The Balata Gardens are a wondrous representation of all the amazing natural gifts that have earned Martinique its nickname – The Isle of Flowers.
Located on the outskirts of Fort-de-France, just 30 minutes (as traffic allows) north of the downtown area along la Route de Balata, the Gardens grew out of one man’s desire to dress up the backyard of his grandparents’ house.
That man, Jean-Philippe Thoze, just happened to be a horticulturist and artist who had spent the early part of his adult life traveling the world. Returning home to Martinique in 1982, he set about planting…
Before too long, his grandmother’s seven+ acres of lush hillside property was bursting with more than 3,000 species of plant life, all of it artfully arrayed along a winding footpath stretching from the family’s historic Creole-style home.
From its initial opening in 1986, the Balata Gardens instantly became one of Martinique’s top attractions, drawing ever more visitors year after year. I, being one of those visitors, never thought I could possibly enjoy Balata’s magical offerings any more than they were originally put forth.
The supremely peaceful surroundings, the increasingly dynamic plant life – it was perfect just as it’d always been.
On my most recent visit last year, though, I found that the Balata Gardens had taken its visitor experience to new heights… literally!
Essentially a series of mostly narrow suspension bridges stretching among a collection of Balata’s 100 year-old mahogany trees, the recently opened Treetop Trail gave me a different perspective on a place I’d visited dozens of times, making the Gardens entirely new to me in ways I never expected.
Walking along the tree tops also carried more than a few thrills, especially considering that most of the Treetop Trail sits a good 50-feet above the ground! The suspension bridge jostles up and down with every step (think Indiana Jones at the climax of “Temple of Doom”), encouraging slow and steady progress.
Within my first few steps it was readily apparent why they limit trail-goers to two at a time per section.
Any trepidation over the soaring heights and unsteady footing, though, are more than exceeded by the uniquely birds-eye view of the Gardens, the Bay of Fort-de-France below, and the soaring Pitons du Carbet to the north – easily among the finest photo-ops in the Caribbean.
The Balata Gardens are open daily from 9am to 6pm, though no new guests are allowed to enter after 4:30pm. (Yes, you will want at least an hour-and-a-half to enjoy all that this special place has to offer.)
For more information, visit the Balata Gardens online.