A Long Weekend in Martinique
We try to visit the Caribbean once a year for a nice beach vacation, it is usually cheaper than a visit to one of our "local" crowded beaches or a trip to Florida. Last year, Norweigan started flying to Martinique and Guadalupe direct from BWI for a very fair price. Unfortunately, we missed out on the deals last year. They only fly out and back two days a week, so your options are to stay for a week or to stay for a weekend, which was perfect for us.
When the started offering flights again, we scooped up tickets for a date in January, BWI to Fort-De-France. The flight was direct, which was a huge plus for us as most flights to the Caribbean out of Baltimore have a layover. We have had problems in the past with layovers not working out, and when that happens on a three day weekend, it really ruins plans.
We arrived in Fort-De-France around 6:00 pm, made our way through customs and over to our rental car counter. We booked a car through Avis, which was in the airport lobby, similar to most airports. We were given our key to the car and headed out to look for our cruiser. We walked all over the parking lot, looking like right idiots looking for our car only to realize that the rental cars were off-site. Back to the front to wait for a rental car shuttle, which took about 10 minutes to arrive, only to take us about 300 yards to the rental car facility.
We had booked a house in the city, about a 25 or 30-minute drive from the airport. The landscape of Fort-de-France is very hilly with winding, tight roads. They also have a decent highway system. It took some time to figure out exactly which house was ours and then a bit longer to get into the gate and to our section of the house. The place was extremely nice, with a bedroom, bathroom, full kitchen, and massive porch, as well as a carport for our little cruiser. We got pizza at a local place then retired to our house for the evening.
The next morning we packed up some energy bars, water, cameras and got in our go-go mobile and headed off to the north side of the island to a hike up Mount Pelée. The drive took about 2 hours because of traffic in a small town, the winding roads, and our slow pace, it is a vacation after all.
The start of the trail is at the end of the road, which had signs all the way up. I had found this hike via TripAdvisor or some similar avenue but was worried I would not be able to find the trailhead, as it was not clear online. However, driving there and getting to the end of the road, it is clearly marked as well as being a clearly used trail. Parking is on the roadside or at the cafe at the end of the road.
The hike to the top took about two hours, possibly three. It was both foggy and sunny throughout the whole hike. When there was no shade, it was sunny and hot; when there was shade it was foggy and cool. Most of the hike is easy and wide enough for multiple people to pass, however, when you get to the crater, it is a steep downhill and immediate uphill climb over loose rocks and narrow pathways. When we got to the top of the crater, the fog was so thick we could not see past about 30 feet in front of us.
The landscape was beautiful and you could see for miles and miles when the fog was cleared. The landscape was lush and green. If we had no plans for the rest of the day we likely would have done each of the hikes, including the one that circles the crater. As with most hikes, the way down was much faster than the way up. If you plan on doing these hikes, have a big breakfast and bring enough water; I would say plan for a little extra time to just enjoy the views as well. If you do not rent a car, there are buses and tours that can take you to the trailhead, I believe. Just Ask Jeeves, I'm sure he can tell you.
It would not be a trip to the Caribbean without visiting a few beaches, and Martinique has them. On the way back from Mount Pelée we detoured and went to our first beach. We parked right on the side of the road and walked onto a fairly empty beach. It was not the most beautiful of beaches, with some trash and refuse around, but the water was nice, and the mile or so walk was enjoyable. We spent about an hour walking in the beach area before driving a few miles down the road to the next beach, which was much more active.
Unlike other islands, the beaches here have development right up to the beach in the form of shops and stalls as well as parking close to the beach. This is both nice and not, the beaches are not as pristine and nice, but at the same time, it is easily aware of where you are allowed to be. At the second beach we visiting, which we walked for a few miles on, there was a pier with a handful of school-aged kids spear fishing for what I believe were lionfish. They were fun to watch and ab it enviable, I would have loved to have this as an after school activity. They did not seem to appreciate us watching, though, so we left and headed back to our car.
We had a beach break as we went back to our house, ate some food and then went to bed. We had plans in the morning to visit beaches on the other side of the island. Our first stop was across the bay from Fort-de-France on a small but nice beach that had quite a few people on it. Parking was at a hotel's gravel lot and a short walk across the street. The water felt amazing and was clear blue. This beach might actually be my favorite of our trip. It had the feeling of a local beach, not one that a trove of tourists, like us, had found. We spent about an hour here and then moved on.
The next beach was off the beaten path, down a few miles of steep road, and my excitement was building until we were about half a mile away; there were cars everywhere on this road and people everywhere. There were two beaches, one in a sort of cove, black sand, and probably the better of the two. It was a beautiful scene, but not a beach I wanted to spend much time on. The second was more conventional, much bigger, and packed liked a Miami beach. We did not even sit down, got back in the car and headed on.
We then stopped at another beach a few miles away. It was lined with shops, stalls, and beachfront patio restaurants, but was again packed with people. We moved onward yet again.
The last beach we visited was near Diamond Rock, in the town of Diamont. The beach is the length of the town and then some; we spent a lot of time here walking the beach, and then back through the town. While the beach had a lot of people on it, it was large enough that one didn't feel cramped or overcrowded. We had lunch in the town at some place I forgot the name of, it was good. Our early flight the next day meant we had to get up early to return the car on time, so we did.
I really didn't intend a two day trip to Martinique to spiral into a blog post this long, but it did. Martinique was cool, and I'm glad we went. I wish Norwegian was still flying there, but this was the last year they did that. I would go back, if it there were still cheap, direct flights. Mount Pelee was an awesome hike and probably the highlight for me.