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|Introduction to Martinique
Martinique is a slice of France set down in the tropics. Islanders wear Paris fashions and eat croissants. Zouk music pouring out of tape players, bars and nightclubs will remind you, however, that Martinicans have a culture of their own, solidly based on West Indian Creole traditions.
Urbanization has spread to much of the island, and most of Martinique's large towns feel like modern suburbs. Nevertheless, nearly a third of Martinique is forested and other areas are given over to pineapples, bananas and sugar cane fields. There are also plenty of hiking trails into the mountains.
Full country name: Department of Martinique
Area: 1,080 sq km
Capital City: Fort-de-France (pop 100,072)
People: African descent (90%) French (5%), plus Indian, Syrian &Lebanese
Language: French, English
Religion: Roman Catholic (90%), Seventh Day Adventist, Hindu, Jewish
Government: overseas départment of France
Head of State: Prefect Yves Dassonville (representing Jaques Chirac)
Head of Government: President of the General Council Claude Lise
GDP: US$4.24 billion
GDP per capita: US$10,700
Major Industries: Construction, rum, cement, oil refining, sugar, bananas, tourism.
Major Trading Partners: France, Guadeloupe, French Guiana, UK, Italy
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Visas: US and Canadian citizens can stay up to 3 months by showing proof of citizenship. Citizens of the European Union (EU) need an official identity card, valid passport or French carte de séjour. Citizens of most other foreign countries, including Australia, need a valid passport and a visa for France. A roundtrip or onward ticket is officially required of visitors.
Health risks: sunburn, diarrhoea, intestinal worms, schistosomiasis (bilharzia) (Bilharzia (schistosomiasis) can be present in fresh water)
Time Zone: GMT/UTC - 4
Dialling Code: 596
Electricity: 220V ,50Hz
Weights & measures: Metric
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Martinique has a spirited Mardi Gras Carnival during the five-day period leading up to Ash Wednesday each February/March. The streets fill with rum-fueled revelers and there are costume parades, music and dancing. Much of the activity is centered around La Savane in Fort-de-France. Saint-Pierre commemorates the 8 May eruption of Mont Pelée with live jazz and a candlelight procession from the cathedral.
Martinique has several major sporting events, including the Tour de la Martinique, a week-long bicycle race held in mid-July; the Tour des Yoles Rondes, a week-long race of traditional sailboats held in early August; and a semi-marathon around Fort-de-France in November. Music lovers can enjoy the biennial week-long Martinique Jazz Festival, held in December on odd-numbered years, or the guitar festival held on even-numbered years.
1 January - New Year's Day
Easter Holidays - Good Friday, Easter Monday
Fortieth day after Easter - Ascension Thursday
Eighth Monday after Easter - Pentecost Monday
1 May - Labor Day
8 May - Victory Day
22 May - Slavery Abolition Day
14 July - Bastille Day
21 July - Schoelcher Day
15 August - Assumption Day
1 November - All Saints Day
11 November - Armistice Day
25 December - Christmas Day
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|Best time to Visit
Martinique is warm year-round, with temperatures usually peaking close to 30°C (around 85°F) during the day. Humidity is highest in September and lowest in April. The best time to go to Martinique is the slightly cooler, drier season of late winter to early spring (February to May). Note that this is also the peak tourist season and prices will be highest and attractions and lodgings most crowded.
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|Currency / Costs / Approx. Spending
Budget travellers should expect to pay at least US$80 a day on Martinique, while you can keep a moderate budget from going much over US$150 by sticking to public transportation and a few picnic meals. Traveling in total comfort will run to US$300 a day or more for food and lodging, although you'll obviously spend more if you shop till you drop.
Hotels, larger restaurants and car rental agencies accept Visa (Carte Bleue) and MasterCard (Eurocard). For most other situations, you'll need to use euros. Avoid changing money at hotel lobbies, where the rates are worse than at exchange offices or banks. As in France, taxes and service charges are included in hotel rates and tips are usually included in restaurant bills.
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The turbulent city of Fort-de-France can be very engaging. From the to and fro of the lively markets to the flapping sails in the harbour, the place seems to be in a constant state of excitement, and you will soon find yourself caught up in it!
The city's focus is the Savane, a large park with fountains, tall palms and occasional open-air concerts. The city's other large waterfront space is the Park Floral, where you can shop for coconuts and other island-grown produce at the public market; there's also a fish market nearby.
If you want to hit the beach, head for the undeveloped southern tip of the island and lay down your towel at Les Salines, widely regarded as Martinique's finest strand. The arid climate here means that Les Salines is often sunny when other parts of the island are not.
The beach attracts scores of visitors on weekends and holidays, but it's big enough to accommodate everyone. Les Salines gets its name from Étang des Salines, the large salt pond that backs it. Beware of the poisonous manchineel trees (most marked with red paint) on the beach.
Route de la Trace
The Route de la Trace follows a trail blazed by 17th-century Jesuits into the mountains north of Fort-de-France. It winds through a rainforest of tall tree ferns, anthurium-covered hillsides and clumps of bamboo, and along the eastern flanks of the volcanic mountain peaks of the Pitons du Carbet.
Islanders like to say that it's because of the Jesuits' legendary fondness for rum that the road is so zigzagged. Less than a 10-minute drive out of the capital is the Balata Church, a scaled-down replica of the Sacré-Coeur Basilica in Paris.
Once the 'Little Paris of the West Indies' and the capital of Martinique, Saint-Pierre soldiers on in the shadow of its cosmopolitan past and the nearby volcano that destroyed it nearly a century ago. Despite this disaster, Martinicans began rebuilding the city soon after the eruption.
Much of Saint-Pierre, with its wrought-iron balconies and shuttered doors, still has a fin-de-siècle flavour. The Musée Vulcanologique displays intriguing artefacts of the 1902 eruption such as a blob of molten nails. If that isn't enough, visit the ruins of the old theatre.
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