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10 French DOM-TOM You Have To Visit

Pier and blue lagoon on Rangiroa Atoll, French Polynesia │© dany13
Pier and blue lagoon on Rangiroa Atoll, French Polynesia │© dany13
France’s overseas departments and territories in South America, the Caribbean, the North Atlantic, Africa, and the South Pacific are home to some of the most beautiful beaches and unspoiled wildernesses in the world. In them, you’ll find a fascinating mix of French and local cultures in art, food, sport, and music. What’s more, you can shop with euros even though you’re 1000s of miles from Paris.

La Réunion

Journey time from Paris: 10 hours 50 minutes

Cheapest flights for 2017: April – May, 620€

What to do: Hermitage Beach, one of the largest and best-preserved lagoons on the island, is a popular spot for snorkeling and the white sands of Grand Anse are perfect for sunbathing. Approximately 40% of the island is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, including the National Park, which is teeming with biodiversity. Whale watching for migrating humpbacks is also a must.

Fun fact: La Réunion holds the world records for the most rainfall in 12, 72, and 96-hour periods.

Sunset on Réunion │ © Vicente Villamón

Guadeloupe

Journey time from Paris: 8 hours 40 minutes

Cheapest flights for 2017: June, 390€

What to do: In Pointe-à-Pitre, Guadeloupe’s largest city, you can visit the home of Saint-John Perse, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1960 ‘for the soaring flight and evocative imagery of his poetry’. For a more active day trip, hike through tropical rainforests to Les Chutes du Carbet, three waterfalls with a maximum cascade of 125 meters.

Fun fact: Christopher Columbus is credited with discovering the pineapple on the island in 1493.

Harbor on Basse-Terre, Guadeloupe │ © Léo Parpais

Saint-Barthélemy

Journey time from Paris: 11 hours 25 minutes (one stop)

Cheapest flights for 2017: July, 790€

What to do: You can swim at 15 public beaches, scuba dive around 2,500 acres of protected corals reefs, bays, and islands, and try out water sports at the Grand-cul-de-sac beach. When New Year comes around, you can rub shoulders with the hundreds of celebrities that descend on the island with their luxury yachts.

Fun fact: Until November 4th, 2010, Saint-Barthélemy was home to the oldest person in the world: Eugénie Blanchard, a Catholic nun who lived to be 114 years and 261 days.

Eden Rock beach on Saint Barthélemy │ © John M

Saint-Martin

Journey time from Paris: 10 hours 40 minutes

Cheapest flights for 2017: January – February, 530€

What to do: It might seem strange, but watching planes land at Princess Juliana International Airport on the Dutch side of the island (Sint Maarten) is one of the biggest attractions. Just how close the runway is to the beach is absolutely terrifying (and doesn’t exactly make for relaxing sunbathing) but it’s certainly a unique way to spend the afternoon.

Fun fact: Despite being French and Dutch, an English-based dialect is spoken on both sides of the island.

Plane landing over Maho Beach on Saint-Martin │ © Chris Favero

Martinique

Journey time from Paris: 8 hours 45 minutes

Cheapest flights for 2017: April, 410€

What to do: Martinique has eight different centers of volcanic activity, with Mont Pelée being the island’s most distinctive feature. You definitely have to try Colombo, a famous local curry dish that blends aspects of African, French, Carib Amerindian, and South Asian culinary traditions. The Paul Gauguin Interpretation Centre explores the artist’s time on the island.

Not so fun fact: The eruption of Mont Pelée on May 8th, 1902, killed 28,000 people in two minutes.

Mountain village on Martinique │ © Antoine Hubert

French Guiana

Journey time from Paris: 8 hours 55 minutes

Cheapest flights for 2017: April, 550€

What to do: You can visit the Amazonian rainforest as well as the mangroves, savannas, inselbergs, and wetlands to see the unbelievable wealth of flora and fauna. The department is also home to the Guiana Space Centre, the European Space Agency’s primary equatorial launch site. As such, it is one of the few places in the world you can watch a rocket go into space.

Fun fact: In the 18th century, convicts sent to the penal colony here were set to work catching butterflies for collectors and scientific research.

A Tiger-striped Leaf Frog in French Guiana │ © Bernard DUPONT

French Polynesia

Journey time from Paris: 22 hours 5 minutes (one stop)

Cheapest flights for 2017: February, 1,250€

What to do: This overseas collectivity is made up of 118 islands and atolls stretching over an area of more than 4,000 square kilometers in the South Pacific Ocean. Tahiti, its capital Pape’ete, and Bora Bora are the most popular destinations for visitors. Wherever you go, try the traditional Polynesian sport va’a, a type of canoe racing.

Fun fact: The waters off the village of Teahupo’o on Tahiti are regularly ranked as having the best waves in the world for surfers.

Rangiroa Atoll, French Polynesia │ © dany13

New Caledonia

Journey time from Paris: 33 hours 20 minutes (two stops)

Cheapest flights for 2017: June, 1,340€

What to do: The native Kanak culture can be explored at the Jean-Marie Tjibaou Cultural Centre, which was designed by renowned Italian architect Renzo Piano in 1998. You should also find a neighborhood bar in downtown Nouméa and listen to some Kaneka, a form of local music developed in the 1980s and inspired by reggae.

Fun fact: Per square kilometer, New Caledonia has the richest diversity of plants and animal species in the world, including species, genera, and families that can be found nowhere else.

A secluded beach on New Caledonia │ © Thomas Ballandras

Wallis and Futuna

Journey time from Paris: 28 hours 50 minutes (two stops)

Cheapest flights for 2017: December 2016 – February, 2,630€

What to do: You can sample the local beverage, Kava, which is popular throughout Polynesia. The highly detailed tapa cloth art is a specialty of Wallis and Futuna and if you make the epic (and expensive) journey here, you’ll want to bring some of this back with you.

Fun fact: The island collectivity is divided into three kingdoms: Uvea, Sigave, and Alo.

Lake Lalolalo on ʻUvea (Wallis) │ © Tauʻolunga

Saint-Pierre and Miquelon

Journey time from Paris: 12 hours 25 minutes

Cheapest flights for 2017: January, 1,630€

What to do: Saint Pierre and Miquelon, two islands off the coast of Newfoundland, Canada, are the last remnant of New France, the area of North America colonized by France. While mostly metropolitan French in culture, early settlers also came from the Basque Country and this is celebrated with an annual summer festival. The seafood here is also incredible: be sure to taste as much lobster, snow crab, and cod as you can.

Fun fact: Street names are uncommon on the islands and directions are usually given in nicknames and the names of residents.

Winter on Saint-Pierre │ © Arne List ; Multidirectional signpost on Saint-Pierre│| Olivier