She sits quietly today towering over northern Martinique, her steep slopes stretching more than 4,000 feet into the clouds – as beautiful, awe-inspiring, and iconic a sight as found anywhere in the Caribbean. The emotions she stirred on this day 116 years ago, though, were very much different. May 8th, 1902 – La Catastrophe. In a flash, the stratovolcano unleashed a devastating pyroclastic cloud of hot ash, steam, poisonous gas, and rocks en route to the city of Saint-Pierre below. The speed of the cloud: 400+ miles per hour. The temperature inside it: 1,830-degrees Fahrenheit. The 30,000 residents of Saint-Pierre (save one or two) never had a chance; the city literally turning from The Paris of the Caribbean into the region’s Pompeii in less than two minutes. It’s impossible to avoid feeling the history here – as you cruise through the harbor filled with the wrecks of ships felled during the eruption, or walk the streets of Saint-Pierre exploring the new city still emerging atop centuries-old ruins – Mount Pelée always looming just over your shoulder.

Hiking to the summit of Mount Pelée presents one of the ultimate adventures you can enjoy in Martinique. For details on what it’s like and how you can do it yourself, check out this earlier post.