Presqu'ile de la Caravelle in Martinique

The Atlantic coast, "upwind" of Martinique

The east coast, windward coast

The term windward coast comes from the very regular weather system known as the trade winds. These air currents, which come from the Atlantic Ocean, are partly responsible for the opening of trade routes between the old continent and the Caribbean. Their regularity during a large part of the year makes it possible to cross the Atlantic Ocean (what is called a transatlantic crossing) entirely by sail. 

On the other hand, the other side of the island is protected by the topography, the mountainous relief. On the Atlantic side, the wind blows almost all year round and this affects the landscape enormously. The unprotected areas will have more uneven relief, the waves will be more present on the beaches and the vegetation must also adapt to this. This is why on this side of the island you will find many fallen trees, where the effect of the regular wind has curbed their growth. But you will also come across peaceful havens, heavenly bays where sailing is a pleasure. 

The North Atlantic

Tartane on the Caravelle peninsula in Martinique
Village of Tartane, photo by Pascal Stanislas.

You will find the most beautiful surf spots on this side. Tartane, a small fishing village on the Presqu'île de la Caravelle, is the main town. But for high level competitions, with even bigger waves, it is on the side of the city of Basse-Pointe, further north, that it happens. If beautiful waves can regularly form, it is thanks to two factors: the regular winds create waves that will come to "hit" the second factor, an element of the sea bed, in some places it will be a coral reef, in others a sand bank, or why not an artificial reef. This is what will create the breaking of the wave, and allow the surfers to practice their sport.

The Caravelle Peninsula 

Presqu'île de la Caravelle, photo by Pascal Stanislas.

The Caravelle peninsula is also a very popular place for walking, with varied landscapes between mangroves, rocky cliffs and sheltered coves. It is also, with the southern part of the island, the first element that appeared in Martinique. Between 22 and 24 million years ago, magmatic upwelling created the Saint-Anne massif and the Caravelle peninsula. This is why the landscape and the colours of the rocks around the peninsula are so diverse. There are very old remains of magma, often black and hard, and then whiter layers, which are old oceanic sediments (therefore of limestone origin), which have risen to the surface through tectonic movements. 

Special mention should be made of the Baie du Trésor, which should not be missed under any circumstances. This protected area is the habitat of endemic species of Martinique, notably the White-throated sparrow which is a protected species because it is in danger of extinction. Although not very well known, an aquatic walk at the bottom of the bay, in the part where the water is deeper, can make you discover a dense and colourful underwater life. 

Baie du Trésor, photo by Thibault Desplats.

Indeed, on this side of the island with the more present waves, diving is not very developed. However, the coral reef that surrounds a large part of the coastline makes it a very rich area in terms of underwater biodiversity. 

Further south, kite surfers are king, with the iconic spot of Anse Michel and Pointe Faula. Beautiful beaches as far as the eye can see, with dense seaside vegetation, which is most pleasant for a shady picnic, but also for preserving biodiversity. 

It is on these Atlantic coast beaches that leatherback turtles come to lay hundreds of eggs each year. 

The paradisiacal scenery of the white backgrounds

L'îlet Madame, photo by Alexandre Favre.

But this windward coast also has protected areas such as the bay of Robert and the bay of François. One enters the bay through a pass, which was the bête noire of the first European settlers. Indeed, the numerous shallows made access to the bays very perilous. This was much easier for the Caribbean Indians, who were more at ease with much smaller, lighter and steerable boats.

It is in this area that the famous white bottoms can be found. You will certainly have heard of Josephine's bathtub and her famous rum baptism. But this is only one example, often too frequented, of all the white bottoms accessible by boat. The colour of the turquoise water is breathtaking, the result of shallow water and extremely white sand resulting from the slow and natural disintegration of coral skeletons and other limestone sources. You will find that the sand is not always pleasant to walk on, as the pieces are of unequal size. 

One of the great attractions of this area is also its islets. Some are inhabited, others completely wild. On all of them you will be able to observe a great diversity of species, both from an animal and a plant point of view. The most emblematic, but inaccessible for its protection, islet Loup Garou that you can see at the exit of the bay of Robert. But the other islets in the bays of François and Robert are just as amazing, whether for their cliffs known as Orgues andésitiques, for their endemic iguanas (îlet Chancel), or for the migratory birds that come to breed there. 

The North Atlantic, as far as its end of the world, the village of Grand Rivière

Like its counterpart on the Caribbean side, the northern part of the Atlantic coast is marked by the rugged relief linked to its recent mountain ranges: Mount Pelée, which is the great mistress of the area, has lifted up older ranges. This is why it is bordered by steep and sometimes unstable hills. Above the Caravelle peninsula, the coastline is made up of steep cliffs and long, increasingly black beaches, as you head north. This part of the island is not protected and swimming is often dangerous, with waves and a strong current. The emblematic figure of this part of the island is the îlet Sainte-Marie (just opposite the town of the same name) and its tombolo, a sandy strip of land that can be reached on foot for part of the year. 

On the commune of Macouba, commonly seen as the northernmost commune on the Atlantic side, there is a strange beach, which gave rise to a film of the same name: Nord Plage. This old district was almost entirely destroyed, once its inhabitants were relocated, to face the dangers of submergence. By talking to the old people (called grown-ups here), we learn that the large cliffs that enclose this now deserted district were once lined with beaches, allowing for connections with the other villages around. The beach to the right of the ruined buildings is an inexhaustible source of driftwood and rubbish, deposited here as an offering from the ocean, which has patiently polished these plastics into new objects.

This northern route has an end, as it is not possible to drive all the way around the island from its coastline. Thus, in the north, you will find the village of Grand Rivière. After that, if you want to reach the Caribbean coast, you will have to put on your trainers for a 16km hike. From the port of Grand Riviere, it is possible to see the sister island of Dominica across the channel. 

Article written by : Jessica CHEKROUN

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