Category Cruising Eastern Caribbean
Local buses as a whole are not highly recommended for cruise passengers who need to get around quickly. They may be inexpensive, but you will probably not want to put up with the delays and crowded conditions that often are part of bus travel in the islands.
Renting a car is an adventurous way to get out and explore the terrain. However, the road conditions leave a lot to be desired! Some roads have potholes large enough to swallow a small car and others are so steep and winding that even locals are extremely cautious when driving on them. Unless you are proficient at driving on both the left and right sides of the road and can remember which side to stay on when faced with a tight situation, driving in the islands can prove difficult. If you are not confident about driving on the left, try riding in a taxi first. A rental car can enhance your experience on some islands but cause only problems on others. Each chapter discusses the advantages and perils of renting a car.
Rental agencies usually require a credit card for a damage deposit and a valid driver’s license. We strongly recommend that you get the optional collision insurance, too. You may need to purchase a temporary island license; rental agencies often provide assistance in satisfying this requirement. Each chapter supplies names and phone numbers for rental car agencies. Advance reservations save time when picking up the car.
Begin your journey at 9 am with a taxi ride to Coral World (also see Self-Guided Tours, Coral World, page 80). Don’t miss the Caribbean Reef Encounter and the Underwater Observatory. In our opinion, these are the best marine-life exhibits in the Caribbean. Allow two hours for exploring the park.
Change into your bathing suit and store yourvaluables in a locker ($3 charge). Upon leaving the park, arrange for a re-entry pass and head to the beach. Coki Beach is just steps away from Coral World and is the perfect place to spend time soaking up the sun, snorkeling the nearby reef, trying SNUBA and Sea Trekkin’ (see page 80) or scuba diving. You can rent snorkel equipment at the Coki Beach Dive Club. Their beach shop offers fins, mask and vest for $15. It also runs guided snorkeling tours, including all equipment, for $25, and a full schedule of scuba diving for kids, beginners and certified divers (see Ocean Sports/Diving, page 91). Allow for two or three hours for swimming, snorkeling or relaxing on a beautiful white sand beach.
Call a taxi and head out to Mountain Top Shopping Mall, a shopping plaza featuring island craft stores. Here, a balcony overlooks the north side of the island with excellent views of Magen’s Bay, the island of St. John and the British Virgin Islands. Order one of their famous banana daiquiris at the bar here, spend an hour shopping and taking pictures, then take a taxi back to downtown Charlotte Amalie.
It should be approximately 3:30 pm as you return, so the traffic into downtown Charlotte Amalie may be heavy. But within 20 minutes you will be in the most popular duty-free shopping port in the entire Caribbean. Ask the taxi driver to drop you off at Emancipation Gardens at the far left side of town (facing the waterfront). Walk up to Main Street to begin your shopping spree (see page 72). You’ll find merchants are more eager to bargain when the crowds have diminished in the afternoon. Depending upon your ship’s departure time, you may wish to spend a few hours wandering through the historic malls and arcades radiating off Main Street or take the Historical Walking Tour (page 67).
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bnt Pelee, a volcano at the northern end of the island, is a /Yrunique historical site. In 1902 it erupted and destroyed the coastal town of St. Pierre. The town has since been rebuilt, but an area of ruins has been preserved. You can view remnants from the eruption in the Museum of Volcanology in St. Pierre, and the volcano itself can be explored with a guide (see Hiking, above). Allow three hours for the hike.
The drive to St. Pierre takes 45 minutes to an hour and the total itinerary lasts six to seven hours. The best way to explore the island is by renting a car. Be sure to get a road map.
What to Bring
If you’re going to spend the whole day on the island, carry small US bills or francs to pay for lunch and entrance fees to the museums. Also, bring a camera to capture the beauty of Martinique’s northern countryside.
Refer to the island map on next page.
Rent your car at 9 am to get an early start on the day. With the assistance of a map and directions from the rental agency, take the N2 road out of Fort-de-France heading north. You will soon see signs for Schoelcher, Case-Pilote, Bellefontaine and Morne-Vert, small fishing villages with magnificent coastal views. Approximately 30 minutes from Fort-de-France, you will enter Le Carbet and should begin looking forthe sign to the Gauguin Museum, set on the right side of the road.
A narrow dirt road takes you to the entrance of the museum, which commemorates the one-time inhabitant of Le Carbet. The Gauguin Memorial Art Center was built to honor the famous French painter and has a collection of personal letters and photographic reproductions of works from Gauguin’s Martinique period. The museum also houses a collection of traditional island costumes, headdresses and artwork made by local artists. The admission fee is about $3.50 and it is worth a 30-minute stop on the journey to St. Pierre. Open 9 am to 5:30 pm.
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1 Carbet – Gauguin Museum
2 St Pierre
4 Balata Botanical Gardens
Leave the museum and turn right for a 15-minute drive to St. Pierre, once known as the Paris of the West Indies. As you enter the town, the roads become one way. Follow the signs to the Museum of Volcanology, open between 9 am and 5 pm. Admission is US $2. Plan to arrive here no later than 11 am and allow 30 to 45 minutes for viewing the photos, distorted musical instruments, a cracked liberty bell and other items. When the Mont Pelee volcano erupted in 1902, the devastating heat and suffocating ashes killed almost everyone living in the coastal town of St. Pierre. Theonlysurvivorwasa prisoner who was buried in an underground cell; it was found after the rubble was taken away.
If you want to tour St. Pierre, jump on the Cyparis Express (named after the sole survivor of the eruption), a colorful train that gives hour-long English-language tours on weekdays and half-hour tours on the weekends. Cost is $10 for adults, $5 for children. Catch the train on the boardwalk at the base of the Museum of Volcanology.
|И|Ф – TIP: The authors’ favorite spot is the Supermarche near the waterfront pier, which has a superb deli offering sandwiches or baguettes. There are plenty of street-side cafes too. Ask for a sandwich to go and enjoy it as you explore the coastline. Plan to be en route for Morne-Rouge by 1 pm.
It takes only 15 minutes to reach Morne-Rouge, which has an excellent view of Mont Pelee. The quiet town is typical of rural communities throughout the island, and from here you’ll begin your slow journey back to Fort-de-France. Signs leading south on N3 to Fort- de-France are posted along the road and the highway becomes a winding pathway through the tropical rain forest, the pare nature! common in the northern part of Martinique.
After 20-25 minutes of driving, a sign for the Balata Botanical Gardens will direct you to the right. The majestic gardens offer views of Carbet Peak and the bay of Fort-de-France. Beautiful pathways are lined with tropical plants, trees and flowers. You should arrive at the Botanical Garden between 2 and 2:30 pm. Spend about 40 minutes wandering through this tropical wonderland. The entrance fee is about $6 for adults and $2.50 for children. Ticket sales stop at 4 pm.
A 15- to 20-minute drive back into Fort-de-France will take you through the east end of town. You’ll probably need to use a town map to guide you safely when returning the rental car. Walkthrough the Market Square at Place de la Savane and enjoy the beautiful park. At the completion of the tour, you will have spent between six and seven hours admiring the outer regions of Martinique.
One of the most challenging golf courses in the Caribbean is the East Course at the Hyatt Dorado Beach, designed by Robert Trent Jones, with a par of 72. The hotel’s West Course is a little shorter but also beautifully manicured and maintained. Greens fees and cart rental for a non-guest player are $175. The hotel is a 30-minute drive from Old San Juan off Route 22 to 693. A chartered taxi to the golf course and back should cost $40-$50 (chartered taxi rate is about $20 an hour). Arrange a price before leaving and try to split the cost with your golf partner. For reservations, э (787) 796-8961.
Bahia Beach Plantation, a par-72 course designed by J. Burton Gold, has 75 acres of lakes and two miles of beach. The course features 13 water holes, including three beachfront holes that are considered to be among the most beautiful finishing holes in the world. Green fees and cart cost $80 for 18 holes, $55 for nine holes. The course is only 30 minutes from San Juan on route 187, Km. 4.2 in Rio Grande. For reservations, э (787) 256-5600 or e-mail prgolfer@aol. com. Open daily 6:30 am to 7:30 pm.
Dorado Del Mar, designed by Chi Chi Rodriguez, is in Dorado, 30 minutes from San Juan. Fees are $85 on weekdays and $95 on weekends. э (787) 796-3070; fax (787) 796-3060.
The Carib Inn is the closest and easiest spot to knock a few balls around. Located near Condado, the inn has eight courts available for $10 per hour, plus $5 per hour for racket rentals. э (787) 791-3535; fax (787) 791-0104.
The Hyatt Dorado Beach (э 787-796-8961) has seven tennis courts, and the San Juan Marriott Resort & Casino (э 787-722-7000) has two tennis courts and a health club. The Condado Plaza, э (787)
721-1000, and the Caribe Hilton, n (787) 721-0303, both offer tennis. The charge on most courts is $10 per hour.
San Juan’s Central Park, located in the heart of the city, has 17 courts open to the public from 8 am to 10 pm. The fees are very reasonable. n (787) 722-1646.
Many resort hotels offer horseback riding, but the best rides are out of town. Near Luquillo Beach rides into the El Yunque Rain Forest can be arranged through Hacienda Carbali, n (787) 889-5820. Another exotic place to ride is west of San Juan (on Route 643 near the Hyatt resort). Tropical Trail Rides keep 25 paso fino horses, small local horses known for their spirited mincing gait. The stable offers a two – hour guided tour along the beach or into Alemendros Forest. Open daily from 9 am to 4 pm, they offer two rides per day. n (787) 8729256.
A Beach for Each Day of the Year
icilian donkeys and ruins of windmills dot the rolling landscape, free of urban clutter. Antigua (an-tee-GUH) is a rural island formed of coral and limestone with few inhabitants. The roads, although wide and straight, are dotted with potholes, which the taxi drivers happily dodge while passengers may feel they have been on Mr. Toad’s wild ride! The island’s highest point is Boggy Peak, 1,360 feet above sea level. Antigua’s claim to fame is 365 white sand beaches. It is the largest Leeward Island, covering 108 square miles.
During his second voyageto the New World, Columbus bestowed on the island the name, "Santa Maria de la Antigua." Antigua contained no gold or natural spring water, but it did have ferocious Carib Indians, so the Spanish did not attempt to colonize. The first successful settlement was established by a group of English who came from nearby St. Kitts in 1632. Although the Caribs waged attacks to eject the British, the settlers held their ground and began to cultivate cash crops, such as tobacco, indigo and ginger. In 1674 Sir Christopher Codrington came from Barbados and established the first successful sugar plantation, called Betty’s Hope after his daughter. Betty’s Hope, with its unique twin windmills, was recently established as a non-profit trust.
Codrington’s success encouraged others to begin sugar production and over 150 sugar mills were built on Antigua’s flat landscape, all manned by slave labor. Although slavery was abolished in 1834, sugar remained the primary source of income here until the 20th century, when tourism took its place. Agriculture is also a part of the economy, with miles of countryside dedicated to a variety of crops. Indeed, Antigua’s black pineapple is famous for its sweetness.
Barbuda, Antigua’s sister island, is 27 miles northeast of Antigua, about 20 minutes by air. It is known for its pinksand beaches and the Frigate Bird Sanctuary, a birder’s haven, but remains difficult to reach on a one-day excursion.
Colonial plantations on Barbados boast some of the most lush gardens and flowering vegetation in the Caribbean. One of the most beautifully manicured garden estates is the Flower Forest at the Richmond Plantation in St. Joseph’s Parish. The 50-acre estate displays a wide variety of plants and trees from the natural hothouses of the Caribbean. You can easily spend 45 minutes wandering the trails and pathways. All plants and trees have been clearly identified with botanical and common names in English. A map in English and explanation of plants are available at the entrance.
The entrance fee is US $7/adults, $3.50/children. The gardens are open daily from 9 am to 5 pm. A snack bar, restrooms and a Best of Barbados gift shop featuring Jill Walker prints, watercolors, gifts and crafts are at the main entrance building. Look for Walker’s special works depicting scenes in the Flower Forest. It takes only 35 minutes by taxi to reach this most beautiful garden on the island.
Gun Hill Signal Station is a meticulously restored historical site just 15 minutes from Bridgetown. The station was originally built in 1818 and its excellent location provides sweeping views of Barbados’ rolling sugarcane fields. Restored in 1982, it is currently open to visitors Monday through Saturday, except public holidays, from 9 am to 5 pm. A US $5 entrance fee is charged to help fund further restoration and to maintain the surrounding gardens. Be sure to visit the famous British Military Lion, carved from coral limestone on the site by British soldiers in the 19th century. The lion sits belowthe station on the hillside and makes a great photo.
This exciting new attraction is located on Highway 3B between Gun Hill Station and St. John’s Church. A former six-acre chicken and pig farm surrounded by sugarcane, Orchid World is now home to over 20,000 orchids. A well-landscaped path meanders past a waterfall, through a coral grotto and, eventually, through five orchid houses. Many orchids are displayed growing naturally along the path’s edge or attached to trees. There’s also a snack bar, wedding chapel, gazebo and a Best of Barbados gift shop. Open daily from 9 am to 5 pm; admission is US $7 for adults and $3.50 for children.
Sunbury Plantation House is the only Great House on the island with all of its rooms available for viewing. It’s over 300 years old and steeped in history, featuring mahogany antiques, old prints and a collection of horse-drawn carriages. Sunbury is located in St. Philip’s Parish, along Highway 5 (watch for the sign just before Six Cross Roads), and many tour operators stop here on their way to Sam Lord’s Castle. A guided tour, conducted daily from 9 am to 4:30 pm, costs US $7.50 for adults, $3.75 for children.
close relationship exists between England, Canada, America ^Aand the Caribbean islands. The official language on most islands is English and, even where it is not, many islanders learn English as a second language to accommodate tourists. American passengers have no difficulty bargaining or asking directions in English.
TIP: When visiting French islands, such as Martinique or Guadeloupe, you may wish to use a pocket language guide to assist with basic communication.
Creole, also called Patois, is a West Indian slang spoken in the Caribbean. The dialect changes from island to island – and sometimes from village to village on the same island – but the basic slang is understood all over the Caribbean. Patois blends French, English, Dutch, African and West Indian words, all spoken in a lilting, musical manner unique to the islands.
‘he Windward and Leeward islands are made up of separate countries that celebrate unique holidays, including Independence Day, Emancipation Day and special days or weeks set aside for Carnival. Standard international holidays, such as New Year’s Day, Christmas and Boxing Day (the day after Christmas) are also cause for celebration.
If cruise ships arrive in port during a holiday, a few stores will remain open for shopping. Even if stores close on a holiday, the beaches are open and taxi drivers are available to transport you around the island for sightseeing or exploring. If shopping or visiting a particular museum on an island is important to you, check the island’s special holidays before booking a cruise. In each island chapter, we give you an idea of whether merchants are likely to be closed on a particular holiday and provide a list of basic holidays, but we do not list specific dates, as these may change from year to year. If a holiday falls on a weekend, banks, museums and government offices may close on either Monday or Friday.