Written by Missy Johnston

Terre-de-Haut Island, Guadeloupe, Les Saintes

Terre-de-Haut Island, Guadeloupe, Les Saintes

A French West Indies yacht cruise will be rich with stunning landscapes and beautiful beaches, but some of the most memorable places on the tour from Martinique to Guadeloupe are the many historical and cultural sites.

The history of the West Indies is a complex and fascinating one, with a range of influences and cultures coming together over the centuries. The islands were first settled by indigenous peoples, including the Caribs and Arawaks, who established thriving communities and developed their own cultures and traditions.

In the 16th and 17th centuries, the West Indies became a hub of European colonization, with Spain, Portugal, France, and Britain all establishing colonies on the islands. This period also saw the arrival of pirates, who took advantage of the region’s strategic location to raid ships and plunder treasure. The West Indies became a key location for the transatlantic slave trade, with millions of Africans being brought to the islands to work on plantations.

martinique beach

Martinique Beach

The West Indies have also played a significant role in international trade, with the islands producing a range of products, including sugar, rum, tobacco, and coffee. The region has a long history of economic and cultural exchange with other parts of the world, and this is reflected in the diverse cultures and traditions that can be found on the islands today.

A French West Indies private luxury yacht charter itinerary includes stops in Martinique, Dominica, Iles des Saintes, and Guadeloupe, where there are numerous hints of the past in carefully preserved ruins and rebuilt structures.

Martinique

Diamond rock in Martinique, caribbean

Diamond Rock in Martinique

Diamond Rock is a small island located off the coast of Martinique. Diamond Rock is known for its stunning beauty and rich history, having served as a strategic military stronghold for both the French and the British during the Napoleonic Wars. Today, it is a great spot for swimming, snorkeling, and other water activities. The waters around Petit Anse D’Arlet are also known for their crystal clarity and abundance of marine life, making them another top choice for snorkeling and diving.

Of course, no trip to Martinique would be complete without exploring the island’s fraught history. One of the most significant events in Martinique’s past is the eruption of Mount Pelee in 1902, which killed nearly 30,000 people and destroyed much of the town of Saint Pierre.

The garden of Balata, Martinique island, French West Indies.

The garden of Balata, Martinique island, French West Indies.

Despite this tragedy, Saint Pierre was rebuilt and is now a thriving hub of culture and history. Visit the Musée Volcanologique to learn more about the eruption and its aftermath or explore the town’s historic center and view the many ruins and monuments dedicated to the destruction.

One of the most notable is the dungeon of Cyparis, the ruins of a prison where a prisoner miraculously survived the disastrous eruption. The old theater and church also both managed to withstand the force of the volcano. Other notable landmarks include the ruins of the Fig Tree, which were once warehouses and shops, and the street “Monte au Ciel,” which offers a beautiful view of the surrounding mountains.

Mountains of Martinique, caribbean

Mountains of Martinique

There is also the bridge over the Roxelane, which managed to survive the eruption and is now a popular spot for tourists, and the Maison de la Banane, a museum dedicated to the history and culture of banana cultivation in Martinique.

Dominica

village in Dominica, Caribbean Islands

Village in Dominica

Dominica, officially known as the Commonwealth of Dominica, is an independent island nation, that lies within the cruising area of the French West Indies and offers a range of historical and cultural attractions as well as a beautiful and unspoiled natural landscapes. The island was originally settled by the Caribs, but was eventually colonized by the British, Spanish, and French, and later became a hub of international trade.

One of the top destinations on the island is Cabrits National Park, which covers more than 500 acres and houses a wide variety of wildlife, including rare bird species and endangered monkeys. Avid explorers will enjoy the huge variety of ecosystems on Dominica. There are few places in the world where one could hike past volcanic mountains, take a stroll through a rainforest, and lounge on the beach—all in one day.

Emerald Pool, Dominica

Emerald Pool, Dominica

After exploring all the beautiful scenery, for a change of pace, there’s Fort Shirley, a 19th-century fortification that offers stunning views of the surrounding area. There are still cannons, artillery, and officers’ quarters from military operations between the 1500s and 1800s, and many footpaths to see the historical ruins at the ends of these old military roads.

This area also offers snorkeling or diving in the sparkling waters off Dominica’s shores. There are plenty of coral heads to see just under the surface, as well as a few interesting shipwrecks to explore. Dominica scuba instructors abound to help new divers.

A nice above-water excursion is canoeing up the Indian River, where a tasty meal of fresh fish and rum awaits at the famous Bush Bar.

Indian river. Dominica

Indian River, Dominica

Back aboard the yacht, the skies of Dominica offer bird-watchers a show, while the water may reveal humpback and sperm whales and groups of dolphins.

Guadeloupe and the Iles des Saintes

Les Saintes, Guadeloupe

Les Saintes, Guadeloupe

Les Iles des Saintes, a small archipelago near Guadeloupe, offers so many interesting things to see and do. The primary town, Bourg des Saintes, is a charming and picturesque destination with narrow streets, colorful houses, and a lively market. As your luxury yacht awaits, browsing the market for local crafts, souvenirs, and fresh produce, or simply a leisurely stroll along the waterfront makes for a pleasant afternoon.

Another popular destination in Les Iles des Saintes is Terre D’en Haut, which boasts beautiful beaches, hiking trails, and a charming marina. There is a relaxing beach, snorkeling in the crystal-clear waters, or an immersive experience hiking in the island’s lush forests.

Fort Napoleon, Les Saintes, Guadeloupe,

Fort Napoleon, Les Saintes, Guadeloupe,

Fort Napoleon is worth a stop. Built in the 19th century, the fort protected Guadeloupe from enemy attacks during the Napoleonic Wars. In the years since, the fort has undergone several renovations and restorations, and today it is a wonderful place to spend an afternoon, soaking up the fort’s galleries, barracks, cisterns, and rich history as a strategic military stronghold.

In addition to its historical significance, Fort Napoleon offers stunning views of the area, with panoramic vistas of the island and the surrounding sea.

In Pointe-a-Pitre, the largest city in Guadeloupe, visitors enjoy the Musée Schoelcher, a museum dedicated to the life and work of Victor Schoelcher, a French abolitionist and politician. The museum, which is housed in a 19th-century mansion, features a collection of art and artifacts related to the history of slavery and the abolitionist movement.

Point-a-Pitre, Guadeloupe Outdoor market

Point-a-Pitre, Guadeloupe Outdoor Market

Other popular historical sites in Pointe-a-Pitre include the Maison de la Canne, a museum that explores the history of sugarcane and rum production in Guadeloupe, and the Place de la Victoire, a historic square home near the Cathedral of Saint Peter and Saint Paul and the Palais de Justice. Pointe-a-Pitre also features the Saint-John Perse Museum, which tells the story of the Nobel Prize-winning poet.

Pointe-a-Pitre is also known for its vibrant food and drink scene, serving up local Creole cuisine or a wealth of international dishes, including local seafood at La Cantine du Peyrou for local seafood or fresh oysters at Le Bar a Huitres.

A French West Indies yacht charter itinerary is a delightful taste of France in a Caribbean yacht charter mixed in with the delights of the beautiful natural world of the island nation of Dominica.