Martinique (Photo:Pack-Shot/Shutterstock)
4.0 / 5.0
Cruise Critic Editor Rating

By Ashley Kosciolek
Cruise Critic Editor

Port of Martinique

Martinique is one of four French overseas territories in the Caribbean. (The others are St. Martin, Guadeloupe and St. Barts; collectively, they're known as the French West Indies.) French is the first language, and most locals do not speak fluent English; you'll find that signs and menus generally aren't meant to accommodate anyone who isn't French. This can make a visit challenging, especially in the quick time of a day's call, but it's also part of what makes this island so intriguing.

Martinique is one of the few islands that still grows sugarcane and bananas in the rolling fields of its central section, and it has an enormously respected reputation for producing unique and refined rums. Head north to Mont Pelee to experience its rainforest or see the ruins at Saint-Pierre, which are remnants of a volcanic eruption in 1902. Beaches range from the St. Tropez-style of those at the resort town of Pointe du Bout to the naturist-friendly Pointe des Salines and Sainte-Anne, on the south side of the island.

Martinique's New World history began in 1502, when Christopher Columbus landed on the island. The French claimed the island in 1635; for 180 years, ownership bounced between France and Britain, before the former took hold for good in 1815. Martinique became a region of France in 1974.

Napoleon's Empress Josephine, born on the island in 1763, is Martinique's most famous native. She is both revered for her fame and reviled for her part in propagating the slave trade. La Pagerie is a small museum set at her birthplace and shows her early life on the island; in Fort-de-France you can also see a statue of Josephine that was beheaded and splashed with red paint in 1991 by angry locals who were protesting her pro-slavery stance.

Martinique is a sprawling island, and it's simply too vast to cover everything in a day. Narrow down your choices (beach day at Pointe du Bout for one visit, a trip to the rainforest and Saint-Pierre on another visit, etc.). Touring Fort-de-France -- and indulging in one of those great three-hour French lunches -- can consume a day as well, thanks to numerous interesting architectural sites, gorgeous La Savane park and shopping that ranges from pricy French-style boutiques to open-air markets.

--Updated by Ashley Kosciolek, Editor, and Susan Moynihan, Cruise Critic contributor

About Martinique


Pro

An upscale beach-lover's paradise

Con

French is the primary language, so cruisers might find themselves less able to communicate

Bottom Line

This French island offers a Caribbean vibe that's ideal for beach time and water sports


Find a Cruise to Martinique

Good to Know

Be aware that roads on Martinique -- especially those that weave their way through the mountainous areas -- are astoundingly winding. If you're prone to nausea and plan to venture from the immediate port area, you'd be wise to pack your motion sickness remedy of choice.

Also note that topless bathing is common on many Martinican beaches.

Currency & Best Way to Get Money

Euros are used on Martinique; dollars generally aren't accepted, except by a handful of taxi drivers near the terminal who cater specifically to cruise passengers. You'll find ATMs and an exchange bureau -- Change Caribe -- in Fort-de-France, just a short walk from the Pointe Simon terminal. (It's also walkable from La Tourelles, but it's a bit farther.) It can be difficult to find places to exchange dollars after you've left Fort-de-France, so if you're headed out to explore, secure some euros before you go. Visit www.xe.com for the most up-to-date exchange rates.

Language

French is the primary language spoken on Martinique. You'll find English-speakers in most major tourist areas, but otherwise, be prepared with a phrasebook.

Shopping

Take home rum or banana jam for the foodie in your life, or snag clothing, bags and housewares made from brightly colored madras fabric for authentic local gifts.

For artisan gifts, Village de la Poterie has been in operation since 1783, making it the oldest continuously operating factory in France. Today the historic factory still makes clay bricks, and multiple artisans practice crafts from soapmaking to pottery in small Creole cottages throughout the property. Make an afternoon of shopping, along with lunch at waterside or snacks at the onsite patisserie. (Trois-Islets, open weekdays, 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturdays, 8 a.m. to 11 a.m.; 596 68 52 45)