Island Hopping in Martinique: Kayaks, Endangered Iguanas, and Hidden Beaches

Martinique's dreamlike beaches beckon.
Martinique's dreamlike beaches beckon. Matthias Ripp
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Martinique's Caribbean coast features pristine beaches and photogenic palm trees, but the Atlantic side is more rugged—perfect for adventurers who stray from the beaten path. Uninhabited islands dot the eastern coast, beckoning kayakers and sailors alike. Skip chartered Caribbean boat rides in lieu of a day spent island hopping from the Bay of Robert to the Bay of Galion.

The Bay of Robert is undoubtedly the most beautiful bay in Martinique, boasting historical points of interest and serene marine surroundings. Ten islands form a natural barrier against rough seas, so kayakers can explore the crystalline waters and idyllic beaches at their own pace. Beachside outfitters in the town of Le Robert furnish all gear needed for an unforgettable sea kayaking adventure.

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The Bay of Robert's white sand beds are renowned and easily recognized as some of the most beautiful waters in Martinique. Areas known as fond blancs, literally "white bottoms," are shallow, pristine waters that make the Bay of Robert a maritime paradise. The most famous fond blanc is called the Baignoire de Josephine, or Josephine's Bathtub. Empress Josephine, Napoleon Bonaparte's wife, was born and raised in Martinique. Here, the ocean floor is so white and the waters so clear that they are said to be suited for an Empress. Instead of aristocratic Frenchwoman, visitors and locals toast rum and soak up the sun in this sublime spot.

To enjoy less crowded fond blancs, paddle to Ilet Madame, one of the most popular islands in the Bay of Robert. While some of the other islands are inaccessible or even forbidden, a long, picturesque pier leads to Ilet Madame's magnificent beach, allowing easy kayak access. In only 20 minutes, you can explore the entire island by following an unmarked trail that outlines its perimeter.

The white sands and turquoise waters of Ilet Madame are renowned throughout Martinique and comparable to Josephine's Bathtub. Sunbathe on the pristine white beach, accessible at low tide, or enjoy a picnic under one of many shelters that dot the shore. To the right end of the pier, snorkelers find fantastic coral reef formations.

The adventure continues as you kayak to Ilet Chancel, the largest, most noteworthy of the islands in the Bay of Robert. Like those of Ilet Madame, Ilet Chancel's beaches are easily accessible via kayak. An island of great archeological and biological interest, Ilet Chancel has a Robinson Crusoe-like atmosphere.

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Ilet Chancel is home to the rare Iguana Delicatissima, or the Iguana of the Lesser Antilles. The iguanas are endangered because of habitat destruction, hunting, and hybridization with the green iguana, a closely related invasive species in Martinique. Ilet Chancel is an ideal habitat for the iguana, whose population is rapidly increasing on the protected island. Viewing the docile iguanas is all but guaranteed as they laze in the trees, scurry underfoot, or bask on rocks by the shore.

But these lizards aren't the only attraction on Ilet Chancel. Archeological ruins reveal vestiges of the sugar industry of Martinique. A pottery and sugar refinery were long ago destroyed by storms, but their remains are a testament to Martinique's industry before the abolishment of slavery. Ruins of pottery ovens, a barracks, a cell, and a church dot Ilet Chancel and attract regular scientific and archeological visits.

Ilet Chancel also features many fascinating plants, most notably the figuier maudit, or the shortleaf fig. A type of ficus, this robust plant grows in inhospitable conditions such as on walls and in the branches of other trees. Aerial roots tumble to the ground, branches stretch to the sky, and the tree soon overwhelms its surroundings, covering a building, or suffocating a host tree. The shortleaf fig is a testament to nature's vigor and adaptability, and it provides an ideal habitat for the iguanas on Ilet Chancel.

After exploring Ilet Chancel, kayak north to the nearby Bay of Galion, a tranquil escape from crowded fond blancs in the Bay of Robert. Ditch the crowds as you weave among mangroves that obscure secluded beaches waiting to be explored. Point Banane, or Banana Point, is one such beach. Primarily a fisher's camp, this beach is one of the best places to find discarded conch or sea urchin shells.

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On a clear day you may see starfish on the ocean floor. Look up, and catch views of Mount Pelée, Martinique's only active volcano, and the Pitons, impossibly steep peaks located in the center of the island. Far from the crowded Caribbean beaches and protected by reefs and barrier islands, the Bay of Galion is a veritable escape from reality and one of the most tranquil bays in Martinique.

Whether you hunt for natural treasures at Banana Point, soak in turquoise waters at Ilet Madame, or explore natural and historical gems at Ilet Chancel, the Bays of Robert and Galion are some of the most stunning destinations in Martinique. Coastal outfitters in Le Robert are easily accessible and delighted to help you organize a seamless island hopping adventure. Channel your inner explorer and strike out on a mini-adventure that you will remember long after the vacation ends.

Originally written by RootsRated for Atout France.

Originally written for Atout France.

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