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


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Port Facilities

Both terminals offer restroom facilities and easy access to taxis. Most ships dock at the long pier terminal at Point Simone, located in downtown Fort-de-France. Simply walk off the pier and you'll have easy access to taxis, restaurants and shopping. A cruise village is set up on the waterfront on port days, with tented vendors selling everything from T-shirts and sarongs to local rum. Dedicated tourism representatives (easily identifiable by their red vests) are on hand to answer questions and offer directions, and the adjacent ferries can take cruisers to points more easily reached by sea than land.

Other ships dock at La Tourelles, the island's traditional cruise port, which is a 15-minute walk from downtown. It offers two duty-free shops and Wi-Fi, but otherwise there's not much going on in the immediate port area. Follow the walking path to reach the waterfront of Fort-de-France, or hire one of the plentiful taxis for other points.

Smaller ships may skip the larger cruise ports and anchor on a less-visited part of the island. Located on the southern tip of the island, La Marina Du Marin is the largest anchorage south of the Dominican Republic, and very popular for yacht charters and private boaters. This modern, chic facility is home to a multi-level shopping area with shops, restaurants, a wine bar, grocery store and apothecary, and free Wi-Fi.

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.

Getting Around

On Foot: Fort-de-France itself is a walkable harbor front city. You can walk to the city from both terminals; just follow street signs pointing to "centre de ville."

By Taxi: Taxis are available at both the cruise terminal and in the city center. Note that public transportation can be tricky, as few drivers speak English and fares are in euros (the official currency of France). But when you opt for taxi service from your terminal, drivers generally are English-speakers, and you can often pay with U.S. currency or a credit card instead of euros.

By Bus: Martinique is launching TCSP express bus service that will run over reserved priority lanes between the pier at Pointe Simon cruise terminal, the Galleria shopping mall and Martinique Aime Cesaire International Airport. Each loop has multiple stops across the island, and bus service will run from 5:30 a.m. until 10 p.m. Buses are equipped for low-mobility passengers, and tickets can be purchased at automatic-ticket booths at stops, and via Mozaik booths in Fort-de-France. Current rates are 1.30 euros per rider, one way.

By Rental Car: Budget has an office at Martinique Aime Cesaire International Airport and another at Trois-Ilets, which is accessible by ferry from Fort-de-France. Be warned that road signage is in French, and roads are narrow and excessively winding.

By Ferry: Martinique has a robust ferry service, which leaves from the docks at Pointe Simon and offers trips to nearby locales, including Trois-Ilets/Pointe du Bout (about a 20-minute ride). Fares are in euros.

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.

Food and Drink

Traditional food on Martinique is split between Creole and French. Menus feature lots of Caribbean dishes that incorporate chicken, seafood and fresh fruits and vegetables, and you'll also find French-inspired cuisine, including foie gras and boudin noir (blood sausage). If you try one local dish while you're in town, make sure it's accra (cod fritters).

Le Vieux Foyal is a charming restaurant-cum-jazz club that sits inside a century-old Creole house in downtown Fort-de-France, serving up equal parts ambiance and tasty French-Creole cuisine that is certainly worth a try.

At the back of the open-air market in Fort-de-France, you'll find Chez Carole, a tiny stand where a local woman named Carole makes some of the best accras on the island. You can also choose from a variety of other Creole dishes here.

For a low-key lunch right on the beach, check out Le Petibonum. This colorful bar-restaurant, which specializes in Creole dishes like Colombo (curried meat) and grilled local crawfish, is the perfect atmosphere for enjoying a drink made with local rum (ti punch is the traditional go-to) or a bottle of chilled French rose. You can also lounge on the beach, rent water sports equipment and try fly boarding. Be sure to say hello to owner and chef Guy Ferdinand, a beloved local character affectionately known as "Chef Hot Pants."

If you're keen to sample a local tipple, ti punch Martinique is famous for rhum agricole, which is made from pure sugar cane (not molasses, the typical) and has earned an AOD designation from France, a la Champagne and Cognac. Locals sip it as ti punch, served room temperature and accented with simple syrup and a squeeze of lime.

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)