Come to Martinique for the rum, stay for the ruins and the yole boat rides. Maybe leave speaking French?
“Wait, there’s only one all-inclusive here?”
I had just arrived at the French Caribbean island of Martinique with very little idea of what to expect. As the daughter of a major cruise-loving family, who also happen to be Puerto Rican, I visited at least nine different islands over the course of my adolescence. But aside from everyone speaking French, its amazing rum and Oprah really liking it—I knew close to nothing about Martinique or the French Antilles.
I (falsely) assumed the things I’d see and do would be akin to the other islands I’ve been to—including mainly interacting with the turquoise water and endless mai-tais. So the news that the island only had one all-inclusive (Club Med) in the southernmost part of the island—on purpose—threw me for a loop. But my guide Géraldine Rome (who also happens to be the Martinique Tourism communications coordinator) told me that’s exactly how the island wants it.
“It’s a conscious decision,” she says as we ride together in the back of our tour van. “We want you to meet Martinique and it’s people. It’s another type of tourism.”
In other words, it’s OK to relax here. There’s plenty of places to do so and rum to consume. But there’s also opportunities to immerse yourself in the Martinique French and Creole culture—and it’s highly encouraged.
Just a few minutes later I started to see what Rome meant. Looking out the window on the way to our first destination, up the eastern coast from the from the capital of the island to the very northernmost tip, I observed no less than one out of every three people headed to work, school, or running errands with a baguette in tow—a remnant of the cultural influence of France, which colonized the island in 1654. Tourists could be spotted here and there, but there seemed to be no other distinction between the life of those on the island and the visitors exploring among them.
We arrived at the village of St. Pierre, which sits in the shadow of the dormant volcano Mt. Pelée. I had been speechless only once before on my travels, after spotting the Colosseum in Italy for the first time. Seeing this majestic volcano standing proud and unbothered among the luscious rainforest in the northern part of this island marked the second time. But unlike the Colosseum, tourists don't overtake the area. We were actually the minority, making a stop at the ruined remains hidden among the town where locals casually went about their business—baguettes and all.