The Best Things to Do in Martinique

Beaches, hikes, botanical gardens, and historical sites will keep you entertained.

The Best Things to Do in Martinique

Martinique’s many beaches offer the chance to sunbathe in a picture-perfect setting.

Photo by Claudio306/Shutterstock

The island of Martinique unfolds its rugged, mountainous glory in the southeastern Caribbean. Nicknamed “Madinina,” or “Island of Flowers,” by the Indigenous Arawak people, it also boasts a diverse landscape of golden beaches, rain forests, and, yes, flowers—Martinique is home to more than 100 orchid varieties.

Many travelers come here to experience Martinique’s culinary excellence, but besides eating and drinking your way around the island, you can hike, hit the beach, and explore seemingly unlimited natural beauty. There’s also rich culture to discover at markets, nightclubs, and historic sites.

From outdoor adventures to cultural highlights, here are the nine best things to do in Martinique.

Visit a black-sand beach at Anse Céron . . .

Martinique’s northern coastline, around Mont Pelée, is marked by crescents of black sand—a stark difference from the sugary beaches in other parts of the island. These unique, secluded beaches come in varying shades, from light gray at Anse Turin to darker black at Anse Couleuvre, but all offer spectacular scenery with calm waters and green slopes rising from the coast. One of the best is Anse Céron, just outside the town of St. Pierre. The eastern side of the beach is lined with pristine forest while the western side features clear, turquoise sea that’s perfect for snorkeling (especially near the rocks along the shore) to see angelfish, moray eels, and even sea turtles. There are showers and bathrooms on site, but Anse Céron is mostly undeveloped, making visitors feel as if they’ve wandered onto a secret stretch of sand.

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Visit Les Salines early in the morning and you might just have the sand to yourself.

Photo by Judith Lienert/Shutterstock

. . . then sunbathe somewhere more traditional at Plage des Salines

About two miles south of Sainte-Anne lies Les Salines, one of Martinique’s finest beaches. Here, a perfect slice of fine white sand is bordered by a shady coconut grove on one side and bright blue water on the other, looking like something out of a tropical screensaver. Les Salines can get busy on the weekends with locals and tourists alike coming to picnic and relax against a gorgeous backdrop, but visit during the week or early in the morning and you’ll find soft sun, gentle surf, and sand all your own. Spread your towel, soak up some rays, and don’t forget to nab a coconut or guava sorbet from one of the vendors who regularly walk the beach.

Stroll through the colorful displays at the Grand Marché Couvert

The Grand Marché Couvert, or covered market, in the middle of Martinique’s cosmopolitan capital of Fort-de-France is bursting with the scents and sights of the island. At this shopping center, bright tropical fruits like soursop, passionfruit, and mango sit in tidy piles under a glass-and-steel canopy, alongside sacks of spices like cinnamon, vanilla, and ginger and stalls filled with homemade rum, herbal remedies, and fragrant soaps. Come here first and foremost for the food, but also don’t miss the racks of boldly patterned madras clothing (Martinique’s traditional dress). Once you’ve gathered your haul, head to the back of the market for traditional Creole dishes like fish fritters and goat curry at small restaurants like Chez Carole and Mama’s Snack.

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At the Jardin de Balata, you’ll find orchids, palm trees, and local wildlife like rainbow lorikeets.

Photo by Cavan-Images/Shutterstock

Smell the flowers at Jardin de Balata Botanical Garden

Take in the beauty of Martinique’s landscape with a visit to Jardin de Balata, nestled in the rain forest about six miles north of Fort-de-France. Founded by horticulturalist Jean-Philippe Thoze in 1982, the botanical gardens feature miles of walkways lined with wild orchids, porcelain roses, and hibiscus as well as towering palm trees and bamboo. There’s also a hummingbird garden, a fishpond covered in water lilies, and a hanging bridge between two mahogany trees, offering panoramic views of the nearby Carbet Mountains. At the center sits a 19th-century Creole house, with a rectangular roof and gingerbread accents, which once belonged to Thoze’s father. Tour the property, then pick up a traditional souvenir at the gift shop or indulge in Creole dishes like accras, smoked chicken, and marlin rillettes at La Luciole Restaurant.

Hike the storied Mount Pelée volcano

Notorious for the eruption that destroyed the nearby town of St. Pierre in 1902, Mount Pelée volcano is also known for its challenging hiking trails. Although it’s still active, it last erupted in 1932, so it’s safe for experienced climbers. Of the three main routes to the top, the Aileron Route is the most varied, climbing slopes to the crater rim and dropping into the caldera before crawling to the steep inner cone formed by the 1902 eruption. The Grande-Savane route up the sunnier west flank of the mountain is steeper but has fantastic views, while the Morne Macouba route up the north side is the longest and least used. Whichever you choose, you’ll be rewarded with spectacular vistas of Martinique and its coastline at the summit. Early morning starts, around 6 a.m., are recommended to avoid crowds and the afternoon clouds that regularly cover the trails.

Trek through La Caravelle Nature Reserve

Located on Martinique’s Atlantic Coast in the municipality of La Trinité, the Caravelle Peninsula Nature Reserve boasts 958 acres of protected land that includes mangroves, forests, beaches, and savannas. See it all on the 5.9-mile trail that loops through the reserve, on what is considered one of the most scenic hikes in Martinique. The well-marked path attracts Antillian crested hummingbirds, Martinique orioles, and scampering mantou crabs and provides sweeping views of the peninsula and surrounding area.

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St. Pierre served as the capital of Martinique before being destroyed by a volcanic eruption in 1902.

Photo by John Dvoravic/Shutterstock

Visit the historic city of St. Pierre

The capital of Martinique before being decimated by the Mount Pelée eruption of 1902, St. Pierre is a picturesque place that’s full of history. While the town was entirely rebuilt with a variety of restaurants and shops, you’ll still find remnants of walls and wrought-iron balconies from the 1900s, when it served as the original French settlement on the island and was considered the Paris of the West Indies. You can also tour the thick, stone prison cell that saved the sole person to survive the eruption, as well as the historic theater, which once seated up to 800 people. Visit the small volcanological museum to see photos of St. Pierre before and after the eruption, plus interesting artifacts pulled from the rubble.

Tour the 17th-century Fort Saint Louis

Erected in 1638, the sprawling Fort Saint Louis wraps around the bay of Fort-de-France and rises almost 200 feet over the city. While it’s still an active French naval base, parts are open for the public to explore. An hour-long tour starts on La Française beach and travels through the fort’s lower level, the bastions, and the tower, providing some of the best views on Martinique.

Dance to zouk music at Le Negresco

Wherever you are in Martinique, you’ll likely hear joyful strains of zouk music floating from shops, cars, and beach shacks. Zouk developed in the ’80s and combines elements of soca, calypso, R&B, and jazz with electronic synthesized beats. Popularized by the iconic French Caribbean band Kassav’, it’s become an integral part of Martinican culture; “zouk” is even slang for party, and every party features some zouk hits. Visit Le Negresco nightclub in Fort-de-France and you’ll see couples dancing sensuously to live zouk bands or DJs mixing the latest tunes. If you’re game, grab a Ti punch and meet them on the dance floor.

>>Next: The AFAR Guide to Martinique

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