Martinique is one of our very favorite islands but that wasn’t always the case. This video and article showcase our first visit to the island during Carnival. Since our first visit, we’ve been back several more times. Martinique has it all – great anchorages, French food, modern supermarkets, Caribbean culture, and much more.
But we actually were not that impressed our first time.
Watch the video about Martinique below but to get a more in-depth story about our stay and the overall rating for Martinique, please read the article below the video. Discover why we didn’t fall in love with the country and in the end, I’ll provide you with another article that paints Martinique in a much different light.
We anchored in the large bay outside the town of Sainte Anne, Martinique.
Upon our approach, the sight of the bay was littered with sailboat masts. I wondered if there’d be any space! As we approached the bay, the masts spread out and I realized the bay was massive. There was plenty of room.
Once our anchor was down I had a massive mess to clean up!
The three-hour voyage from St Lucia to Martinique was rough. The swell was the biggest I’ve experienced in the Caribbean thus far – heck, I don’t think I saw a swell so large in the Mediterranean either. We were averaging around 8 knots and the boat was going way up, way down and side-to-side.
Much to my dismay, we heard a massive crash coming from the Captain’s Cabin. I was hoping that some of the water bottles fell over, but instead, it was our daughters’ massive arts and crafts box, her homeschooling textbooks, our printer, and my husband’s project box.
What a mess!
After the cleanup, I popped my head up on deck and surveyed our surroundings.
So this is Martinique, I thought.
Aptly named the island of flowers, Martinique is full of colors. The flowers, shrubs, and trees burst with pinks, oranges, yellows, and reds. And it’s not just the landscape that is full of life, the people are colorful too!
Fortunately for us, we hit Martinique during Carnival week.
Every day for four days many of the 400,000+ inhabitants congregate at the capital and smaller towns to parade down the street in costumes. Bands play, dancers dance, and massive speakers are tied onto trucks providing heart-pounding beats.
Our plan was to take our dingy to the village of Sainte Anne, grab a taxi to the capital Fort de France and witness the main Carnival celebration. To our delight, we had sailing vessel Delphinus with us. Brits Paul, Jane, and Lily shared a taxi with hubby, my daughter, crewmember Eve and me.
Before leaving for the town, crewmember Eve did makeup and hair for Lily and our daughter, Sienna. Sienna dressed up as a princess pirate sporting a princess dress, a dragon tattoo, hook for a hand, and a pirate hat. Lily and Eve went down the subtler makeup and tattoo route.
The themed colors for the Carnival parade were red and black.
Every day the Carnival colors change. We later learned that the following day colors were black and white. Once you know the colors you can dress any way that you want – you can be scary, dress as the opposite sex, or create a costume that’s sexy or simple. There are no rules for the costumes!
Unfortunately, I don’t own any red clothes! My husband, Simon, grabbed is dark red ‘Sailing Britican’ t-shirt and Eve wore black. As for the rest of us, we just went as we were.
Getting caught up in the excitement of the day we all piled into the taxi forgetting to ask what the fare would amount to. After twenty minutes of driving and noticing that the fare was over 60 euros with at least twenty more miles to go, we had an emergency meeting.
Discovering that a round trip taxi ride to Fort de France would cost around 250 euros, we changed plans
So a big tip about Martinique – taxi’s are not cheap!
Buses are a fraction of the price, however, they don’t run during Carnival nor are any shops open. And very few restaurants are open.
Fortunately for us, Paul spoke a bit of French. He explained to the taxi driver that we couldn’t afford the cost of the trip. Instead, he asked, can we get a little scenic ride back to Sainte Anne’s.
The taxi driver must have felt bad for us – or perhaps sorry for us!
I caught him looking in his rear-view mirror looking at all our faces. The whole reason we sailed from St Lucia to Martinique was to see the Carnival!
As luck would have it, our taxi driver indicated that he’d forget the fare clock and take us on a tour around the Pointe du Diamant and deliver us home for 120 euros. We were going to pay around 120 euros just turning around so we jumped at the offer for a road tour of the point.
Cruisers generally enjoy sitting in a car because going over 5-6 knots an hour is a novelty.
It’s also nice to get a tour of the land. We often see coastline day after day so going inland and looking out is a great change.
Unbelievably, the taxi driver spent the next two hours taking us to points of interest allowing us to get out, take pictures and look around. As we made our way around the point, we stopped at a couple of villages, three scenic picture points, and the sight of a famous shipwreck.
Along the coast above the shipwreck, a memorial of statues was created to remember the people, mainly slaves, that lost their lives when the ship crashed upon rocks.
I couldn’t help but feel moved by the statues.
And when I noticed a picture of how the slaves were transported I physically felt sick. The slaves were apparently shipped in coffin type arrangements, forced to remain in a horizontal position chained to their ‘bed’. They were given a tiny bit of food but forced to defecate right where they were. Many died on the journey.
When I expressed my deep feelings of anger and sadness our five-year-old daughter asked what slaves were. I was so upset I failed to tell her much of anything. I made a note to myself to teach her about slavery but not yet…
Moving forward from the wreck site, we stopped at a picture-postcard village that had the most gorgeous beach ever. There were palm trees, white and black sparkling smooth sand, and the Diamond Island landmass in the background.
Our new focal point lightened my dark feelings.
As if my eyes couldn’t smile anymore, they did.
We went from one scenic view to the next, passing colorful flowers, trees, homes, and mountainside. At the viewpoint closest to Diamond Island, we got out of the taxi, went to a viewing station, and took more pictures to remind us of the beauty of the island.
Little did we know that we’d be sailing past Diamond Island the very next day.
Curving around the coast heading north, our lovely driver stopped at a village to allow us to get some cold drinks and churros. Never did I expect to get churros on a French island! I thought they were a Mexican treat?! Either way, we gobbled them down with Martinique made chocolate sauce and Orangina (carbonated orange drink).
The surge of sugar was much needed due to the high heat of the day – especially considering all the sugar cane plantations we drove past! Sugar was certainly on our minds.
Once we started to head back our taxi driver received a few phone calls.
Paul wasn’t certain of the conversation but we think the driver needed to either get somewhere to pick people up or, perhaps, he was late for dinner.
Regardless of the contents of the call, our driver proceeded to tailgate every car that was getting in his way. On a couple of occasions, I thought we were going to get in an accident, and once I let out a little scream.
By the time our driver dropped us off the amount on the fare monitor was almost up to 300 euros. Thankfully the cost was capped to 120 euros.
We paid our fare, thanked the driver, and walked into Sainte Anne’s to enjoy the localized Carnival procession.
Carnival was fantastic. A group of people dressed in red and black walked through the town dancing, playing drums leading several local kids and adults – all dressed for the occasion.
Interestingly there were quite a few men dressed in woman’s clothes.
The men seemed to really enjoy wearing dresses, heels, wigs, and accessories. They certainly impressed the crowd of onlookers. The parade went around the town a couple of times and then a large truck with around 12 speakers joined in blasting super loud music. As it passed I could hear my heart pound to the beat.
Eventually, the parade ended and the participants and audience dispersed into one of the many restaurants, cafés or bars. We chose a lovely restaurant on the beach and enjoyed some drinks. Another cruising couple that we met earlier in the week at St Lucia, walked by so they pulled up a chair and enjoyed some conversation with us. Before heading back to the boat we all had a meal.
To my surprise, none of the restaurants offered typical French food.
I had chicken curry, a few people had steak and fries and Jane, a vegetarian, enjoyed a plate of wonderfully presented vegetables. Where were the Brie Cheese, baguettes, pate, and delightfully French dishes cooked in butter? Perhaps we’ll find that elsewhere on the island?
Our lovely day ended with a dingy ride back to our boats.
One of the common characters I’ve noticed with cruisers is that most of them have the ability to go with the flow. Plans always change – often things that we set off to do never get done. Many times we plan to sail to destination A but end up in B.
What I enjoyed about the day was our ability to get on land, work towards an end goal, and find pleasure when our plans actually changed.
Ultimately we experienced a bit of the Carnival spirit anyway.
The following day we sailed along the coast that the taxi driver so kindly took us around. From the sea, we could pick out the statues dedicated to those that lost their lives in the shipwreck. We could also spot the various lookout points. Furthermore, we had an excellent view of Diamond Island.
During our stay in Martinique, we anchored in Sainte Anne’s, Anse A L’Ane, Grande Anse D’Arlet, and the capital city Fort-de-France. All areas had great holding, little noise, and an unnoticeable swell.
I’d love to tell you about some restaurants but over the Carnival period, everything is shut.
The areas outside the capital did have a few restaurants open so we attempted a meal. In Grande Anse D’Arlet, we went to the restaurant recommended in the Pilot Book to check in at. Once at the restaurant, we were told in French and quite flippantly to go to the next bay. Despite a sign hanging on the restaurant saying they’d handle Customs, we were told to go elsewhere.
Before heading to Petite Anse D’Arlet we decided to stay for a drink and get a small bite to eat. The food looked amazing. After 20 minutes of trying to flag over the two waitresses/owners and failing to get noticed we finally decided that we weren’t going to be served. If only I could speak French I would have had a few choice words to say!
Things like that really drive me mad.
We’ve spent months in the Caribbean and I couldn’t say a bad word about any of the service. We’re on a French Island for a week and I can count several occasions where we were totally dismissed or waved off. (I won’t recount them).
That being said, we also met some wonderful people – mostly in Fort-de-France. And look at what our taxi driver did?! I shouldn’t let a few bad apples spoil the bunch now, should I?
All in all, it’s my issue for not being able to speak French
So…My overall rating for Martinique was… 5/10 (NOT ANYMORE. Now I give it an 8 or 9…Read this: 8 Reasons To Sail To A French Caribbean Island)
The anchorages had good holding. The views were beautiful. The country seemed to be very, very clean. The roads were fantastic aside from the construction in Fort-de-France. Furthermore, there were quite sophisticated marine services available in Martinique.
I suppose it’s the service level that let me down and that’s probably because it was Carnival season. Compared to St Lucia, the islands in the Grenadines and Barbados, many of the people in Martinique seemed to have a dislike for tourists…or perhaps English tourists?! I don’t know. I just felt like it was so different coming from the other islands where people bent over backward to help you.
To compare ratings for other islands/countries, I gave the following:
Tobago Cays 8/10
St Lucia 9.5/10 (I haven’t published a review on the whole country yet, but there’s a review of the Rodney Bay Marina here)
Tips on Martinique:
- Ask for the price of a taxi ride before taking it and if you’re on a budget seek out bus services instead. There are taxi style buses that are less than a taxi and more than a bus.
- Bring a French translation book if you don’t know French. In Fort-de-France, the capital of the island, many people spoke English but in the more rural areas, it was very hard to find any English-speaking people in the services industry.
- Know that if you purchased a Digicel SIM card in a non-French country, like St Lucia, your SIM will not work in Martinique. Digicel does operate in Martinique but you have to buy another SIM for €10 and then it’s €20 for 1 gig or €40 for 2 gigs. You’ll have up to 45 days to use the 2 gigs. We have a Digicel MiFi unit – we put the SIM in the unit and it supplies WIFI to all the computers on the boat. Having a St Lucia SIM we thought we could use roaming, but that’s not the case. You’ll need another SIM for Martinique and the other French islands or areas.
- There’s a great mall with a massive supermarket 10 minutes away from Fort-de-France. If you book in at the Chandlery in the Capital city and want to do a serious provision, take a taxi bus (€2) ten minutes down the coast to the Gallery Mall. There are some great shops there to get sports clothes, dresses, underwear, and so forth. There’s also a couple of department stores – one of them with designer stuff and the other a low-cost offering (like Kmart or Primark).
- The dingy docks are fantastic but to ensure your tender isn’t damaged with the surge, make sure to have an anchor out to keep the tender from bashing into the dock. (That’s a tip for most of the Caribbean).
- Get your wine in Martinique! You can get your French wine at France prices! Instead of paying $15 to $30 for a bottle of wine in the shops, you could get some excellent wine for less than $10.
If you have any tips for Martinique, please leave them in the comments below. Check out another visit to Martinique here.
Other Articles/Videos About Islands Along The Caribbean
If you’d like an overview of all the places we’ve visited in the Caribbean please read our destination overview: Caribbean
- Sailing to Saba
- St Kitts & Nevis
- Sail Montserrat
- Sailing Antigua
- St Vincent & The Grenadines