Martinique’s capital city, Fort-de-France, was the second port of call on our Southern Caribbean cruise. This French Caribbean island features bright tropical flowers, lush rainforests, winding mountain roads, and historical ruins.
We started our day with the “Panoramic Tour of Martinique” shore excursion, which we booked through the cruise line. Our tour guide was a sweet woman named Beatrix, who referred to us as “my dearest visitors” and thanked us for visiting her island. As we rode in our large coach bus, Beatrix shared a lot of interesting information with us about Martinique. We learned things like how Martinique’s relationship to France works, what the school system is like, and what the main industries are (bananas, sugarcane for rum, and tourism).
Our first stop on the Panoramic Tour was at the Balata Cathedral. The church sits up in the mountains — about a 15-minute drive from Fort-de-France — and is a miniature version of the Sacred Heart Basilica in Paris. While I haven’t seen the cathedral in Paris myself, I imagine the version in Martinique is a simpler replica. The interior is fairly plain, but still features bright stained glass windows, a lovely dome, and some other decorative flourishes. The parking lot of the cathedral has great views looking out over the tropical forests and the sea beyond.
Speaking of views, our drive around Martinique was full of wonderful ones! The island’s interior roads, which we took from the Balata Church to the town of Saint-Pierre, were curvy and quite high up! I can’t imagine it was easy for our bus driver to maneuver the large vehicle along the narrow roads and tight bends, but he did a good job. Nonetheless, as we continued to climb, I did experience some motion sickness and anxiety from the heights — there were times when I would look out of the bus window to see a very steep drop next to the road below! Definitely bring your Dramamine! (And I quickly learned this goes for driving around many of the other mountainous Caribbean islands as well.)
Eventually, we came out of the mountains and the rainforest and arrived along the northwestern coast of the island, at the town of Saint-Pierre. Saint-Pierre is smaller and quieter than Fort-de-France and has the feel of a gentle seaside town.
Saint-Pierre also has an interesting, yet tragic, history. It was the site of a volcano eruption in 1902 that killed 30,000 people. Prior to the eruption, Saint-Pierre was considered the “Paris” of Martinique, and ruins of this old city remain today. We meandered through the ruins, with the highlight being the old theater. The theater’s entryway — with a fountain, curved staircase, and marble floors — is still there, suspended in time, offering a glimpse of the city that once was.
After our stop in Saint-Pierre, we started the drive back to Fort-de-France, but this time via the coastal road instead of the mountainous inland roads. It was a more straightforward drive and featured lots of terrific ocean views. We stopped at a couple of scenic lookouts along the way.
The Panoramic Tour ended back in Fort-de-France, just in time for lunch. We hopped on the cruise ship to eat, then ventured out again to explore the boardwalk area near the pier. We browsed through some of the shops and stalls, where I purchased a neat canvas print of a 1600s Caribbean map that is now hanging on my bookshelf at home! After checking out the shops, we headed to a small park with a simple beach area. We just sat for a while and enjoyed being in Martinique.
All in all, our day in Martinique was relaxed and casual. I didn’t find there to be a lot of shore excursions to choose from, but I enjoyed the one we went on and the overview of the island it gave us. That’s one of the best things about traveling for me — just learning about a place that is different from my own home. One attraction we didn’t see that looked interesting was the botanical garden (Jardin de Balata). If I ever find myself back in Martinique, I’d like to check it out. We saw our fair share of beautiful flowers around the island, so I can only imagine what the botanical garden has to offer!
This was Day 4 of our cruise. Read more about our Southern Caribbean cruise here.
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