The Caribbean is a festive place, and Martinique is no exception. While Vaval (Martinique's Carnival) may be the best known festival, towns all over the island host numerous events throughout the year.
Almost everything shuts down for Vaval, the biggest bash of the year. With its four days of parades, masquerades, music, and more, it's truly an unforgettable experience. The fun ends on the first day of Lent, when people can atone for everything they did during Vaval. Halfway through Lent, the mini-carnival Mi-Carême provides a one-day respite from the serious business of repentance. This event, known as Carnaval elsewhere in the Caribbean, was recognized on National Geographic's 2011 Top 10 Pre-Lenten Celebrations list.
A number of other festivals pay homage to aspects of Martinique's heritage. Sainte-Marie, Le Marin, and Fort-de-France all hold lively cultural festivals. They include activities like concerts, art exhibits, films, theater, dance, and food tasting. Then there's the annual event Le Maide Saint-Pierre, commemorating the 1902 eruption of Mt. Pelée, which destroyed the city and killed virtually all its inhabitants. And, due to a population that is largely Catholic, several towns celebrate patron saints days.
...musical events are enjoyed regularly.
Martinique's status as an overseas départment of France means that French holidays, such as Bastille Day, are also observed on the island. Wine lovers may want to visit in late November to partake in the Beaujolais nouveau celebrations. At midnight on the third Thursday of the month, the new Beaujolais is released to the cries of "Le Beaujolais Nouveau est arrivé!" ("The new Beaujolais has arrived!") Various restaurants and cafés across the island participate, some featuring live entertainment.
Music plays a huge role in Martinique's culture, so musical events are enjoyed regularly. Two of the biggest are Jazz à la Martinique and Carrefour Mondial de Guitare, which alternate years in early December. Both of them draw international musicians and host events in several locations over a week-long period. There's also an international gospel festival and plenty of smaller events.
With the popularity of Martinique's ports, there's no shortage of boating events. Annual events include the Yole Boat Race, held in August. This five-day event uses traditional fishermen's boats. Many smaller yole races take place over the year, as well. In February, Shoelcher holds its Nautical Week. April brings the sailing shows and parades of the Aqua Festival around the Bay of Le Robert. Yachters flock to the four-day June Regattas in Le Marin, which also hosts a fishing tournament in October.
In addition to strictly local events, Martinique participates in several international races. Each March, competitors in the Transcaraibe des Passionnés race from Le Marin to Cuba. A much longer race is the biannual Transat des Passionnés, which starts in Europe and ends in the Caribbean. Every three years, there's another Europe to Caribbean race, the Transquadra.
An annual agricultural fair in Rivière-Pilote exhibits and celebrates the best of the farming life.
The yearly Martinique International Half-Marathon draws more than 2500 runners from all over the world to run its 21.1 km course. It includes several special races, such as the senior citizens race and high school mini-marathon. A few other running competitions take place also.
Travelers in search of festivals and events can get up-to-date information through the Martinique Tourist Office (Comite Martiniquais du Tourisme), located in Schoelcher at Immeuble Beaupré - Pointe de Jaham. The airport also maintains a tourist desk staffed with English speakers. Whatever time of year you visit, there's always a fun event going on on Martinique.
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