The Caribbean coast, "downwind" from Martinique

This side of the island is protected from the trade winds by its mountainous massifs, which is why it is referred to as the "leeward" coast, as one would on a boat. This coast can be divided into two parts, the North and the South, with the large and majestic bay of Fort-de-France in the middle, which, due to its topography, allows an almost constant flow of wind from the other side of the island.

The north is very steep with its still young and sometimes crumbly mountain ranges. Its humid forest, and its authentic fishing villages.

Its southern part represents the high part of the Trois-Îlets peninsula. It is marked by numerous ancient volcanoes, all round, which separate the gullies and are covered by a dry forest due to the low rainfall in the area.

All along, we find the four categories of coastline: cliffs, beaches, mangrove, and human constructions.

The north and its black sand beaches

From Le Prêcheur to Fort de France, there is a succession of black sandy bays, and you often go from one to the other on a hilly road, following the hills that make up this lively topography. But the further north you go, the more the tropical forest on the slopes of the Pelée adjoins the beach, offering heavenly and timeless landscapes. The colour of the sand is due to its volcanic origin. And when you look out from the beach of Anse Couleuvre, you can see the neighbouring island of Dominica like a mirage. 

Numerous hikes, sometimes very challenging, are accessible around La Pelée. But some have the specificity of making the link between land and sea. An easy walk, the one to the Couleuvre waterfall, takes barely 45 minutes to link the Couleuvre cove to its waterfall, following a river of pure water. The beaches here are also nesting areas for marine turtles, with hawksbill turtles being the most regular visitors to dig their nests for their future young. 

Less touristy than the south, the villages in the north retain a restful authenticity far from mass tourism. From the sea, you can enjoy the varied coloured cliffs, the result of the island's long volcanic history. 

The recent formation of Mount Pelée and the Pitons du Carbet, gives their flanks, which flow into the Caribbean Sea, aspects that are still unstable, with erosion giving rise to more or less impressive phenomena: from the lahar at Prêcheur (mudflows forcing the evacuation of part of the population of this small town due to rainfall associated with the collapse of large rock masses) to the formation of pebble beaches of various sizes. This is how some cliffs seem to be crumbly from the sea, their rough walls becoming real shelters for birds, as is the case of the straw tails that nest on the cliffs of Anse Four à Chaux, accessible only by sea. In this area, numerous shelters, without road access, reveal a wild and majestic decor.

The centre, its majestic Bay of Fort de France

It is home to the island's largest mangrove. This wetland is a concentrate of biodiversity and a protective zone, both ecologically (since the water coming from the land to the sea is partly filtered by the mangrove trees before flowing into the sea) and as a protection for the coastline, offering a real barrier against bad weather. It is also a nursery for a large number of fish species and a migratory stopover for no less than 93 bird species.

The calm water and the almost constant wind in the bay make it a perfect playground for all sailing enthusiasts. All kinds of boats can be seen here: racing monohulls, windsurfers on foils, children on Hobbies Cat (small racing catamaran) from one of the many sailing clubs in the area. Sometimes this ballet takes place around huge cargo ships that wait in the bay before they can deliver their goods to the Grand Port. 

Numerous islets, resulting from the recent volcanic development of the island, are grouped together in this bay, and are part of the commune of Trois Ilets. One of the most remarkable is the îlet à Ramier, a small strombolian volcano that is only 400,000 years old. This îlet houses a fort that can be visited with the Karisko association. Opposite, there are two coves, well known to tourists who flock there every day: Anse Noire and Anse Dufour.

Anse Dufour, Photo by Pascal Stanislas

Between these two coves there is a clear distinction between the end of the black sand and the beginning of the white sand.

Pontoon of the beach of Anse Noire in Martinique
Anse Noire, photo by Thibault Desplats.

Anse Noire, sheltered in the bay of Fort de France, not accessible by car, is the last black sand beach on the Caribbean coast. Usually, there is no clear boundary between two types of sandy substrate. The mixtures of sediment types cause nuances in the colours that we encounter. Here, on the one hand, we have a very closed cove, with a steep relief, and a gully depositing black sediments of volcanic origin. On the other side, at Anse Dufour, the beach is open, with very little input from the land, and a regular deposit of products of the degradation of coral skeletons and other marine organisms, due to a consistent swell and current.

Breathtaking seabed 

Corals with fish in Martinique
Seabed, photo by Alexandre Favre.

On this side of the island the coral presence does not extend for miles, like the coral reefs on the Atlantic and Southern sides, but there are many hotspots, close to the coast, shallow, and therefore very accessible for snorkeling. Many drop offs also offer opportunities for deeper dives, either snorkelling or diving. As the water is very calm, underwater activities have taken off on this side of the island, and you will find, especially on the Anses d'Arlet and Trois-Îlets sides, a large concentration of diving clubs.

The colours of the fixed fauna (corals, sponges) but also of the various fish or molluscs are amazing. It is also possible to dive on some wrecks, recent or older, notably those dating from the eruption of Mount Pelee in 1902 in the bay of Saint Pierre. 

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