Martinique, an island in the French West Indies, has seen marked cruise growth in the last two years. In fact, business is booming so much at Fort-de-France’s two terminals — recently upgraded to accommodate Quantum of the Seas, which will call on the port for four sailings in 2015 — that a feasibility study is underway to determine whether additional facilities are necessary in Saint-Pierre.
But what’s Martinique all about, and what the heck is there to do all day? It’s not your typical Caribbean destination; as with its sister islands Guadeloupe, St. Martin and St. Barth’s, nearly everyone speaks French, you’ll pay for most purchases with Euros, and you won’t have locals swarming you to ask if you want your hair braided. The decades-old “it’s too expensive” stereotype is a thing of the past. Everything from the food to the architecture is what you’d get if you put a Caribbean twist on New Orleans. Plus, it’s rife with natural wonders and only-in-Martinique activities. Read on for five fun experiences to look for during your cruise stop.
1. Yole boating: Exclusive to Martinique, this unique form of sailboating involves a team of sailors who sit on wooden poles and use their body weight to steer the boat as they dangle over the water. It’s fun to try and easy to learn, but it takes years (and super strength) to master. If you’re in town at the right time, you might even be able to catch a yole race in Sainte-Anne.
2. Fort-de-France markets: If shopping is your favorite in-port pastime, check out the cruise village, which sets up shop on days when ships are in port. You can find edible goodies, as well as souvenirs. Farther afield — within walking distance, at the corner of Rue Antoine Siger and Rue Blenac — is the Fort-de-France covered market. It’s the best place to find fresh fruit, local alcohol, spices, madras clothing and jewelry, as well as superb accra (cod fritters).
3. Diamond Rock: If you take the 20-minute, reasonably priced ferry ride from Fort-de-France to Trois Ilets, you can find several private boats that will take you and your group (and probably a few others) to several sites in the area, including Diamond Rock and a fascinating bat cave. Bring your swimsuit, as you’ll probably stop along the way to snorkel right from the boat to catch a glimpse of some of the amazing reef formations.
4. Volcano exploration and dining: Active types who don’t mind a bit of travel time can hire a 4×4 and guide to take them for a vigorous hike up Mont Pelee, an active volcano that last erupted in 1932. (In 1902, an eruption killed more than 30,000 people.) Those who’d rather view the volcano from afar can enjoy a leisurely lunch of authentic Martinican cuisine at La Chaudiere, located in the town of Morne-Rouge, near the base of the mountain.
5. Rain forest visit and views: If you’re more of a nature-lover and prefer to explore local flora or swim in waterfalls, hire a guide to take you on a tour of the rain forest. There will also be ample opportunity throughout the drive to stop for breathtaking photos at scenic overlooks, including Observatoire Morne des Cadets.