On-Site Martinique: Hiking Around La Caravelle Peninsula
You’ll often find this prime descriptor for life’s greatest conveniences attached to various pieces of hiking gear, but not to the destinations where you might need them.
All throughout the Caribbean, for instance, you can trek through lush tropical forests, scale towering mountain peaks (volcanic and otherwise), slog through mangrove-filled marshlands, stroll along arid coastal trails, and explore petrified forests, but where you can take part in all of these experiences?
Larger islands/countries like Puerto Rico, Guyana, The Dominican Republic, Cuba, Haiti, and Trinidad would likely work, though getting around to doing all of these different types of hikes in these places would also mean having to get around to all corners of these destinations.
If time permits you to do so, then great. If not, then you’ll want to head to the Caravelle Peninsula.
Located in the northern portion of Martinique’s east coast, La Caravelle is a narrow arm of land stretching perpendicularly for six miles straight out into the Atlantic. A nature reserve that’s part of Martinique’s extensive regional park service, the entire peninsula is marvelously unspoiled; a protected haven for a wide variety of tropical animal and plant life.
None of that makes La Caravelle particularly unique, though. Indeed, as I soon discovered when I set out to hike the shorter of the two trails here last May, the big deal here is diversity.
Dry forests, mangroves, grassy savannah, dessert-like coastal areas, breezy peaks – I explored them all here over a tidy trek measuring just over a mere mile-and-a-half. (The longer trail extends four+ miles.)
The journey, of course, felt much further and lasted way longer than the 90 minutes prescribed by the helpful signs and pamphlets (all in French) available at the visitor’s center here, a product of the varying elevations I was forced to scale and the many beautiful vistas that stopped me dead in my tracks, each of them begging photo opportunities and contemplative moments…
The uniquely varied terrain at La Caravelle stems from the peninsula’s volcanic origin, which has been traced back some 18 million years to Martinique’s earliest formation. It’s easy to imagine the violent natural marriage of lava and limestone along sections of the shoreline where the different types of rock are plainly visible, now unified forever.
Hiking the Caravelle Peninsula is not without its risks, as you might imagine.
Loose rocks near cliff edges and jagged rocks in other areas are a given on any trail that winds to the coast, but here you also have to be wary of some very alluring beaches.
This one, Anse Baraban, is strictly off-limits to humans, the better to give nesting sea turtles and other endangered wildlife the space to thrive. Signs are posted with obvious warnings, no matter your level of French, and you won’t want to test the park rangers who make frequent patrols.
Caravelle Peninsula beaches along Trésor Bay to the south aren’t as pretty, but they’re plenty calm and welcoming with good snorkeling laying in wait just offshore.
Just behind these beaches, a thick and sultry mass of mangroves, the ground beneath them so murky and muddy that I was forced to walk atop the mangrove roots to traverse the area just as escaping slaves once did to hide their tracks.
It’s buggy in the mangroves, of course, and really steamy in the dessert-like sections of La Caravelle, so you’ll want to pack accordingly with insect repellent, plenty of water, a broad-brimmed hat and sunglasses to keep the sun off your face.
Sturdy shoes that you won’t mind getting wet and muddy are a must too, as is enough energy to explore a whole island’s worth of ecosystems in one concentrated place.