The Hidden Gem of Caribbean Diving
In the heart of the windward chain lies a Caribbean island known to few North American divers. But the word on Martinique is getting out, and those who visit this green volcanic gem discover a landscape that is as diverse and scenic below the waves as it is above. Divers can descend onto other-worldly landscapes of twisted fissures, spires and ridges formed by ancient volcanic forces. The adventurous and experienced can explore historic wrecks sent down by one of the Caribbean's most dramatic natural disasters. In brilliant contrast to these sites are the island's sunlit bays and coral shallows that provide hours of immersive relaxation. Also in the mix is a bragging-rights dive through the center of a towering volcanic spire, descents on precipitous walls and night dives on a sunken sailing ship that has been transformed into a haven for marine life.
- Best for: All divers, wreck divers
- Best season to visit: Year-round
- Weather: Steady trade winds account for relatively minor differences in seasonal air temperatures, which range from the 70s into the mid-80s. Rain showers are less common from December to May
About Diving in Martinique
Dive sites are located all along the island's western shore, grouped in four major areas. To the north are volcanic canyons, walls, black sands and historic shipwrecks. The central coast's Anses d'Arlet region transitions to an inviting white-sand seabed, with a mix of rocky slopes and walls. Bays to the south offer sheltered coral gardens and reefs covered in soft corals. Also to the south are the more advanced dives on sites around the famous Diamond Rock, and reefs that lead to gorgonian-covered walls.
Diving in Martinique Tips
Because Martinique is a French Overseas Territorial Collectivity, it applies the regulations and standards of France and the European Union and dive operators follow the regulations of the Confédération Mondiale des Activités Subaquatiques or CMAS. This system recognizes the credentials from all other major training agencies. For example, a PADI or SDI Open Water diver would be a two-star CMAS diver, qualified to depths of 130 feet. A number of dive operators also carry a PADI affiliation.
Best Places to Dive in Martinique
The historic wrecks of St. Pierre Bay are a window in time. At Les Trois Vallées, the walls of coral canyons rise above ribbons of white sand. The Nahoon is an easily-accessible wreck rich in marine life. Diamond Rock is split by an underwater cleft that allows divers to swim through the center of this volcanic formation. The lava flows of the Babodi Canyons provide dramatic evidence of the island's volcanic past.
What to Pack for Diving in Martinique
In addition to C-cards, bring a logbook that shows past diving activity. This will help justify a higher rating on the CMAS system. Some dive masters speak English, but a simple French-language cheat sheet of common diving terms can facilitate conversations on the boat. Most divers will be comfortable in a 1mm full suit.
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Diving in Martinique
Martinique's volcanic origins are evidenced by its underwater topography, especially along the island's northwestern coast. Here, ancient slopes are covered by the more recent lava flows from eruptions of the semi-active volcano known as Mount Pelee. The meeting of molten rock and the cooling of seawater have created a maze-like landscape of canyons, spires and black-sand slopes that transition to steep walls. Beneath the waters of St. Pierre Bay, divers find more recent signs of the volcano's legacy. Lying on the black sand floor of the bay is a collection of historic shipwrecks that went down as a result of an eruption that is considered the most disastrous volcanic event of the 20th Century. On May 8, 1902, Mount Pelee spewed clouds of hot gas and cinder that enveloped the port city of Saint-Pierre and sunk dozens of ships anchored in the bay. Some of these historic wrecks lie beyond accepted sport diving limits and are visited only by qualified extended range divers. Others rest at depths of 100 feet or less and are visited by a number of local dive operators. South of the capital city of Fort-de-France and its large namesake bay, Martinique's underwater landscapes take on a lighter tone. White sands replace black volcanic ash, and ancient lava formations are hidden beneath vibrant coats of hard and soft corals. This juxtaposition or rock and coral reef make for a varied underwater terrain, where shallow plateaus are cut by narrow clefts, and formations undercut by ledges and grottoes give way to plunging walls. Most of the island's premier shallow and mid-depth sites are found offshore on the bays of Anses d'Arlet and near Baie du Diamant. Also in this area is the Nahoon, a three-masted steel ship put down in 100 feet of water as an artificial reef. Experienced divers can also explore one of the Island's most storied landmarks. Diamond Rock is an offshore pinnacle that rises more than 500 feet above the sea. The signature dive at this site is a transit through a submarine cavern that cuts through the heart of the spire. Other sites around the rock offer slopes decorated with sponges and soft corals that hold an abundance of marine life. There are a number of dive shops and charter boat operators that provide access to sites all along Martinique's western coast. Currently, the majority of divers who visit the island come from France. But as more North American divers learn of the underwater attractions this island delivers, a growing number of businesses are welcoming English-speaking guests
Passport and/or Visa Requirements
Entry Requirements: For short stays (up to three months) no visa is required for U.S. Citizens. A valid passport is required.
No vaccines are required, except for travelers from South America and Africa who may be required to present an international yellow fever vaccination certificate.
Culture and Customs
The city of Saint-Pierre was once known as the Paris of the Caribbean. Though volcanic ash devastated that historic port, it did not smother Martinique's deep cultural ties to the French motherland. Take a seat at a sidewalk cafe in the bustling capital of For-de-France and order a croissant and a café au lait. It would be easy to imagine yourself in Paris, except the French spoken on the streets has a distinct Creole lilt, and the air is filled with tropical fragrances and the faint hint of the sea. French and Caribbean cultures blend seamlessly on Martinique, and it is a melding that many feel brings out the best of both lifestyles. Islanders enjoy a comfortable affluence, appreciate fine food and drink, and celebrate their cultural diversity. The culinary landscape benefits from French techniques that make use of fresh local ingredients from and incorporate Creole flair. The result is a range of delicious fusions cuisines that add variety and depth to the dining experience. Also in the French tradition, many businesses close at midday, then reopen later in the afternoon. The island's Caribbean side comes to the fore in song and dance, and Martinique is known as the home of the lively musical style known as Zouk.
Electricity, Phone and Internet Access
Electricity in Martinique is 220 volts, and the standard frequency is 50 Hz. In Martinique, the power sockets are of type C, D and E.
Martinique's country code is 596 and direct dial service is reliable. Check with your cell phone service provider for information on calling and data usage in Martinique. High-speed internet service is readily available.
Tap water is potable throughout the island. Both plain and sparkling water is bottled on site at the many mineral water springs.
Language & Currency
French is the official language of Martinique. You will hear locals speaking Creole. While at the hotels and tourist areas, English may be spoken, but outside of these areas, very little English is spoken. A French translation book is recommended.
Martinique uses the same currency as on mainland France: the Euro. US Dollars are also generally accepted, as well as all major credit cards. Nonlocal checks may be refused by some businesses. There are many ATMs available all throughout the island.
Martinique's time zone is Eastern Caribbean Time Zone (UTC-04:00)
Location, Size and Population
Located in the heart of the Caribbean archipelago, Martinique is one of the Windward Islands in the Lesser Antilles group. Its eastern coastline borders the Atlantic Ocean while its western coast is flanked by the Caribbean Sea. The island is 4 350 miles away from France, 1 950 miles from New York and 275 miles from the closest South American coastline.
The closest neighboring islands are to the north: Dominica, 16 miles away, Guadeloupe, 75 miles away, and to the south: Saint Lucia, 23 miles away. Martinique is equidistant from the coasts of Venezuela and Haiti/Dominican Republic (497 miles).
Martinique’s eastern coastline borders the Atlantic Ocean while its western coast is flanked by the Caribbean Sea. The island is 4,350 miles away from France, 1,950 miles from New York, and 275 miles from the closest South American coastline.
At its greatest points, Martinique measures 50 miles long and 24 miles wide, delivering 425 square miles of rugged mountainous landscape, dense forests, rivers, waterfalls, rolling hills, and – most importantly – many picturesque bays and coves.
Approximately one-quarter of the population resides in the administrative capital, Fort de France. Numerous religious denominations are present in Martinique. The official language is French, although everyone speaks Creole, a language that is a blend of Old French, English, and African languages, as well as surviving Amerindian terms.