Mountain Hike Vacation in Martinique
The Mountain Hiker Rating: unrated (hike incomplete)
Time required: 3-4 hours round trip (depending on how muddy the trail is)
Degree of Difficulty: 9 out of 10 (assuming second half of trail was as steep as it looked)
Height: Just over 3,870 feet (1180 meters) absolute vertical (also estimated total elevation change considering starting point of 1,445 feet or 440m, with trail up & over another peak).
Distance: About 4 miles (6.5km) round trip
Guide Required: Advisable (if available) – The trailhead is not marked, and the trail is un-maintained.
I’ll start by saying that sometimes things just don’t work out as planned… In this case, due to a lack of information about hiking on Martinique, this hike turned out to be not the best plan – Although it was an adventure, none the less!
We were visiting Martinique for the first time, as part of a cruise, so we only had a limited amount of time for a hike. Based on the scarce resources I could find before leaving home, I chose to hike Piton Lacroix, as it is fairly tall at 3,870 feet (1180m), is a relatively short trail (about 4 miles or 6.5km return), and is reasonably close to Fort-de-France, where the ship docks. That said, it turned out to be a fairly ambitious hike for a number of reasons.
Starting from Fort-de-France, we drove north along the west coast of the island, just past the town of Bellfontaine, then headed inland on some small roads that lead to our starting point. Driving on these narrow, winding roads, we got lost a few times before ending up at the east end of a road called Canton Suisse.
We parked the car on the side of the road near an old farmhouse, and walked up a steep paved road which turned into dirt/grass tracks before ending at a partly plowed farmer’s field. As we walked, we passed goats and cows wandering around – I don’t think they were used to many visitors. At the edge of the field, we could see a forested mountain. From this vantage point, we had beautiful views to the north/west of the island, towards Le Morne Vert and the Caribbean sea.
Did I mention that we were kind of winging-it? Well, as we were at the forest edge, I assumed that the trail must start here somewhere… There was no marked trailhead of any sort, so I walked the edge of the field/forest trying to find some hint of a trail. I never really found anything that looked like an obviously well used trail, however after about 20 minutes of searching, we headed up-hill on a path of some sort.
From the start, the going was tough, not just because the trail was barely visible, but because the path was extremely steep and muddy – we were slipping and sliding all over the place. Eventually the trail was a bit more discernible and level, albeit strewn with fallen trees and rocks. This was a true rain-forest hike, as the forest was very dense and dark in most sections, with the occasional area where sun peaked through the canopy.
Our pace was fairly slow for a couple of reasons. One because there were a number of steep and muddy sections, but also because my hiking partner was concerned that we weren’t really on a trail (I have been known to veer off trails, accidentally following deer paths) so we were wondering if this trail was taking us where we wanted to go, or were we just getting lost on a wild goat path? When you lack in confidence, you lack in conviction (and speed).
After about an hour, we eventually made it to some high ground where we could see where we were. As it turned out, we had just hiked to the top of a smaller peak, and were about half way to Piton Lacroix. We were about 2,526 feet (770m) high at this point and we could see that the trail descended into a gully and assumed that it then took a seriously steep ascent of Piton Lacroix itself. It was already after noon, and with an estimated 3 more hours to complete the hike, we decided it wasn’t do-able with our time constraints, so we turned back.
We were covered in mud, tired and disappointed that we didn’t reach the peak, however it was an experience to get this far. We found out later, when I found a proper map of the trails on the island, that while this was an actual trail, it is not maintained and rarely used.
In summary, the Lacroix Trail is very steep and not well maintained. As we never made it all the way, I cannot comment on the Piton steepness / trail conditions, or the potential reward (view) from the peak. As there are a number of better maintained trails on the island, I suggest you attempt those first – Please see the recommended hikes as part of the Hike Martinique Write-up.