With sweeping white sand beaches on all sides, and tall mountains running through the center, the island of Martinique is picture perfect. Rain forest covers the mountains on the northern side of the island, while the southern part is drier, and has savannah-type vegetation. Poinsettia, hibiscus, bougainvillea, mango trees, and coconut palms are abundant across the island, making it easy to see why the native Carib Indians named it the Island of Flowers. The best beaches are found on the southern, more populated, side of the island. Forty miles long by 12 miles wide, Martinique is one of the Windward Islands, part of the Lesser Antilles.
The climate is tropical, with temperatures in the 70-80 degree F all year. June to October is the rainy season, while November to May is high tourist season. Natural resources include the beauty and climate that attracts tourists, as well as rich, arable soil. Pineapples, sugarcane, bananas, vegetables, flowers, and avocados are all grown here. Rum, sugar, oil refining, cement, construction, and of course, tourism are the industries on the island.
A large part of the island is a beautiful Natural Reserve. Hiking trails make it easy to get around the entire island. With beaches and ocean all around, water sports are plentiful. Tourists come by plane or cruise ship to enjoy the beaches, culture, and shopping. Martinique has one of the highest standards of living of any of the islands, as well as a high literacy rate.
Christopher Columbus discovered Martinique in 1502. However, the island remained unsettled until the French started a colony there in 1635. The island has remained primarily French in culture ever since. Subsequently, both British and French settlers developed Martinique and the other Windward Islands. For centuries, Martinique was part of the world-wide struggle for dominance between France and England.
African slaves were brought to Martinique in the early years of the French colonization, and slavery was a way of life there until it was abolished in 1848. Many of the inhabitants are Creoles, descendants of African slaves, Carib Indians, and white settlers. French is the official language, but the Creole patois is spoken by many. The high-energy island music and delicious Creole food of Martinique reflects this mixed heritage.
In 1946, Martinique formally became a department of France; her official name is Département d'outre-mer de la Martinique, which translates into English as Overseas Department of Martinique. To visit Martinique today is to experience a little France in the Caribbean. The Euro is the official local currency, although US dollars are accepted in many places. Just like in France, most shops close down at noon and reopen mid-afternoon.
Fort-au-France is the largest city on Martinique, and the governmental capital. It is large and bustling, and quite cosmopolitan. The French influence is seen in the architecture, as well as in the exclusive restaurants, glamorous shops, and fashionable hotels. Tourists enjoy not only French and other international brands, but fine quality items crafted by artisans and designers on the island.
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