Fort-de-France On a BudgetAs the largest city and capital of Martinique, Fort-de-France serves as the main entryway for visitors traveling to the island. It is a busy city with a significant population, which creates an atmosphere bustling with traffic amidst its historic and cultural sights.
SightsAs the gateway to the island, Fort-de-France has plenty to offer in history and sightseeing. One landmark is Fort Saint-Louis - a fortress on a peninsula of the harbor, built during the reign of Louis XIII. Today it houses a French naval base with some parts open to the public as a museum. Another impressive structure is now a library known as Bibliothèque Schoelcher, whose architecture is probably the island's nicest colonial example. There is also a small museum about rum making in the former Dillon distillery, as well as a botanical garden called the Jardin de Balata just outside the city which showcases more than 200 species of tropical plants and flowers. The St Louis Cathedral is another attraction - a Romanesque church with stained glass windows, a marble altar, an impressive organ, and carved wooden pulpits.
There are also sights around the island which can be experienced via daytrip from Fort-de-France. The northern end of the island features rain forests and black sand beaches due to the volcanic activity of Mount Pelee, the interior is very mountainous, and the southern end is best defined by white sand beaches that are very popular with tourists. A number of quaint towns and villages dot the island as well, like the beach town of Le Diamant, the fishermen's village of Tartane, and the former tobacco town of Macouba which features views of the sea and mountains and sometimes the neighboring island of Dominica on a clear day.
NeighborhoodsFort-de-France became capital city of Martinique after the former capital, Saint Pierre, was destroyed by the eruption of Mount Pelee in 1902. Today, the capital hosts about one quarter of the island's near 400,000 inhabitants. The most pleasant districts of Fort-de-France - Didier, Bellevue, and Schoelcher - are up on the hillside, and are most easily reached by car or taxi (though traffic can be heavy at times). Near the harbor is a lively indoor marketplace (called the grand marche), where local produce and spices are sold. At the heart of the city there is a 12.5-acre park called La Savane - a place not only filled with trees, fountains, and benches, but also a tourism information office, a pedestrian mall, public restrooms, arts-and-crafts vendors, a crepe stand, an ice-cream stand, and plenty of other eateries. Especially with its recent revitalization, the park has become a focal point of the city.
ActivitiesThough Fort-de-France is a center for bustling city life with much to see in history and culture, the major draw to Martinique is its beaches, making the island a great location to engage in beachside activities like swimming, surfing, snorkeling, diving, and more. Most beaches are located on the southern end of the island, one of the most popular being Les Salines near the city of Saint Anne. The interior of the island also has plenty of opportunity with hiking destinations like the waterfalls of Cascade Didier, whose trail is located just 10 minutes or so from downtown Fort-de-France.
Food and DiningCuisine of Martinique is dominated by a combination of French and Creole cooking, in addition to influences from Africa and South Asia. Creole dishes rely heavily on seafood concocted into curries and fritters, with the exception of boudin (a Creole type of blood sausage). One dish typical to the island is called Colombo - a chicken curry flavored with masala, tamarind, wine, coconut milk, cassava, and rum. In addition to a wide selection of Creole and French restaurants, Martinique also features creperies, brasseries, and eateries specializing in cuisine from various French regions. Water is safe to drink from the tap, though fresh fruit juices are also very popular as well as a sugar cane drink called jus de canne - and, of course, rum.
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The island can also be reached by boat from the surrounding islands. Once on the island, public transportation in Martinique is very limited. Taxis are expensive and there are very few buses, but there are some shuttle boat services.