We just got back from our Martinique vacation and there were a few tips that I learned that need to be shared with everyone planning a trip to Martinique. But first, let me explain why we ended up in Martinique for spring break.

We live in Rhode Island and Norwegian Air just introduced new routes from Providence’s T.F. Green airport to destinations in Ireland and Scotland, as well as Martinique and Guadeloupe in the Caribbean. I attended an event for travel agents promoting these new routes and was the lucky winner of a trip for two on Norwegian Air with three nights in Martinique from Martinique Tourism. They were putting us up at the five-star La Suite Villa Hotel in Trois-Ilets and we then decided to extend our stay with three night at the Club Med Buccaneer’s Creek.

Since we were able to stay in two parts of the island, and used our rental car to explore other areas, we were able to get a sense for what the island is like for a Martinique vacation.

Martinique Vacation Planning Tips

Martinique vacation Club Med Buccaneer's Creek

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If you are planning a trip to Martinique, here are the things that you have to know.

Martinique is not really a resort island

When you think of the Caribbean, it is easy to think of long stretches of sandy beaches lined with sprawling resorts. Places like the Dominican Republic are known for its all-inclusives, and others like Turks & Caicos are known for beautiful beaches. There are some islands, like Jamaica, where you go and never really leave the resort except perhaps for an excursion to Dunn’s River Falls.

It really isn’t like that in Martinique. Martinique is one of the eighteen regions of France (obviously one of its overseas regions.) It is a living and working island of nearly 400,000 people, with its main industries being construction, rum (from the sugar cane grown on island), oil refinery, cement, sugar, and tourism. The island is neither posh or impoverished.

As a mountainous island, the beaches are more limited and many of them, are relatively small and rocky. The glittering lights of towns dot these hillsides and driving through the island you will find all the things needed to sustain its population — stores, schools, farms, neighborhoods, etc.

Small hotels are clustered around these beach areas and in the city of Fort-de-France, where the cruise ships dock and where you will find the international airport. The nicest beach is down in St. Anne, and the Club Med Buccaneer’s Creek where we stayed is more more like a typical Caribbean resort than what we saw in other parts of the island. The south in general is more lush, with rolling hills and sugar cane plantations.

The island is known for its culinary scene, with a mix of French and Creole influences. However, you won’t find any well-known American or high-end international hotel brands.  I would also say that the hotel ratings don’t compare to similar ratings in the United States and major European cities.

Because of the smaller hotels, you will also find many visitors rent homes or apartments and walk to local beaches and restaurants. It is definitely a destination for the more independent and intrepid traveler than someone that likes to be pampered and have U.S.-level five star service and amenities.

While I was here, we went to look at a few other hotels and one I really liked for families was the Hotel Bambou. Although only rated two-stars, they have very cute bungalows for families (and suites/rooms for adults only too), as well as full amenities — pools, beach access, restaurant, bar, water sports, etc.

Hotel Bakoua is also a full-service hotel resort on a small beach, offering connecting rooms and suites for families. The rooms here were a little more worn looking and didn’t have the same charm as Hotel Bambou but more rooms are beach front.

You really should rent a car

St Pierre Martinique

Some of you may have already read on Facebook or Instagram about my debacle upon arriving in Martinique. Hopefully no one else makes the mistakes that I made but even still, I highly recommend renting a car and here is why:

  • Taxis are expensive. From Fort-de-France to Trois Ilet is 60-80 euro. From Fort-de-France to St. Anne in the south is over 100 euros. Even though I knew this, I thought it would be easier to get a taxi then to rent a car, but I was wrong.
  • Taxis do not take credit cards. Unfortunately they only take cash and only euro, so unless you come equipped with a lot of euro (or forget your ATM card like me), you are out of luck.
  • Taxis are hard to find. When we arrived at the airport at 9pm there were hardly any taxis available. And the ones that were there, were quite picky about who they would and wouldn’t take. So if you are going to an area they don’t want to drive to, tough luck.
  • You need to move around. As I mentioned above, this isn’t an island where it is all about the resorts and people don’t leave the resorts. You need to move around. With the exception of Club Med, which is one of the few all-inclusives, you will want to leave your hotel for some meals and possibly to get to the beach or explore other areas. There aren’t lines of taxis around so this can be challenging.
  • There is no Uber. Need I say more?

That said, you need to make a reservation in advance. When I arrived, many of the car rental counters were closed for the evening and the ones that were still open would not rent to me without a reservation. Car rentals are not cheap, but in retrospect it is worth it because it is actually LESS hassle than finding a cab.

The line for Budget / Enterprise was HUGE at the airport so to avoid that mess, you may want to go with another brand like Jumbo Cars (Sixt was closed also when we arrived.) However, I ended up renting in Trois Islet and returning to the airport from Europcar. I use Europcar often for clients and for my own rentals so I have a high level of trust on the quality of their vehicles. I usually just search with Auto Europe and book with the best deal that comes up. (Use my affiliate link to find a deal with Auto Europe.)

Bring cash

St Pierre harbor

As a French region, the currency is the Euro. Perhaps it is different in the cruise port, but in the many shops and restaurants we visited, I saw only one that had a sign showing that they took US dollars. And, as I mentioned earlier, cabs only take euro (no credit cards.)

Most shops and restaurants will take credit cards but a lot of restaurants are small roadside establishments from someone grilling up chickens to food trucks or produce stands. When you are having trouble finding restaurant availability, this may be your only option (yes, we were turned away from a restaurant without a lunch reservation — I think because they were expecting a tour group.)

Unlike countries like Iceland where virtually everyone took credit cards, I didn’t find quite the same in Martinique so I would make sure you have some cash on hand.

Learn French

Trois Ilet view

Martinique is part of France. They speak French. Many of their visitors are from France. Until recently with new airline routes opening up, there wasn’t a huge need for locals to speak English outside of the cruise port area. This can be true in restaurants, shops, and even hotel check in. It really helps to either brush up on some French phrases, download an offline French phrase book (I like Fodor’s Travel Phrases app), or keep your phone connected to data to use Google Translate.

Even reading the menus can be a challenge if you are not a French speaker. This got us in some trouble in Paris a few years back, so a menu translator app or Google Translate is key.

Watch your Speed

Club med sunset

After my recommendation to rent a car, I need to add that you need to watch your speed. I was a very cautious driver on this trip, many times with locals flying past me when they got the chance. And still, I woke to an email (in French of course) that notified me of a traffic violation. Apparently at some point on our travels I exceeded the speed limit, although it is hard to imagine where, and I was caught by a traffic camera. Not only do I need to pay a fine to France, I now also have an additional fee to pay with my credit card company. This also happened to us in Iceland, so I think it is a smart but tricky way to generate more revenue for the local government. Driver beware!

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