The pretty tropical island of Martinique is the largest of the Windward Islands in the eastern Caribbean Sea. This overseas département of France consists of four administrative districts, or arrondissements: Sainte-Pierre, Fort-de-France, La Trinite, and Le Marine. These are further divided into small territorial divisions called cantons.
The island was originally inhabited by Arawak Indians, who were later displaced by the Caribs. It was first sighted by Christopher Columbus during his second voyage to the region in 1493, but he only got to explore the island on his fourth voyage in 1502.
In 1635 the French began colonizing the island—establishing sugarcane plantations and building manors, and eventually bringing slaves to the island to work the fields. In 1674, Martinique was declared a territory of France. Despite numerous incursions by the British, the French remained in control of the island.
The tenor of life in Martinique changed with the announcement to abolish slavery in 1794, which was strongly opposed by the Béké community who were owners of the island's major plantations and who still constitute the elite of Martinique society. It was only after a half-century of uprisings that slavery was abolished in 1848. Martinique became a département and a region of France in 1946 and 1974 respectively.
Martinique has everything that nature has to offer—lush tropical forests, picturesque mountains and volcanoes, and spectacular beaches—as well as commercial centres, luxury hotels, marinas and trading ports. The official language is French, although many Martinicans also speak Martinican Creole. Because it is part of France, Martinique is a member of the European Union. Its currency is the Euro.
The island’s population is a lively mix of nationalities. The majority are of African descent, but there are also French, Amerindians (Carib), Tamil Indians, Lebanese, Chinese, and the Béké, who control the agricultural and trade sectors of the nation's economy.
Martinique enjoys a high standard of living in comparison to other countries in the Caribbean, so most of the properties here are built for the well-off. While it is noted for its trade and tourist attractions, it also has some of the best medical facilities in the region, foremost of which is Hospital Pierre Zobda Quikman in its capital, Fort-de-France.
The island has developed a reputation of a tourist trap. Taxi fares alone are quite expensive, which can range from €20 to €50 depending on the destination.