Martinique, an overseas French region located in the Caribbean, sits between the independent countries of Dominica and St. Lucia. Martinique is fully integrated into the French state, with representatives in Paris and the euro as its currency. As you might expect, it is not the least expensive place to holiday in the Caribbean by a long shot, but there are a surprising amount of good values to be found — both in accommodation and dining.
The south of Martinique, in particular, the dedicated tourist areas of Les Trois-Îlets and Ste-Anne, are studded with hotels. There is nothing wrong with these areas — they are teeming with facilities for visitors, and they are generally charming — but they are not places to grasp daily life on Martinique.
If you’re looking for a more local experience, it is best to travel some distance — to the Atlantic side of the island or to the mountains of the north.
Exploring the town of Tartane
I spent a week in January on Presqu’île de la Caravelle, Martinique’s gnarled peninsular arm on the east, or Atlantic, side of the island. The peninsula is named after the caravel, a 15th-century Portuguese sailing ship.
Our week was spent entirely in the little town of Tartane, a settlement that gently drapes itself along the coast. There is not much going on in Tartane, but what the town has is special: two fantastic beaches, nearby hiking trails, the ruins of 18th-century Château Dubuc, a fish market, a few shops selling vegetables, vendors selling vegetables, roasted chicken, rum, peppers, and souvenirs, and a cluster of restaurants.
You’re likely drawn to this sweep of Martinique for the beaches, and for good reason. There’s a busy beach near the town center and then there’s the Plage de la Brèche, a gorgeous arc of beach fringed by palm trees as well as the highly toxic manchineel tree — marked with red paint — which must be avoided during rainstorms. Its sap causes the skin to blister. To the east of Tartane is Anse l’Étang, another picture-perfect beach.
Martinique budget travel guide
Here are a few tips to save money and maximize your time while visiting Martinique.
1. Fly direct with Norwegian
Since December 2015, Norwegian now offers seasonal direct flights from New York (JFK), Boston, and Baltimore to Martinique’s Lamentin airport. There’s no longer a need to bother with a complicated itinerary through San Juan. Note that Norwegian also flies direct routes from Baltimore, Boston, Fort Lauderdale, and New York to Guadeloupe’s Pointe-à-Pitre.
Note: These are all seasonal flights, which means you have until the start of springtime to take advantage of them — or plan ahead for next winter. (Fights from JFK to Martinique were recently extended through the end of April.)
Related: 10 Tips for making your cheap flight on Norweigan Air more comfortable
2. Go local when it comes to food
Martinique is France and France is not always cheap, so meals out on the town can test a penny-pinching budget. Happily, supermarkets, street vendors, and farmers markets pick up the slack. A chicken freshly roasted for €10 bought off the street? That’s dinner for two or three, easy. And it’s delicious.
3. Coffee and rum
If you find yourself visiting during a rainy afternoon when the beach doesn’t appeal to you, go in search of things to drink. The little Ti’Kafé roastery at the edge of Tartane serves good coffee drinks, ground coffee, and cocoa. Looking for something a little stronger? The nearby Distillerie Hardy is a great place to taste and buy a bottle of rum to bring home.
4. Rent a car to explore
There is a bus service along the Presqu’île de la Caravelle, but it doesn’t run frequently enough to be of use to most tourists. Even if you only want to explore the peninsula itself, a car rental for a day or two is a good idea. Keep in mind that taxi service from the airport will cost upwards of €80 each way. Search for car rentals in Europe.
If all you want to do is hang out on the beach — as we did — it might not end up being cost-effective to rent a car.
5. Book a cheap hotel
Tartane has several small hotels and rental properties. A cost-conscious option that we like is Hotel La Caravelle, a simple spot just a stone’s throw from the lovely Plage de la Brèche. Double rooms in spring start around €63 ($68). The views over the Atlantic are gorgeous and make this hotel a Cheapo’s dream come true.
Search for more hotels in Tartane and over 250 hotels in Martinique.