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Martinique is an island in the Lesser Antilles in the eastern Caribbean Sea, with a land area of 1,128 km2 (436 sq mi). Like Guadeloupe, it is an overseas region of France, consisting of a single overseas department. It is directly north of St. Lucia and south of Dominica.
As with the other overseas departments, Martinique is one of the twenty-seven regions of France (being an overseas region) and an integral part of the French Republic. As part of France, Martinique is part of the European Union, and its currency is the Euro. Its official language is French, although many of its inhabitants also speak Antillean Creole.
Breathtaking natural beauty is Martinique's claim to fame, but no coast offers quite the same scenery. The north is both rugged and lush, with the majestic Mont Pelée volcano commanding the view. Southern Martinique is calmer, romantic and characterized by brilliant white sand beaches. Central on the west coast, urban Fort-de-France is bursting with spectacular historic and cultural sites.
Volcanic in origin, the island is crowned by the still-smouldering Mont Pelée, which wiped out Martinique’s former capital of St-Pierre in 1902. There’s plenty of hiking and nature-watching on the slopes of the volcano. And since this is often called the ‘Isle of Flowers’ there are botanical gardens tucked into the rugged landscape.
Long luscious beaches and loads of diving are the main attractions in the south. Fishing villages dot the coasts; most of them have managed to hang on their seafaring soul while offering plenty for visitors to see and do.
There’s a lot going on here, but it all happens on Caribbean time. Except for the mountainous north, it’s an exceptionally easy island to drive around. One can surf at Presqu’île de Caravelle in the morning and make it back to Fort-de-France in time (avoiding rush hour) to sample the city’s budding nightlife.
The north of the island is mountainous. It features four ensembles of pitons (volcanoes) and mornes (mountains): the Piton Conil on the extreme North, which dominates the Dominica Channel; Mont Pelée, an active volcano; the Morne Jacob; and the Pitons du Carbet, an ensemble of five extinct volcanoes covered with rainforest and dominating the Bay of Fort de France at 1,196 metres (3,924 ft). Mont Pelée's volcanic ash has created gray and black sand beaches in the north (in particular between Anse Ceron and Anse des Gallets), contrasting markedly from the white sands of Les Salines in the south.
The south is more easily traversed, though it still features some impressive geographic features. Because it is easier to travel and because of the many beaches and food facilities throughout this region, the south receives the bulk of the tourist traffic. The beaches from Pointe de Bout, through Diamant (which features right off the coast of Roche de Diamant), St. Luce, the department of St. Anne and down to Les Salines are popular.
The northern end of the island catches most of the rainfall and is heavily forested, featuring species such as bamboo, mahogany, rosewood and locust. The south is drier and dominated by savanna-like brush, including cacti, balsam, logwood and acacia.
The average monthly temperatures remain remarkably stable, varying by only about 5º Fahrenheit year-round. This stability can be attributed to the tradewinds (Les Alizés) which bring refreshing breezes from the northeast throughout the year. Summer is actually a great time to visit the islands because the beaches, roads and restaurants are not crowded. Of course, winter and the Christmas/New Year holidays are traditionally the most popular time to go.
December through May is considered the dry season, while June through November is considered the more humid season. Rain showers or clear skies can occur at any time during the year. In general, rainstorms pass quickly and the sun shines on most days. Average air temperatures in coastal areas range from 22º to 30º C (72º to 86º F) and in inland areas, from 19º to 27º C (66º to 81º F). Naturally, travellers will find more rain and cooler temperatures in the rain forests and higher elevations. The warm coastal water temperatures stay between 20º and 23º C (68º and 74º F).