Sleeping Volcano Pelée (Martinique)

1902. 8th of May, 7.50 am.  Martinique’s volcano, Pelée, erupted and the world as they knew it completely changed. 30.000 people perished in just a few hours and a few thousand more in the following months of extremely powerful volcanic activity. In the aftermath, a new science was born: modern volcanology with geothermal and geochemical studies.

Perched in the Northern corner if the island, one of the most active volcanoes in the Caribbean lies in waiting for a new day to cause mischief. Properly surveyed for over a century now, Martinique has learnt its lesson the very hard way – with a huge loss of life, urban developments and trade. The capital of the island at the time was Saint Pierre, the Paris of the West Indies, lying at the feet of the mountain, never expecting that one day it would be wiped off the face of the earth just like Pompeii. Due to impending local elections, the mayor ordered everyone to stay put that week. Once more, politics caused a tragedy that could have been easily avoided. The warning signs started months before the massive eruption, but none was wiser to figure out what was happening. Today, Saint Pierre is a shadow of a city, with around 5000 inhabitants – but that is a story for another time.

Here I decided to celebrate the cradle of life in Martinique, he who can undo in a blink everything that man built in centuries – Mountain Pelée. The name, bald in translation, refers to its bald peaks. You can climb all the way to the top, but that is a one-day journey, start very early in the morning and come down just in time before nightfall. Personally I find that the best way to view the volcano is from a helicopter, where you can fully understand the level of destruction it inflicted on the island and how the landscaped changed drastically afterwards.

The first four images were taken at the base of the hike, with the Atlantic Ocean cooling down the valleys where the best sugar cane on the island grows. One is that of the actual cauldron of the volcano, mossy and green, as a true ‘giver of life’ should be. The last image presents the volcano from the Caribbean Sea side, with Saint Pierre at its feet, breathing slowly one day at a time.

One of the most powerful volcanoes in the world presently, Pelée can be discovered any time you like, preferably in the dry season (November – June). And remember, even though this is the Caribbean and the sun is brightly shining, up there the temperatures can drastically fall so take something fleecy to keep you warm while hiking. Respect the nature around you and most of all, remember that underneath your feet lies a giant in wait, a perfect killer.


Enjoy your hike!