Jardin de Balata hadn’t originally made it onto my to-do list, but as I slipped through a hillside tropical paradise of palms, ferns, tropical flowers and flitting hummingbirds I quickly realised what a mistake missing this would’ve been. It seems obvious now, that Martinique, the place known as the island of flowers would be a good place to visit some gardens!
Horticulturist and poet Jean-Phillipe Thoze began cultivating the garden of his dreams, travels and childhood memories on the land of his grandmother’s traditional creole home in 1982. By 1986 (coincidentally, the year I was born), he opened up his masterpiece to the public and put on display the many different varieties of tropical plants he had collected from his many trips around the world.
Nowadays you can spot around 3,000 varieties of tropical plants, gathered from all around the globe, and you can loose yourself for hours admiring the abundance of begonias, magnificent bromeliads, anthuriums, water lilies, and an impressive 300 varieties of palm trees.
First Impressions of Jardin de Balata
It was humid and drizzly on arriving, in the most charming of misty-tropical-jungle type ways. Everything was lush and green, hummingbirds were abundance and in every possible way it felt like paradise.
The entrance is the glorious traditional house where you pay your entrance fee, and the super friendly staff do also speak English if you need it! Once we’d made our way inside, we were immediately treated to a swarm of beautiful hummingbirds feeding on the bird feeders tethered to the verandah, looking out over breathtaking view across the rainforest.
The Treetop Canopy Walk
A new attraction to the Jardin de Balata is the treetop canopy walk, which allows you up high on robe bridges to see the gardens from, quite literally, new heights. It does get quite high up, and the experience is magnificent. It’s a beautiful way to experience even more levels of the garden, and sweeping views out to the The Pitons du Carbet, the nearby hills which are the guardians of Balata!
Getting to Jardin de Balata
It’s an easy drive from Fort-de-france, and on this occasion we brought our rental car over here as a part of a larger road trip around the Northern parts of Martinique. From Fort-de-france, take the Morne Rouge exit by the route de la trace. If you’re coming from the other side (St Pierre) then take the exit at the bottom of the descent, in the direction of Morne Rouge on the route de la trace.
But you can also arrive via public transport by using the bus from Fort-de-france, To do this, take line L25 from Fort de France, the route travels from Aliker to Jardin de Balata. Get off the bus just outside the exit. This bus travels approximately every 30 mins except for on Sundays and public holidays. The fare costs around €1.50 and takes 20 minutes to arrive.
Best time to visit Jardin de Balata
There isn’t a bad time to visit, although if you ask the staff they’ll let you know afternoons are the best time for some tranquility. It rains a lot up here, and if you read some guides they will say it rains year round at this height! But I went in the rain and the mist was magical, and certainly not a reason to hesitate visiting.
What to look out for .. Flora
The extraordinary grounds are home to around 3000 species of tropical plants (See the full collection here) from as far afield as Malaysia, Guyana, Phillipines, Jamaica, Madagascar, Ecuador, China, Japan, West Indies, South Pacific, Brazil, Australia, India, Mexico, Réunion, Colombia, Sumatra, Solomon Islands, Vietnam, Egypt, New Zealand, Peru, Cameroon, Indonesia, Java.. amongst others.
Some things to look out for on your stroll around the gardens:
- Towering White Latanier (Bismarckia nobilis)
- Porcelain Rose (Phaeomeria magnifica)
- South American bromeliads (Bromeliaceae)
- Hanging lobster claw (Heliconia rostrata)
- Laceleaf (Anthurium)
- Balisiers (including Heliconia caribaea purpurea)
- Red Alpinia (Alpinia purpurata)
- Hibiscus (Hibiscus)
- Wild orchids (Orchidaceae)
- Exotic water lilies (Nymphaeaceae)
- Variegated pandanus (Pandanus baptistii variegata)
- Bamboo (Bambusa vulgaris)
- Cinnamon tree (Cinnamomum zeylanicum)
- Philodendrums (various varieties)
- Ti plant / palm lily (Cordilyne terminalis) Which have come from New Zealand!
What to look out for .. Fauna
There are not many creatures whom live at the Jardin de Balata, but if you look carefully there are some wonderful species to be seen. While you’re exploring, keep your eyes peeled for the following:
- Frogs Martinique is home to four species of frog, and one toad – if you’re lucky, you may spot one lounging about on the lillypads in one of the ponds.
- Green geckos / Anoli (Anolis fuscoauratus) these little critters are one of the most likely visitors you’ll spot here! They love lazing in the sun and scurrying around the plans.
- Hummingbird there are four types of hummingbird in Martinique – the crested hummingbird (Orthorhyncus cristatus), the falle-vert hummingbird (Eulampis holosericeus)– The blue-headed hummingbird (Cyanophaia bicolor) and the Madeira hummingbird (Eulampis jugularis). During my visit, the falle-vert, or purple throated carib was the main hummingbird I spotted, but if you keep an eye out you can spot the others too!
- Bananaquit (Coereba flaveola) Known locally as sucrier à ventre jaune, these pretty little birds are noticeably by their bright yellow chests, and enjoy hanging around the gardens.
- Matoutou Falaise (Antilles pinktoe tarantula) the avicularia versicolor, also called Matoutou Falaise, is a protected species here in Martinique where it’s a native species, it is absolutely forbidden to capture one of these treasures… It is considered to be one of the most beautiful tarantulas in the world, they are born blue, and change color as they grow up. It is the queen of Jardin de Balata and if you’re extra lucky you might spot one (I didn’t though, maybe next time!)
- Butterflies it’s only natural that the island of flowers also plays home to a host of colourful butterflies. From swallowtails to Junonias, you’ll spot beautiful butterflies fluttering around the flowers here.
What to do Nearby
On your way back down to Fort de France, don’t forget to stop in at the Balata Cathedral (Sacré-Cœur de Balata) It was built in 1925 as an exact replica of Sacré-Cœur in Montmartre, Paris.
Alternatively, you can continue on to the north and explore the city of St Pierre, a city formally known as the Paris of the Caribbean before it was destroyed by a volcanic eruption in 1902. Nowadays, it’s still a wonderful place to visit as there are many historic remains, and the Musée vulcanologique Franck Perret, which is a fascinating volcanological museum.