The term “French Caribbeans” is used to designate eight territories that are still to this day under Fench sovereignty in the Antilles islands of the Caribbean. It includes two departments: Guadeloupe (including the islands of Les Saintes, Marie-Galane, La Désirade, Basse-Terre and Grande-Terre) and Martinique, as well as two collectivities: Saint Martin and Saint Bathélemy.
Here are ten good reasons to visit the French Caribbean this year:
1. Dancing at the Pointe-à-Pitre Carnaval is a must
It is The biggest party in the French Caribbean. It often starts slowly on the Epiphany Sunday and finishes mid-Lent. In all the villages there are dance and beauty contests. A beauty contest where people get to elect queens, mini-queens and also mother-queens.
The most important festivities take place in Pointe-à-Pitre but the Basse-Terre Carnaval may be the more authentic one. Pretty much all of the shops are closed on this occasion. On Sunday the Carnaval takes place in Pointe-à-Pitre, it is linked to local creations and Gwoka music. This festival offers diversified types of expressions between political messages and protection of the local culture. Its particularity (no matter what the style of the group is) is to offer parades with bands. There are different types of groups like the groups of the “snare drums”, the one of the “Mas” and the “po”. The festival was established by colonists in the 17th century so as to party before the Lent. Little by little slaves were allowed to participate in the festivities.
2. Learn more about history
Originally called “Madiania” by the Indians of the Caribbean, the island’s name was changed into Martinique by the Europeans colonists. The island used to be occupied by American Indians until they were practically all exterminated by occidental people when the French settled in 1635. From the 1670s onwards, the massive deportations of African slaves to the island finished changing the composition of the island’s population completely. The history of Martinique was marked by the many wars between European colonial empires, the evolution of the agricultural activity and the decolonization by assimilation to the French Republic.
From Saint-Piere to Fort-de-France, Martinique possesses many historical sites that allow visitors to discover the incredible past of this territory. In Fort-de-France, the capital of Martinique, you will discover many places that took part in this history like Creole houses, Saint-Louis’s cathedral or the library Schœler.
3. You will discover idyllic beaches
Guadeloupe possesses some of the most beautiful beaches of the French Carribean and each one of them has its own particularity. From Saint-Anne to la Désirade and Saint-Francois you can choose to go to a beach that is wild, touristy or deserted.
Martinique mainly has fine sandy beaches. Here, each one of them is more beautiful than the others and they all offer picture-postcard material. Whether you want to practice an activity like a kayak and kitesurf or you just in a mood to sunbathe and relax, everything is possible! You won’t be disappointed.
4. Great diving spots
Whether you are a beginner or a diving specialist French Caribean offer some of the most beautiful diving sites in the world!
It was the eruption of a volcano called Montagne Pelée in 1902 that drowned more than a dozen ships in the bay. This historical event transformed the bay into one of the most famous diving sites of the Carribean.
In 1974, Albert Falco, captain of the famous ship la Calypso is informed of the existence of wrecks in the Saint-Pierre bay. In 1979, captain Cousteau set foot to Saint-Pierre island and shoot some footage of the wrecks for his movie “Fortunes de Mer”.
Apart from the wrecks, you will also have the possibility to admire seabeds’ richness: corals, dolphins, turtles, barracudas…
5. Discover the rum road of Martinique
Martinique rum is recognized in all the world as being one of the best rum ever on the planet. When going there you have the possibility to go on the rum road to discover the distilleries where the liquid is being made and buy a bottle (or several) directly from there.
The first step of this circuit is to visit the J.M distillery. Located in the north of the island, closed to the Montagne Pelée, the distillery was founded by Jean-Marie Martin. It is one of the few using spring water for the production of the rum.
The second visit planned along this rum road is the visit of the St James distillery. Located in Saint-Pierre since the 18th century it was relocated in Sainte Marie after the eruption of the Montagne Pelée in 1902. It is still in activity and produces around three million liters of rum each year.
Finally, the third and the last step is the visit of Saint-Etienne’s habitation. located 25 minutes’ drive from the Saint-James distillery.
6. You will eat the best Accras (and other things) in the world
An Accra is a fritter made with black-eyed peas or mashed fish. You have some with codfish other with shrimps or the vegetarian ones. You can’t miss them as you will have some on every menu. Most of the time they are eaten with the aperitif or as a starter with some spicy sauce. That is literally the best food.
Apart from the Accra, the creole cuisine is very diverse, from the blood sausage to the banana flambe through the special “dog sauce”… All of these recipes are made with tasty spices like turmeric, Colombo or Massalé that you can buy at the Fort-de-France market in Martinique for example.
For the sweet tooth around here, I advise you taste the coconut sorbet. Pretty much everywhere you will go in Guadeloupe you will see locals turning a handle on the top of a red barrel. So, no, it is not some sort of instrument, it is better than that, it is a manual ice-cream maker. The way it works is that you have to poor ice cubes in it with coconut milk and sea salt. Then you have to turn the handle around for twenty minutes so as to get a delicious sorbet. The only constraint is that the sorbet has to be eaten very quickly otherwise it melts really rapidly.
7. Guadeloupe has the best markets
Markets in Guadeloupe are very colorful. They are very friendly places. You can roam around to buy local products like fruits, vegetables or flowers. Guadeloupe has plenty of them, there are permanent markets like the one of Saint-Anne or the one of Basse-Terre that take place every day of the week. You also have night-time markets.
The most famous one is located in the center of Pointe-à-Pitre. This one offers a wide choice of local products but also many memories to bring back home. Also, don’t forget to go to the spices’ market as well as Saint-Antoine, Saint-Jules and the flower market. This flower market is being organized every morning from 6 am to 2 pm in front of Saint-Pierre and Saint-Paul church.
Another interesting market is the one that takes place in Basse-Terre. More precisely, it is located in front of the sea and close to the train station. From 6 am onward you will find plenty of stalls that offer avocados, cucumbers, sweet potatoes, bananas, watermelons and so on. Local fishermen bring on there latest catch over there as well. I advise you to bring an extra empty suitcase with you on your trip in case you would be interested in bringing some things home.
8. People are very welcoming
People make the French Caribbean. They are known to be very welcoming with tourists and very nice. All of the people that went there said they were welcomed by open and spontaneous people that are always ready to have a chat with you. If you have any questions, are looking for culinary advice or looking to discover less touristy and more local places don’t hesitate to ask.
9. Martinique is an island of flowers
Located in the center of the Lesser Antilles, Martinique is literally heaven on earth. Flowers are everywhere and the landscapes are an absolute beauty. In the North, you have the tropical forest, volcanic coasts, and wild vegetation. In the South, you will see beautiful beaches, banana plantations, and cane fields. Martinique’s nickname is Madina which means “island of flowers” and the hibiscus is the local emblem.
10. Great weather!
It is simple, whether you go to Martinique or Guadeloupe it is approximately 30 degrees there all year-long. You are welcome!
Here you go, that was ten reasons why you should visit the French Caribbeans! Now the best thing to do is to book plane tickets and start packing your suitcase. Don’t forget to take an empty one if you want to bring back some rum. Also, don’t forget your swimsuit if you feel like diving into warm water or simply sunbathing at the beach while drinking coconut water and eating Accras!