In the commune of Sainte-Marie, there is a natural wonder unique to Martinique and a global geological rarity. Here, you can only visit the two hillocks of Ilet Sainte-Marie during Carême—the dry season between January and April—when the tide goes out and the seas part to reveal the tombolo, a sandbar connecting the mainland to a tied island.
The Ilet historically served many different purposes: defense, cultivation, and perhaps spiritual. The colonists used this islet, as they did many others around Martinique, to place canons to fight off the English. After this, it was used to pasture livestock and grow sugar cane. A well-known mystery of the islet is the large, white cross that no one seems to know the origin of but has become a part of Samaritaine pride.
The area of the tombolo is also a site of Samaritaine bravery and tragedy. On March 3, 1950, Félix Lorne, a teacher at the local school, was teaching swimming lessons when two students began struggling. Lorne was able to help one student to safety but when he went to help the other, the current was too strong and both Lorne and the student drowned. A hero, Lorne is commemorated by a statue outside the tourism office in Sainte-Marie and the eponymous school complex in Morne-des-Esses.
When we went in mid-February, the sea still hadn’t fully parted but I rolled up my leggings, ignored the possibility of deadly riptides and continued on through 20 metres of knee-high water. Welcomed by a newly built boardwalk, we were able to learn about the islet and told riddles on boards. Martinique has spent thousands on an enhancement project here planting new vegetation, building stairs and installing information panels and art work. The islet also serves as a protection site for the Roseate Tern, an endangered seabird close to extinction.
A beautiful view and a great activity if you’re already in the area and looking for an interesting way to walk off the free rum tasting from the Saint-James Distillery.