Martinique is a fascinating island. Even though the island is part of the Caribbean, in some ways it doesn’t have that typical Caribbean vibe. Martinique is very much French. If you didn’t already know, Martinique is actually part of the overseas region of France. The island even uses the Euro as its official currency.
Besides the French feeling, Martinique is famous for the tragic eruption of Mont Pelée in 1902. The eruption sadly wiped out the entire city of Saint-Pierre. Saint-Pierre was covered with superheated steam and volcanic gases in less than five minute. The city was almost completely destroyed with anything flammable igniting under the heat. An estimated 30,000 people died from the first eruption. Legend states only one person survived the eruption, but it is believed some survivors lived outside of the blast zone and on some of the nearby boats.
Later in May 1902, a second fatal eruption hit Saint-Pierre. This eruption killed an estimated 2,000 individuals helping with the rescue and repair of the city. Martinique was struck again by another and final fatal eruption on August 1902. Since 1902, the island has not seen a fatal eruption and is now under continuous watch by scientists.
This was my second time visiting Martinique. My first visit to the island was in 1999 and since then the island has certainly grown! Our previous time on the island took us to a butterfly garden. From there we went on a taxi tour, which ended up being very memorable! During the tour the driver pulled over to the side of a road by a completely abandoned field. He exited the vehicle and ended up opening the trunk of the car. Next, he pulls out a machete! Now this sounds like a potential horror story, but the complete opposite happened. The driver walks over to a tree and removes some of the bark for us to smell. The tree ended up being cinnamon. This tale could have gone very differently, but is a unique memory from my first time in Martinique.
Alas, this time on Martinique was not a positive experience. I wish I could write a post talking about a wonderful time, but unfortunately our experience was tarnished by an unprofessional tour guide (Elisabeth).
Before arriving in Martinique, I didn’t find many options for private tours that interested us. After much debate, we ended up going with a tour offered by Princess Cruises. The tour we took was St. Pierre and Rum Distillery. This tour itself is interesting since it takes you to the more popular sites on the island.
One of the first stops of the tour took us to the Sacré-Coeur de la Balata. The church was built in 1925 and is modeled after the Sacred Heart Basilica of Montmartre in Paris. The view from the church overlooks the tropical rainforest and is situated on Fort-de-France’s highest point.
From the church the tour us through the Route de la Trace to Mont Pelée. Mont Pelée is of course the historic volcano on the island that devastated nearby Saint-Pierre in 1902. The drive takes you through the interior rainforest of the island to the mountain. Now I do have to mention a warning with the drive. The drive is incredibly twisty and full of switchbacks. For those who get carsick (like I do), I highly advise staying away from any tour that takes you through this region. The drive is pretty, but I could have easily skipped this entire experience!
After the drive through the rainforest, we were supposed to first stop at the Depaz Distillery. For some reason the tour guide decided to have us visit the distillery last and instead visit the Saint-Pierre museum first. At one point, she even made a comment we would skip the distillery. This of course irritated me since this was my main reason for taking the tour! We did end up saying something to her and she backtracked on her comment about skipping the distillery. At one point, she even asked us if we were British (no, we are from Seattle!). The tour just got stranger as we went along. Her decision to move the distillery to last was not a smart move because we then had to go through traffic to the museum, traffic back to the distillery, and traffic through Saint-Pierre.
Once we made it to Saint-Pierre we visited the Museum of Volcanology. The museum provides images of Saint- Pierre before and after the eruption. There are actually numerous artifacts on display, including a church bell that was broken during the eruption. After the museum, we had some time to walk around outside. Somehow, we did miss visiting the jail cell of Ludger Sylbaris. For some unknown reason the tour guide only invited a few members of the tour to visit the cell. Ludger Sylbaris was one of only a few people who survived the eruption in 1902 since he was placed in solitary confinement. His cell was half underground and had no windows, which ultimately saved his life.
After the museum, we next headed to Depaz Distillery. I know the basics of distilling (I’ve even distilled a few times) and was really looking forward to this part of the tour. I can say I’m thankful I know how distilling works because I ended up explaining the process to a few people! The guide had absolutely no clue about the history of the distillery or how distillation works! At one point, she complained about the distillery not providing a guide. At the end of the tour, we did have a chance to try the products.
Once the distillery tour was completed, the tour then drove through Saint-Pierre again on the way back to Fort-de-France. The ride back took around 45 minutes and went along the coastline. This ride was also full of switchbacks, but luckily not as bad as the drive through the rainforest.
Now I decided to wait until the end to address some of the further issues with the tour guide. Throughout the tour, she made disparaging comments about certain groups of individuals. For some reason, she felt the need to attack millennials constantly. As someone who is technically a millennial, this was frustrating! She described millennials as uneducated and basically a waste of space. At one point, she went on and on about youth using social media (slightly ironic when she started talking about her own Facebook account).
Not only were millennials the target of her negative comments, she next started in on the local Muslim population. At one point, she even stated how she believes the local Muslim population should not be allowed to have a building to worship at. We certainly could feel the Islamophobia during her speech! Throughout the tour, she made numerous negative comments towards various groups of people. This isn’t a great way to promote your island by bad mouthing your own residents and potential tourists. Her comments were unfortunate and will always stick with me about Martinique.
I have to admit this time in Martinique was a true disappointment. A tour guide can ultimately make or break an experience, and unfortunately this tour was a poor experience. The purpose of this post is to not bad mouth Martinique, but to share my experience. The island really is fascinating and I hope to visit again one day. Hopefully if you have a chance to visit the island, you will have a much different experience than I did this time.
Note: We did end up talking to the Tour Desk onboard Princess Cruises about the comments the tour guide made. From previous experiences, I feel it is best to provide feedback to the cruise line about great and poor tours. Ultimately the tour companies are contractors for the cruise line and represent the cruise industry.