A Magical Gift of Nature
You may have already crossed a tombolo without knowing it. One of the most famous ones in the world is that which you walk across to reach the Mont Saint-Michel, in Normandy.
In fact, tombolo is a word of Italian origin which describes a strip of sand through the water that connects two land areas, such as an island and the coast.
Walk on Water in Sainte-Marie
On some days, it is even possible to cross to the island on foot. Beware, though – swimming is prohibited due to the waves, currents and whirlpools that make the water dangerous.
The sand bar phenomenon results from the combined effect of sea currents and that of the tides. While several tombolos can be seen along Martinique’s Atlantic coast, that of Sainte-Marie is the most spectacular.
A sand causeway of more than 200 meters forms between Petite-Anse, Sainte-Marie beach and Sainte-Marie island just opposite, due to the Bermuda high pressure system and its influence on the climate.
From November to April, the winds, temperatures, and ocean currents, cause a displacement of sand and sediment from the ocean floor, sculpting Martinique’s coast. The tombolo appears at the end of the year as if by magic only to disappear four months later!
You can walk across to Sainte-Marie island during the carnival period in February, but from spring, this is no longer possible. No matter, though, because, in any case, access to the island – which was formerly used for animal grazing and sugar cane cultivation but now a protected nature reserve – is forbidden at this period when birds are nesting. Isn’t nature clever?
Migratory sea birds, like the Roseate tern, live and reproduce in this pristine natural oasis surrounded by rocky points and fine white sand beaches, which with a little effort you can visit during a few months of the year.
The tombolo is an ephemeral blessing of nature that is both protective and treacherous at the same time.
A Secret World Within Reach of All
The enchanting natural tombolo forms and disappears with the seasons. From November to April, when there is heavy swell from the north, the sandy causeway forms, creating a trail through the shallow water.
In early spring, the trade winds slacken and change direction, causing the gradual erosion of Sainte Marie tombolo.
Before attempting to cross the tombolo, check with the Tourist Office who will tell you if it is passable at this time of year.
Island access will depend on the date of your visit, whether the site is open to the public and the tide times.
If the conditions are right, you can prepare yourself for the walk across. Wear sandals or take a bag in which to transport your shoes as you will cross the tombolo barefoot. Also remember to bring a backpack with a bottle of water for hydration and a towel to dry your feet before setting off to explore the island and, if you wish, its famous hiking trail.
So, are you ready to adventure across the sea to Ilet Sainte-Marie?