Take it from me, I’m a Brit, if you had mentioned Martinique to me before I made France my home, I’ve lived here for 15 years now, I would have admitted my Geography wasn’t quite what I thought it was!
Now we, my partner & I, are packing up our life here in France and are heading off back to Martinique, the tropical island far away from Europe both in miles and in lifestyle. I say back because we were there before…
Don’t book your holiday on this island, a part of the French Lesser Antilles, hoping to find any of the trademarks of the French Riviera. A holiday here is much more rugged; less in the way of large hotels and big fancy restaurants, life on the island is much more … yes, Caribbean. Sandy beaches, palm trees, local creole restaurants. And in place of the trade-mark usuals of French holidays: red wine and champagne, you are much more likely to find cool local beers and the island famous rum cocktails. More about that later!
So, we were there before; my partner working as a diving instructor, and I was training to be one! The eight months we were out there were an adventure - a diving adventure for sure - but also an adventure discovering another way of French-life!
The island of Martinique, a French department, covering around 436 square miles (1,230 square kilometres) & with a population of around 380,000, appears on the dive wish-list of most French scuba divers but not on the lists of many American or UK divers - or at least not yet. I hope to change that …
Martinique, makes the perfect host to its numerous dive centres. However it most be noted each one of these dive outfits has its very own personality and its own way of showing off the magnificent fauna and flora found below the surface of its surrounding turquoise waters.
Allow me to take you for a little trip around the island, and some of the dive centres dotted around the coastline. It’s not only their scuba approach that is different but also their location!
So let’s start in the north …
The "A Papa D’Lo" dive centre, takes centre stage right in the middle of the bay of St Pierre. This town, once considered the “capital” of Martinique before it was brought to the ground by a volcanic eruption in 1902, is today more laidback and attracts visitors for its rich history and art; not forgetting its colourful market packed with exotic fruits and an ambiance to match.
The dive club itself, far from modern in today's terms, more than makes up for this by carrying on this ambiance with its teaming life & the enthusiastic chatter of divers sharing experiences of the super dives offered by this quaint centre. Although courses are offered from the French system of certification, experienced & qualified divers need not be put off; the dives are second to none! To name a few: The Pearl Rock is an islet, with diving recommended for advanced divers. The pristine waters with depths between 20 to 60 metres are teaming with some large fish schools made up of Jack-eyes, Barracudas, groupers, and parrotfish and the island favourite sea-turtles.
The most famous dive offered here, especially for wreck lovers, is the Roraima nicknamed “The White Haired Wreck” by Cousteau. You will see why when you dive down to this sunken steam ship, which went down in the volcanic eruption, as it appears to be covered in hair! It is, in fact, hair-like algae!
The dive itself starts at 36m for the bow and descends to 55m to reach the stern. As well as hundreds of reef fish don’t be surprised if you cross some rather large specimens of impressive French and grey angelfish.
Let's move on to the south-west side of the island where we can find Les Trois-Îlets.
Famous for being the birthplace of Napoleon Bonaparte’s first wife Joséphine, this coastline attracts holiday-makers with its vast offer of activities from a visit to the pottery village, a personal favourite, the cane-sugar museum and the marine docks of the Pointe du bout. It’s here at the docks where you’ll find a lively atmosphere of trendy shops, bars and restaurants and where we find our next dive-stop - Espace Plongée Martinique, better known as EPM to locals.
EPM, like our first dive-centre reflects the ambiance of the Trois-Îlets area. EPM is trendy, the PADI 5* dive centre can be found slap-bang in the centre of the marina and their boat, or should I say boats, can’t be missed!
Focusing primarily on the larger of the two, you have a 13m catamaran "Planète Bleue" boasting a vast comfortable space with everything you need onboard for a day’s scuba diving including: showers and shaded decks, and a real added bonus - access for disabled divers! With dives offered in the north and south of the island, EPM promise a friendly and lively atmosphere; I imagine just about all dive sites are visited by this popular centre and it's probably best to ring ahead to find out more about their busy dive schedule & PADI courses.
Moving on to the south-side of Martinique and we arrive in Les Anses d’Arlet; made up of Les Anses d’Arlet Bourg, and the sandy stretch of paradise offered by Grande Anse.
Grande Anse, an inlet made even prettier by the many sailing boats moored around the cove, is made up of beaches, bars and local restaurants. A firm favourite with Martinique locals looking for a lazy day at the beach. The atmosphere here is really laid back, really Caribbean. And it’s here that we find our next dive centre.
Let me introduce you to Deep Turtle.
Instantly recognisable by the shop’s sea-turtle logo, and the enthusiastic bunch of divers hanging out front still half-clad in their dive-gear, you don’t need to read their great reviews to know this dive centre is popular!
Deep Turtle has a lot to offer from both the French diving federation and PADI. But that’s not all, the boss Nico offers an array of tech diving too, so if it’s a bit of serious rebreather you’re into and you would like to dive the famous Nahoon wreck dive bubble-less then this is the dive centre for you.
Highly recommended, Deep Turtle have a lively diary updated each week on Facebook. Don't miss their trips up north, night dives, post-dive breakfasts and an array of other creative dive-specials!
Without further ado let’s move round the south-coast of the island and on to our last destination Sainte Luce, where if you are planning a trip to Martinique in the near future, you will find your humble narrator. Yes, my partner and I are headed back for a much, much longer stay ...
Firstly, a little bit about the town itself. Known to be the most popular of Martinique’s destinations with tourists Sainte Luce makes the idyllic choice for holiday makers with its stretch of sandy beaches, clear blue sea, hotels, bars and restaurants & a variety of water-based activities including, yes you guessed, scuba diving!
Welcoming us back to Martinique this time, well at least in terms of the “job”, will be Eric and Cécile from the Sainte Luce Kawan Plongée dive centre.
Having chatted together via Skype a few times during the Covid-19 lockdown period, we already have that “home from home” feeling about this particular dive adventure!
You only have to visit the Kawan website, to see that this human sized club has a big heart! Eric & Cécile’s story reflects ours in so many ways; arrived in Martinique to change their lives & to embrace their desire to live the dive-dream out in the Caribbean paradise of Martinique! They have owned the dive centre for 5 years now and have already stamped their identity and character in Sainte Luce with divers returning year after year to see their friends and join in on the great dives they have to offer!
To name but two of those dives let’s start with the special two-tanks dive to the "Rocher du Diamant"; the Diamond Rock as it’s better known to our English visitors.
One of the most famous dives in Martinique the Diamond makes for a popular spot. The first of the two-tank dives will take you through the underwater passage running through the middle of this majestic rock once used by the British as an armed fort! And the second, a dive in the rock’s “garden” where if you are lucky you will come across the resident turtles and impressive barracuda while taking in the beauty of the corals and gorgonia.
The second dive worth a mention is the Kawan night-dive which departs from the beach - if you want to know which you will have to pay a visit ... ! This dive, billed as a VIP-dive certainly won’t disappoint! As well as witnessing the amazing and strange life to be found at night in a privileged group of 4 divers, Eric has discovered the perfect underwater place for spotting sea-horses! And if you are anything like me, who can spend hours searching these magical creatures, seeing them on a night-dive is a real gem!
Remember at the beginning of this article I talked about the famous rum cocktails of Martinique? Well it’s here that I get to talk a little more about them!
All the dive centres that I’ve mentioned in this article have their own secret home-made recipe for the after-dive traditional rum cocktail “Planteur”. Some of the main ingredients are white-rum, fruit juices and syrup, however as I said no two clubs make the same; I should know I’ve tried a few!
This allows me to get back to Cécile at Kawan; Cécile is “the boss” when it comes to refreshments! Whether you dive, accompany someone on a dive, or come along to do some amazing snorkelling you won’t go hungry or thirsty! Another delight waiting for us in Martinique when we arrive; we haven’t tried her Planteur yet - of course when we’re off-duty!
So, there it is - the first look at my little scuba diving recommendations for Martinique. It is by no means exhaustive, and I am sure there are many more great dive discoveries to be made on this piece of French paradise, but for the moment I will leave you with this small taster.
Want to know more, & experience the Caribbean Oh La La for yourselves you only have to ask and we will guide you through your the adventure.
As a final thought: It's important to point out here that it's a difficult time for the dive industry, and it's probably going to be some time before it returns to the scuba diving we loved before the Coronavirus! That said, we are a dive-devoted bunch & we are going to do everything in our power to make whatever diving is available at these times, the safest diving we can.