and the historic Fort Saint Louis.  Gardeners will want to head to Jardin Balata, book lovers to the Schoelcher Library. While the library is a working library and contains a large collection of books, it’s the art deco era building that’s impressive – built in France in 1889, dismantled and shipped here to Martinique it houses the collection of abolitionist Victor Schoelcher.  Don’t miss the Sacre Coeur de Balata Church – a replica of Paris’s Montmartre Church.

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Visit the Jardin de Balata

You’ll find Jardin de Balata about 10 kilometres from Martinique’s capital, Fort-de-France.  Martinique’s botanical garden has been wowing visitors for more than 50 years and unless you time your visit with a cruise ship tour you’ll find a glorious peaceful escape.  There are winding paths and rope bridges among the pals, ferns and bamboos.   You should allow about 90 minutes to visit Jardin de Balata, the trail is around 1 kilometre and the canopy walk will take you 15 metres into the bamboo forest.   While the garden is open from 0900 to 1700, 7 days a week, it’s recommended to visit Jardin de Balata in the afternoon for the best garden experience.  Tickets for adults cost 14 euros.  You can prebook your tickets to Jardin de Balata here. cccc

Shop at the Grand Marche in Fort de France

There’s a spice market on every Caribbean Island and Martinique is no exception.  Martinique’s Spice Market can be found at the Grand Marche in downtown Fort-de-France.  Pick up all the fresh and dried spices you want to take home, plus heaps of incredibly fresh and tasty fruits.  A local speciality is “Bois Bandé”.  This is the bark of the Riceria Grandis tree.  Here in the Caribbean, it is legendary as an aphrodisiac.   The name translates as wood (from the French,bois) and to have an erection (bander).  Use at your own risk… TOUR

Taste Unique Rhum Agricole in Martinique

Regular rum is distilled from fermented sugarcane products, which can be molasses or beet sugar.  Regular rum can also be made anywhere.  Following the collapse of Martinique’s refined sugar market in the mid 19th century – primarily because of cheap rums from South America – financial necessity drove the invention of Rhum Agricole right here in Martinique.

Rhum Agricole is different from regular rum.  Rhum Agricole is distilled directly from pressed cane sugar.  It usually (but not always) comes from the French Caribbean.  Rhum Agricole can be made anywhere, but to attain the status of Rhum Agricole AOC Martinique it must be distilled from fresh press cane sugar in Martinique.  You can book rum tours in Martinique cccc that include that all-important transportation to and from your accommodation (or cruise ship), or you can head to any of Martinique’s supermarkets and pick up some of the well-known brands.  There are 12 brands distilled on Martinique.

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Visit a Rum Distillery in Martinique

If Martinique is the home of Rhum Agricole, then L’Habitation Clément is the birthplace of Rhum Agricole.  This former rum distillery is located in the Domaine de l’Acajou.  The 43-acre estate was purchased by Homère Clément, the mayor of this area known as Le Francois and a popular member of the community.  His idea to distil rum directly from sugarcane juice was inspired by his love of French Cognac and it was this process that he perfected to create the rum that we, today, know as Rhum Agricole.

Habitation Clément is far more than just a rum museum though.  L’Habitation Clément is Martiniques only still-working sugar cane plantation and the acres of gardens are given over to outdoor art displays.  A visit, which costs 13 euros per adult (cash or cards accepted) begins with a self-guided audio tour (which you can pre-download to your phone – and which is actually superb) and concludes with a tasting of Clement rum.  Bring a picnic and explore the estate, you can wile away many an hour here.  There’s Rhum Agricole available for purchase (of course) and the grounds and house are spectacular.  The exhibitions fantastic and the old workings of the distillery are both fascinating and extremely well renovated. Habitation Clément is open 365 days a year from 0900 to 1700 and while there is no time limit for how long you can take on a self-guided tour we’d recommend at least 2 hours here.  There’s no way to purchase tickets ahead of time, but the estate is vast and you’ll always find a quiet space if there are crowds here. 

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Drink Ti Punch in Martinique

If you try one drink here in Martinieuq it should be Ti Punch, you can also find this in Guadeloupe.  Ti Punch means “small punch” and it’s unique as it must be made with Rhum Agricole.   Ti Punch is similar to a Brazilian Cairpriingha or a Cuban daiquiri but is usually served as an aperitif.  The recipe fo Ti Punch is simple.  No ice. Rhum Agricole, lime and cane syrup.   A Martinique tradition indicates that Ti Punch should be prepared in “chacun prepare sa proper mort”.  This is translated as “each prepares their own death”.  The barman should provide you with the ingredients for your Ti Punch and you prepare it to your own specific taste.   Many of the “menu du jour” served in the beachside shacks alongside Martinique’s beaches will serve Ti Punch as part of your lunchtime meal deals. Habitacion Clement also does a mean Ti Punch as part of the tour and tasting.

Hike the Presque Ile de la Caravelle

The Caravelle peninsular on the eastern, Atlantic coast of Martinique combines mangrove swamps, dry forests, grasslands and rocky coastal trails along with the Caravelle Nature Reserve.  While there are many nature trails on the Caravelle (and more than 130 kilometres of hiking trails on the island in total) the best Martinique hiking options on the Caravelle are the two loop trails here.  The shorter loop trail is 90 minutes, through the forests and mangroves.  The longer trail, at 3 and a half to four hours (about 7 kilometres) loops around the rocky coastline.  Both trails are easy, but this is a hot climate, and we definitely recommend starting early and taking lots of water. 

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You’ll be able to buy water at the ruins of Chateau Dubuc, but there’s no fresh water on the trails.    Start the trail at Trinité, take your lunch or a snack and visit the Chateau Dubuc ruins at the end of your hike.  (Trust me you’ll want to do the major part of the hiking early in the day).  The trails are well marked – with signs and also painted rocks and it’s a delightful (if hot) way to see some of Martinique’s natural landscapes. If you prefer to take a guide (in either French or English), then this guided hike of the Caravelle is superb.

Visit the Ruins of Chateau Dubuc

Enjoy a little real estate envy by visiting the ruins of Chateau Dubuc on the Caravelle peninsular.  The former sugar plantation was built in 1721 it survived less than a century before it fell into ruins in 1815.  Staff speak French and English and a visit includes a self-guided audio tour (available in English and French).  It’s a lovely way to finish a trip to the Caravelle and the store here sells cold drinks too!  The 5 euro entrance fee for adults includes the audio tour.  Bring hats, there’s little shade here.

Chill out on a Beach in Martinique

It would seem churlish to visit a Caribbean Island and not visit at least one of her beaches.  And Martinique has many of them (not quite as many as Antigua with her reputed 365 beaches) and all with different facilities, features and faces.  From the white sand, postcard-perfect Les Salines, to the black sand of Anse Noire.  You’re sure to find at least one beach that fits you.  If you’re looking for the perfect Martinique beach check out our guide to the best beaches in Martinique.

If you do spend the day on the beach be sure to secure your valuables. We use and recommend portable travel safes – here’s our guide to the best travel safes.

Visit L’Estang de Saline

Most visitors to Martinique will make a beeline for Anse de Grand Saline beach.  But walk across the sandy road behind this rather lovely beach and you’ll find a world of bird and wildlife.  There’s a boardwalk through this nature reserve that protects the fragile salt marsh environment here.   Visit early in the morning or late afternoon for the best chances of spotting some of the birdlife here.  A visit will take around 30 minutes and there are several hides along the way.  It really is rather lovely.

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Visit the Musee Volcanologique to Learn About Volcanic Eruption

Located in Saint Pierre in Martinique’s north, this small but recommended museum is acclaimed for detailing both the science and the human stories of the 1902 eruption of Mount Pelee.  There are photographs of the city of Saint Pierre both before and after the eruption.  It’s an interesting visit and there are great views from the car park too.

Visit the Cap 110 Memorial Park

In 1830 a slave ship carrying 300 slaves sank off the coast of Anse Cafard beach, in the area of Diamante.  This despite slave-trading being banned in 1817.   The boat was completely destroyed, with only 60 women and 26 men being rescued.  No members of the crew survived and neither did any documentation about the vessel.   The identity of the boat continues to remain a mystery to this day.    The bodies of the crew that were recovered were buried in the cemetery and slaves near the shore. 

The Cap 110 Memorial Park commemorates those lost and the millions upon millions of men, women and children involved in the slave trade against their will.   The memorial was unveiled on the 150th anniversary of the abolition of slave trading and the design is by Laurent Valère, is a Martinican born sculptor. 

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There are 15 reinforced concrete busts, bleached white with sand from Trinidad and Tobago. Each bust is of a man, leaning slightly.  They represent the anonymous victims of three centuries of slave trading.  That they are white is a symbol of mourning in the Caribbean.  Their collection together in a triangle represents the triangular slave trade between Europe, Africa and the Americas.  The busts are oriented to 110° East, in the direction of the Gulf of Guinea where the stricken vessel is likely to have come from.  Hence the name of the memorial.

Visit La Savane des Esclaves

Much of the economy of the Caribbean was built on the back of slavery.   This is a brutal fact that is never far from the white sandy beaches and it is one that you should explore on any of the islands you visit.    Located down a side road near Trois Illets in Martinique you’ll find La Savane des Esclaves.  This primarily open-air museum has created a post-slavery era village and farm.   There are native plants, vegetables and fruits, medicinal plants and a huge range of informative exhibition and informational boards.   The content is in French and English and there are guided tours in French.  There is no sugar coating at La Savane des Esclaves.  You’ll explore the violence and immense cruelty of the life and journey of the slave-based economy.   This is a fascinating and extremely informative place to visit, we spent more than 2 hours exploring, reading and understanding.  Be sure to read the information boards about the abolition of slavery and the Code Noir.  Slavery was abolished here in Martinique in 1848, largely as a result of the work of Victor Schoelcher (the library in Fort-de-France is named for him).  La Savane des Esclaves is open from 0900 to 1230 and from 1400 to 1730 every day.  Entry fees to La Savane des Esclaves are 13 euros for adults.

Visit the Maison de La Canne

Also in Trois Islet is the small rum museum called the Maison de La Canne (the house of the cane).  It’s located on the site of a former sugar refinery and rum distillery, the Vatable.     Regardless of whether you’ve visited Habitation Clement already, this is well worth your time.  Learn about the introduction of sugar cane to Martinique in the mid 17th century.  The use of slave labour is covered extensively.  This is a photogenic site with various reclaimed distillery and rum manufacturing equipment.  Entry is 4 euros per adult (cash only).  Maison de la Canne is closed on Mondays but opens from 0830 to 1730 Tuesday to Thursday, until 1700 on Friday and Saturday.  Sunday opening hours are 0900 to 1700. 

Visit the Musee de la Pagerie – Josephine Empress of France’s childhood home

That’s right, Josephine, wife of Napoleon Bonaparte was born in Martinique.  Marie Joseph Rose Tascher de la Pagerie, later Empress Josephine, was born the daughter of a wealthy sugar cane plantation owner in 1763.  What remains of her childhood home (essentially the kitchen) is now the Musee de la Pagerie.   Accessed by a road that runs along the side of a golf course, and surrounded by a park, this museum displays numerous items that belonged to her.   There’s very little here in English, but if you want to see love letters from Napoleon to Josephine then it’s worth the visit.  The museum is closed on Mondays and is only open on afternoons on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.  Entrance tickets cost 5 euros.

Final Words on the Best Things to Do in Martinique

We loved our time on Martinique – from the lovely apartments, we stayed in, to the food and the unique geology and fauna of this jewel in the French Antilles.    There are beaches and watersports galore here, but there’s also an incredibly important history to learn about and understand.  We hope you’ve enjoyed our guide to the top things to do in Martinique – and we’d love to know how you enjoy visiting.

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